What Riflescope Magnification Should You Get?
Here’s a short answer: Get the magnification that fits the application for the riflescope 80-90% of the time. If you primarily hunt in the Midwest, where you won't see deer farther than 200 yards—but, maybe you plan to take a trip out west one day where you may see deer at far greater distances—choose a magnification that fits the midwestern hunt. We can almost guarantee it will still be able to get it done out west, even if it’s not perfectly ideal.
The same story goes for all riflescopes in other shooting scenarios (Long range, competition, etc.). Just get the one that best matches your primary application and you can always make it work with the secondary ones.
Now, here’s a little longer answer, based on the most typical applications we see.
Midwestern deer hunting and recreational shooting (Not long range).
Get something that's relatively low in magnification. You don't need a lot to cover the distances we deal with here in the Midwest, and you'll appreciate the bigger field of view in our thick timber as well as better low-light performance from a lower mag scope. Our favorite mag ranges are the classic 3-9x, 4-12x, or the 2.5-10x. A 4-16x is great too, though it may be more expensive to find a scope with a 4x zoom range vs. the 3x zoom ranges we listed before. A 4-16x can literally do everything under the sun, though if it's a hunting scope with low, capped turrets, it may have a hard time at long range.
Western big game hunting and recreational shooting (Probably some longer-range stuff).
2.5-10x is a good minimum out west, and if you intend to do any long-range shooting on the side, we'd suggest going with a scope that at least has an exposed elevation turret. 4-16x, 6-24x or anywhere in between is a solid place to be.
Our Viper® HS LRTM series of scopes has been a popular one with hunters in this area because it has an exposed elevation turret that allows you to dial shots quickly, with more available adjustment, but a capped windage turret to protect it from getting bumped off zero. It comes in 4-16x and 6-24x, and is an excellent hybrid hunting/shooting scope with long-range capability. Again, be mindful that a lower magnification will provide a bigger field of view and generally better low-light performance when comparing like scopes from the same family.
Honorable mention here would be the flyweight scopes that get by with a little lower magnification and super minimalist features, but deliver ridiculously good optical quality and won't weigh you down in the high country. An example here would be something like our Razor® HD 5-20x50.
You can shoot out to 1,000 yards just fine with a 3-9x40 if it has good turrets and decent optical quality, so it's tough to pick just one perfect magnification range for long-range shooting because everyone will have their own preferences.
A lot of PRS competitors use our Razor® HD Gen II 4.5-27x56 riflescope and it's a rare occasion if any of them ever really bring that thing above 18x. It happens on occasion but ask any one of them and they'll tell you it's far less than you'd think that it comes close to being on 27x.
Buy the best quality optical system you can afford and sacrifice some magnification if it means you can step up to the next level, while still maintaining good dialing turrets for long distance. If you're anywhere in the 4-16x to 6-24x neighborhood, you'll be just fine.
Mid-range shooting with AR-15's, AR-10's or other, similar platforms.
When you say "mid-range," what is that in your book? Is it 100-300 yards? Or 500-800 yards? If the former, opt for a 1-6x LPVO or something similar that can be dialed back to 1x. You don't need much magnification to hit steel at 300 yards effectively, so give yourself the flexibility of being able to go anywhere from 1x to 6x, or even 8x should the time come. (For more on LPVOs on tactical carbines, check out our blog on the subject.)
If "Mid-range" basically just means "not quite 1,000,” then consider checking out the more niche 2-10x tactical scopes that give you a lighter-weight optic with a lot of the same features as the bigger, dedicated long-range options, but usually with stunningly good optics, huge field of view, tons of available travel in the turrets, and amazing low-light performance. favorite example within our line is the Viper® PSTTM Gen II 2-10x32 FFP.
Remember: If you’re looking for a single optic, get the one that suits your needs 80-90% of the time. With practice, you’ll likely be able to make it work wherever you need it.
Want to learn more about riflescopes? Take a deep dive with our podcast on “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Riflescopes.”
Looking for some advice on selecting a long-range rifle scope? Listen in on our ten-minute talk.
Looking for help choosing the right hunting optic? Look no further than this podcast.
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