Are You Using the Right Crossbow Scope?

Most crossbows are now sold with a scope that comes as part of the overall purchase package. If you have purchased a crossbow recently, you may have wondered if the standard scope that came with your crossbow is the best one for you to use for deer hunting. In most cases, the answer will likely be, yes. Most manufacturers do a fair job of pairing the right scope types with the right scope models in standard crossbow packages. However, the only way for you to know if you have the right type is to understand the differences between the two main crossbow scopes on the market: multi-reticle and variable power.


The Right Crossbow Scope

Some common crossbow scope reticles. (Author photo)

A multi-reticle scope, or drop-compensating reticle scope, has multiple horizontal reticles, dots or marks that allow you to shoot at different distances accurately without having to make a windage or elevation adjustment to the scope. In other words, you do not need to self-compensate by holding over or under targets that are not at the zeroed distance of the scope. Each horizontal reticle or mark that intersects with the vertical reticle denotes a distance where the crossbow will shoot accurately. Most are made to have a fixed 4x magnification, which should be plenty for you to harvest a deer out to 50 yards. Some scopes allow you to illuminate the reticles in green or red in low-light conditions. If your scope doesn’t have this illumination feature and you plan to shoot in low-light situations, you will benefit greatly by upgrading to a multi-reticle or variable-power scope that does.

There’s one more thing that you should know about a multi-reticle scope — and here’s where things begin to get a little tricky. Many multi-reticle scopes are marketed to shoot at pre-set distances of 20, 30 and 40 yards, and so on, when zeroed at 20 yards. However, a multi-reticle scope is calibrated at a fixed speed, say 330 feet per second. The horizontal reticles on your multi-reticle scope will only stand for these distances if your crossbow shoots close to, or at the calibration speed of the scope. In other words, the reticles in the scope only signify the distances of 20, 30 and 40 yards when your crossbow shoots an arrow that is traveling near (± 7 fps) or at 330 fps. If your crossbow doesn’t shoot near the calibration speed, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that you need to upgrade the scope or that your scope won’t work. It means that the reticles on your scope will signify a different series of yardage distances. Contact your manufacturer on how to best determine your crossbow scope’s reticle distance distribution. Some hunters adjust quickly to these different reticle distances and do not find a need to upgrade to a variable-power scope.


A variable power scope is a multi-reticle scope that has a variable speed setting, which allows you to calibrate the scope’s speed to the exact speed that your arrow is shooting. In other words, from our example above, the multiple reticles, dots or marks will always stand for distances of 20, 30 and 40 yards because we are calibrating the speed of the scope ourselves by selecting the speed on the scope that matches the speed of our arrow. Many crossbow hunters find it more convenient for the reticles to always signify 10-yard distances, and the feature that allows for precise calibration of the arrow speed to the scope makes the variable power a more precise shooting optic. Also, due to the design of most variable-power scopes, the arrow speed is directly related to the power of the scope’s magnification. In other words, the faster that your crossbow shoots, the higher the power magnification will be in the scope. In addition, variable-power scopes typically have the same green or red reticle illumination feature as multi-reticles scopes. Many people choose to upgrade from a multi-reticle to a variable-power scope for all of these advantages.


The Right Crossbow Scope

The speed selection dial on a variable power scope. (Author photo)

Some hunters that have multi-reticle scopes may gain an advantage by upgrading to a variable-power scope. Some of you may not need to upgrade at all, based on the speed of your crossbow and the type of hunting that you do with it. If your crossbow came with a variable-power scope, you may already have the perfect optic to fit all of your needs. 

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