The aim of this article is as a guide to evaluating the different kinds of scopes and laser sighting devices that are available for mounting on typical rifles; it should give you enough information to be able to choose the best rifle scope or laser sight for your budget and hunting terrain.
We shall first take a look at how rifle scopes and laser sights work, with particular reference to the main aims of fitting a rifle with such a device, namely:
- To help aim;
- Give an estimate of distance;
- Make target acquisition easier;
- Enable low light conditions hunting.
In each category we will evaluate what kinds of device fits with the aims of the hunter, and their budget, as well as the conditions and terrain under which they will be used. After reading through each overview, the reader should be able to determine whether that type of device is right for them, and what to look for when evaluating competing products.
Scopes and Sights
Typically, a hand held scope such as a spotting scope can be used to magnify the immediate surroundings in the hope that a target can be acquired and tracked before the scope is swapped for the rifle, complete with mounted sight, ready for the kill.
Clearly, being constructed around single optics, the best rifle scope tend to be very high quality, light weight, and hence reasonably expensive. It is, on the other hand, worth spending the extra money to get best rifle scope that is both reassuringly rugged (it will take some knocks) and has good quality optics.
The scope will also need to be fairly light weight, especially if you are not used to the additional weight that an optical sight can bring. Most sights tend not to contain glassware at all for this reason. However, if you want to have any magnification, or light enhancing properties, then glass optics are a must.
The weight is also important in terms of the mounts that are available to fix the sight or scope to the rifle. Lightweight, solid materials tend to be expensive, and, while the mounts are less important than the quality of the optics, it is important to be sure that the consequences of spending less are understood when making the decision:
- Ease of fixing;
- Adaptability to different or future scopes.
The final decision that needs to be made is whether the system should combine a laser sight with a standard sight or scope, or whether two devices should be acquired; a scope on top and laser sight underneath the rifle, for example.
Reticule or Laser
The most common sight is known as the reticule, which is a piece of glass or plastic with a printed design on it (crosshairs) which help to center the target. Optical rifle scopes will also have lines which enable the hunter to gauge the distance to the prey, thus allowing them to compensate for bullet drop over distance.
Some 'red dot' reticules also have a light that appears to float in the center of the sight, enabling the hunter to aim with greater and more natural accuracy. No light is actually projected onto the target, but the floating dot gives the impression that this is the case.
Subtly different is the true red dot laser sight, which comes in two flavors; with and without an optical lens. Those with can correct in wet conditions and have a more accurate dot over distance than those without. In short, the extra cost of a laser sight with optical correction will only make sense if the hunter is going to be using the sight under certain conditions; usually humid or low light conditions hunting.
The major difference is that the true laser sight will beam a dot onto the target, which means that it is easier to acquire and track the target over a certain distance, in conjunction with a magnifying optical rifle scope. In fact, the two together can make for an unbeatable combination to the extent that some hunters frown upon them as being a little too easy.
A laser sight is normally mounted on the underside of the rifle barrel, since they tend to be too large to mount on top of the scope. It is also a good idea to keep them vertically as close to the barrel exit as possible so that bullet drop over distance is minimized. In order that the bullet ends up on the dot, it is necessary to take the rifle to a range and make sure that you know (or can record) where the dot needs to be, when you look through the reticule, to guarantee a hit.
Magnification or Not
Typically, the best rifle scope tends not to magnify very much, if at all. The principle difference in terminology between rifle sight and rifle scope is the fact that a sight will not magnify, and a scope is assumed to perform at least some magnification.
However, the two terms have become interchangeable, as in the phrase night vision rifle scope, this may or may not magnify. Magnification is only helpful when hunting with guns that are exceedingly powerful and accurate over long distances.
Most times you will not want to magnify the varmint at all because, unless you are a very experienced hunter, it gives a false sense of perspective and makes natural compensation for drop very difficult. This is why many sights and rifle scopes magnified view or not, are marked with lines to give a range estimate; it helps estimate distance and hence drop, making aiming easier.
Hunting in Low Light Conditions
Finally, we need to mention that there are also special scopes available for hunting in low light conditions. Those familiar with binocular and telescope theory will be aware that a large objective lens (close to the object) can be used in conjunction with good quality optics to produce an image which is brighter than when viewed with the naked eye.
This is the same principle that allows owls to have superior night vision, larger eyes soaking up all available light, combined with good use of eyepiece magnification which condenses the light into a smaller area; hence making it brighter.
Such rifle scopes are good for use at dawn or dusk, and can even give good results when the night is lit by the full moon. However, for use in absolute dark, the only option is an infra red low light vision rifle scope, which uses projected light which lies just outside the human visible range and can also combine it with whatever light there is in the visible spectrum to produce an excellent image.
There are two kinds of low light vision rifle scopes, passive and active. Passive low light condition scopes simply amplify what light there is, rather like an enhanced version of the owl eye that we discussed above. Active low light condition scopes are sensitive to infra red light, and produce an image which is electronically enhanced on a screen inside the scope.
Cheaper models are only useful when the subject is likely to be slow moving, since fast movement will cause the image to smear across the sight, making it impossible to aim with any reliability. It is worth spending the additional $200 to $1,000 and getting a good quality sight with additional features.
The best of the best can be used as standard scopes, or with full low light condition illumination switched on, which will mean that you only need to carry around a single scope on your hunting expeditions. Remember to always carry fresh batteries; the disadvantage with active low light condition equipment is that it needs to be powered.
As you can see there are many aspects to consider before coming to a decision about which equipment is best for you. Hopefully this article will have made your job easier. For more information on where to find your best rifle scope and laser sights you can visit the relevant links.
Guy Lecky Thompson is a successful freelance writer offering guidance and suggestions for consumers regarding binoculars, rifle scopes, spotting scopes. His many articles give information and tips to help people save money and make smarter decisions.