December 13, 2013
A Dose of Optical Common Sense
By David E. Petzal
So I went to the local Cabela's to buy a low-power variable and discovered that all the scopes that ran from 1X or thereabouts to 5X or thereabouts were sold, and what was sitting in the case, lonely and forsaken, were the big scopes with interstellar power ranges, suitable for tactical shooters, prairie dog hunters, and folks of that sort. It was a reminder that there is still a strong streak of common sense in the hunting public that cannot be kept down.
I got my start as a woodchuck hunter, which meant I wallowed around in the high end of the magnification range, and I can remember that half a century ago 10X was considered a hefty dose of power for a varminter. The most powerful scopes you could get were made by Lyman and Unertl, and the biggest of those ran in powers like 12X and 15X with the Unertl Programer being the champ at 24X. No one ever used anything over 6X for big game.
There were sound reasons. Big, heavy scopes do not go well on big-game rifles. Their bulk and weight are a continuing pain in the ass. More important, in the real world of big-game hunting where most shots are still taken at under 200 yards, they are a handicap. Their magnification increases shakes, and their narrow field of view means that you'll be unable to take shots that you could get with a smaller, saner scope.
Under 200 yards you don't need anything bigger than 4X and under 100 yards 1X or 1.5X or 2X is going to get you shots that you couldn't otherwise take. This fall, I was unable to get the crosshairs on a very nice whitetail buck because the cagey bastard used a crossing in the brush that was only a couple of yards wide, only 25 yards away. Even cranked down to 3X my variable could not pick him up in time, but if I'd had less power and more field of view I could have.
The new 6X-magnifying scopes are useful not because they offer lots of Xs at the top end but because they offer very few at the low end of their range. If you get a scope that goes from 2X to 12X, you'll spend a lot more time at 2 than 12—if you have any sense, that is.