How to Pick the Best Deer Hunting Riflescope

Selecting the right scope for your rifle should be based on several factors, none of which should include hype or whiz-bang marketing but instead should be based on your realistic hunting scenarios.

When you’re looking for new optics for your best deer hunting rifle, you should always buy the riflescope that fits your needs and not your dreams.

Have you ever been “scoped?” I don’t mean bashed in the forehead by the eyepiece ring. I mean have you ever been lured into buying the wrong scope for the right rifle? This is a common problem brought on by aggressive marketing, “glass envy” and the all-American idea that bigger is always better. We’re talking monster scopes that hog more light than Miley Cyrus. High zoom ratios larger than the national debt. Illuminated ballistic reticles with more branches than a Christmas tree. Turret dials with more adjustment range than an M777 howitzer.

And all you wanted to do was shoot a deer.

Remember this the next time you’re tempted by the latest whizbang scope: A riflescope is a glorified front sight. It’s primary mission is to hold zero so you can plaster the reticle over your target and expect your bullet to land suitably close to that spot. Every time. You don’t need the deer to shine like a full moon. You don’t need it so enlarged you can count its eyelashes. You don’t need 600-, 700-, 1,000- and 1,250-yard sub-reticles. But you don’t need a bargain basement scope that is too small, weak and dim either. You need to pick just the right scope for your shooting needs.

WATCH: WHAT IS PARALLAX IN YOUR SCOPE AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?


THE CHOICES ARE CLEAR

Magnification: Scope magnification can be too much of a good thing. At 10X, objects will appear to be 10 times closer. A deer 100 yards away will appear to be 10 yards away. BB gun range. Do you really need a big, heavy, 25X scope that makes a 100-yard deer look 4 yards away? For big game hunting out to 600 yards, 10X is more than enough. If you’re planning to pick off rodents or targets at 400 to 1,000 yards, the 14X to 30X scopes begin to make sense. Just be prepared for the bulk and weight. Big, heavy scopes make sense on big, heavy target/varmint rifles.

Objective Lens Size: Everyone knows big objective lenses let more light in, but this comes at a price: bigger, heavier and more expensive. Big objective bells force scopes high off barrels, forcing you off the comb. Scopes with today’s best anti-reflec- tion coatings are sufficient for clearly showing reticles against even black bears 30 to 45 minutes after sundown if the exit pupil is 4mm or larger. At 10X, a 40mm objective will yield a 4mm exit pupil. Dial it down to 6X and the exit pupil enlarges to 6.7mm, about all the human eye can use.

Become comfortable with your scope and rifle at the range at different distances so you’ll be 100 percent confident during the season.

Oversized Main Tubes Aren’t Brighter: 30mm and 34mm main tubes are great for increasing reticle adjustment range and zoom range, but they produce no useable increases in brightness. Objective lens diameter divided by power determines exit pupil size, and that matches up to your own pupil’s dilation to determine how much light passes to your retina. Exit pupil diameter above 7mm is overkill.

Illuminated Reticles Don’t Light Subjects: A lighted reticle will show you your aiming sight in darkness, but it won’t brighten your target. You still need maximum light transmission for that, and fully multi-coated scopes provide this.

The Right Scope for You:
Scopes should fit your needs, not your dreams. Be honest with yourself. Do most of your shots come at 1,000 yards or 100 yards? How often do you shoot 500 yards in near darkness? Most hunters find that 90 percent of the whitetails, mule deer, pronghorns, elk and even coyotes they shoot are no more than 300 yards away. To find them, hunters often walk, hike, trudge and crawl for miles. None of those miles grow any shorter if your scopes weigh upwards of 2 pounds.

So don’t buy more scope than you realistically need. Nothing wrong with a 5-25x56mm or 3.5-18x50mm built on 30mm or 34mm main tubes. Just remember that such units are larger, bulkier and heavier than scopes with smaller objectives and less power. They can easily unbalance your rifle, making it slower to whip into action, harder to carry, less fun to use. Long range “sniper” rifles, on the other hand, benefit from big, powerful scopes.

Match scopes to guns, not dreams.