How much Magnification?
When you are deciding on magnification it’s really going to come down to the application you are using it for. The more specific you can be, the better.
Magnification has pros and cons with every level of it. Of course the higher the magnification, the bigger the target (or whatever you are shooting at) will appear in your scope. The lower the magnification, the more down range picture you will see. You will have better context of what is happening down range because you’ll be about to see the target and the surrounding area.
This is why in traditional hunting scenarios you would normally go with a lower magnification scope. Say if you were looking at a fox, or whatever the game may be, there is a good chance it will move. If you are too tight on it, and it moves, it can every difficult to see which way it went, or to be able to track it while it is on the move.
Also, you will often find yourself shooting from uncomfortable positions, without lots of support. Because of this you may have more movement, and it is easier to remain on target with a lower magnification scope in this scenario. Something like a 3-9 is a really common magnification range for a versatile hunting gun, for these reasons.
Spotlighters will commonly wind this up to a 12 or 15 power optic, because they are usually in a more stable position through the car door window, or over the bonnet. Because they are more stable, they can keep the gun solid, while tracking or looking for game.
For those regularly shooting close in targets like IPSC rifle, or pig hunters, often a 1-4 or 1-8 style option, giving an excellent aiming mark for quick target acquisition, but the ability to dial up to put that longer shot on target when the need arises.
Going Long Range
If you extrapolate that out further, you end up thinking that the further the target, the higher the magnification, which is a logical step, but there are some other factors to consider.
There is certainly truth to this thought. More magnification is going to bring that further target much closer in the scope, which can be really helpful at long range. When you are in fairly controlled environment, such as F-Class or Benchrest, your rifle will be stable and unlikely to move much.
You also will have things like wind flags or other devices to help you with wind. The nature of these competitions allows time for you break from the rifle and check your various indicators and return to a rifle that is likely still on target. In this environment, a 45+ power scope is a sensible option and very common practice.
Practical Long Range
However, as soon as the circumstances change, this really high magnification can cause problems. In the Long Range hunting or Precision Rifle competition worlds, you’ll often see that scopes will top out at 25/30, maybe at most 35 power. You’d think the guys shooting 1+km would be running really high magnification, but that often isn’t the case. There are a few reasons why.
Firstly, if you haven’t got a range full of wind flags, you will looking through your scope to estimate the wind down range. To get the best perspective, you’ll want a really good field of view, incorporating more than just the target. Trees, grass, and as much terrain as you can see will all give you a better indication on what is happening down range. Or perhaps, you are moving from target to target reasonably quickly, and you want to be able to keep the next on in line in the scope’s peripheral vision.
Often higher magnification comes at the price of internal elevation adjustment. Higher magnification systems, generally, will take up more room, leaving less for adjustments.This is also why you will commonly find larger tube sizes in long range scopes. If you are working from a 100m zero, and pushing as far as you can, you will want all the elevation you can get a hold of, and may give up potential magnification for this reason.
Of course there are other ways to solve this elevation problem, such as using a Cold Shot rail and having external elevation adjustments. These are especially useful for extreme long range rifles.
For the Precision Rifle Series shooters, these comps demand a lot from the scope. Often making use of multiple targets, short timeframes and limited preparation time, its common to see shooters run 5-25 power or similar scopes but sit anywhere from 12-18 power for the whole match.
What is right for you?
So what magnification is right for you? It really depends on your circumstance, and what you are intending on using your setup for.
- Up to 7/9/10 power is really common to see for versatile hunting rigs.
- 12 or 15 power scopes are a great option for spotlighting and shooting from the vehicles. 15x up to 30x will cover your precision rifle, long range plinking and hunting needs.
- If you are going to be range shooting on set paper targets with solid positions you can’t go past the 40/45/50+ range.