Ultimate Long-Range Riflescope Buying Guide – All you need to know before you buy a scope!
Buying a riflescope for long-range shooting gets you quickly overwhelmed with a lot of technical jargon and the urge to buy the biggest and badest optic you can lay your hands on. But what is it you really need? What of all those numbers, turret adjustments, and parallax, to name a few, are essential for your needs?
- 1 Buying Guide to find the Best Riflescope for Long-Range Shooting and Hunting
- 2 Final Thoughts
We’ll go through the different terms and explain them in plain English so you can figure out what scope will be the best for your hunting or shooting. The scope that’s best for you is not the right choice for your best buddy and vice versa.
Get reading and learn what you need to know so you can get the best riflescope for hunting or shooting!
Buying Guide to find the Best Riflescope for Long-Range Shooting and Hunting
It is vital to have the right reticle type for the typical distances you shoot. Long-range hunting rifle scopes perform the best when they have evenly spaced dots or markings on both the horizontal and vertical axis. These are found in mils or MOA in those riflescopes. Common names for those are Mildot or, in the case of Nightforce, the MOAR reticle.
You’ll have to dial for elevation in long-range shots, which means that you have to figure out the distance to the target. You can either estimate this or use a range finder to measure it. Then, based on your rifle and ammunition, you’d calculate the drop of the bullet for that distance. You then adjust with the turrets on the scope based on that drop, which results in the crosshairs being dead center on the target at 100 yards.
The second adjustment you must consider is the hold for wind changes. Especially on long-range shots, you will run into the situation that the wind changes quickly, which does not allow you to adjust the turrets to compensate for the wind. If you have steady wind, then you can adjust the scope through the turrets and have your target dead center.
However, if the wind is changing in intensity or even in direction, then the evenly spaced dots on the vertical axis come into play. You might, for example, adjust your aim by two mils in one direction to compensate for the wind. If the wind now gets stronger than just before the shot, you’ll simply adjust another mil in the same direction, and you’ll hit the target. If that last adjustment wasn’t performed, then the shot would miss the mark.
Match between Reticle and Turrets
This point should be a no-brainer. However, you would be surprised how many rifle scopes there are where the turret adjustments do not match the reticle.
One would think that if you get a mildot reticle, you also will have a mil-based turret adjustment. Unfortunately, you can find scopes that have MOA-based turret adjustments, which are not what you want. You want the turret adjustments to match the reticle you’re using.
Otherwise, you have to start calculating the adjustments between your mismatched items. You can rest assured that you will miss, or your game has wandered off by the time you’re ready with your calculations.
Specifically, when you look at long-range hunting, then the quality of the glass becomes a significant factor in your ability to hit the target or not. It probably is the most significant difference you can see between the scopes of different price points.
Good glass will help you see the target much clearer and will allow you to hit it successfully. The glass quality is not only a price differentiator. You can also be pretty confident that high-end manufacturers of riflescopes like Nightforce, Swarovski, Zeiss, and Leupold, to name a few, use better glass than no-name brands from Asia that try to lure you with cheap scopes.
The difference in cost for better glass vs. cheaper glass can easily be $1,000. Keep that in mind when you see the cheap low-end scope that promises the world…
Range and Power of the Zoom
This point is self-explanatory. The farther the distance you want to shoot, the higher the magnification of the scope needs to be.
For long-range shooting, you should at least have a high-powered scope, like an 18x or higher. Unfortunately, you won’t always shoot long distances because sometimes an animal shows up at a much shorter distance.
In that case, you also need to be able to reduce your magnification accordingly. An 8x on the low end will for those cases not be enough as you’ll need forever to get the animal into your visual area.
If you’re not using the rifle for hunting but target shooting, then the lower end magnification is undoubtedly not really of interest to you. For long-distance hunting, you should look at ranges from 5-20’ish to find a reasonably good compromise.
Range of Elevation Adjustment
For long-distance shots, you will need a scope with a higher amount of adjustment for elevation. The longer the distance of your shot, the higher the range of the elevation adjustment needs to be.
Based on your ballistics, you might need to adjust by 65 MOA. You better have a scope that can change for that amount, or you must hold for elevation with the rifle – that kind of defeats the purpose.
You might want to consider having an adjustment range of at least 60 MOA. Typically, scopes with a larger main tube allow for a more extensive range of elevation adjustment, so if you have the choice between scopes with a different main tube diameter, then consider taking the larger one for that reason.
