Optics Are Much Better Than Even Ten Years Ago, but…

Copyright 2023 – Stephen Redgwell

An optometrist told me years ago that I needed glasses.  I told him I would bring in a new rifle scope and he could check it out too, but he said,

I only do eyeglasses. I test your vision, and we work together to determine what gives you the best sight picture. Is this clear? Or this? When it comes to other devices, you’re the optometrist and work with your eyes to determine the best sight picture.”

Don’t judge how a scope performs by staring through it inside a building full of artificial light. Looking at the equipment rack on the other side of the store is not the way to check scopes!  You will be using it outside, so take it outside! Look at some trees. Pick out a bird. Casually scan around. Look in shadowy spots. Check out areas that are fully illuminated by the sun. See what you can pick out of the background from a distance. How’s the sight picture?

He told me that I need to listen to what my eyes say about the glass. It was all very Zen. (calm, but attentive). Or almost Jedi – like in Star Wars. Your eyes will tell you if the focusing is good, the lens is bright and if there are any aberrations.  They will also tell you about the big concern nowadays, how confusing is the reticle? That got me thinking.

Take the optic outside!

If they won’t let you outside alone, ask for the sales person to go with you to the door. It’s the least they can do if you are going to drop hundreds or thousands of dollars in their store!

Your eyes are unique

All modern lenses have optical coatings.  Your eyes will react to these coatings differently than your friend’s eyes.  In the same way that eyeglass prescriptions are different, so too are rifle scopes and binoculars.

Price doesn’t buy clarity. Some say that there is a higher probability that you will get a great optic if you spend big bucks, but you shouldn’t jump to the expensive glass right away. Check the cheaper scopes too.  Honestly, how many of us can afford, or are willing, to drop $1500 to $3000 on something they don’t use very much? Especially when you are raising a family. There are plenty of good optics that won’t break the banl.

Barney knows!

How many times have you encountered a guy at the range who bragged about his optics? No cheap stuff for me! It’s so clear! Every time I hear that I ask if they actually handled the same scope before they ordered it online! I was shocked that almost no one went to a shop for a look. They were bought sight unseen! Doesn’t anyone buy, or at least check out optics at gun shops anymore?

You cannot force your eye to adjust properly through a lens it doesn’t like. Your eye won’t like a reticle that’s too busy. Or cross-hairs that are too thick. Or too thin. Or has a dark sight picture.

Optical companies get bought and sold, so brand names are not a guarantee of clear glass or an easy to use reticle. Especially one that you haven’t actually picked up and played with. (There! I said it again…)

These companies are in business to make money and often have parts or entire scopes made in a country other than their own. If the board room decides to modify their product, especially a detail like where they are made or assembled, consumers don’t get told.

Not a good reticle for the deer woods!

What are you going to use it for?

Let’s cut to the chase: you really should buy based on how and where the rifle will be used all the time.  Don’t play the “what if” game. This is when you say, what if a deer appears on the ridge 400 yards away? What if I need the extra magnification to distinguish between deer standing in close proximity? Ethical considerations aside, the “what if” game is just that, a game. Don’t play it. If you aren’t set up to take a shot like these, let the critter walk.

Every club has members who own rifles with the wrong optics on top.  I blame advertisers and the media. You are constantly exposed to movies or police shows with SWAT guys taking down the bad guys using “uber cool” gear. They always have funky looking firearms that many viewers want. It’s my opinion that silly tactical movies caused a huge downturn in low powered, fixed power optics, like 2.5, 4 and 6 power scopes. Few people are buying them anymore.

Those guys I mentioned who bought high powered “tactical” scopes with confusing reticles did so because of the above mentioned cool factor.  They mount this rocket ship on their deer rifle and look for whitetails in the local woods…where the maximum shot will be 50 or 75 yards. 

Yeah, but if I see one in the distance, I’ll be ready…

No you won’t. You won’t because high powered optics don’t belong in the deer woods.  Besides, you don’t shoot at distances over 100 yards anyway. And you don’t practice.   I see you at the range all the time. You know who you are. 

But it wouldn’t matter if you saw a whitetail at 300 or 400 yards anyway. You don’t know how to use that reticle with those crazy markings. Buck fever will only make things worse when you try to adjust those knobs and doodads up and down or left and right.  That’s because you really don’t know the scope controls either.

Why don’t you just buy a really nice 2-7 or 3-9?  There isn’t much of a market for small magnification scopes – except Europe maybe. We could learn a few things from them. You can still buy something expensive to impress your friends.  Think Zeiss, Kahles or Meopta. They have lots of expensive 1-5 s or 1-4s, etc.

The scope most guys need is something small, easy to use and designed to optimize a hit at the range where they hunt. Take a moment to think what you hunt and the range at which you encounter game. I bought a Hawke 4×32 scope for a 22 Magnum.  At best, it is a 100 yard yard cartridge, so the optics match the range of encounter.

I have noticed that some hunters who use high powered variables talk down about hunters who use “set and forget” scopes. I’m not really sure why. So much for a community standing together.

Burris Ballistic Plex reticle

What Do I Use?

For my eyes, and only my eyes, Burris and their Ballistic Plex reticle is my favourite.  I have more of these than any other brand.  Most are 2-7s with one 3-9 and a 6-20 to round things out. For my eyes, Burris Optics are very clear and the Ballistic Plex reticle is simple to use. I use Burris scopes on some 303s, a 7.62×39, a 30-30 single shot and a Tikka 222. None has failed.  These days, many companies offer lifetime or long time warranties. Burris has their Forever Warranty.

The next company might surprise you – Athlon.  I discovered these a few years ago at a gun show. I have four of their Talos line. It is an inexpensive optic that just works. It is clear, the glass is fine in low light and the reticle is usable in the trees.  Athlon has a lifetime warranty too.

I know what you’re thinking. Lifetime warranties are great, but optics rarely fail until you are sitting in your tree stand or hiking the hills in search of game. How long will my Burris or Athlon scope last?  I dunno. How long will any scope last? Warranties are for when something breaks. I haven’t had one fail yet.

The first Athlon I bought is mounted on a single shot 7.62×54r rifle.  It kicks about the same as a 30-06.  I use this rifle regularly with its English cousin, a 30-303. Neither has shaken the scopes apart after close to 1,000 rounds with the 7.62×54r and 600 plus through the 30-303.  My eyes like these scopes. The bonus was that they all cost about $300 CDN or about $210 USD.

The Wind Down

There is never a conclusion to stories about scopes. As long as there are old men around who argue about long discontinued scopes or old timey brand names, there cannot be an ending. 🙂

These days, I have exactly one Leupold left.  It’s an older four power with the friction adjustments. I believe it was made in the late 1970s. To be fair, I’ve had it a long time. I’ve been reading on the Internets lately that Leupold scopes are no good now. I guess it’s true because it is on the Internets after all. 🙂

My old Leupold on a 22 K-Hornet Handi Rifle

You can hate scopes that aren’t made in the USA or Japan, or aren’t your favourite brand, but the fact is, the world continues to change. Nothing stays the same.

All those fancy reviews written by gunwriters or Internets bloggers don’t seem to make much of an impression on me or my eyes these days. I rarely shoot over 300 yards and buy what suits my needs. 

Your focus determines your reality. – Qui-Gon Jinn

Safe Shooting!