Remember that new scopes and binoculars are often heavily discounted. Before you shop in earnest, get a feel for list prices from catalogs and retail stores. Used optics in carriage-class gun shops may cost as much as new glass from discount houses. Best bets for bargains: classified ads and the periodicals, Shotgun News (800-345-6923) and Gun List (800-258-0929). And don?t overlook pawnshops and gun shows.
Stay with the top brands. First, you?re apt to get a brighter image and a more durable instrument. Second, you?ll get service in the unlikely event you need it. Third, the scope or binocular will retain some resale value. In fact, if you buy intelligently, you may not see any depreciation for as long as you own the glass.
Consider models and features that aren?t in vogue. A lot of Leupold Vari-X II 3X?9X scopes are in circulation, but strong demand for this model keeps secondhand prices high. If you?ll settle for a fixed-power scope, or one with crosshairs or a post instead of a ?plex? reticle, yyou could get a bargain. Scopes with traditional glossy tubes often undersell those with the newer, popular matte finish. Discontinued scopes and binoculars commonly cost less on the used market, though a few coveted models sell at a premium.
Study specifications carefully so you know what you?re getting. Unless agreed upon in the deal, you probably won?t have return privileges. For instance, be aware of mounting limitations on your rifle. Some variable scopes are very short between the turret and front and rear bells, so you may have to buy extension rings. Scopes with 50mm front lenses need medium or high rings. You?d be smart to price 30mm rings before you buy a scope with a 30mm tube. These rings can be hard to find and are heavier and more expensive than 1-inch rings. Mind the weight of binoculars. To me, any binocular over 26 ounces is a burden unless it?s on a harness.
Give the scope or binocular a thorough inspection. If you wear eyeglasses, make sure the folding or sliding eyecups on a binocular give you the correct eye relief. The hinge should pivot without perceptible play. Focus the binocular; the dials must turn smoothly, with just enough drag to resist movement if you brush them accidentally. Ditto for the power ring and ocular housing on a scope. Scope adjustments should click crisply. (Older Leupold and some other scopes lack the click detents.)
Scratches from scope rings or field use reduce the value of a scope. Dents in a scope or binocular are more serious. Hard impacts can affect lens mountings, so it?s best to avoid dented optics. Also, reject any that show scratches on the glass. You may not see them looking through the scope or binocular, but they?ll show up if you look at the lens. Vigorous rubbing can wear through some lens coatings; you?ll see it as thinning color or very fine scratches. Take your money and run.