Scope Choices: Magnification, Focal Plane, and Parallax
Scopes are an excellent way to turn your rifle into a precision shooter. But there are some finer points you need to understand before you put your new optic on your firearm. Let’s review three of the most common and important features that may impact your choice of scopes.
First things first, magnification levels depend on how you intend to use your rifle. For precision competition scopes that we use in Mid-Atlantic Rimfire Series matches, I would say the minimum zoom range for your optic should be at 10 power magnification. If you are on a budget, that is the floor for where you want to start. That doesn’t mean you are always using your scope at full magnification.
Personally, I like some variability in my scopes, especially for very small targets. Zooming in to shoot something as small as a matchstick is great, but you also need to be able to acquire the target. So having the ability to pull back and see a wider field of view helps a lot with target acquisition. Higher magnification also helps you zero your rifle with a high level of precision.
Parallax is not necessarily the most important feature of a good scope, but don’t treat it as an afterthought. Parallax is the apparent shift in the position of an object. Because you are using an optic, the perceived position of your target can be slightly different from the actual position depending on how your eye is lining up with the reticle. For instance, the image you see in the viewfinder when you take a photo won’t always be exactly what you will actually get in the photo.
Scopes have various parallax ranges. Some scopes are a bit more forgiving with their parallax ranges, which is optimal if you are shooting multiple targets at varying ranges. A scope with a narrow parallax range will require more adjustments to accommodate different ranges.
You can dive deep into the weeds when it comes to focal planes. But for Mid-Atlantic Rimfire Series competitions, I recommend getting a scope that offers a first focal plane. Basically, this will allow you to use your reticle at different magnifications accurately.
If you are going to shoot at various ranges, scopes that offer a first focal plane are very helpful because your reticle will accurately reflect how you are going to impact the target. Any adjustments you make with your reticle will still reflect what you are seeing in the optic regardless of magnification.
Picking the right scope for your needs always starts with understanding how you are going to use your scope. From my experience, these are some of the finer details that make a scope work well for my applications.