So you want to buy a Scope, Let Sniper’s Hide Help
So you want to buy a scope, Sniper’s Hide can help you make a smarter choice.
2017 is quickly upon us and you want to buy a scope. But there are so many choices, from Althon to Vortex, Barska to Zeiss where do you start ? How do you wade through the hype and get down to the meat and potatoes of the questions, well Sniper’s Hide is here to help. Smart questions get you better answers.
Spoiler Alert, I won’t pander or kiss your butt
What is your intended use ? it’s that simple. Do you only have access to 200 yards, and plan on putting it on your 308 ? Or are you interested in shooting PRS, F Class, all this matters. The first thing you need to do is be honest about your intended use for the scope.
To reach 1000 yards with a 308 rifle you want at least 40 MOA of useable adjustment from a 100 yards. And trust me you want a 100 yard zero on your rifle. So if that means you have a scope with 60 MOA + or – of adjustment you are in good shape. You do not need a scope with 32 Mils of adjustments. So the long and short of it, caliber matters too. By understanding your caliber you can determine the best scope for your given application.
Magnification, it really has no bearing on how far you are shooting, but what you are shooting. If you are shooting F Class on paper, you want to see the X Ring, so they use very high magnification scopes. But the trade off is, less elevation. You don’t want a 55x scope for your 338LM you plan on shooting to 1 mile. More magnification generally limits your total travel. Instead understand most field shooter stick to scopes that hover around 25x, usually shooting them below 18x enjoying more elevation travel. Magnification magnifies problems in the air like mirage. Yes, you can shoot 1000 yards with a 10x scope but most will use between 12x – 18x to maintain a good field of view and clear sight picture. The days of the fixed 10x are coming to an end. Those scopes are usually used as a by product of budget.
Go a little bit more so you have it, but don’t over do it. You do not need a 32x scope to shoot 1000 yards or less on steel. You want 25x or less. I love and use a ton of 16x scopes. I shoot beyond 1000 yards and the 16x does not hold me back. Lots of people are magnification whores and not for a good reason. Balance the magnification and have it suit your mission and don’t be afraid to back the power down a bit.
Super important, how much money do you plan on spending ? What is the top end of your budget and is it worth holding off a bit to take the next step ? If you budget is $2000 you might want to wait until you have $2500. If you budget is $1500 you might be better served spending $1250.
Many leave out the budget constraints and will let people endlessly talk about scopes out of their price range. It’s sort of like going to the Cadillac dealer, letting the salesman show you every bell and whistle and then going out and getting a Ford Focus. Sure both cars will get you from point A to point B, but why waste the salesman’s time on all that Caddy talk. Let’s go straight to the Ford Dealer, and start spec’ing out your Focus. It’s a weird fetish to hear about everything you can’t afford.
It used to be the top of the line Leupold Mk 4 was $1250, now that is a low end scope in terms of budget. If that is your budget there is nothing wrong with it, but accept the fact, you’re now looking at the lower end of the spectrum and not the higher end. When everyone was running Leupolds’ I switched to S&B and my budget immediately jumped to $2000 and up. Here is a bit of history; I have one of the first S&B 5-25x PMIIs that hit US Shores. New it cost me $2350. Today that exact same scope can retail for as much as $3800+ depending. A few things changed over the years with them, but you are not gonna see the difference. I also have a $7000 Hensoldt 3-26x, it does not help me shoot any better than my $2400 Vortex. In fact if I walked down to my local mall and placed my Vortex GEN2 Razor on the table next to my $7k Hensoldt, playing the Pepsi Challenge to see who can pick out the scope that cost $7000. 50% of the people would be wrong. More money is not always an indicator of success.
