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Airgun Optics

Posted by on March 8, 2015
The Hawke Optics have been my preferred choice for a few years, but there are other scopes I like a lot. These sopes provide excellent optical quality, light transmission, and I like the reticle options.

The Hawke Optics have been my preferred choice for a few years, but there are other scopes I like a lot. These sopes provide excellent optical quality, light transmission, and I like the reticle options.

When heading off on an airgun hunt, regardless of the type of game, the type of gun being used, or even the conditions I expect to encounter, my gun will almost always be equipped with a scope. There are several reasons for this; as the acuity of my eyesight diminishes with age a scope helps me pick up my target more quickly and more clearly, it permits shooting in conditions of low ambient lighting (which us common when hunting). And the selection of the appropriate magnification allows the very small kill zones to be honed in on, even at a distance.

There are several considerations when selecting a scope for your hunting air rifle; is the gun a springer or a precharged pneumatic, what is the size of the kill zone on your intended game, how far will you be shooting, what light conditions do you anticipate? The attributes I look for are dependent on the application, but as a rule I prefer a compact scope with medium magnification and a thin wire reticle with mildots or other ranging reference points. I also prefer an adjustable aperture to correct for parallax distortion, with a side turret on the tube rather than a front aperture ring. But if an adjustable objective is not present, the gun needs to be parallax corrected for typical airgun distances in the 50 yard range.  But these characteristics are not a hard fast rule, and for certain guns and situations I may look for a large aperture high magnification scope, or lower or higher magnification. I’m going to take a look at the features found on many of today’s airgun scopes, but will start with a quick look at some of the key manufacturers.

I'm using the MTC on my Bushbuck and am having nothing but positive experience soo far ....  I'll see how it stands up to a summer of chasing Pdawgs ..... as a rule this is the time I do the most damage to my gear.

I’m using the MTC on my Bushbuck and am having nothing but positive experience soo far …. I’ll see how it stands up to a summer of chasing Pdawgs ….. as a rule this is the time I do the most damage to my gear.

Hawke Optics have been around for several years and have a big following with airgunners in the UK, and in recent years have made significant inroads to the US market. The quality of the glass they use provides crisp, clear images across the range of scopes. With heavy field use, I have found the construction very rugged and able to stand up to the abuses of hunting in rough conditions. What I also like about the Hawke scopes is the number of reticle designs available, which can be used in conjunction with Hawkes Chairgun Ballistic Calculator. Chairgun is available free of charge and can be downloaded from their website. The companies Airmax 3-9×40 is one of my favorite all around scopes, it is compact, good optical quality, robust, and it utilizes the companies MAP6 parabolic aiming points that can be calibrated to a specific gun/pellet combination using the ballistic calculator. On a couple of my longer range guns I am using the Sidewinder 4-16×50 10x mildot, the fully multi-coated glass is very good and I Like the side-wheel for AO.

MTC is a British manufacturer that has just emerged on the domestic market, and the couple models I’ve used in the field have provided very good optical quality. MTC OPTICS is a UK-based distributor of high-quality riflescopes     and optical products. With a reputation with UK shooters I’ve spoke with of producing quality products at a reasonable price point, and providing good customer service.  One of the scopes I’ve been hunting with the last few months, and more recently on my Bushbuck .45 is the MTC Genisis 5-20×50 scope. The optical quality provided by the fully coated lenses is very good in low light, the quality at high magnification is also very good….. how ever on my big game guns I’ll probably move to a lower magnification scope and use this one on one of my long range prairie dog guns. The scope is built on a 30 mm tube, and uses an illuminated AMD reticle with a second focal plane. On a recent hunt the scope stood up to some exceedingly rough use and bad weather, and performed flawlessly when it came tome to take the shot. I will be looking at these scopes a lot more, and as mentioned, I will use on at least one of my long range rigs.

No nonsense ruggedly built, and optical quality out of proportion to the value price positioning. Leapers also has a n extensive product line to choose from.

No nonsense ruggedly built, and optical quality out of proportion to the value price positioning. Leapers also has a n extensive product line to choose from.

