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.
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.
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!
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!