Riflescopes for Hunting Class 2 Game

By Gary Zinn

Leupold VX-3i 1.75-6x32mm riflescope
Leupold VX-3i 1.75-6x32mm riflescope. Illustration courtesy of Leopold and Stevens.

One of my deer hunting rifles is over scoped and I have no one but myself to blame. The rifle is a bolt action .260 Remington and the scope is a 3-9x40mm model. The mistake I made was I chose a scope that has high end magnification that I never use and low end magnification that is not low enough. I should have chosen a 2-7x32mm, or an even lower power range scope, for using this rifle in the habitats where I hunt.

I bought the rifle and scope over a decade ago and every time I hunt with it I kick myself for not mounting a lower magnification scope on it. I need to correct my mistake by mounting a more suitable scope on this rifle, sooner rather than later.

What I am looking for is a scope with a power range, physical size and weight that would be compatible with the practical range and killing power of a non-magnum small bore rifle cartridge. My .260 Remington is just one of several such calibers of rifles, between .243 and .308 bore, chambered in bolt, lever, or autoloading hunting rifles, that are highly suitable for hunting deer and other Class 2 game. (See Adequate Deer Rifles for more information.)

The opinions I express here are based on my experience hunting whitetail deer in the Eastern woodlands. I believe that experience can be extended to hunting Class 2 game in general. Hunting large game (Class 3) dangerous game (Class 4), or varmints (Class 1), can be viewed as different in several ways, so my conclusions regarding what are the most suitable scopes for pursuing Class 2 game may not be relevant in those other contexts.

(Gary is too modest. Hunting Class 3 game, such as Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest rain forest, is much like whitetail deer hunting in the Eastern woods, except the target is much larger; this means a wide field of view is even more important and high magnification is even less necessary. -Editor)

Actual vs. apparent shooting distances; field of view

The major reason that big game hunters mount scopes on their rifles is to make game animals appear to be much closer than they really are, which increases the probability of making a killing hit on an animal that is a long distance away. Superficially, this could lead to the conclusion that one should choose a scope with very high magnification, since higher magnification will bring the target closer, visually speaking. For instance, suppose one has a scope with a top magnification of 16x. A deer 250 yards away would appear to be only 16 yards away through a scope set at 16x.

However, there is a huge downside; high magnification comes with a severely limited field of view. A major brand scope I checked has a 100 yard f.o.v. of 7.4 feet at 16x, which translates to 18.5 feet at 250 yards. It is hard to acquire a target in such a small f.o.v. and the problem gets greater the shorter the range. Further, the smallest movement by the shooter will be exaggerated 16 times through a scope set at 16x, so it is hard to settle and hold the crosshairs on the target long enough to squeeze off a good shot.

A scope set at 16x is obviously an extreme example for big game hunting. Being more practical, consider the apparent distances away that a game animal would appear when viewed through 3-9x, 2-7x, or 1.5-5x scopes. All scenarios assume that the target is at an actual distance of 250 yards when viewed at highest magnification, 50 yards away when viewed at lowest magnification.

  • For a 3-9x scope, the target would appear to be 28 yards away at 9x, 17 yards away at 3x
  • For a 2-7x scope, the target would appear to be 36 yards away at 7x, 25 yards away at 2x
  • For a 1.5-5x scope, the target would appear to be 50 yards away at 5x, 33 yards away at 1.5x

Scopes with a 3-9x magnification range are the most popular on the market. However, 3-9x scopes are not necessarily the best choice for hunting Class 2 game. My first point is, even at 5x, a game animal at 250 yards distance will appear to be only 50 yards away. Any hunter who cannot set up and execute a good shot on a deer or similar size animal at what appears to be 50 yards should trade their rifle for some golf clubs.

Moving to an actual 50 yard shot, a 3-9x scope, set at 3x, will put the apparent distance to the target practically on the end of the gun muzzle (17 yards), while a 1.5-5x scope, set at 1.5x, will put the apparent distance to target at a very modest 33 yards. Either way, the target appears quite close, which should make for a sure shot, provided the hunter does not blow it. (I say this, because I have been there, blowing a couple of shots so close that I seemingly could not miss. From these early misadventures, I learned to take time to pick an exact aiming point and not rush the shot, no matter what the apparent or actual range.)

Field of view at different power settings is an issue that favors lower powered scopes. For example, Leopold makes both a 2-7x33mm and a 3-9x40mm scope in its VX-2 model line. The stated field of view (f.o.v.) at 100 yards for the 2-7x model is 44.6 ft. at 2x and 17.8 ft. at 7x. The f.o.v. for the 3-9x model is 34.6 ft. at 3x and 14.6 ft. at 9x. Thus, the first scope has a 29 percent wider f.o.v. at its lowest power setting then does the second scope. At the highest power setting, the 2-7x scope has a 22 percent wider f.o.v. than the 3-9x scope. The f.o.v. width decreases at shorter ranges and increases at longer ranges, but the percentage difference will remain the same.

I hunt whitetail deer in the hill country of western West Virginia, where the habitat is woodlands and brush, broken by small pasture fields and meadows. A scope with a wide field of view is essential for quick target acquisition and tracking in the woods and brush.

I carry my deer rifle with the scope cranked down to its lowest power setting, to be ready for close shot opportunities, which usually happen quickly. I can easily increase the magnification of the scope if a longer range opportunity occurs. On balance, the ability to gain field of view with a scope setting below 3x is more beneficial to me than a magnification setting greater than 7x.

