The Optics Report - Scopes

Look for Consistency. Not Brightness

Field & Stream Online Editors

Scopes must have repeatable, consistent windage and elevation adjustments. They should point your bullet just where they say they will every time you use them. Scopes must not whack your eyebrow. This means at least 3 inches of eye relief-the distance between the rear edge of the scope and your forehead. On .300 magnums or bigger, 4 inches guarantees pain-free shooting. In the reviews here, eye relief is designated as ER.

Some companies fudge the eye relief. With variable scopes, eye relief normally changes as the magnification is adjusted, and some manufacturers list only the longest figure, measured with the scope set on the lowest power. This isn't technically a lie, but it's not the whole truth, either. Some high-grade variables feature constant eye relief throughout their range.

Brightness is overrated. Today's optics are so bright that we can see game during twilight with any decent scope. The problem in low-light shooting now isn't seeing but aiming, since the reticle sometimes fades before the optics. The solution is a heavier reticle. Night-hunting Europeans have long known this, and some non-Euro scopes now feature fatter reticles.

I refer to two focus methods here: the fine-thread American system and the coarse-thread, instantly adjustable European system. If you're much over 40, you might prefer the European, since things "swim" into focus much faster, and it's easier for old eyes to see. In this roundup, the type of focus is designated by AF (American) or EF (European).

(1) Leupold Vari-X III 3.5X¿¿¿10X x 40mm 13 ounces / ER 4¿¿¿3.5 / AF / $475
Leupold has a reputation not only for tough, bright scopes with plenty of eye relief but also for an unlimited lifetime guarantee and super customer service-the reasons so many hunters purchase this flagship of the company's variable line.

(2) Bushnell Elite 3200 3X¿¿¿9X x 40mm 13 ounces / ER 3.25¿¿¿3 / EF / $225
This line was formerly by Bausch & Lomb. They're all as tough as railroad spikes, and this model is the first available with Bushnell's new Firefly luminescent reticle, improving upon their excellent 3-2-1 Low Light Reticle.

(3) Sightron SII 6X x 42mm 12.6 ounces / ER 3.5 / AF / $200
A relatively new name in the business, the Sightron brand is becoming known as one of the best values. Their 6X is very tough. This one was shot a lot on a .300 magnum without the slightest change in point of impact, and the optics are more than adequate.

(4) **Zeiss Conquest MC 3X¿¿¿9X x 40mm 15 ounces / ER constant 3.75 / EF / $400 **
Finally, here's a Zeiss most of us can afford. They did it by making the lenses in Hungary, assembling the guts in Germany, and making the tube and putting everything together in the U.S.A. Unlike German-built Zeisses, this scope has the long eye relief Americans prefer. It may be the finest hunting scope Zeiss has ever made.

(5) Burris Fullfield II 3X¿¿¿9X x 40mm 13 ounces / ER 4.25¿¿¿3 / EF / $200
In brightness, this inexpensive American-made scope matched some Euro scopes costing several times as much. Just be careful when screwing the scope caps back on. The fine threads can get crossed.