In the past, the lifestyle was simpler and that coincided with the hunting equipment that was available at the time. After decades of only iron sights, first riflescopes gradually began to appear on hunting rifles. It was not that long ago that we could see riflescopes with labels such as 4x32 or 6x42 mounted on local hunters’ weapons. In short, these numbers describe a four- and six-fold magnification and a lens diametre of 32 and 42 millimetres, respectively. But what does the magnification actually signify? The easiest way to visualise this notion: When looking at an object that is 100 metres away through a riflescope with a 10x magnification, the object appears as though it was only 10 metres away from us.
Today, when the world is a bit more complicated and we are spoiled for choice when looking at hunting equipment, we can find that there is a great variety of riflescope configurations on offer, all except the aforementioned (4x32, 6x42 etc.) as they are practically gone from use. Modern hunters have become picky. We demand technically perfected and high-quality equipment, which means that we are no longer satisfied with fixed magnifications and a single riflescope utilized for every possible situation.
It's hard to say that there exist universal binoculars that will satisfy all our needs and expectations. That is exactly why there are so many different products available today, each one of them serving a more or less specific purpose. This article aims to present shooting optics that are suitable for the following hunting methods: raised hide hunting, stalking, drive hunts and hunting in mountains. I believe that even today most hunters do not use a separate riflescope for each of these hunting methods. That’s why our aim is to identify the best attempt at a universal riflescope that would work well with all of the aforementioned hunting methods while knowing that one of the necessities when striving for versatility is to make compromises that ultimately deviate from our ideal and personal desires.
RAISED HIDE HUNTING
A considerable part of the hunt from an elevated position takes place during the early morning dawn and during the evening dusk. In those parts of the day, we wish to make use of as much light as possible in order to see the game clearly. This normally requires of the objective lens diametre to be bigger than average, able to capture the greatest amount of light achievable. In practice, that usually corresponds to the objective lens diametre of 56 millimetres. Lens diametres bigger than that would not be more effective since the exit pupil of the human eye is also an important factor. The diametre of the exit pupil can be calculated by dividing the lens diametre with the magnification (for binoculars with nominal dimensions of 8x56 it means 56mm : 8 = 7mm). The pupil diametre of the human eye changes in accordance with the intensity of ambient light (as in, it dilates in the dark and retracts in the light). But the human pupil cannot dilate beyond the maximum of 7 millimetres. This means that larger binoculars would be only more of a hassle to carry because they are not able to catch a bigger amount of ambient light as our pupils are simply not capable of expanding beyond their limit to capture more light. Note that this is true for a young person. Since the ability of pupils to dilate decreases with ageing, the sensibility of using 8x56 binoculars is already questionable as hunters could achieve the same effect with a smaller diametre of the lens.
Of course, larger lens diametres do not automatically ensure the greatest light transmission rate possible, at least not on their own. Other technologies, such as high-quality lens coatings are needed. As far as shooting optics are concerned, the transmission rate normally improves with the quality of production (in large part due to the lens used - it fits to mention HT (high transmittance) Schott lens and appropriate lens coatings). It is also worth noting that lately popular and also otherwise very practical binoculars with a variable magnification, unfortunately, aren’t able to achieve comparably high light transmission rates as those with fixed magnifications. The reason lies in the simple fact that the construction of binoculars with variable magnification is far more complex, requiring an additional lens in the structure of the unit and with each addition, we lose out on some of the permeability of the lens. With the quality of binoculars and the advancement of technologies employed, the price of the product proportionately increases.
When shooting from elevated stands, firing distances change from very short (in small clearings, near feeding stations etc.)
Examples: 3-12x56, 2.4-12x56, 2.3-18x56, …
Stalking is a very specific method of hunting that demands agility, quick responses and usually also good physical fitness. The shooting distances tend to be moderate and the hunt almost always ends before twilight. From the above, we can see that bulky, difficult to handle binoculars with large lens diametres are neither convenient nor needed. High power magnifications too are more of a nuisance, rather than an advantage.
The most practical magnification powers range from 2x to 10x or 12 times. The ideal lens diametre is 42mm, thanks to its practicality and compact dimensions. At the moment, the best choice for stalking is the 1.7-13.3x42 configuration but let’s not forget the versatility of the classic 1.5-6x42.
Examples: 1.5-6x42, 1.7-10x42, 1.7-13.3x42, 2-12x50, ...
Short shooting distances, quick shots and the need for a wide field of view. That’s the best way to describe drives through the objective lens.
Our desire is to catch the game into the crosshairs quickly as possible while keeping both eyes open even mid-assessment due to the wider field of view. Bearing that in mind, we can define the ideal shooting optics for this kind of hunting quite easily.
Best suited for drive hunts are the following optical devices: red dots, reflex sights and wide-angle riflescopes. The disadvantage of red dots and reflex sights is that they come without magnification, which is a must when making longer shots. In such instances, the crucial benefits and versatility of wide-angle riflescopes come into play. Riflescopes offer various magnification powers that can be of great help when it comes to long-range shots. Unfortunately, these optical devices do slow us down in comparison to red dots and reflex sights. When using a wide-angle riflescope (or binoculars), the eye has to be aligned in both directions - both left/right as well as up/down. What is more, the eye must be at a certain distance away from the eyepiece, as this is the only way to see the whole picture. None of this conscious alignment is necessary when using a red dot or a reflex sight, which makes the use of such gadgets quicker and more intuitive.
