Hunting Scopes for Inline Muzzleloaders

By Randy Wakeman

For a recent video project, I had the opportunity to test a bushel basket full of current scope product. The scopes varied from economy models to $400 tubes, and came from all the major manufacturers. Aside from shooting at dawn and dusk, a great deal of time was spending looking at a moose hide under a blue spruce tree, eye charts, and naturally checking tracking and adjustments. After several thousand shots, I came to a few general conclusions; based not only on my observations, but those of fellow shooters that voiced their opinions on the specific models tested.

One of the advantages of inline muzzleloaders is the ease with which they can be scoped. As they are cleaned after every shooting session, using Warne and Talley steel quick-disconnect rings was the course taken for the majority of muzzleloaders tested. We found the Talley rings to be lighter and generally superior, with the caveat that they are a bit pricier than the Warne Maxima rings, and require Talley bases on your rifle. The Warne rings worked splendidly with either Warne steel bases, or with any other standard Weaver bases, such as Weaver Grand Slam bases-which are available for some rifles where the Talley's are not. Both held their zero sub 1/2 MOA, worst case, and most often no change in point of impact was observed from day to day.

The reason for scoping an inline muzzleloader is, of course, the same as any other rifle: to see what you are shooting at, and shoot more accurately. The case for a scope of reasonable quality is clear as well: it need not be used "only" on your frontloader, but can give additional service by mounting it on another rifle as well if you are not a "year round" smokepole enthusiast. They are always some who feel that a $30 chain store scope is sufficient, and those who put $500 (or much more) scopes on everything they own. We believe that the $200 area, give or take, is what most people who appreciate scopes will gladly pay in order to increase their hunting effectiveness with a muzzleloader.

After all the white smoke cleared, there emerged two scopes that were clear winners in this category, in our view. All that can be said here is that they are "worthy of your consideration," as it is your eyes that really count; the combination of features that made for a superior scope to us may not be looked at by you the same exact way.

Those two scopes are the Bushnell Elite 3200 3 x 9 x 40, and the Sightron SII 3 x 9 x 42. The Bushnell gets the edge for its marvelous "RainGuard," fast-focus eyepiece, and strong titanium alloy tube. The Sightron got the nod for brighter optics, and their internal adjustments that were so precise and repeatable, we could "make a square with them" at 100 yards. Both held their respective zeros beautifully, both offer lifetime warranties, and we would be quite confident to hunt with them on most any muzzleloading or centerfire rifle.

When the price level was raised to sub $400 scopes, we again we had a consensus of two superior products. Those scopes were the Bushnell Elite 4200 2.5 x 10 x 40, and the Zeiss Conquest 3 x 9 x 40. The Bushnell was notable for its RainGuard, titanium tube, and superior zoom range. The Zeiss Conquest was remarkable for its huge, well over 4-1/2" constant eye relief. Optically, they were as close as we felt two scopes could be. Roughly half felt the Bushnell was brighter, the rest felt that it was too close to call. The street price of the Bushnell is about 15% less than the Zeiss, and difference we felt was worth mentioning-and, so we have. Both are beautiful hunting tools.

On a final note, for use on muzzleloaders that exhibit external blowback, we found that the glossy finished scopes were easier to clean residue from than the popular matte finishes. We prefer Weaver Polar Caps on our hunting tubes anyway, and much of the objective bell's glossy shine is already muted in this case.

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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.