Evolution is a great thing. It produces success out of failure. What I mean, you either adapt or you get left behind. Such is the nature in the tactical market and in particular the low powered variable optic world. Before you jump down a rather expensive road, you need to know some things. The first thing you need to know is can you define the optic as a need or a want. Genuinely is there a need, of do you just want to keep up with all the cool kids. The reason I start with this has to do with your investment in truly understanding how best to exploit the new purchase.
What Plane Do I Choose
The first thing you need to consider is what focal plane, first or second. I could go into detail about the benefits of each, but suffice it to say you want a first focal plane scope. The biggest reason has to do with shooting holds. If you are using a low powered optic it is implied you will be doing work probably in a dynamic environment where the scenario may not provide you time to adjust your scope to the target distance. Instead, you use a predetermined “hold” to place a portion of your reticle on the target. Thus, compensating for the distance that differs from your zero. As you adjust the magnification up or down, your reticle increases or decreases, but your holdover values will remain the same. This simplifies your firing solution and reduces the computations you would have to do otherwise.
All The Magnification
The next big question is magnification and how much. There is such a thing as too much magnification. What it translate to is weight. Yes, cost will increase as you go up in magnification, but it is really about weight. In today’s market you can find LPVO’s in the 1:8 range. These are great force multipliers, but the weight can turn them into a con. Again, it is implied your use will be in an urban defensive rifle setting and as such you will probably not be in a prone position. While you may obtain a supported position, you cannot count on it so holding the rifle to make a long shot will be a requirement. If the weight starts to become a hinderance it doesn’t matter how much magnification. Optimally, you should try to keep the scope under 22 ounces; which includes the mount.
Double Duty In Daytime
Since we will be employing the scope in an urban setting, the range to target may be close. The scope will need to double as a red dot or reflex sight. Those that come with day time viewable illumination are preferred. A word of caution though, if you are in very bright daylight such as mid day with no cloud cover many of the illuminated reticles are washed out by the sun. If you are going down this road, you want the dot to be bright. An observation I’ve made over the years is if the scope doesn’t have at least six or more intensity settings it probably will not be bright enough. As a reflex sight option you want it to be fast, the contrast of the illuminated dot or reticle is what makes that happen, but only if it is visible in all lighting conditions
Don’t Forget A Good Mount
Whatever your scope choice, it will only be as good as the mount. If you spend a lot of money on your scope, but try to cut corners on your mount you will see poor performance. Think of a mount like tires for a sports car. If you put crappy tires on your super fast car, how much speed will you really be able to exploit. The real question is quick release or no quick release. That depends on your backup sight system. If you are using foldable iron sights then you will want a quick release. If you are mounting a mini-red dot sight to the scope or rifle then it doesn’t matter. If you run the MRDS remember it will add weight overall. Once you pick a good mount, the next issue is to properly mount the scope to your rifle. You will want to make sure you it is installed properly to the best image for performance. When I say properly it means secure, but also level. Take the time to ensure the diopter adjustment is properly set to ensure the reticle is in sharp focus. Most LPVO’s do not have adjustable parallax. They are typically fixed at a set distance. The diopter adjustment basically focuses your eye to the reticle. If you scope has a diopter locking ring, make sure it is secure and if not consider using a witness line. This is a very common mistake for newer shooters; using a blurry sight picture because the diopter is out of focus.
Read The Users Manual
Once you have the scope properly installed you next need to learn how to use it and that means being familiar with all the features. The most common features in an LPVO are magnification, illumination, reticle turrets and the reticle. There may be a few other features, but these are the big ones, so break out the user manual and study. The magnification and illumination are the easiest to learn. They are often marked on the scope itself. Know how your power ring works and if it has a device for rapidly adjusting magnification. Those can be a knob, fin or an extrusion from the scope itself. You will want to get in the practice of always resting your magnification to 1x. Make this a habit, so if you ever have to snap a shot at close range you are not fighting your magnification. Depending on your situation, I recommend leaving the illumination set to a day time view for the same reason. Where things get really complicated is learning your scope turrets and reticle.
Pay Close Attention To The Turrets
When it comes to scope turrets, you will either have capped or exposed. Don’t get wrapped up in which is better, know how to use which ever you have. The one benefit to a capped turret is not worrying about the settings. With capped turrets they cannot accidentally be turned throwing off your scope settings. The bad news, if you want to make adjustments quickly you still have to remove the caps. It is not often you have to do this and for an urban rifle the possibly is infantile. You will really see this when learning your scope on the firing line and dealing with wind. While you will use holds for the majority of engagements, you may find yourself dialing in for some specific situations such as shooting in high winds. It is much easier to eliminate one variable such as your elevation and focus on making the best wind calls. You do want to know the unit of measurement for your scope. Are you using a MIL, MOA or BDC based scope.
What Type of Reticle Is Best
Referencing MIL, MOA or BDC is related to the type of reticle. There was a time when I only shot BDC scopes. They were the best in that setting, but things changed. Better ammunition that differed from the BDC rendering it less effective. BDC stands for bullet drop compensator. As the bullet travels in flight, gravity is pulling it to the ground. To hit targets at distance we aim high, how high depends on many factors. The BDC scope eliminated the need to do math and know most of the factors. All you had to know was the distance to the target. Great if you are shooing on a known distance range, not so much in the real world. Now a days, MOA is seeing less and less popularity. If you are using a MOA scope you are not at a disadvantage, but you will have to work a tad harder. MIL version reticles are the most popular and for good reason, they are easier to use. I know easier is subjective, but I find them to be easier these days and I have a lot of hours under my belt with MOA scopes. The big thing here is knowing the unit of measurement. Are you running a 0.1 or 0.2 MIL scope or do you have a ½ or ¼ MOA scope. This references what I call the corrective value. Part of your formula for making corrections. Yes, the smaller measures will be more precise, but they will also be more expensive. Again, as a LPVO do you really need the ultra precise. Only you will know the answer.
Traditional Vs. Technical Reticles
The last and probably the most important thing to consider is your reticle. There are so many, but the new crop of technical reticles are awesome. Think of a technical reticle as a Christmas tree like pattern below your crosshairs. Traditional crosshairs are minimalist. Usually having subtends for holding elevation and windage only. While these are very valuable, they also get really challenging fast. If you have no reason to shoot past 500 yards then maybe you can stay with a traditional crosshair type reticle. If you are going beyond 500, then they are almost required. Even still, the technical reticle excels at close ranges. For me, the biggest advantage to a technical reticle is wind. If I’m at a distance different from my zero, then I will be holding. Add wind and now I’m holding for elevation and wind. With a traditional crosshair scope I’m literally holding in space, using a guess to be as precise as possible. With the technical reticle, I scroll down to the proper hold for elevation, then scroll over to the proper hold for wind and I have a precise aiming point. I’ve made shots out to 1,000 yards using this method and the only reason was because of the technical reticle.
At the end of the day, choosing a scope is a challenge. You first want to identify your budget. how much are you willing to spend. Then, decide on the features such as first or second focal plane. How much magnification I want. The type of measurement and how precise I need along with capped or uncapped turrets. Traditional crosshairs or the newer technical reticles that will most likely be illuminated. All this in the smallest and lightest package possible. You are probably seeing the challenge, but I promise you it will be worth the effort when you push out side normal close ranges. A rifleman is someone who can willfully and repeatedly place a projectile where they want. This includes the mid ranges, what I consider to be 0-500 yards.