Another company I like is Leapers, which is based in Michigan. They have one of the most extensive lineups of scopes, many of which are springer rated, on the market. This company fills an important niche for airgunners, not only because they have a product for virtually every conceivable application, but also offer one of the best values around. The glass is good, maybe a little less crisp than achieved by the very expensive scopes under low light conditions, but they are built like tanks, they are feature rich, and they are a fraction of the price of many scopes at a similar quality/performance point. Another positive point for American hunters is that Leapers is moving the manufacturing of their scopes back to the USA, which is a reversal of the normal flight of manufacturing operations abroad, and will build scopes in their Michigan facilities. An example of a Leapers scope that I use on my springers is the UTG 3-9×40, which combines optical quality with an illuminated mildot reticle that has been able to stand up to my scope eating magnum springers. I also use the UTX 1-4.5×22 CCB built on a 30mm tube on my big bore airguns, where I want lower magnifications and rapid sight acquisition.

There are several other manufacturers with product I use and like; Niko Stirling offers high quality glass, and maintains clear, crisp images even at higher magnification. I use these scopes on some of my long range rifles and love them, though they are fairly expensive. Gamo owned BSA offers a range of scopes, some of which, such as the AR 3-9×40 AO are quite good and can stand the pounding of a magnum air rifle. I haven’t been as impressed with the ones bundled with their gun kits; however this can be said with virtually all of the vendors. If possible, I’d buy my gun and scope separately and opt for one of the premium level products. When bundling an off the shelf kit, a manufacturer needs to contain costs and a lot of shooters, especially those new to the sport, tend to recoil from the higher price a premium scope would add to the package price.

Scope tubes come in 1″ or 30 mm dimensions, and until recently the vast majority was of the 1″ persuasion. A lot of people think that the 30mm is more effective in collecting ambient lighting, and while this does play a minor role, it is a small term in the equation. The elevation and windage are adjusted using the turrets, and I prefer those that are easily adjusted with fingers as opposed to those requiring a screwdriver or a coin. I also like a tactile response, a solid “click” as adjustments are made.  A trend in recent years is towards adjustors that can be locked down once the optimal setting is determined. Some shooters like this feature, though I’m personally ambivalent and don’t mind if they lock down or not.

The manufacturing quality and dimension of the objective lens, along with the polishing and coating (types and number of coats) has a pronounced impact on the clarity and consistency of the image and ability to transmit light under low light conditions. A fully multi-coated lens achieves reduced flair and maximum light transmission, but increases the manufacturing cost (and end user price) of the scope. You might think that the largest objective lens would be preferred, but it does come at a cost above and beyond the price tag: scopes with a large objective are bigger, heavier, and require a higher profile mount which may hinder slight alignment, depending on your rifles scope.

When it comes to reticles, I like a system that provides a reference that relates to the trajectory of my gun/pellet combination to the scopes aim-points. Knowing where the pellet will hit is critically important when you start to extend the range out past 40 yards. Remember, airguns are generating lower velocities than a firearm, so the drop of the projectile is much more pronounced.

When discussing scopes, magnification is usually one of the first items to come up. Scopes come in either fixed power or variable power with typical ranges for the former being 4x or 6x, and for the latter 3-9X, 4-16x, and 6-24x. A question that often surfaces is what magnification is best? The underlying assumption is that more is better. My opinion is “only as much as you need”, because you pay that size /weight penalty as you go to high magnification glass, and you increase the complexity of usage. I had a professional hunter in Africa tell me that outside of clients using magnum guns they couldn’t handle, the wrong magnification settings (too much or too little) was the biggest source of flubbed shots. A 3-9x magnification is the all-around best choice for hunting, with the right balance of size and performance in the vast majority of situations. I personally like fixed or low magnification variable scopes on my big bore guns; the shots are closer, come up faster, and the targets are larger. The other reason I keep the magnification dialed down is that at 12X the scope jitter is more apparent than at 4x. While the scope isn’t moving any more than when at lower magnification, it seems to be jumping all over the place, and can blow your confidence right when you need it most!

Rings and mounts are an integral component of the sighting system. They need to hold the scope in place and present the scope so that the shooter can achieve a good sight alignment. Most mounts for airguns will need to fit a 11mm dovetail, though I’ve noted a trend (a good one I think) towards the use of Weaver style rails. Some guns actually have both incorporated into their design. On springers I’ll often use a one piece mount as they tend to stay in place and not “walk back” on the dovetail under the force of bidirectional recoil. If you use a two piece mount on a springer you may need to use a scope stop to prevent this rearward travel. The design of the rifles stock and cheekpiece, the height of the receiver, the scopes objective, and the shooters style will determine the height profile of the mount, which generally come in low, medium and high profile configurations. I like to us the lowest possible mount height on my guns, as I feel that I shoot more accurately when able to snug my cheek down and “tuck” into the stock.

