Scopes are pretty essential for bolt action rifles. We need to be able to see what we’re aiming at, what it’s doing, and where the shot should hit. There’s a few numbers involved on scopes though that it’s worth understanding when you’re buying one.
Personally, using an airsoft gun, I’ve used cheap unbranded scopes from ebay and Amazon without any problems for years. I know there are some who would love a nice £3000 Leupold scope, and if your budget stretches to that, enjoy. But it isn’t all dictated by price. It’s about the correct sized scope as much as anything.
First off, let’s understand a little about the numbers you’ll see when you search Amazon for “rifle scopes”. 3-9×40 is a fairly common size. The 3-9 bit denotes the magnification, in this case, from 3 times bigger to 9 times bigger, so you can see things further away. Bear in mind though that this is airsoft, not a real steel one with a range of 3km. We’re looking at 20-100 metres max, so a lot of zoom isn’t going to be particularly useful to us. About 90% of the time, my scope stays on around 3x zoom. If I were to zoom in too close, I would be very focused on one small detail but not be able to see things around the target that I might need to be aware of. Additionally, it can take ages on a high zoom to actually find your target; you’ll look with your eyes first, think you’re pretty sure where to bring the rifle up, but then it’ll be a few degrees off and with maximum zoom on, you’ll spend too long scanning around for your target before it’s in the right place. That said, having a variable zoom function can be very useful if you’re doing recon work and are much further away than shooting distance, ie using the rifle scope as a pair of binoculars (saves carrying extra kit). It’s also handy to ID potential targets before you move to within range, for example trying to find out what colour armbands they’re wearing or investigating some distant movement. As a rough guide;
1-4x zoom – For targets up to 100m
5-8x zoom – 100m-200m
9-12x zoom – 200m+
Scopes without any zoom are cheaper, but mean that you don’t have that option to zoom in when you want to investigate something. Always zoom back out for shooting though.
The second number, 40 in the graphic above, is the diameter of the objective lense. Now, we can all agree that big monstrous scopes look much better and are more intimidating, but smaller is definately more useful. 40mm is the largest you want to be going, for a few reasons. A bigger 50mm one adds a lot of extra profile to your rifle and is easier to spot. It then needs higher scope rings so that it clears the barrel, which pulls your head up off the stock more to see through. A lower profile scope closer to the barrel will be closer to where the rifle is shooting, making it more accurate. The big counter argument to 50mm scopes, is that they let more light in, and a 50mm will let 55% more light in than a 40mm, but the human eye is such that it won’t detect that increase unless you’re shooting in early morning or late evening. Smaller scopes tend to suffer less from parallax error and have a better depth of field (more stuff in focus) than larger scopes too. It is not the case that a bigger scope gives you a bigger sight picture either, because the lense your eye is looking into is generally a similar size, and the picture will be dictated by the zoom on the scope instead.
You can now shout about smaller being better, and be right about it. Choose your conversation wisely though.
One feature you may notice on a lot of the cheaper scopes, is illumination (of the crosshairs). Red or green, usually different brightness levels. And you may think it’d be a great idea for night games. Unfortunately the reality is that with the crosshairs illuminated, the eye focuses on the glowing image in front of it and it becomes difficult to see what’s behind it. It’s not a beneficial feature – if you’re playing at night, invest in a night vision scope.
Reticles – it’s always good to know what you’re buying, and with most internet shopping you can’t exactly pick it up and have a look through, so make sure there are enough product details. There are probably hundreds of different scope reticle styles, but the three most common are Duplex, Mildot and Rangefinding;
Duplex reticles are nice and simple, and will put a cross on your target ready for when you pull the trigger. Ideal for close ranges (as long as you’re not too close and cheating…), as long as the scope is properly zeroed to the rifle it’ll be fine further out too. But, bb’s being as they are, you might find a Mildot infinitely more useful when you miss a shot.
“He who hits every shot, without missing, is a lying little bastard. Or a Youtuber. Or both.” – Stip Warne
We all miss shots, whether due to wind, environmental conditions, or the target sneezing after pulling the trigger. It’s important to make sure the follow up shot though is bang on target. Mildot scopes make this process easier – keeping the scope on the target while the bb is travelling, you can use the dots to measure how far up/down or left/right it went, then adjust for the next shot by moving X number of dots the other way to compensate.
The Rangefinder type reticle is slightly more specialised, and the lines underneath allow you to measure up against a known object (human chest width for example) and then adjust the scope until the correct sized line fits, increasing elevation as targets get smaller with distance. It’s a little more to think about, and these scopes can take on various different designs (my rubbish drawing is the one I had handy for reference…), but useful if you know how to use it.
Don’t worry too much about lense caps or covers, they’re better being off the rifle anyway.
You may want to consider a sunshade to prevent the glass from reflecting in the sun. You can easily make one yourself from an aluminium can, plastic pipe or whatever other materials you have around the house.
To protect the lens, a killflash is a better option. This honeycomb grille fits over the front of the lense and takes the impact from any bb’s heading towards you, as well as hide some of the scope reflection. These are fairly easy to find (here’s a link), just choose the diameter that matches your objective lense.
You can of course use red dots, holo sights, short dots etc as an optic, but I won’t cover them here because I believe zoomable scopes are more of an asset, it’s important to be able to adjust follow up shots, and there’s more of a focus on measuring up the shot and shooting the target than a cqb situation where it’s more about reactions and snap shooting. And I’ve discussed often down the years the need for better self sufficiency in longer games, and batteries need changed. It’s something I’d rather not have to worry about or carry.