None of us want to hunt with a lousy gun. Ideally, the size relationship between a rifle and a rifle scope should improve the appearance of your rig, providing a feng shui it would warm the heart of a Tibetan monk. But aesthetics are low on the list of what matters when it’s time to shoot bullets at the creatures we’re chasing. The practicality of the function matters more.
So, when it comes to choosing a rifle scope, what’s practical?
Size and weight are important considerations
The size and weight of a rifle scope can affect the handling characteristics of a rifle, and handling characteristics are important if you hunt on your hind legs. For the most part, modern hunting riflescopes are of a somewhat standardized size regardless of the magnification range. The Leupold VX-3HD 3.5-10X40mm rifle scope is 12.67 inches long. Their VX-6HD 3-18X44mm rifle scope offers 80% magnification, but it’s only an inch longer, and Swarovski’s Z8i 3.5-28X50mm rifle scope is only 15 inches long.
The real difference is in the weight. The 3.5-10X Leupold weighs 13.5 ounces and the 3-18X Leupold is 58% heavier. Swarovski’s Z8i 3.5-28X50 weighs a pound and a half, 74% more than the Leupold 3.5-10X. Adding weight to your shotgun is important because unless you are hunting in one of those comfortable shooting houses, you will be carrying your rifle a lot more than you are shooting at. As the great lumberjack and weapons writer Townsend Whelen wrote: “A man will travel further, hunt in more countries, have a better chance of catching game, and be in better condition when he does if his weapon is light.
Magnification matters most when choosing the scope
Ultimately, the The measurement of “size” that matters most with any rifle scope is its magnification range. This is partly because the magnification dictates the weight, but also because it dictates the ability to fire.
At the time, the 3-9X rifle scope was king because it seemed to offer the best range of magnification. At that time, the standard scope zoom factor was 3X, so your options were either 1.6-5X, 2.3-7X, 3-9X, 4-12X, or 6-18X. Today, zoom factors of 4X, 5X, 6X and even 8X are common. Swarovski offers a 1.3-13.3X rifle scope that effectively supports the first four options a hunter had in the last century.
I believe the 3-9X rifle scope was also popular as it offered 1X magnification for every 100 feet that a hunter would most likely shoot. Before the new millennium, 300 yards was considered a long shot, and a magnification of 9X would give you 1X per 100 feet, up to 900 or 300 yards.
In this regard, nothing has changed. For hunters, 1X per 100 feet is always a good rule of thumb to follow when selecting a rifle scope. This allows you to make sure that any animal you’re preparing to photograph doesn’t appear more than 100 feet away, which will work great for everything from prairie dogs to African buffalo.
Equally important, it gives you a sufficient field of vision at very close range. With older 3-9X telescopes, when a white tailed deer passed you at around 30 yards, the low 3X magnification gave you a field of view of around 12 feet. This was enough to keep the deer in the rifle scope as you scanned forward looking for a firing aperture. You will get the same benefit from any span as this 1X relationship for every 100 feet.
The best top and bottom magnification for today’s hunters
What has changed is that many hunters now consider 300 yards to be a flea run. With modern cartridges, a zeroed rifle with maximum range at close range allows you to take a dead shot up to that distance. If you’re a good shooter, shots at 400 and even 500 yards can be handy. If so, you will need at least 12X or 15X to meet this 100ft rule.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing only on maximum magnification. Minimum magnification matters too, maybe even more. What makes today’s 6X and 8X zoom factor oscilloscopes so handy is that you can get that high end 12X to 15X with a low of 2x or less, or a high end 18X or more. with a low of 3X or more. This should make it easy to find a rifle scope that will do whatever any hunter needs to do, at any distance.