A gun with Zeiss Riflescope

Buying a long-range scope is a serious decision. Dependable, long range precision in rifle hunting starts at the foundation of an exceptional optic. A well-maintained rifle with the capability to reach out and engage animals is essential, yet rendered useless past the limitations of an inadequate scope. This article is not geared to discuss the characteristics of your trusty 3x9 used to stalk animals in the thick timber or take down whitetail across midwestern fields. Instead we highlight the characteristics you should look for in a scope to engage game at 300-500+ yds across western canyons, shooting from ridgelines down into valleys below and excel through the punishment it takes to get to these backcountry locations.

Options for a quality scope that matches up to your rifle and personal hunting desires can be a bit overwhelming. Hopefully this article will give you some needed information on making your choice. Optics hold the gold standard for the saying, “you get what you pay for.” There are many things that can go wrong with a scope that will have drastic effects on where your bullet lands once the trigger is pulled. As an ethical long-range hunter, it’s important to pick your scope wisely and learn to work all features with full competence.

Below is a list of qualities and features on scopes that should be looked at when shopping. This list isn’t comprehensive, yet it’s a solid foundation of knowledge to shop wisely with.

100% Reliable Turret Tracking

In my consideration, turret tracking is the quite possibly the most important aspect in a scope. The turrets are connected to internal mechanisms that adjust lens inside the optic for elevation and windage adjustments. Depending on your preference and scope options, you will either be offered Minutes of Angle (MOA) or Milliradians (MRADs). Turning the turrets on the scope allows you to make the adjustments to take the shot at the elk across the canyon that’s been screaming back at your bugles. Once you determine the distance with your range finder, the adjustments made with the turrets will allow the bullet to land where your crosshairs sit.

With inadequately or cheaply built “budget” scopes, the clicks you feel through the turn of the turret adjustment will start to slip. Meaning your MOA or MRAD adjustments will no longer be accurate and the error will magnify as distance increases, causing 3 separate failures. The first failure is causing your bullet to complete miss your target. Second, you will become lost in the rotations due to not being able to efficiently know where the adjustment is. Lastly, once this slip begins the ability to maintain a mechanical zero will no longer be an option.

Trust the well-known quality brands in your search; a bit of homework here goes a long ways.

Guns with Zeiss Riflescope facing up

Sufficient Range of Elevation Adjustments

When looking at a display case or catalog full of scopes while making the selection, some reverse engineering is needed. Take a look at how far you plan on shooting. What is the maximum effective range of the bullet you plan on shooting while maintaining the energy needed to take down your targeted game? Once you know how far you can shoot, you’ll now be able to narrow your scope selection based upon the elevation adjustment options offered by potential scopes.

One thing to be aware of is you will only be able to use half of the total elevation adjustment offered. If the there are a total of 60 MOA, only 30 MOA will be usable in ranging out for targets passed your zero. The other half of MOA adjustments will be utilized for shots closer than the zeroed distance.

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Tube Diameter

The thicker the tube results in increased MOA elevation adjustments availability. The portion being talked about here is the skinnier cylindrical portion between the eyepiece and the objective. These MOA adjustments will angle up towards the top of the tube from an internal center point. The higher the angle can go without maxing out, the farther the optic will allow you to shoot.

Another aspect that is affected by the diameter of the tube is the amount of optical vignetting. This is observed when you put the scope to the maximum zoom. On the edges you will notice a darkened and blurred halo, a thicker tube allows for less of this effect on the optic.

Parallax Adjustment

The parallax adjustment is a turret adjustment included on long-range scopes, usually found on the left side of the scope. Sometimes called the “focus” adjustment, what this does is align the reticle with the targeted objective of the elk or mule deer you have the crosshairs on. To ensure you are setting the scope up properly, the first step to complete before you walk out in to the fields to hunt is focus your reticle. You can watch this video on understanding parallax on riflescopes to learn more.

To make the reticle adjustments, aim the gun towards the sky or another blank background. Place cheek to stock like you normally would aim, but with your eyes closed. Open your eye and see if your reticle is clear. If blurry, adjust one way or another and repeat this until your reticle is perfectly clear for your own eye. Once you’re there, you can tune your parallax adjustment to ensure the reticle and target are on the same plane. Dialing in this process allows for proper focus, a better sight picture, pinpoint accuracy and rules out a possible factor of missing a shot.

Zeiss Riflescope mounted on a gun facing open field

Zero Retention

Zero retention is absolutely important as well. How well can the scope take a beating as you drive on 4x4 roads with it banging around inside the truck? As you hike it miles into the backcountry through scrub oak, scree fields and across ridgelines? Your scope needs to be able to take the abuse that you and Mother Nature will throw at it.

Zero retention is a mixture of numerous internal workings in the scope. What it all comes down to is quality. From the engineering, materials used for every single internal mechanism and workmanship. All the internal and external features of this scope need to be rock solid for years to come, a product from a well trusted brand will stand up to this. And in the case your high dollar scope does not, you’d better make sure you went with a company with a good warranty. The trusted ones will, they stand behind their products.

Choosing a riflescope for long-range hunting and shooting can be complicated, but starting with these 5 qualities and features will guide you through your decision.