Does the perfect scope exist? I don’t think so. Every scope choice must balance the abilities of the scope and your intended purpose. It’s really a trade-off. Still, there are certain features of a scope that are more important than others.
These are the three most important factors to consider when picking a scope. All three are essential, but the first one is really a non-negotiable element to any good scope.
Without question, there is one thing that defines a good scope regardless of what gun you have and how you intend to use it – accuracy. Your scope must track accurately to be of any real value.
The scope has to be able to hold zero while shooting and in between range visits. If you notice your zero shifting while on the range, then you know something is wrong with the scope or the firearm. That involves the internal mechanics of the scope. Since you can’t really get inside the scope to see, a key clue for the expected performance really comes down to experience.
When picking a scope, a great place to start is the reputation of the manufacturer. This is not to say that only expensive scopes work. Far from it. Many mid-tier scopes offer value options that perform well on the range and in competition. So check out reviews of the scope before you buy one.
Every time you dial your scope, it needs to stay true to what those adjustments are supposed to be. Whether it is adjustments for windage, elevation, or just surviving recoil from your firearm, the scope should provide you with accurate and repeatable performance.
If you want to test out your own scope, you can always run a box drill – shooting various groups on a target by adjusting the elevation and windage – to proof test the internals of the optic. If you can repeat the groups with adjustments, then it is likely a good scope.
You can also run simple tests to check if the scope is properly adjusting vertically and horizontally by shooting groups and incrementally adjusting windage and elevation. Your shots should move in a straight line along the target as you make adjustments. If you do this at 100 yards, you can measure your groups to see if each adjustment matches the specifications of the scope.
A lot of people make a big deal about how “good” the glass is on a scope. Yes, high-end scopes can have fantastic clarity, but even mid-level optics today can provide more than enough clarity on the range.
Technology and manufacturing processes have greatly improved over the last few decades when it comes to scopes. As long as the scope provides adequate clarity, it shouldn’t really impede a good shooter’s performance. If you want to shoot out to extreme ranges, higher clarity will certainly help. But most shooters really just need an optic that provides a crisp and clear image to get what they need out of a scope.
Even mid-level optics today offer much more than you would have expected from the high-end optics a generation ago. Clarity matters, but don’t assume you need to shell out tons of extra cash for the clearest optics on the planet. People can nitpick over the best glass for clarity all they want, but it won’t necessarily make you a better shooter.