Picking scopes for the Traditionalist and Precision Shooters
Riflescopes Our firearms make the memories, we tell the stories. Your grandfather's fixed 3-power scope and 30-30 took down a lot of deer. Growing up, hundreds of soda cans met their demise by your .22lr and no-name scope. Now, your buddies are shooting further and more accurately than you ever dreamed possible. What’s changed?
While I advocate for unity in the firearms industry, for the sake of this article I’m going to divide shooters into two groups; traditionalists and precision shooters.
While many traditionalists prioritize clear, bright glass and simple reticles for their deer rifles or plinkers, the precision rifle shooter demands more features than a classic scope can offer.
A traditionalist takes a simplistic approach to shooting. Sighting anywhere from 0-2.5” high at 100 yards and using MPBR (muzzle point blank range) to engage targets typically under 300 yards with standard centerfire calibers. Muzzle point blank range is where the bullet's flight is never higher or lower than half of the killzone of your target. I.e., for a deer, a shot inside of a 6” circle over the vitals almost always insures venison on the table. If you were to sight 3” above the bullseye at 100 yards, the MPBR would be the distance that the bullet hits 3” below the bullseye. In this instance, your bullet is always in the killzone.
These shooters will gravitate towards scopes like the Vortex Diamondback or Athlon Talos. Both scopes offer fantastic glass, at an affordable price. These scopes will almost certainly be second focal plane scopes.
Bullet drop reticles (BDC) have made their way into many traditional shooters gun cabinets, helping them to extend their effective range beyond MPBR. While the BDC reticle will keep you in the killzone, don’t expect to punch the bullseye. Both the Talos and Diamond back lines offer these reticle styles.
Precision shooters take a more complicated approach in order to shoot sub MOA groups at any distance, hit the dead center of the bullseye, or effectively push a cartridge further than a traditionalist approach would be capable of. These shooters will be more inclined to know exact ballistics. Their arsenal will typically consist of range finders, chronographs, a ballistic calculator or phone app, and an extensive knowledge of their specific setup.
A precision shooter will have a completely different approach to shooting target or long range hunting. After determining the correct distance to the target, and computing the amount of elevation holdover using a ballistic calculator, the shooter will adjust their turrets for elevation and windage to make a very precise shot. Often in a hunting scenario, the precision hunter will have a pre-made chart with various holdovers for different distance to help speed up this process.
Scopes for this type of hunting or target practice will have a few specific features; exposed turrets, 30-34mm scope tubes, and anywhere from 80-110MOA of total elevation adjustment. Generally, these will be first focal plane scopes, allowing you to use reticle holdovers at any magnification, or using some simple math to determine your target distance in conjunction with the reticle.
Take a look at the Vortex Viper PST Gen ii or the Athlon Optics Ares ETR. The range of magnification on both models (5-25 or 4.5-30, respectively) is suitable for both hunting and precision long range shooting.
A note on turret design. If your firearm will be used for both hunting and precision shooting, an exposed windage and elevation turret can get bumped around when trekking to the stand. The locking windage or capped windage turret, coupled with a zerostop elevation turret alleviates this issue. There are several “hybrid” scopes on the market with capped windage turrets and exposed elevation turrets as well. This set-up eliminates the possibility of bumping the windage adjustment while still allowing you to adjust your elevation for long distance shots. Both Athlon and Vortex have such models; the Midas TAC and the Viper HS LR.
Athlon has an interesting video on picking the right scope for the 1000 Yard Shot.
We invite your questions and comments.