Made in Japan does not negatively impact the Quality
Today, in 2016, almost 2017, you are not gonna win by simply choosing a country of origin. Scopes Made in Japan, probably the most plentiful of the bunch are excellent. Consider this, the majority of really good cameras come from Japan. Nobody bitches about Nikon or Canon coming from Japan. It’s all in the spec as they have the same machines we do that can hold excellent tolerances. It comes down to what the vendors want to pay, and how much extra Quality Control goes into the scope. A great example of this is the Vortex Get 2 Razor. It’s a widely popular, reliable scope that is also Marked Made in Japan. Vortex Spec’s it out a certain way than when they arrive to the US, they tear them apart. Yes, that scope is cheaper to get it into the country complete, after which Vortex replaces the internals to ones made here in the US. It’s not enough to change the country of origin but it is an important reason why those scopes work so well.
Sure, scopes from China and Philippines have a lower price point and can fluctuant in quality. That is mainly because of how the company spec’s the scope and the amount of quality control which follows. They batch test vs being more discerning. If your budget dictates you can only afford one of these scopes, it just means you have to monitor it a bit sharper than guy who bought a more expensive one. We do see some very good, low budget AR Scopes from these factories, so you have to understand the application. While I might not want a precision rifle scope from there, putting a red dot on a my AR marked from can work out in my favor.
Which brings me to Glass… Fuck Glass, it’s a sight not spotter. I never missed because I couldn’t see.
It’s 2017, every damn scope looks good out of the box. They have learned enough over the last 50 years to make very good glass. The optical prescription and how they spec them is such that we can barely tell the difference when all else is equal.
First off, Tracking is 100x more important than Glass… if the scope does not track correctly or hold zero, you cannot hit your target no matter how nice the sight picture looks to you.
Glass is subjective, no two users see through the scope the same way. Especially if it was not properly adjusted for the shooter’s eyes. There is only so many suppliers of the raw glass and the difference actually lies in the coatings. The problem with coatings is, some are more durable then others. So while your cheap, budget minded scope, “Looks just as good as my Friend’s S&B” in 2 years your coatings will be wore down and not nearly as nice and his will be the same as the first day he bought it. Things like sunlight can actually wear on coatings over time. So just showing up with a scope can degrade it.
I think people tell themselves how good something is just to justify the purchase they weren’t sure about any ways. After that it’s just a case of misery loving company.
Coatings are what gives a scope it’s “look” and that look is the same as asking your friend what his favorite color is. They design the coatings and the look for a specific set of results. That usually means, outside in the sun, which is one color on the spectrum chart, or to break down shadows so you can see your prey through the camouflage. If you want lowlight performance you get a big objective and reduce the power to open up the exit pupil. If you test your scope on 25x at night, you will be disappointed, try turning the power down. Same goes for the elevation, if you want to see the best sight picture, the erector has to be centered. You cannot crank 50MOA on one scope and compare it to scope that is centered. It’s like testing a scope indoors with fluorescent lights when it’s color corrected for daylight. All will make a scope look bad. Bay window reviewers are plentiful on the internet, some of the best reviews come from safe queen rifles.
Features to look for:
Elevation, which is usually tied to main tube size. Most are hovering around 30mm to 34mm. if you are putting the scope on your 338LM you want 100MOA or more of elevation. That is equal to over 26 Mils of adjustment. So for ELR Shooting you want a scope with 28 to 36 Mils of adjustment. If you are using your 308, you can get away with 15 Mils or less. That is about 60 MOA. I do recommend getting more elevation than you think you need, you may decide to swap it over or travel to a location with more distance.
Zero Stops, definitely worth having. This prevents you from being off a turn. Some scopes allow you to set them, other scopes are set at the factory. I always like to have a tiny bit, about 1 MOA of down, below the zero stop.
Locks, Brakes, Capped Windage
This was designed around the Military using the Horus Reticle. They are unnecessary for most shooters but often come on scopes as a default feature. These will be a bit more complicated and will drive up the cost of the scope.
If you are a dynamic shooter, field shooter, PRS Shooter, even the Hunter, you want a Front Focal Plane scope. This many also increase the cost.
