The Case Against Buying the Most Expensive Riflescope

By Joe Izrael

Voicing an opinion running contrary to one of your host's pet beliefs may seem as the pinnacle of audacity, but I digress. We have often read, and I have said many times myself, that high quality optics should never be compromised. I still believe so. However, let's not forget that general rules, or guidelines, for serious amateurs are not universal. Certainly, not for everyone and not eternally. Not every scenario calls for the brightest optics possible, nor would this be a sensible choice every time.

A little while ago a mother called me, asking me about a $2500 Swarovski riflescope. When inquiring about the reason she wanted such a scope, she confidently asserted that Swarovski scopes are the best (she had heard so!) and she only wanted the best for her children.

After a short conversation, I learned that her two teenagers recently got into air-rifle competition and were now exploring rimfire rifles. Between the two of them, they owned a single .22 rifle and now she was on the verge of making them share a $2500 scope, as well.

To my great surprise, after a short inquiry, she informed me that indeed, she didn't drive a brand-new Ferrari to work or the grocery store. Even more shocking was the fact that she didn't share one automobile with her husband, who works elsewhere, of course. After these shocking revelations, she slowly started to wake up to the fact that differences in physical characteristics, height, weight, shooting style and personal preference call for an individual rifle with an individual scope.

After a little more explaining and convincing, I was able to persuade her that at this stage, (i.e. her children being beginners, shooting a single rimfire gun at short distances, at paper targets in broad daylight) a simple, economy scope would be much more appropriate. With time they will come to appreciate and learn about the features they need, want, like and dislike. When conditions change, when they find themselves shooting at longer ranges, in less light, from a bright spot into a shaded area or vice versa, they'll be ready to upgrade to a better scope.

We happily parted, agreeing to the simple advice that she would put half the intended sum away for a college fund and use the other half for an entry-level 22 and two economy scopes. I did make a few recommendations for solid, reasonable quality scopes that would serve her teenagers well.

I have such scopes myself and use them on a regular basis. No, they won't earn you a gold medal in F-Class competition, wouldn't survive a 3-gun match or a mountain goat hunt, and chances are you won't take a trophy elk in the last glimmer of legal light at 400 yards. However, you can have fun plinking cans all day long and with a little practice put all your lead in the X-ring from 25-35 yards.

I have kids, as well, and my poor Simmons 3-9x32mm scope has suffered at their hands the kind of abuse I doubt I would have survived myself. No, it doesn't look brand new. It sports a few nicks and dings and, by now, if I take it from the cozy home out in dead winter, it fogs up inside. The adjustments were never crisp and precise and every time the little devils dropped the gun during cleaning (take this word very loosely, please), my heart bleeds a bit, but I don't always have to re-zero.

The morale of the story is that you don't need a Rolls Royce to go pick up franks and burgers from the grocery. Modern technology has provided us with adequate quality optics at such modest prices that practically every gun in your battery can have its own dedicated scope and fare satisfactorily with it, as long as you stay within their reasonable limits.

Let us not forget the law of diminishing returns: the higher the price, the less the return. Or, in other words, the more subtle the increase in quality, the more you will have to pay. For example, if we arbitrarily decide that a $200 scope is twice as good as a $100 model, a $400 scope will in no way be twice as good as the $200 product.

Of course, there are quite a few steps between a $60 Simmons and a $4500 Schmidt & Bender. How do we balance optical quality and need? How can we give someone fair and sound advice?

First, let's realistically examine the actual need and the way the scope will be used. Then, we should remember the financial dynamics. If winning a competition at all costs is what you crave, then of course the sky, or rather your bank account, is the limit. However, if you need to bag deer and turkey to put meat on the table, year in and year out, that is an entirely different story. If you are an occasional hunter, or competitor, the picture changes again.

As a general rule, get what you need. For example, a scope that will be bright enough to let you see your targets under the worst predictable conditions and durable enough to withstand what you want to do with it. Hunting in open areas will usually necessitate longer shots, so you need glass that's sharp at longer distances. A hunt in thick cover will call for a scope that gathers enough light even in heavy brush. The more you demand from your scope, the more it will cost. If you think of getting into long-range shooting, you will have to cough up the beans; yet you'll still have to balance your expenses intelligently. The quality of your rifle and ammo should not be compromised.

We are blessed to live in times when there are enough people who can afford high quality optics and thus drive competition and research, resulting in unprecedented quality products. However, we also live in a time of too much senseless waste, envy and bad decisions based in ignorance.

Quality products will never replace knowledge and experience. The clearest glass cannot make you hit your target if you don't put the requisite effort into it and a Mil-Dot reticle will never replace a thorough understanding of ballistics and ammunition. If you have to pawn your rifle to buy a scope there is a heck of a lot of meat you won't be bringing home.

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Copyright 2016 by Joe Izrael and/or All rights reserved.