So what’s sitting on my guns? I’ve got a gunroom full of springers and PCP’s and most if not all are always wearing a scope. I use a lot of the Hawke and the Leapers products and trust them both. I al also starting to use the MTC products more. I have a few Niko Stirlings, Buris, BSA and Leupolds that I like. When I get a kit gun to review, I do so with the scope that comes with the kit. But for the guns I end up buying will invariably swap the scope out. For the mounts I mostly use those from Leapers, Hawke, or BKL industries (owned by Airforce Airguns). My advice is that you don’t underestimate the impact of a scope on your ability to wring the best accuracy out of your gun, and budget for some good quality glass when buying a new shooting rig. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but an investment is required. All scopes tend to look good on bright sunny days, but it’s in the low light of dawn or dusk where the difference in quality really becomes obvious. And that’s often when you’ll be in the field with your airgun hunting!

Other Topics

Winter hunting seasons are winding down; in a few weeks the predator hunting will get more difficult and all the big game is pretty much done. I’ll probably get a couple more hog hunts in, but I’m getting ready for the transition to spring and summer shooting; prairie dogs, rabbits, ground squirrels, ground hogs, turkey, and pest birds will be the order of the day. I’ll be heading to South Africa, Puerto Rico, and maybe Mexico to hunt before next winter rolls around, though SA will throw me right back into winter time hunting :). I’m kicking up my gym time and getting in shape for these trips, and it won’t hurt to knock of the excess weight before I hit the water on my kayak to fish and camp either!

There is a lot of great new gear coming to market from manufacturers around the globe, and we’ll get some of the earliest news on these products, plus I’ll be getting in a lot of hunts to share. So stay tuned!

17 Responses to Airgun Optics

  1. Johnathan Reece

    I live down here in puerto rico. If you want to bag a couple big green iguanas let me know! We can even eat them afterwards if you’re brave enough.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Jonathan, sounds like a blast! I’ve actually shot them on Florida and Mexico, and have eaten them in Brazil. I’ve seen rows of iguanas with their legs tied behind their back and laid out on market tables….. Would love to shoot them in PR though!
      Regards,
      Jim

  2. Dale ter Haar

    Hi Jim,

    I am considering a red dot sight for my Benjamin Bulldog .357 for impala hunting out to 50-60 yards in Botswana. What are your views on red dot out to these distances?

    Regards

    Dale

  3. Dale ter Haar

    Hi Jim,

    Me again – was just reading another of you articles about your last trip to RSA. In that you say that 400ft/lbs is the minimum for impala and warthog. So would you advise against using my Benjamin Bulldog for them? I chronographed it and its doing 783fps using 145 grain Noslers which is 197ft/lbs and so well beneath the 400ft/lbs you recommend.

    Thanks

    Regards

    Dale

    PS – love your write ups

    • Jim Chapman

      You can without a doubt kill an impala or warthog with less than 400 fpe, but I like the fact that the higher power guns give you more latitude with respect to shot placement and range. You sound like an experienced hunter and are talking about the right range, so I’d say go ahead and use your Bulldog. I like a low power, 4x or 6x fixed scope, for this type of gun and these ranges. Hope you have a great trip, look forward to hearing about it!
      Regards,
      Jim

      • Dale ter Haar

        Hi Jim,

        The impala hunt went well. I chrono’d the airgun and it was shooting at about 150ft/lbs out the box on the Nosler’s but after some feedback on how to crank it up, I am now getting 195ft/lbs with the 145 grain Nosler Xtreme’s. I was fortunately, very shortly afterward receiving the gun, invited on a corporate hunting weekend in the Tuli Block in Eastern Botswana. So I took along my 30-06 Steyr Mannlicher and the Benjamin Bulldog .357.

        After we all confirmed our weapons were zero’d I opted to be dropped off at a hide built next to a pumped waterhole. I thought it was best to control as much of my environment as I could on this exploratory airgun hunt, so decided against stalking on to the game.

