Are We Under-Scoped and Over-Magnified?

By Randy Wakeman

I think that we are. Allured by big objectives and large magnifications, many of us put our scope dollars into the wrong places, and pay for what we don't need--and really don't want.

Consider that for over twenty years the USMC sniper scope of choice has been a Unertl fixed ten power scope with a one inch main tube, 36mm objective and 32mm ocular lens. The extreme performance required of that scope and the ranges at which it is employed greatly exceed those of any common hunting circumstances, as does the training and abilities of the shooters. Yet, sometimes we "need" larger objectives and even more magnification than that for big game hunting with comparatively large targets at comparatively short ranges.

We pay a price for our perceived need for large objectives, both in performance for the dollar and in the seat of our pants. There are reasons why this has to be.

Large objective lenses of the same quality cost more; larger pieces of glass without flaws are more costly. It sure does not mean we are getting better glass, better coatings, or better polish, it just costs more for a larger lens. With that larger, heavier, more costly piece of glass we also get glass with more mass that does not withstand recoil as well, being harder to retain in perfect alignment.

If I asked someone a typical shooter if they could hit anything with iron sights at 50 yards, they might think they were being insulted. Yet, that is the same sight picture that we have with a 7X scope at 350 yards. It is not unwise to ask if we are shooting beyond 350 or 400 yards with regularity, or if we can confidently hold our gun still enough the way we hunt beyond 7 or 8 power.

Adjustable objectives have their place, but they cannot help but add cost, complexity, and a bit of fragility. This gives us either a lower end scope at the same price point and little real-world value unless we are shooting at close range with magnification above 7 power or so.

Focus problems (parallax) does not rear its head at moderate magnifications, and lower magnifications offer both quick target acquisition due to the larger exit pupil and a greater field of view. For years, a fixed 2.5 power scope was considered ideal for most Eastern big game hunting with 4X for hunting "out West." The 2-7x area gives us more on both ends, while the popular 3-9x verges on excess.

The use most hunting scopes see is only a few minutes of life under actual load, but those are critical minutes. The economy of scale falls in somewhere along the line as well; it is more efficient to make a lot of the same thing, and the 3-9 popular range scope comprise the majority of riflescopes sold today. That and the close scrutiny these very popular scopes get by both the consumer and the manufacturer works to our benefit.

Any individual's personal needs, wants, style choices, and other preferences are as diverse as snowflakes. However, what matters is that we take the time to accurately define our personal needs. If there is a trend in scopeland today, I believe it is that we are "over-scoped": over magnified, over-powered, and over-sized.

Though over-scoped, we are all too often under-scoped in terms of the quality of the optic. This is a good time to address that, as $200 - $300 can get us a level of scope performance and quality simply not generally available even a decade ago.

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Copyright 2006, 2013 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.