If youíre heading to Africa, you should already have your optics Ė especially your scopes Ė figured out, installed and field proven. For North America, however, now is the time to make any optics additions or changes that you have in mind. Letís look at some general recommendation for different hunting scenarios and talk about some of the options.
As Iíve opined before, for general use itís hard to beat a 3-9x scope. You have plenty of field of view for close or moving shots and all of the magnification you need for reaching out there. A 4-12x or 4-16x is equally at home for most big game hunting. Two considerations to keep in mind are 1) most scopes above 10x will have adjustable objectives to compensate for parallax, and 2) scopes with objective lenses over 44mm normally require high rings which tend to destroy good gun fit. The parallax adjustment is not a big deal in my mind, especially if your gun fits you and you look through the center of the scope Ė no parallax exists. Set it to just under infinity and youíre good for anything but close shots. Iím not a fan of 50mm objective lenses unless you adjust the fit of your gun to compensate for the high rings needed to mount such scopes, otherwise you can find yourself trying to get your eye lined up with the scope instead of finishing your trigger squeeze. With a trophy, seconds count!
For close cover and stalking scenarios scopes in the 1-4x, 1.5-5x or 2-7x range have a lot going for them. They are light weight, have lots of field of view which is so important for fast target acquisition, and have plenty of magnification for this type of shooting. Animals in this category are thick cover deer and elk, hogs, bears and the big African critters. Here is where heavy reticles or illuminated reticles are nice to have. By the time you read this, I should have received from one of my suppliers a red dot scope for testing. This could also be a great option in this type of hunting. Light weight, durable, affordable, and just put the adjustable intensity glowing dot where you want the bullet to strike. Iíll give you an update after some testing.
At the other end of the spectrum are the little guys Ė varmints. Common sizes for the likes of prairie dogs, coyotes, rabbits, wood chucks (I mention these for our Northern members) and such are 4-16x, 6.5-20x and 6-24x all the way up to 8-32x. A fine crosshair is desirable in most situations because a heavier reticle can totally cover up your target at the distances that these critters are normally shot. A bullet drop compensating reticle can work well, BUT ONLY if you do your homework and determine at what distances those little hash mark are actually true. Illuminated reticles normally are not of any advantage here unless you are night hunting.
I get asked if one can mount a big bore scope on a rimfire rifle or is a rimfire scope needed. Regular scopes will work, but hereís the difference. Most non-parallax-adjustable scopes (10x and under) are set at the factory to be parallax free at 100 yards, while rimfire scopes are set at 50 or 75 yards. If most of your shooting will be at tin cans at 25 yards, you may be better served with a rimfire scope, but if you like to reach out there, then a regular scope should be acceptable. On adjustable objective or parallax adjustable (where you have an adjustment knob opposite the windage adjustment knob) scopes, there is no difference. I have a 6-24x adjustable objective scope on my .22 silhouette rifle.
One might ask ďIf 10x is good, isnít 16x or 20x better?Ē Keep in mind my First Law of Optics Ė There Is No Free Lunch. Everything is give and take. More magnification reduces field of view and adds weight. Resist the urge to have a bigger scope than anyone in camp. The norm is such for a reason Ė itís probably the most practical. Donít get bigger, get better!
Several months ago, I wrote about field-proving your scope (and gun). Ensure your scope is properly mounted, then put 100 or even 200 rounds down the barrel (please clean it occasionally). In doing so, you will prove to yourself that it is sighted properly for 100 yards. You should prove your bullet drop at 200, 300, 400 yards and/or to whatever range you are accurate. You should gain experience at shooting from shooting sticks, the prone, sitting and standing positions and when you are done, youíre a better shooter and you know your gun and scope are up to the task at hand. The confidence you will have in you and your rig is priceless.