Today, there are countless rifle scopes to choose from. In fact, it is not an understatement to say that there are hundreds of different options out there when you select a particular magnification for your deer hunting scope.
In order to avoid all the confusion over which one you should choose, the staff came up with an objective comparison between low and high magnification optics so hunters can make a more informed decision before purchasing a new scope or optic.
We have broken down this article into two parts: low and high magnification optics. Under each category we have listed our best picks for specific uses; however, some products may fit multiple criteria depending on your personal preference or style of hunting. Just because a particular model is listed under only one category does not mean it cannot be used for other purposes. For example, a 4-12×50 scope would work just fine for both low and high magnification optics because the maximum – or highest – power on that particular model is 12x, which falls within the ‘high magnification’ category.
Low Magnification Optics
These are scopes with primary magnifications of 3-9×40, 3-9×50, 3-9×56, 4-12×40, 4-12×50 and 4-12×56. They generally provide a minimum amount of magnification making them easier to see through and better utilized at mid to longer ranges (ie: 200 yards or more).
This is because they tend to be more open, allowing hunters to see a wider view of the terrain in front of them. These models are also lighter and smaller than their high magnification counterparts resulting in lower weight and an easier overall handling experience when out in the field for extended periods of time.
Low magnification optics provide a great choice for beginning and experienced shooters alike and most models within this category will work just fine under normal hunting environments (ie: clear weather with little or no fog). The primary advantage of low power scopes is that they allow you to shoot at longer distances with greater accuracy since your vision may not be perfect and you need every possible aid available. Many hunters find 3-9x scopes best suited for their needs though there are some – such as those who hunt in dense thickets or mountainous regions – where the 4-12x magnification is a better choice. In fact, many hunters like to use these two models together (ie: 3-9x on the upper portion of your rifle and 4-12x on your lower). The best advice we can offer when selecting between low magnification optics is to choose what you feel will work best under the conditions you are likely to be hunting in.
High Magnification Optics
These scopes have primary magnifications of 6-24×40, 6-24×50, 6-24×56, 8-32×40, 8-32×50 and 8-32×56 with most hunters preferring something between 10x and 16x as their maximum – or highest – power.
Generally, these models are more cumbersome to handle than low magnification optics because they offer a narrower view of the terrain in front of you which makes it more difficult to pick out your targets.
Since high magnification scopes are usually heavier and larger, they don’t provide the same kind of assistance when shooting at longer ranges (ie: 200 yards or more). However, within 100 yards four-digit scopes will be able to shoot with increased accuracy due to increased light levels entering the objective lens. This is why most hunters who stick with high magnification optics tend to use them at short rather than long range. Also, since there is less ‘air’ surrounding your target at short distances, a 4-digit scope provides a better view of your target and what is behind it.
High magnification optics are best suited for hunters who shoot within 100 yards yet still want to be able to make out details on their targets. For example, turkey hunters often use 8-32x scopes because they can see the bird’s head more clearly when it’s closer rather than having to rely on lower power views which would only show the body or feathers. A good rule of thumb with high magnification scopes is that you don’t want more than four digits or your field of view will become too restrictive. As always, though, there are exceptions depending on personal preference and how accustomed you are with using high powered optics.
Variable Power Optics
As the name suggests, these scopes offer adjustable magnifications which make them ideal choices for hunters who like to use their rifles in a variety of different conditions. These models are basically low and high magnification optics rolled into one. And since they’re compact and lightweight, they’re relatively easy to carry during long hunting days where you might not be able to take breaks between hunts too often.
The only drawback with these kinds of scopes is that they can be difficult to adjust depending on how far you want to zoom in or out. This is especially true with 10x-40x models which require an external turret for adjusting power levels. However, once you get used to using them it’s easier than having two separate optics on your rifle.
In fact, many hunters use a low magnification optic for hunting within 100 yards and then switch to a higher power model after that or they might use a variable power scope exclusively since it has more range than any other single optic.