Most airgun hunters use a scope on their hunting rifles, and there are many choices available. In my earlier days I hunted more with open sites, but as my eyes age, I find a scope very valuable in picking up targets in less than optimal light conditions. Rifle scopes come in a wide range of sizes and magnification power. The most commonly used version on hunting airguns is probably the 3-9 x with a one inch tube. There are many different objective lens sizes with 40mm the most common, though many with apertures up to 50 mm are becoming more common, and some are available with an adjustable objective (AO) option. This corrects for parallax at various ranges and as an added benefit can be used for range finding. As mentioned, there are several reasons for using a scope. I have found that my eyes don’t focus on iron sights like they used to, and going to a scope is one way to combat the effect of my deteriorating eyesight. However, the main reason I prefer scopes is because they are easy to use and allow for more precise shot placement. They also gather in light in low light situations, prolonging shooting time. The scope is the easiest sight to use, because all one has to do is get it properly zeroed, then put the crosshairs on the target and squeeze the trigger – no sight alignment is necessary. I hunted without a scope when I was young, and I was an effective small game hunter. Even for small game hunting I’ll glass the trees looking for squirrels or sweeping the desert looking for jackrabbits, scopes have become a natural extension of my hunting gun. These days I hardly ever head out to the field to hunt anything without a scoped rifle. The most popular scopes are variable-power 3x-9x. Actual magnification values vary from scope to scope, but the numbers mean that at the lowest setting (3x), an object viewed will appear to be approximately three times the size it would appear when viewed by the naked eye – and at the top setting, it would appear to be about nine times that size. Adjustment between the low and high settings is infinite – you can turn the adjustment to any position between the low and high, and view the target at varying respective sizes.
For almost all hunting applications, 3x is plenty low and will allow you to pick up your target quickly. And 9x is usually high enough for zooming in on small game at far ranges. In some cases a higher magnification is desirable, but of course that depends on the type of terrain you hunt and how far the longest shot may be. When hunting with airguns we are usually shooting smaller quarry at ranges up to 100 yards and higher magnification can be very useful. However, you need to be aware that the higher you go with magnification, the more your every shake and tremble shows up in the movement of the crosshairs on your target. For the most part I set my scope at 6x and leave it there, with adjustments the exception not the rule.
If you asked me these days what scopes I us the most these days my answer would probably be Hawke products. There are several reasons for this; a) I like their selection of reticles and find them perfect for field applications, b) the quality of the glass is very good with sharp clear images and good low light functionality, c) they are very reliable an stand up to hard use, and d) I don’t think there is a better price/performance ratio to be found. It’s not that often I find myself gravitating to exclusively to a specific brand in any of my gear, but before I sat down to write the blog this week I looked in my gun room and saw Hawke glass on just about everything own!
When choosing a scope, you have to assess your needs and decide whether you want the flexibility of a variable-power scope or the lower price but increased reliability of a fixed-power scope. One problem with variable scopes is that they can sometimes allow point of impact to change according to where the magnification setting is. This is not a problem with better quality variable scopes. The eye relief can also change with the power setting. Eye relief is the optimum distance between your eye and the scope’s eyepiece to get the proper view of your target. With a lower quality variable scopes, that distance can change somewhat depending on where the magnification is set, meaning that the position of the cheek on the stock will have to change as well. A fixed-power scope solves both of these problems by maintaining a constant setting, and therefore constant eye relief. Because the power doesn’t change, point of impact won’t, either. However, the first time you need to pick out a headshot on a squirrel sitting up in a tree and only a fixed low power magnification, the utility of a variable scope becomes obvious. Having said this, I am starting to use lower powered (4X or 6X) fixed magnification scopes more, especially on compact guns where I don’t want the added weight of the variable scopes which tend to be larger as a rule.
I also think that the light transmitting characteristics of the scope is one of the most critical aspects in delivering a quality scope, because it’s in the low light conditions that a scope is most useful for hunters. The majority of scopes provide fairly sharp images when it’s bright and clear outside, it’s those dull and dreary early morning or dusk hours that puts then to the test. I believe the tube dimension has some impact on the light transmission, it is secondary to the exit pupil which in turn is a function of the magnification and the size of the objective. The larger objective provides a larger exit pupil and better at imaging in low light conditions. You also want a scope with multi-coated glass, which reduces the reflection of light off the scopes lenses, effectively letting in more light.
An often discussed feature of a scope is the size of the objective (front) lens. Simply put, larger objectives gather more light, making a brighter view, especially in low-light conditions (with appropriate coating on lenses, as discussed). At dusk or daybreak, a good scope will gather enough light to allow me to peer into dark brushy areas and see much more detail than can be seen with the naked eye. However, larger objectives invariably mean that the scope must be mounted higher on the gun – and the higher the line of sight, the more awkward the sighting process becomes, and the more awkward the gun is to handle, as it becomes increasingly top-heavy. The hunter has to consider the conditions under which they will shoot and how the gun will be used.
I do believe that you should get the best scope you can afford; I often spend almost as much on my scope as I do on my air rifle. You can buy a premium priced rifle and use top quality pellets to achieve peak accuracy, but with a poor quality scope you’ll never reach the rifle/pellet combinations full potential. I want a good scope on any gun that I hunt with, and I’m willing to pay the price to get it. I’ve learned the hard way that cheap scopes are worth even less than their purchase price. Especially when the scope is going to live on top of a magnum air rifle, cheap scopes will not survive very long. Nothing is as frustrating as being out on a hunt and having your equipment fail, and this will happen with a cheap scope at some point. The reticle will shift, the lens will fog, and I learned from experience that something is bound to go wrong. But a value priced scope is not the same as cheap, look around at Hawke and Bushnell scopes and you can find very good glass at a reasonable price. Do your homework and look at companies that are built on budget pricing, and you can find some surprisingly good scopes there as well, but still the mantra of ”buy the best scope you can afford” is valid.
What I’ve got going on
I’m going out to Arizona in a couple weeks to do another dairy farm pigeon/Eurasian dove shoot for a couple days, then dropping down to Tucson to shoot rabbits at an overrun golf course. Next is a multiday hunt for whitetail in Alabama’s first season in which Airguns are allowed, then off for a hog hunt, a few Midwestern squirrel hunts, Then off for Texas predators and a blackbuck, leading up to Shot show, more Midwestern small game and some winter crow shooting, with a lead up to my Javalina hunt in Arizona (their first legal season for Airguns). Lots going on and lots to be excited about.
Also a thanks to all of you that have been visiting my website and YouTube channel, there will be a lot of new material going up in coming weeks!