Making Sense of Hunting Optics


In today’s world of high tech optics the myriad of choices presented to the consumer are endless. Hopefully this article can make things a bit “clearer”, pardon the pun, for the average hunter.

Rifle Scopes

A good quality scope has been the key to many successful hunts yet most hunters don’t know where quality ends and “fluff” begins. The scope’s job is to bring distant targets in close to facilitate a clean shot. The power of the scope matters not if the image is not clear to the shooter’s eye. Selecting the right scope to fit your individual needs is the key to having that great hunting set up versus just any set up. Things that need to be considered are image quality, construction, and magnification.

Image Quality

In order for a scope to provide the shooter with the best possible image, it must deliver as much light to the shooter’s eye as possible. The more light, the better the sight picture will be. In scopes the second number is the objective lens size. An 8X32 scope has an objective lens size of 32mm where a 5X40 has a 40mm objective lens size. The larger the lens size the brighter and clearer the image will be. The quality of the glass, coatings and lens design also contributes to the image quality.


The construction of a scope has a very direct impact on its visual clarity. If a scope is poorly built it will allow moisture to get in the tube and will become all but useless. Generally speaking, a fixed power scope is built to be more resistant to water and moisture than a variable power scope. This is simply because there are fewer moving parts. Better quality scopes are sealed, waterproof and fog proof. Look for nitrogen filled scopes as they are a better quality than those that are not.


Two numbers separated by an “X” like 4X32 generally refer to scopes. The four represents the magnification level. This means the object is four times closer than when viewed with the naked eye. There are basically three types of magnification. Low powers (1.5-6X32 or 2-7X32) are best suited for close range and moving targets. Medium powers (3-9X40 or 4-10X40) are best for big game hunting when ranges will be moderate. The high power (6-18’s and such) are designed and best suited for long range shooting at still targets. Remember, when looking at magnification, the bigger the objective lens the better the image will appear in the scope.


Parallax is a condition that occurs when the image of the target is not on the reticle plane. This can cause the target to appear to move or be out of focus. Better rifle scopes under 10X or 11X have the parallax pre-set out of the package. The high power models generally have a parallax adjustment of the scope to set it for the individual shooter.

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Laser Range Finders

In recent years the laser range finders have become increasingly popular with hunters. A laser range finder delivers a fast pulse of light to the intended target and gives you a very precise readout as to what the distance is. The flight time of the pulse of light is calculated to give the actual distance to the user.

A good laser range finder is also constructed sturdily. It should have a plus or minus one yard tolerance as a minimum. Look for a model with a reticle for precise ranging and don’t forget that these gadgets run on batteries so a low battery indicator just might avoid a botched shot opportunity because they went dead.

If you plan to use your range finder for close ranges make sure you check the spec sheet to insure it will range at the closer distances. Some models won’t give a reading inside a pre-set distance which makes some units useless for a bowhunter yet practical for a gun hunter.

There are several outside factors that can affect a range finder’s ability to function properly. First is the user’s hand stability. If you can’t hold it still you will never get a reading. The weather can hinder performance as well; rain or dense fog can render a range finder useless at times. A target’s reflectivity is also key. You can get a reading off a flat hard surface much better than a moving animal. Last but not least, you will always get a better reading if you can range a target as close to 90 degree’s as possible.


There are basically two types of binoculars available to the modern hunter. They are Roof Prism and Porro Prism. The roof prism is your basic set up. The Porro prism type basically makes depth perception better and offers a better field of view.

Field of View (FOV)

The FOV refers to the distance side to side of the subject being viewed. It is calculated by the width in feet (or meters) visible at 1000 yards. Higher-powered units generally have a smaller field of view and are better suited for looking a stationary object. The lower powers generally have a larger field of view and are better for scanning the landscape or following a moving target.

The Exit Pupil

The exit pupil is the size of the circle of light visible at the eyepiece. A pair of binoculars that are 8X32 have an exit pupil of 4mm (divide the power by the objective lens size). The closer you can get to 5.5 mm the better the image will be, therefore a pair of 10X50 binoculars will provide a better image than the 8X32.

Eye Relief

Eye relief refers to distance you can hold your binoculars from your eye and still use the entire field of view. People who wear glasses should look for the binoculars with longer eye relief.

The best advice you will ever get on the purchase of a new scope is this, buy the best optics you can afford. Your optics are not the place to save a buck or two.


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