Weapons developers began including tactical optics on their weapons to improve accuracy and shooting rate in varying conditions. Basic rifle scopes were immediately favorable over iron sights for such characteristics as magnification, sight steadying, lighting, and ease of use.
The best tactical rifle scopes evolved to specialize in certain shooting conditions that matched the styles of various types of shooters. Some types of rifle scopes are more favorable for game hunting, others are geared toward urban combat, and some are designed to provide increased sight in low-light conditions.
What to Consider When Choosing a Rifle Scope
Start your search for the best tactical scopes by asking these questions:
- How do I intend to use tactical optics?
- Do I intend to regularly shoot from certain distances, or will those distances be significantly varied?
- Will I ordinarily be shooting in low light or daylight?
- What are my rifle specifications (weight, caliber of ammunition)
- How much am I willing to spend on the right optical upgrade?
List your answers for quick reference as you browse good potential tactical scopes. You’ll most often find keywords in product descriptions that match your answers. Look for scopes made for long-distance or short-distance shooting, those that work best in low light or daylight, and those that keep weight minimal or help you balance your weapon.
Characteristics of Tactical Optics, Explained
- Type – There are two types of optics: telescopic and reflector or reflex sights. Telescopic lenses use magnification to make your target appear closer. Reflector scopes focus on a single point of reference – very often, they employ the famous red dot. Reflex sights make target acquisition a little bit quicker.
- Magnification – Telescopic optics are defined by their magnification capabilities and size of tube. For example 2.5-10X20mm means magnification power ranges from 2.5 to 10, and the objective lens diameter will be 20mm. Most people find a 2.5-10X scope comfortable enough – too much magnification can be a liability.
- Adjustment turrets – An optics tube comes with a block mounted to it with windage and elevation adjustment turrets. The turrets should give you distinct audible clicks as you tune. Scopes with ½ MOA (minute of angle) adjustments are generally preferred.
- Reticle – This is the aiming indicator inside your scope. The most common reticles are recognizable as the red dot, ring, or crosshairs. A reticle is illuminated either by LED lights, fiber optics, or with radioactive material. Early scopes like the Starlight scope relied on ambient lighting.
Helpful Tactical Optics Terminology
Should you encounter a feature of a scope or sight for your weapon that you do not recognize, reference this rifle scope guide before choosing a rifle scope:
The circle of light you see at the end of your scope when you aim it at something like a wall. The exit pupil controls the amount of light that enters your scope.
This is the distance between your eye and the scope’s eyepiece from where you can see the entire image of your target. If your scope is not mounted properly, it affects your eye relief.
- Minute of angle (MOA)
This is a measurement equal to 1/60th of a degree that you use to adjust your scope.
When a round exits the barrel of a rifle, it tends to rotate outwards and downwards from your target depending on the wind speed and direction. Shooting from longer distances causes your bullet to react to an increased number and volume of obstacles, including gravity. Some optics attempt to compensate for gravity and wind by including a bullet drop compensator (BDC).
Take Your Time When Choosing a Tactical Rifle Scope
If it’s your first optics purchase, be sure to review the basic features of rifle scopes and ask yourself what is necessary for your shooting circumstances and style. Getting to know how and when you shoot will help you optimize your tactical scope selection in the best way, which will also help you get more value out of the price you pay.