A Vote for Sensible Scopes

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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 pretty much 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.

Comments

ManOfTheFall's picture

I own one rifle. Besides a

I own one rifle. Besides a few varmits and some target shooting I have done with it I have never had a scope on it. It has open sights on it. Since I don't ever intend to use it for hunting I don't plan on ever purchasing a scope for it. However, I think if I did purchase a scope I would get the varaible 9x just because I think I would feel better if I ever did need the stronger magnification it would be there.

arrowflipper's picture

personal choice

As others have said, I think it boils down to personal choice.  I have both fixed and variables on my rifles and I tend to like the variables better.  I like the versatility they give me.  Since I do the majority of my hunting in open country, I like to have the ability to crank it up for a better shot.  I always leave my scopes on 4X while walking around.

An area we differ greatly, is the size of objective.  I was elk hunting in Colorado with my son one evening and I spotted an elk about 400 yards away with my very good binoculars.  I lifted my 3X9X40 rifle scope up and couldn't see the elk.  I knew exactly where it was but the 400 mm objective lens just didn't gather enough light.  My son had a 3X10X50 Leopold on his 7 mm mag and he found the elk with ease.  I took his rifle and looked through the scope to see for myself.  I went home and started saving for a new scope.  I now have that scope on my 338 and it served me very well in Africa, even in low light conditions.

It was stated that the fixed power models have fewer moving parts so might be more reliable.  With today's high tech scopes with lifetime warranties on them, I don't honestly think you have much to worry about.  In my more than 50 years of hunting, I've only had one scope fail on me and that was due to condensation.

As I said, I own both, but given my choice, especially where I hunt in the wide open spaces of the West, I'll stick to my variables.  I will say this however, buy the best optics you can afford.  There is a huge difference in glass.  And that doesn't mean you have to buy a Swarovski or Zeiss.... there are some great American made scopes on the market.

hunter25's picture

Yoy logic is good but I think

Yoy logic is good but I think most of this comes down to personal preference. I do agree that a lot of guys just buy without having any idea what they need or really want. Most of my scopes are of the 3x9 persuasion with some a little more and some a little less.

I would buy a fixed power if the price was really really good but would never get one as a normal choice. Under normal hunting conditions being able to turn it down to 4 is more than sufficient and I have never had a problem finding them in the scope.

The only low power variable I own is a 1.5x4 on an ar15 for super fast close range use and a little more power for longer shots.

Again just evaluate you own uses and personal preference.

groovy mike's picture

I think it depends on where you hunt

I think the size magnification that is best for your rifle scope depends on where you hunt more than anything else.  In the wide open spaces of teh western United States you could arguably say that you "need" a scope of at least four or higher power.  But here in the wooded hilly eastern portion of the United States where I do the majority of my hunting, I would be hard pressed to argue any need at all for anything over four power magnification.  My primary scope is a Leupold 3-9x Vari II but it gets used most often because it has the clearest glass more than because I need any particular maginification option.  It generally rests on the lowest setting unless I want to dial up to look for antlers on an approaching deer.

So, I'm with you on your recommendatioon for sensible scpes.  Don't get me wrong - higher magnification scopes have their place and in those settings where thhey are needed they are invaluable.  But they aren't needed everywhere and certainly not where I do most of my hunting.  So I'm seeking a lower power scope of good quality to mount on my second Wnchester model 70, just so that I can match the scope that I'm using to the terrain of the area that I plan to hunt on a given day.

So a call for sensible scopes I absolutely agree with, but he question of what is sensible on a given day is still up for debate depending on where that debate may find you.

 

CVC's picture

I don't see the advantage of

I don't see the advantage of affixing a fixed-power scope on a rifle except perhaps a dangerous game gun.  Why limit yourself to 4 power when you can use a variable power scope and simply set it to 4 power for certain hunting conditions and still have the versitility of the higher magnification if you need it?

Variable power scopes come in different sizes so you don't need a 50 mm scope if you don't want it and still have the versitility of a variable power scope.

Tndeerhunter's picture

reasons

My last two paragraphs:

 

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.

End quote

Now to reiterate my reasons:

I'd say the main reasons for someone to choose a fixed power over a variable would be for the simplicity and added ruggedness of the scope (far fewer moving part). The lack of a need for a higher power (many hunters hunt year in and year out in areas where 4X is the most they'd ever need) and most of all, a hunter can buy a fixed power scope far less expensive than a variable. This allows the buyer (hunter) to purchase a higher grade of scope for the same $$, something I am definitely for, without a doubt.

Thanks

 

CVC's picture

Might Mention

The reason I would consider one for dangerous game is the stakes are much higher if you accidently set it on the wrong setting when hunting dangerous game versus white tail or other no life-threatening game.

ManOfTheFall's picture

CVC, didn't you know that the

CVC, didn't you know that the whitetailed deer is like at the top of the list for most dangerous game in America?