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Selecting the Right Scope for your Hunting Rifle

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

With hunting season fast approaching and a freshly purchased rifle sitting in your safe ready for the harvest, you're probably thinking you've got a daunting task ahead of you in selecting which optic best suits your needs.

Plenty of factors go into picking the best optic for hunting. Here are some pointers on how to choose a rifle optic for deer hunting starting with one of the most important features on any top-shelf optic, the glass.


Assorted pieces of optic glass.

This is a critical point when you start looking for a superior rifle optic for deer hunting. Take a lesson from the people who make and use precision optics in the form of microscopes, telescopes, lasers and cameras. The glass matters.

"The optical properties of a material determine how it will interact with light," In other words, the best glass will give you the clearest and sharpest image possible.

Regular optic glass vs. ED glass.

Today's best rifle scopes for deer hunting have something called Extra-Low Dispersion glass. It is abbreviated E.D. (however comical that may be). E.D. glass is found in all premium scopes. Cheaper optics do not have this.

Your sporting superstore since 1993.

Visit a sporting goods store like Have one of the store employees step outside with a cheap scope (if they have any) and a premium scope. Look through both at something a good distance away. This goes a long way to show you how to choose a rifle scope for deer hunting.

Here are things to look for:

· Check the lens. You want to check for blurriness and warping. If you see either, that means the glass is not high quality. The best low-light rifle scope for deer hunting will not distort the scene.

· Look for light-gathering ability. This is both a function of the glass and the front lens called the bell. A large bell and good glass gather more light to send it down the tube. The combination means you can see your target early in the morning and late in the evening. Cheap scopes and small bells pull in less light. The best low light rifle scope for deer hunting needs to extend your hunting time as much as possible.

· Watch the colors. The human eye sees in red, blue, green colors. The best scopes for deer hunting have coatings that gather the light and focus the red, blue, and green wavelengths. Photographers know this is critical for their work. This may not seem important, but a fuzzy image, especially at a distance, may cause you to make the wrong adjustment and miss.

Regardless of the glass quality, time will affect it. Dust will scratch it, even if you take meticulous care of it. Even the best low light rifle scope for deer hunting will succumb to age.

A lens cover probably wouldn't have stopped this but don't worry! Most optic manufacturers, like vortex, have lifetime warranties!

Quality glass also means the company is likely to invest in premium products and work in all other areas. The best glass comes from Germany, Japan, and some US makers.


As important as the glass is the construction that goes into the best deer hunting scope. In other words, how tough is it? You need a scope that will hold up to the elements, recoil and rigors of hunting. Check out the torture test Leupold puts its products through.

In this area, we have years of proof. Higher caliber loads have been breaking cheap optics for decades. The .50 BMG Cartridge is a monster round and will destroy all but the most robust optics after a few pulls of the trigger. The 50 Caliber Shooters Association holds a tournament every year out west and shooters from all over the world compete.

Nightforce scopes hold more world records than any other scope. In any given year, you can expect half or more of the top shooters are looking through a Nightforce.

A high powered Trijicon scope, Available at

Other top contenders are Swarovski, Leupold, Trijicon, Schmidt & Bender, and Zeiss. If you are looking for the best cheap rifle scope for deer hunting, these companies are not what you want. Consider Bushnell, low-end Vortex, and Simmons for the best rifle scopes under 300.


The reticle is the lines inside the scope that lets you center the shot. Reticles are either wires inside the tube or etched on the glass inside the tube. Etched reticles are much more shock-resistant. The horizontal line is the windage. The vertical line is for elevation.

Each reticle has it's pros and cons based on how they're being used.

Reticles come in two basic types, plain and tactical.

Plain reticles are just two simple lines. A duplex reticle is a heavy line, narrowing to a thin as they cross. The best cheap rifle scope for deer hunting has a duplex reticle.

Tactical reticles have marks on the lines - known as BDC lines (Bullet Drop Compensator lines). These let you adjust for the wind (windage) and the bullet drop over distance (elevation). Experienced shooters can make adjustments right through the scope for the shooting conditions of the moment.

The basic tactical scope has dots or hash marks on the lines. Advanced reticles have extended horizontal lines on the bottom elevation line. These lines also have vertical hash marks or dots. This is a Christmas tree reticle. This reticle is not found in the best rifle scopes under 300.

Christmas tree reticles are great for ballistic holdover.

An illuminated reticle rifle scope lights up the reticle lines or the very center of the crosshairs. This is an advantage under low light conditions. You can easily find the center of the crosshairs and position it correctly for the best shot.

You can get an illuminated reticle rifle scope on optics that costs $30 all the way to $2,000. An illuminated reticle rifle scope is not an indicator of quality nor durability. The best cheap rifle scope for deer hunting may be lighted or not. All good deer rifle scope makers offer reticle choices.


Examples of parallax.

The longer the shot is, the more important parallax becomes. Winchester explains why parallax is so important in rifle scopes.

The best rifle scope for deer hunting has a manual parallax adjustment knob. You must know the approximate distance to your target. Dialing in the parallax is part of knowing how to adjust a scope on a rifle. If you plan to shoot more than 200 yards, get a manual parallax adjustment scope.


Different ranges require different magnifications.

When discussing the best scope magnification for deer hunting, you also need to match it to the rifle you are shooting. A Winchester lever-action .30-30 is a short-range gun. Reality says 125 yards is a long shot with this caliber.

A fixed low-power magnification scope is well-suited for carbines. The low power gives you a wide field of view which is handy when stalking deer through the woods. Variable magnification on the low end usually stops at 7x-9x, which works well on a brush gun.

Vortex makes the best rifle scope under 300 for carbines. You can buy them online now at

If you want to go west to hunt mule deer, you need more magnification. Shots of 500 yards are more are common. You need a rifle that will reach out that far and the best magnification for deer hunting will let you see the animal well enough to deliver an anchoring shot.

The 300 WSM packs enough punch and has the reach to cross long distances. Certainly, a 3x9 scope will work on this long-range beast. However, you leave a lot on the table.

Levels of 20x or more are the best scope magnification for deer hunting at long range. This will let you clearly see that deer at a distance and send the bullet home. The top makers, listed above, are still the best choice here.

What is the best scope magnification for deer hunting? That depends on your hunting style. High power for long-range shots and low power for hunting close is what is the best scope magnification for deer hunting. Vortex has a great visual breakdown of magnification on youtube.


A cantilever mount for rifle optics.

Depending on the scope's bell size, you need low, medium, high, or very high scope mounts for the best rifle scope for deer hunting. Big bells mean high mounts.

The higher the rings go, the more natural elevation you have in the scope. This is handy for shooting past 500 yards.

A pair of Badger Ordnance scope rings

Inexpensive one-piece mounts may not be aligned correctly and will put torque on your scope. High-quality one-piece mounts are a good choice for precision rifle applications. Two-piece ring sets can be adjusted with a scope mounting kit to get the correct alignment.

Badger Ordnance makes the best rings. Other top choices are Warne and rings from the best scope makers.

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