This point looks at the location of the reticle compared to the ‘zoom’ mechanism of the scope. If the reticle is on the first focal plane, then the reticle itself will zoom in and out with the scope.
This means that the markers on the reticle get larger or smaller depending on your zoom setting. When you are at the maximum zoom setting, then the markers might be a long-distance apart while at the minimal zoom setting the markers, which can obscure the target, which can lead to wrong aiming.
The scopes with the reticle on the second focal plane don’t have the markers zoom in and out. They are always in the same position. At first glance, this sounds better, but be aware that it has a significant drawback.
The distance between the markers on the reticle is only correct for one specific zoom setting. So, if you use them to adjust for elevation or windage, you will have to calculate the adjustment.
If the reticle sits on the front focal plane, then the distance between the markers is always correct (e.g., one mil). This makes it easier to adjust accurately on long-range shots.
The objective lens size is responsible for the amount of light coming into the scope. You want to consider what you want to use the scope for. If you’re using it for hunting, then your low-light capabilities matter a lot during prime hunting time of dusk and dawn.
In that case, make sure that you get the largest objective size you can afford. If you only intend to use the scope in good light conditions, then the difference between a 40mm and a 56mm objective size is barely noticeable. One significant consideration certainly also is whether you can mount the scope with a large objective diameter low enough to get the proper eye alignment.
You most likely won’t keep your long-range rifle in your gun cabinet but will use it regularly for hunting or shooting. Your scope will need to stand up to this use in different environments.
You want to look for a high-quality scope that is machined from high-grade aluminum and sealed to use your scope in different weather and environmental conditions reliably. Nearly all recent scopes will check this box. Besides, they will fill the tube with gas to make it fog resistant. This also helps to protect the scope from the inside.
Many, if not most, rifles and calibers for long-range have a quite hard recoil. At that moment, the scope has to withstand a lot of force. Most higher quality scopes are shock resistant and will withstand the recoil. Also, you have to have sufficient eye relief, or you risk getting scope bite.
Because of the heavy recoil, you also need a scope that holds zero well. Lower quality scopes that don’t hold zero well could end up needing constant readjustment. This will slow down your target acquisition and accuracy.
A well-built scope with a large magnification to support long-range shots will come with a few downsides. These scopes typically are not compact and not on the light side. You need to consider that when you try to find a scope for your rifle.
The cost of a good gun optic for your long-range rifle varies greatly. More expensive scopes typically are built sturdier and with better material. The material choice has a tremendous impact on the glass of the lenses. The higher quality the glass is, the better and more vibrant the image gets. This is tremendously important for long-range hunting.
If you intend to shoot short to mid-range distances, then the scopes usually come down. For tactical uses, the cost is often rather low as you rarely get variable magnification. At that moment, the diameters of the objective and tube can be on the smaller side, which reduces the cost.
A solid scope for medium to longer distances will have a maximum magnification of at least 9x, but higher can be beneficial. If you’re hunting, then you often can’t tell your game to stay away far enough to use a large magnification. You eventually will end up with some game nearby, which you should consider for the lower end magnification levels. Thus, a scope with a magnification range from 3x up is probably reasonable to use.
If you’re using your .308 for target shooting with known distances, then the scope to pick will depend on the distances you want to shoot. You want to be comfortably capable to sharply see the target in your distance range in the scope. If your scope’s maximum magnification is not sufficient, you won’t get a good sight on the target. The same if the target is too close, and your minimum magnification settings are too high.
All these considerations impact the price of the scope. For most hunters, a 3-9x, 3-12x, or a 4-12x or 4-16x will be good choices. Upgrade to a scope with a maximum magnification of 18x or 24x or even higher for long-range shooting. Such a larger magnification will cause the price to increase. As a rule of thumb, the higher the magnification (and overall quality), the higher the price will be.
When you look through the feature list of rifle scopes, you’ll find many other features that the manufacturers want you to know about. Some of those you find are illuminated reticles, locking turrets, finer grade adjustment turrets (e.g., 1/8 MOA adjustments)… The list is endless. A lot of those are nice to have, but none is as important to consider as the features listed above.
You should have a better idea of what kind of scope you need going forward. Match the scope to your rifle and your shooting needs, and you’ll end up with a combination that gives you the best chance for a successful shot.
Knowing what kind of scope you need will, in the next step, enable you to pick the best scope for your budget. Whether you want to stay under $300, $500, or have no limit, getting the selection based on your needs will ensure that you get a scope that delivers satisfactory results.