If you plan on shooting F Class, Benchrest, if you shoot by yourself, or you are shooting ELR with heavy recoiling rifles like a .50 cal, you want to get a Second Focal Plane Scope. Generally considered a more durable design, and will be a bit cheaper.
Reticles, Reticles, and more reticles …
Reticles are like shoes, you get the pair that fit and for your desired use. You don’t buy sneakers to match your business suit. You get sneakers to run in, hiking boots to hike in, and dress shoes to look good but feel uncomfortable. Same with reticles.
Reticles take understanding and training. We use reticles today like very few did before. The biggest consideration is to match the reticle to the turrets. Mils for Mils and MOA for MOA. If you don’t need all the clutter, don’t get it. Nobody I know of has won an F Class match with a Horus reticle holding over. It’s a tool, one that might not be necessary for your type of shooting.
Our brains like focus, we like a defined intersection and the hold over reticles are designed for speed, and big targets. Sure given time and opportunity we can get very precise, but they can also block the impact causing us to hesitate and have to “think” about what just happened. When you expect one outcome and it doesn’t happen, some people lock up. Also under stress with limited training I have seen people hold the wrong line. Practice is important. But they are just Mils so they do work as advertised. They also add more money to the scope. The Horus reticle adds $400 to the cost, that is the license fee which is passed on to the end user.
Look at the schematics of the reticles you are considering, get to know them first and understand what they provide you and what they don’t. You have to wear the shoes, not me.
I trained on the Horus, I have taught others on the Horus, and I personally dislike the Horus. Doesn’t mean I can’t use it, I just don’t like it, never did since day one. I tend to opt for less and do very well with less because I understand both and can use my P4F or MSR in the exact same manner as my Horus reticles. Sure, I still own them, but I don’t need it to hold over, or to be successful when holding.
Study the reticles and pick it based on your Mission. The one or two stages at a PRS match where there is not enough time to dial can easily be shot with a plain old Mil Dot. Effectively too.
Mils vs MOA
Match the turrets to the reticles. I have articles about this that go into depth, but they are the same damn thing. If your gonna shoot F Class you use MOA, if you are gonna shoot PRS you use Mils, if you shoot alone it doesn’t really matter, just match the turrets to the reticle. For the guys that say I think in inches therefore use MOA, you’re silly, you know 10 pennies is a dime, well that is a Mil in a nutshell. You cannot hold the difference, and you can get 1/8th inch clicks in mils, you are not gonna see the difference show up on target. I promise you, if you dial 7.5 MOA it is the same as me using 2.2 Mils. We’ll both hit center of the same target.
What is the Best Scope out there
Everyday the question is, Which is the Best ? Scope A or Scope B, well if there was one scope that solved it all we’d be using it. You’d find it under “What the Pro’s Use” except every pro cannot be sponsored by one scope company. When you see a scope in the list that doesn’t quite fit in, it’s probably a sponsor’s optic being used by a very good team. Doesn’t make it better, just makes it sponsored. It also proves that a $1500 scope will not hold you back when shot against a $3000 scope. That scope is not doing something different or better at a lower cost, it’s doing the same thing.
Scopes are sights, not spotters. We need the internals to track and repeat correctly. We try to eliminate the need to use Customer Service by picking a scope with a better track record, but still there is no guarantee of perfection. The Scope is your weakest link next to the actual bullet. It’s a mechanical device subject too potential failure. If 4 out of every 10 sold need repair but the company is super nice about it, do you still want it ? Imagine traveling to a competition, $500 airfare, $500 for the room, rental car, ammo prep only to have the scope go down on day one. You get back on Monday call the company and they are super nice, about “checking it out” or even replacing it. Doesn’t replace the time and money you wasted. So look at track records vs customer service praise. If nobody can answer a customer service question it’s probably because they don’t use it.
I have used everything from the Weaver to the Hensoldt and all scopes in between. Each one has it’s place and some are more user friendly than others. The features I like are not the same as the features someone else will like. You have to define your mission in order to figure out where you sit in that spectrum.