Riflescope Basics

Riflescope Basics

This may sound like a silly question, but bear with me.  There is a method to my madness.

To a shooter, it is a weapon sight.  It is supposed to be slapped on top of a weapon, sighted in and used for its intended purpose: aiming.

To an engineer, it is an opto-mechanical device that is used for aiming.  Nowadays, it is not even always a pure opto-mechanical device since quite a few riflescopes have some electronics in them (reticle illumination, for example).

The distinction is  important: to a shooter, this is just a means to an end.  To an engineer, there are a lot more details to it.

An engineer tasked with designing a riflescope should have a pretty clear idea what it will be used for and what kind of abuse it is likely to be subjected to.  He has to design it to withstand all reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) abuse, while staying within other design requirements pertaining to size, weight, optical performance and, last but not least, budget.  This last requirement is the reason behind most compromises made in riflescope design.

A shooter trying to select the right scope often ends up considering very different factors.  Typically, he will have an idea of how much he wants to spend and a rough idea of what the overall configuration should be.  However, all too often, a shooter is blissfully unaware of the challenges that an engineer faces in designing riflescopes.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, since getting into the nitty-gritty of technical details is often counterproductive.  However, some basic knowledge of riflescope construction is very useful, especially if you are looking for a scope on a budget.  If you have unlimited funds and can drop somewhere in the neighborhood of $3k or thereabouts on a riflescope, you are paying for not having to worry about any of that.  For that much money, it better be bloody perfect!  For the rest of us, a little consideration goes a long way.

Before we dig into the details of how scopes work and how to select them, it is important to clearly define how much you can spend and what you need out of it.  Here are a few questions that need to be answered before you get any firther:

  • What is your budget? How much are you willing to spend (keep in mind that you also need good quality rings and bases)?
  • What will be the basic application for the scope? Hunting? Target shooting? SHTF? Law Enforcement? etc.
  • What are the extremes of the lighting conditions you are likely to run into? Is low light performance critical?
  • What are the weight limitations? Is this going onto an ultra-light rifle that you plan to drag all over some distant mountains with you, all the while cursing every extra ounce you have strapped to your back? Or are you mounting this scope on top of a fifteen pound varmint rifle that gets moved twice a day on a good day?
  • What is the likely target size? You do not need much magnification to aim at something the size of a grizzly bear.  However, aiming at a prairie dog barely sticking out of the ground is an entirely different story.
  • How far do you plan to shoot?  If you plan to shoot at extended ranges, you will have to decide whether you want to dial in your point of aim using turrets or use a holdover reticle of some sort
  • What are the likely weather conditions you’ll face?  If you live in a climate where mirage can be a factor, you need to take that into account. Similarly, unusually wet climate creates its own set of problems.
  • How much recoil will the riflescope (and the shooter) be subjected to?

All of these questions are important in picking the right scope and, most importantly, picking a high quality scope for the right price.

Today, there are high quality riflescopes manufactured all over the world: Germany, Austria, Romania, Czech Republic, Japan, Phillipines, Korea and China.  There are also quite a few “less than worthwhile” scopes out there, most of them manufactured in China.  Price ranges from $20 scopes that might as well be disposable to $5000 Hensoldts that are as near to a family heirloom as scopes get.

The sheer number of different riflescopes available in the market place today is staggering.  Some are “me too” products, while others are true innovations.  Some are narrowly focused on one particular application, while others are designed to be allrounders.

On top of all that, innovative designs of just a few of years ago, look like perfectly ordinary items today.  However, the basics of rifle scope design and construction do not change much, so the subsequent sections hold equally true to virtually all riflescope regardless of when they were manufactures.  Any specific scope recommendations, on the other hand, need to be re-evaluated with reasonable regularity.


Read Soon:

Configurations: what do all those numbers mean and which one is right for you?

  • Which configurations work for different applications?
  • Non-focusing sights
  • Scope mounting pitfalls

This article is provided to Webyshop readers by Ilya Koshkin (www.opticsthoughts.com) – All rights reserved

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