Some Thoughts About Scopes

By Ed Turner

As unconventional as it might sound, I seem to be getting back to basics with my scope choices for some of my deer rifles. Whereas the trend seems to be "bigger is better," I have begun to move in just the opposite direction. I have learned that using a straight four power scope on a hunt where shots would seldom extend beyond 250 yards is not any kind of hindrance.

I recently read with great interest a story in a hunting magazine in which the author extolled the virtues of using 4-14 and 6-24 variable power scopes for ALL of his deer hunting. He also mentions another hunter/writer who had recently penned an article that sang the praises of fixed power scopes as simpler, more dependable and all the typical hunter will ever need, saying he certainly could not agree with that. Perhaps the truth falls somewhere between these two extremes.

I can certainly see why the average hunter feels that a 3-9x40mm scope is just what the doctor ordered. At three power he has all the field of view he needs for most short range shooting and at nine power all the magnification needed to sight in his rifle properly. This does sound like a perfect match, doesn't it?

I don't see any need for anything over nine power for big game hunting, feeling that the average hunter may be tempted to overshoot his rifle's capabilities when using a higher power scope. I have asked enough hunters very basic questions about trajectory and ballistics to find out that the typical hunter has not a clue about either. Heck, from what I've seen, many don't even know for sure if their rifle is properly sighted in.

Another reason I'm not in favor of high magnification is simply the physical size of most high powered riflescopes. I find it less than attractive to see a 50mm (objective diameter) scope perched on a trim hunting rifle. It simply looks silly to me. I do understand that a big scope may be desirable under special circumstances, but coming from a pilot who never felt the need for a big complicated pilot's watch in my 20 year military flying career, I'm not believing a bit of it's being a necessity. Function, yes, but let's not overdo it, folks.

This leads back to my premise that a big scope does not a "big shot" make. My point being that scopes of lower, even MUCH, lower magnification will work just fine for almost all hunting of big game in the U.S. For much of the whitetail's typical range, shots year in and year out average less than 100 yards. The idea that one would need to crank up the power to shoot a deer sized animal at 100 yards is not only ludicrous, but also counter productive. I'm certainly not against the typical variable scopes that most hunters use. However, I have recently discovered that they are not always necessary and can be replaced by something smaller, lighter and better. We all know it's never good to leave a scope on too high a magnification, as the field of view is much smaller than at a lower power. I guarantee that many deer run off scared but unscathed each season due to hunters forgetting this simple fact. I must even confess to having had an incident a few years ago, many years after supposedly knowing not to commit that cardinal sin, where I left the scope cranked up when I walked up on a not quite dead deer and needed to fire a finishing shot.

I also prefer a scope that suits a rifle's size and purpose, rather than a scope that is simply attached with no thought to the hunting rifle/scope as a system. An example I'll make here is a 3-9 or 4-12 power scope on a trim Browning, Marlin, Savage or Winchester lever action rifle in any of the popular and versatile medium range calibers. There is no way you can convince me that: 1) It's needed and 2) It doesn't spoil the wonderful handling characteristics of these rifles. A low to medium powered scope in the 2.5x and 4x fixed power or 1-3, 1-4, 1.5-5 and 2-7 variable power ranges is all that's needed or wanted and helps to preserve the rifle's inherently fine handling traits. When you consider the ballistics of these calibers, even with the new bullets available for them, we are still talking about rifles that are normally purchased for woods hunting, although capable of longer range shooting.

When I started to use moderate, fixed power scopes on my deer rifles I discovered that they shot just as accurately at normal ranges as they did with higher power scopes. In some cases, they shot better. Some of my best 100 yard groups have come from rifles wearing 4x scopes. I'll admit that it came as something of a surprise, but seeing is believing and from what I saw I'd not hesitate to shoot at a deer 250 yards (or even a bit more) distant with one of these rifles. No less an authority than Jack O'Connor, the Dean of gun writers, stated categorically that a four power scope was all that was needed for 300 yard shots at any big game animal.

Please don't get me wrong, the majority of my rifles still wear variable power scopes ranging from 1-3x to 3.5-10x, but I'm am not the least bit shy about purchasing a good four power fixed scope for use on many of my hunting rifles. There are, as I write this, fixed four power scopes on my 7x57, .308, .35 Whelen and two .30-06's. In addition, my .338-06 wears a 1.5-4.5x variable. I do not feel under scoped with any of them. Yes, I would pick a rifle with a bit more scope for a hunt in the wide open plains, but even then I feel that I'd be more than adequately served by a 2-7x33, 3-9x40 or 3.5-10x40 scope on any of my long range big game rifles.

What I'm saying is that I don't think you'd be one bit disappointed if you tried a fixed power scope for at least some of your hunting. Sure, it's simpler and perhaps less glamorous, but the older and more experienced I get, the more I seem to appreciate simplicity. I have found some very good deals on some quality used scopes, presumably because the former owner became enamored with the latest 4-14x50 ballistic-plex titanium scope. Good luck to him and I'm glad, as now we are both happy.

Back to the Scopes and Optics Information Page

Copyright 2007 by Ed Turner and/or All rights reserved.