Other advantages of lower power range scopes

Compared with 3-9x40mm and higher power scopes, 2-7x and lower power scopes are generally physically smaller and lighter. The Leupold VX-2 2-7x33mm and VX-2 3-9x40mm scopes mentioned above illustrate this. The 2-7x33mm scope is 11.3 inches long and weighs 9.9 ounces, compared with a length of 12.6 inches and weight of 11.2 ounces for the 3-9x40mm model. The smaller scope will also mount lower on a rifle, because it has a smaller diameter objective lens, bringing the line of bore and line of sight closer together (reducing parallax). Most important, the smaller scope will not change the balance and handling characteristics of a rifle as much as the larger one.

At the extreme of scope downsizing, consider the Leopold VX-1 1-4x20mm shotgun scope. This little beauty weighs only 8.1 ounces and is 9.5 inches long. With no enlarged objective lens, it can be mounted very low on a rifle. This scope, or another much like it, would be a natural fit for a traditional lever action carbine. The small scope would affect the superb balance, handling and aiming characteristics of a classic lever rifle very little.

Also, this scope has a turkey plex (circle-x) reticle (see next section) and a whopping 74.7 foot field of view at 1x power. I would have no qualms about taking a .30-30 rifle with this scope into the thick stuff, looking for deer that might give me quick, close range shot opportunities.

Finally, telescopic sights set at low magnification can be used with both eyes open, which can be an important benefit in short range shooting situations, especially when one is trying to acquire an animal in the scope or track it when moving. There are important limitations, though. One must be looking through the scope with the dominant eye and also there is a limit to how much magnification can be handled with both eyes open. My personal limit is about 2.5x. If I crank the magnification above that, my brain protests that I am asking it to process conflicting optic signals from my two eyes with which it does not want to deal. Consequently, my accuracy deteriorates.

Reticle selection

Scope makers have managed to complicate and confuse a simple issue. I am not interested in the complex scope reticles that are being touted today. I use hunting scopes with only two types of reticles, duplex and circle-x (sometimes called turkey plex or shotgun reticles). I have scopes with duplex reticles on my .308 Winchester (a 1.5-6x32mm scope) and .260 Remington rifles. The no nonsense duplex reticle, invented by Leupold and copied by everyone, is hard to beat when paired with rifles chambering modern, high intensity cartridges, such as the .308 Winchester and its derivatives.

I also have a Ruger 96/44 lever rifle with a 1.5-4x32mm, circle-x reticle scope mounted. A low power scope with this type of reticle is a good choice for a lever rifle/cartridge combination intended for short to moderate range hunting in thick cover. The circle around the intersection of the cross hairs brackets the target zone and leads my eye to the center of the sight picture when I am trying to get quick target acquisition in a close, cluttered environment.

I do not need BDC, mil-dot, or other complicated reticles because I sight my rifles in for a +/- 3 inch maximum point blank range (MPBR) and then only take shots that fall within (usually well within) the MPBR distance. This statement from The Personal Range Limit by Chuck Hawks sums it up:

"Forget about bullet drop tables, 'ballistic' scope reticles and so forth. In fact, in the field, forget about long range shooting entirely. Zero your rifle for the +/- 3" maximum point blank range (MPBR) of the cartridge/load you are using and NEVER attempt a shot beyond that distance."

Scopes that are on the market

I used the OpticsPlanet website to determine the availability of scopes that meet a set of suitability criteria that I followed. Here are the criteria I used.

  • Lowest power setting 1x to 2x, highest power setting 8x or lower
  • Maximum objective lens diameter 36mm
  • Scopes with duplex or circle-x reticles only
  • Scopes with street prices between $150 and $500 only
  • No brands of scopes of known questionable quality, regardless of price

I believe the logic of the first three criteria is obvious from comments I have already made. I specified a $150 to $500 price range, because I question the quality of any scope that sells for less than $150. Conversely, any scope priced at over $500 is a luxury, with so many good scopes selling for less than $500. Finally, any one who pays much attention to sporting optics knows that there are some junk scopes on the market; I simply ignored the brands I knew to be sketchy.

I tallied 42 scopes that met my criteria. These were scattered among 16 brand names, including several scopes each from Bushnell and Leopold/Redfield. The rest of the brand names generally contributed only one to three scopes that met the criteria.

The largest discrete group of scopes featured a 2-7x power range, with 19 scopes tallied. The most common objective lens diameters were 32mm and 33mm, but 28 mm, 35mm and 36mm objective lenses were also found.

There were an additional five scopes with a 2x low power limit, but with top power of 8x. The objective lens diameter of these scopes ranged from 32mm to 36mm.

I found 18 scopes that had a low power limit of 1x, 1.5x, or 1.75x. High end power limits of these ranged between 4x and 6x; objective lens diameters ran from 20mm to 32mm. Most of the scopes that come with circle-x reticles are in the under 2x group.

Almost half of the 42 scopes I tallied had street prices between $200 and $300. One can find a good selection of reputable brand rifle scopes in this very reasonable price range.


This article came about because I was looking for a new scope for my .260 Remington rifle. Once I had collected the information, I thought it would be useful to share it with readers of Guns and Shooting Online. Right now, the Leopold VX-3i 1.75-6x32mm scope (pictured above) is leading my short list, but I am also still considering four scopes in 2-7x power with 32mm or 33mm objective lens sizes. Decisions, decisions!

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