Recommended Muzzleloading Scopes by Price

By Randy Wakeman

When it comes to the "eye of the beholder" there are few products in muzzleloading city that are more divisive and derisive-filled than riflescopes. I thought it was supposed to be nitrogen?

The debate is endless, and often turns into esoteric differences of opinion over entirely subjective minutia. The difference of a couple of ounces mark earmark a scope as "heavy," even though it is to be mounted on a rifle that weighs over nine pounds with ramrod.

The "light transmission" numbers are not standardized, yet everybody needs that number, though looking through a scope rated 5% "better" will not be discernible by most of us. We all seek scopes with "good eye relief," though that can hardly be defined satisfactorily to all, or at all. We want to know if a scope will "take the recoil," though the vast majority of scopes are specifically designed to do just that, and do well. We want the "best resolution," yet resolution is not stated by our scope makers, and scope lenses are of very low quality compared to camera lenses or medical imaging units.

We fuss and bluster about parallax and brightness yet most can understand that when the power ring is turned down all scopes get brighter, and parallax seems to go away. We want to know "where they are made," as if only one or two countries in the world can possibly manufacture proper scopes. We all want more magnification than we need, for most of us can shoot iron sights with ease at 50 yards, and at 150 yards through a three power scope we ask no more of our eyes and are given the advantage of a single sighting plane.

We call certain brands of scopes "good" or "bad" based on their trade name alone. We should know by now that all specific models of one particular brand name of cameras, televisions, or even automobiles is no absolute guarantee of anything, and a Mercedes can require warranty work just as often as a Toyota.

We spend little time using riflescopes, and we should be focusing on binoculars instead. Yet, scopes are far more fun.

Well, I've had fun testing bushel-baskets full of scopes on some forty muzzleloaders, and some favorites have become apparent in each price category. An inline muzzleloader is every bit as deserving of reliable glass as any other hunting rifle. After all, it is used under the same conditions, and often at the very same ranges. I think that these are "worth a look" by muzzleloading enthusiasts. The prices are general, 2004 street-value prices, and are only intended as a rough guide.

Best Scopes Under $150: Millett Buck Gold 3-9x44 and Bushnell Legend 2-7x32

Don't let the "Made In China" fool you, the "Buck Gold" is a bright, clear, extremely tough scope with easy to use finger adjustments and a hassle free lifetime warranty. For those that might want an etched, illuminated reticle, the Millett Buck Lightning is otherwise the same scope for about forty dollars more and compares well with IR scopes costing twice the price. Somewhat heavy and bulky, it may look out of place on the more diminutive muzzleloaders, but no more so than most other 44mm objective scopes. I've recommended this scope to several others, and they have been universally surprised and pleased that you can get this much scope for such little money.

The new for 2004 Bushnell Legend 2 x 7 x 32mm scope, reviewed on the Rifle Information Page, falls well under the $150 street price threshold. With its very bright glass, relatively light weight, and generous eye relief, it is an ideal muzzleloading scope. The Legend 2 x 7 x 32 eclipses even the still excellent value Millett, in my opinion, for many muzzleloaders.

Best Scope Under $200: Bushnell Elite 3200 3-9x40

A tough titanium tube, handy quick-focus eyepiece, this scope includes the Bushnell RainGuard that has already proven to be one of the breakthroughs in recent lens coating technology. It features crisp metal on metal adjustments, and I would be proud to hunt with this scope anywhere. I've taken animals well after sunset with it out of the brush at over 120 yards, and I have found the image brightness similar to a Vari-X II.

Again, this tube has a lifetime warranty, and is simply a home run for Bushnell. I prefer the standard plex reticle to the heavy low light or Firefly reticles. The glass is good enough that I just don't feel they are requisite. Also, unless your muzzleloader is completely blowback-free, the gloss version of this scope has proven to be easier to clean.

Like all Light Optical Works (Japan) assembled scopes, the 3200s have been very uniform in quality from scope to scope. It would be "the winner" in this price range even without the extra tough tube and the RainGuard; these two features just make it a lead pipe cinch in this price category.

Best Scope Under $250: Sightron SII 3-9x42

The Sightron SII scopes have been one of the best-kept secrets in optics for far too long. I was stunned by the excellent image quality, ultra precise adjustments, light weight and compact size.

Sightron has been building a terrific name for itself over the last few years. It isn't the biggest scope company, but it is one of the best. I have yet to meet a Sightron I didn't like! Sightron has a huge line in their SII class, with power ranges and reticle variations as stock product most manufacturers just don't have. A no nonsense lifetime warranty that never keeps you waiting for a repair completes the picture.

What your eyes tell you, your heart must believe. If extremely bright, clear glass combined with a uniquely solid adjustment system appeals to you, it is hard to do better than the Sightron SII in this price class. At least I have not been able to.

Best Scope Under $400: Bushnell Elite 4200 2.5-10x40

This was perhaps the easiest choice of all. The Bushnell Elite 4200 2.5 x 10 x 40 is the best scope under $400, the best scope under $375, and the best scope under $350--contingent on where you shop. It has everything that so impressed me in the 3200: the terrific RainGuard, the strong titanium / aluminum alloy tube, and confidence inspiring metal on metal adjustments.

In addition to all that, it has a true 4X zoom range that handles most any hunting situation I can think of, and vibrant image quality that just jumps out at me. It is a fabulously bright, clear scope. It handily outshines every scope in its piece range, and most scopes commonly available at any price.

Actually, the entire Bushnell Elite 4200 line is nothing short of spectacular. Where other manufacturers empty your wallet with incremental changes in power range or objective size, Bushnell does not. Even the 4 x 16 x 40 or the 2.5 x 10 x 50 versions of this scope may be priced under $400.

Whatever your preconceived notions of Bushnell riflescopes might be, the 4200 will change your paradigm about how crisp and bright a medium priced scope can be. The Bushnell 4200 scopes are not billed as "constant eye relief," but I have found that they are very close to it. Where many scopes require stock crawling after spinning the power ring, the Bushnell 4200s exhibit a distinct lack of this annoyance. I was able to maintain a consistent stockweld while spinning through the entire zoom range of the 2.5 x 10. Well after a day's hunt, with game already bagged and our muzzleloaders discharged, more than a few fellow hunters have gushed, "It looks like daylight through that scope of yours!" I think they are fabulous, and I believe you will too.


I certainly think that good muzzleloaders deserve quality optics, for the same reason as any other hunting rifle: to see what you are shooting at. Over and over again, the number one factor cited in the clean, human harvesting of game is precise shot placement. A good scope makes that task a whole bunch easier.

These scopes have proven themselves to be worthy of your consideration. As in all things, your eyes and your standards are what count. If you've not checked these scopes out first hand, you should see what you are missing or, more hopefully, hitting!

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Copyright 2004 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.