        It had rained heavily the night before so I was little worried that with all the puddles in the veldt, the impala may not show. However, I needn’t have fretted. 30 minutes into my wait, I saw a nice looking ewe wander up the bush trail, closely followed by a herd of about 12-15 animals. Amongst which, were a couple of nice rams. Having waited until they got up to the waterhole, I let them settle before I took aim at the nearest large ram. In all my hunting this was my first hide hunt and was the first time in a long while that I had Buck Fever, and it was certainly the worst dose of it that I remember. I was quivering with excitement and nerves. I think it was a combination of lying in ambush and using an airgun on large game! Despite my state, I took aim and squeezed off the shot. At a range of 15 yards, it was no contest. The Nosler hit the buck, which jumped in surprise and then trotted off slowly (very different to their reaction when a 180 grain 30-06 round hits them – they always bolt like a bat out of hell, if its not a neck or head shot). About 25 yards later and a few second later, the ram dropped to the ground and I left him to pass. I gave him 10 minutes and then wandered over. The Nosler has passed through and through and it was a clean heart shot. The rest of the herd was relatively unfazed by the muted retort of the Bulldog and if I was so inclined I probably could have shot at a second animal.

        All in all, I am very happy with my initial hunt with the Bulldog. It certainly seems to have the power. I will hold my far zero at 50 yards and be comfortable to shoot out to 60 yards. I will be fastidious about only taking the shot when I am happy as I can be that I will place the shot well. I doubt the lower speeds of the bullets will leave much of a blood trail and so I would be worried that a pulled shot will mean an unfound beast, left to die slowly.

        I am looking forward to my next trip in a few weeks when I will try it out again. This time I will do what I prefer, which is stalk out and give the game more of a sporting chance. Thanks for your advice and happy hunting.

        Cheers

        Dale

        • Jim Chapman

          Hi Dale;
          Thanks for sharing your hunt, sounds like you and your gun were both up to the task! I was talking to Kip at AOA a while back, we’ve both taken a lot of game with firearms and in his case a bow, but getting into the big stuff with an air rifle is like starting all over again…it makes it fresh. My trophy room now has been slowly replaced with airgun only trophy’s, and unlike my firearm hunts, after close to a couple hundred big game animals with an airgun I remember almost everyone. Look forward to hearing about your future hunts.
          Regards,
          Jim

  4. Samuel Ayomide

    Hello Sir,

    What is the best approach to quail hunting with airgun sir?

    Kind Regards

    • Jim Chapman

      I hike along and try to bust a covy, then both watch where they land and start a spot and stalk or listen for the regrouping calls and glass the area. If you find a desert spring where they come in to drink, you can set up an ambush but this might mean you’ll be sitting for a long while.

  5. Ralph Jordan

    Need some help. I am shooting gray squirrels. I have a Benjamin Marauder in .25 caliber. It will shoot 3/4″ at 50 yards. I am considering a .30 caliber gun. Would like to know how much damage it will do to meat compared to .25 caliber. What is the trajectory of .30 compared to .25 ? Can you tell me the brand of some quality rifles. I was looking at Rapid brand. What are your thoughts. Also would like to know the accuracy to expect from rifles you like. Thanks for your help.

    • Jim Chapman

      Hi Ralph, I don’t find that there is much more meat damage than with a two, maybe a bit more but probably due more to the significantly higher power than the difference in the .25 and .30. That Rapid is a good choice, I also like the FX Boss a lot, and the Hatsan Carnivore .30 for a less refined but solid performer would be what I would look at. I understand that the Daystate Wolverine Type B and C will be available in .30 though I haven’t seen one yet. If this is the case, based on my experience with the Wolverine, I would have to look at this before I made any choices.
      Jim

    • Mazibul haque

      Great! Thanks for sharing the information. That is very helpful for increasing my knowledge in this airguns optics field. Also logged in : http://ar15scopecenter.com/

  6. eric crayon

    This is nice post which I was awaiting for such an article and I have gained some very handy information from this clark gun rest shooting system for site . I have Ar 15 and I am using Nikkon for it . I got great reviews about it from http://www.shootingandsafety.com/best-ar-15-scopes-reviews/

    • Jim Chapman

      Thanks Eric, glad it was helpful. Thanks for following and taking the time to write.
      Jim

  7. Williamson

    A great article on Airgun oprics. Recently I bought a nikon optics for my AR 15. I was inspired by review article of this site gunscopeguy.com

  8. David

    With a great rifle scope, our shooting performance can be better. I have a AR 15 rifle, hope that in the next month you can write a blog post about how to choose the best scope for ar 10. Stay strong and keep contributing mate

  9. Tim Smith

    Thanks for this great post. I am really interested in rifle scopes . I have AR15 and I am using different scopes for it . I just buy it after read the review on thegunzone

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