As hunting season approaches, it’s important to make sure you have the right hunting optic for your specific needs. But that isn’t always an easy choice. With thousands of options from hundreds of brands, it can be tricky knowing what optic suits your hunting style, what equipment you do or don’t need, and how to differentiate a high-quality product from a dud.
That’s why we’ve created this guide – to help you choose the right riflescope for your North American big game hunting needs this season. From white-tailed deer to elk hunting, learn what factors you need to take into consideration before making a purchase and heading out this season.
The first thing you need to consider when buying a hunting optic is your budget. It’s the first question we’ll ask our customers when they ask for help in the store. Fortunately (and unfortunately) when it comes to hunting optics – you get what you pay for. The difference in quality between a $100 scope and $1,000 scope can make or break your shot. If you fall on the lower end of the price range, just keep in mind that the visual quality will reflect what you spend.
But, it’s important to take price with a grain of salt. While a $1,000 scope may deliver substantially better results than a $300 scope, a $2,000 scope won’t necessarily give you double the quality of a $1,000 scope. Once you hit the $1,000 ceiling, you’re going to receive fewer and fewer benefits from each increasing price tier. As a safe bet, there’s no need to go over $1,000 unless you’re looking for specific enhancements.
If your budget falls somewhere in the middle range of $600 to $800, you’ll probably find most options look pretty similar. With the amount of products available in this category, price alone usually won’t be enough to help you make a final choice. But, now that you’ve identified a product range, you can begin considering other factors like magnification and tube diameter.
After price, the next most important factor to consider is magnification. There’s a big misconception around magnification and it’s important to remember that more isn’t always better. The amount of magnification you need depends specifically on what and how you’ll be hunting. For most hunters shooting at a couple hundred yards away, there’s no need to go beyond 3-9 or 4-12 magnification. Lower magnifications allow you to identify your target before quickly taking your shot, which is all that’s needed for shorter shots. Any larger magnification requires you to buy more unnecessary equipment to compensate for parallax, when basic magnification will do just fine.
If you’re hunting something that requires more stalking or longer shots, like elk or pronghorn antelope, you can justify a larger, 6-24 or 5-20 magnification. If not, spend the extra money on a higher-quality scope to get the best bang for your buck (no pun intended).
Similar to magnification, there’s a misconception about optic tube diameter size and hunting. Some people believe opting for a larger tube diameter will result in increased brightness, but that’s actually incorrect. No matter how large your scope is, if it’s not made of high-quality glass, you won’t have a clearer or brighter shot.
For basic, short shots, a one-inch tube diameter is all you need. After all, scope tubes larger than one-inch are normally bigger to accommodate for internal adjustment, which your reticle will handle for you. Too large of a scope can cause poor eye alignment and increased bulkiness, all at a higher price tag.
Thirty-four millimeter tubes are usually larger to support a wider range of magnification, which can be useful if you want to use the same optic for both hunting and tactical use. Otherwise, there’s no need to stray from a standard one-inch tube.
The reticle deserves as much consideration as the magnification or tube diameter. At the end of the day, it’s the piece that determines where you’ll aim and ultimately, what you’ll take home. While there are several types of reticles that serve a variety of hunting needs, there’s two popular models to keep an eye out for.
Bullet drop compensation (BDC) reticles take bullet drop into account when determining the true point of aim, making them a great option for long-range hunting. For big-game hunting in thicker brush where precision is necessary, a Plex reticle will provide a simple, minimalist view of your target shot.
Even after narrowing down optics based on your budget, magnification, tube diameter, and reticle, you may still be stuck between a few that look identical. This is when it’s important to consider the small differentiators that can make a big difference in overall quality and experience.
When comparing a few similar products, take note of what country the product was manufactured in. Products from China tend to have a much lower quality than products from other countries, which the price normally reflects. Products from Japan or the Philippines are a step in the right direction, but European products will normally deliver the best materials and highest-quality construction.
Finally, consider the company who makes the optic. Do they have a warranty to protect your purchase? How is their customer service? If you need to replace or return your product, you’ll want to make sure the company has a good reputation for treating their customers right. A quick Google search or glance at the website should give you all the information you need to make the right call.
When purchasing a hunting optic, it’s easy to get caught up in all the different features that can be added, enhanced, or made bigger. Instead, hone in on what and how you want to hunt, and get the features that support it. Money that you can save scrapping unnecessary features can be better put towards a higher-quality scope. Sometimes, less is more.
Find your perfect optic for this hunting season at SWFA Outdoors.