The world of rifles and more specifically, rifle scopes is filled with massive, cylindrical monstrosities of magnification that rival the Hubble telescope in size. It seems that whenever a shooting enthusiast gets a new rifle, the first thing he or she wants to slap on is the highest magnification scope that money can buy. The more magnification, the larger the objective, the better, right? Not necessarily – it really depends on your intended shooting activities, and that’s where you need to start being honest with yourself. First and foremost, decide what type of shooting you want to do, and then purchase a scope accordingly. Keep in mind that having extra capability is nice, but not all shooters will engage targets at 1,000 or more yards.
So why not just go for that big burly scope with the objective the diameter of a satellite dish? There are a few reasons why big scopes don’t always make the most sense, and why low magnification scopes are the better choice. Here are 4:
- High magnification scopes are usually quite a bit heavier and bulkier than low power scopes.
- High magnification scopes are substantially more expensive than low power scopes.
- The higher the magnification, the larger the corresponding objective diameter, which usually means that taller scope mounts are required. Sometimes, this means that your cheek weld is shifted upwards, and you need to put a cheek riser on the gun – bottom line: Big scopes add complexity.
- High magnification scopes are often unsuitable for medium and short-range work because their lowest power often is still a fairly high level of magnification which means that the field of view is narrower than it would be on a low power scope. All of this makes short range target acquisition more of a challenge.
Don’t get me wrong – if you need to shoot beyond 500 yards, you will definitely need a scope that’s up to the task. If you need to shoot to 1,000 yards and beyond, quality, high magnification glass is mandatory. All we’re saying is be honest with your goals, and that’s where low power rifles scopes come in.
In the past, low power scopes were far more common since optics technology hadn’t yet moved into the realm of the 25-30 power scopes we now commonly see. So what do we mean by “low power” anyways? Essentially, a variable power scope of between zero and six power magnification at the top end. Wait – zero magnification? Consider that a nice, bright scope with a carefully designed reticle – even one with no magnification at all – is a substantial improvement over iron sights. Add in some modest magnification, such as two to three times magnification, and now you have a radical improvement over target acquisition inside of 400 yards as opposed to someone shooting irons. As a matter of fact, you will have a marked advantage in this range as far as target acquisition speed goes than someone shooting even an eight power scope – your comparatively larger and wider field of view means body sized targets are easily spotted and acquired.
Low power scopes don’t need to be low quality, either; many premium scope manufacturers offer low power magnification scopes that are extremely well-designed. Bushnell, for example, offers a 1-4x rifle scope specifically calibrated for AR-15 series rifles that costs in the mid $200 range – this innovative scope offers fantastic glass and a first focal plane reticle in a small package. The fact that quality scope manufacturers are willing to delve into this marketplace, one which was previously filled with imported junk, is a testament to the efficacy and rising popularity of a low magnification scope.
Everything that’s old is new again, and low power compact scopes are no different. Once found exclusively on light, portable, carbine length rifles known as scout rifles, low power scopes are making a huge comeback for the short range game. But why not just buy a red dot or holographic sight like an Eotech or Aimpoint if a low power sight is required? Simple – because red dot or holographic sights still don’t have the functionality of a proper scope with a ranging reticle and target turrets that are quickly adjusted. Sure, red dots and holographic sights rule inside of 100 meters, maybe even 200 meters, but between 200 and 500 meters, the red dot will start to obscure the target, and the holographic site will run out of resolution horsepower in order to make any kind of corrections for range. Bottom line: low power scopes are still more flexible and have more potential applications than either red dot or holographic sights.
Don’t take our word for it, however. Try a low power scope on your rifle before you try anything else. First off, you will spend less on a low power scope than you would on a red dot or holographic sight, and far less than you will spend on a high magnification scope, and chances are you will be just as happy – if not happier – than if you had bought something else.