The most sensible magnification choice for a drive is 1x or in other words: no magnification. When we are not using magnification, both eyes can remain open and we are able to capture a wider field of vision. This is of great importance when it comes to fast-moving game. Swarovski Optik recently unveiled a wide-angle riflescope with 0.75x magnification, thus proving two things: one - it is possible and two - with a magnification power that is smaller than 1x, we can capture an even wider field of vision than the real life situation would permit. This is somewhat revolutionary. Still, in every case, there’s the simple correlation: the smaller are the lens diametre and the set magnification, the wider is the field of view. That’s the rule we must keep in mind, forever and always. The most suitable wide-angle riflescopes for this method of hunting are those with magnification powers between 1x and 6x, and as for the most common diametre of the lens - the 24mm models are the best option.
With all riflescopes intended for drive hunts, daytime reticle illumination (of high intensity) is recommended. This is because the colour of the backdrop can change mid-assessment and we must strive for the best visibility of the red dot possible - in every moment of game evaluation.
Examples: 1-5x24, 1-6x24, 0.75-6x20, ...
HUNTING IN MOUNTAINS
Because of its spaciousness, raw and unbridled nature, as well as physical challenges, hunting in mountains always held a special place among all other methods of hunts. Due to its special character, it requires appropriate equipment. Shots at longer distances are a commonplace here, hence the need for riflescopes of higher magnification powers. For a pleasant hunting experience in mountains, it’s important to make the equipment light. Binoculars with large lens (and consequently masses) are out of the question, as such devices would mainly hinder us on long walks. In most cases, shots are taken in the middle of the day, and almost never in the late twilight when shooting optics with bigger lens diametres and higher light transmission rates would be needed.
All riflescopes intended for application in mountains are characterized by an adjustable parallax, although the parallax error is more apparent when shooting at shorter distances (under 100 metres) in comparison to longer. Still, parallax error is an unpleasant phenomenon when (during measuring) the movements of the eye outside the axis of the rifle (in any direction) cause for the reticle to move on the target, thus impacting the accuracy of shooting. Most riflescopes, which do not have the option of a parallax adjustment at certain distances (an additional turret), have the parallax fixed at 100 metres. Riflescopes that feature an additional turret for parallax adjustment allow us to eliminate this phenomenon at varying distances, depending on the situation.
Another treat, which really comes in handy in the mountains, are ballistic turrets (found on sophisticated enough riflescopes). By utilizing these, also depending on the holdover at specific distances, we can adjust the movement of the reticle before making the shot, as well as determine the distance on which we’ll shoot. Take Swarovski BT ballistic turrets for example, where we can pre-set specific distances. By moving the turret to the pre-set point before the shot, the only thing that remains for us to do is selecting the correct distance. Other turrets come with marks on the riflescope, denoting precisely determined (pre-set) distances. Using turret clicks, we simply have to determine the distance on which we will take the shot. It’s clear from reading the marks on the turret, how much it needs to be rotated before the shot, in order to reach the target at that specific distance (take ASV ballistic turret by the German manufacturer Zeiss, for example). Riflescopes and binoculars with built-in laser rangefinders may also be practical if we anticipate the need for long distance shots but we do not want to carry lots of equipment with.
For hunting in high mountains, it is reasonable to have the maximum magnification of at least 10x and the lens diametre of somewhere between 42 and 48 millimetres. In a way, 50-millimetre lens represents the absolute limit. Anything beyond that would only add dimensions and weight to our equipment, without offering any added value for mountain hunts.
Riflescopes intended for hunting in the mountains require a very fine reticle, preferably in the second focal plane (which means that no matter the changes of the magnification power, the thickness of the cross remains constant).
Examples: 2.5-15x44, 3.5-18x44, 2-16x50, ...
Whenever we use the word "versatile", one must be aware that the result is the most optimal combination of compromises. If I had to decide on a singular riflescope to serve me in various hunting methods, I would pick a 2-12x50 all-rounder riflescope or a similar model.
The ideal riflescope is characterized by: moderate physical dimensions, compact mass, large enough lens diametre for low-light shooting situations and a sufficiently variable magnification to meet both requirements of close-range shooting as well as far away. I also recommend reticle illumination that will often come in handy. As far as choosing the right mounting solution is concerned, I would probably choose to mount the riflescope with the help of a rail. In order to meet specific requirements of different hunting methods, it is necessary to upgrade your hunting equipment with an additional piece of optics or two.
Before purchasing a riflescope, our choice should be guided by the following key factors: the quality of production, lens quality, the potential after-sales service, reputation of the manufacturer, ergonomics of the product, etc. The warranty period given by the manufacturer that will protect us in case of needed repairs or product defects is certainly a factor to consider before making a purchase.
The most important technical specifications that are crucial to keep in mind according to our hunting needs are these: the magnification power, lens diametre, minimum and maximum eye relief, minimum and maximum field of view, twilight factor, light transmission rate, reticle illumination, adjustable parallax, weight, the resistance to water damage and internal fogging, etc.
In addition to the basic features listed above, let's consider some of the useful goodies the market has to offer in order to make life easier for us when we’re on the hunt. I would like to point out reticle illumination (usually with a red dot) which is nowadays a near-necessity since the reticle hairs are so thin and for a good reason! Thinner the reticle, the less of the image it covers. Of course, without illumination, a reticle like that is difficult to see in low light and when pointed against a dark background.
Especially important is the selection mounting elements that will help the riflescope become one with your rifle. For the hunting application, I believe that detachable and repeatable mounts are the best fit. When moving through a thick, overgrown terrain, the riflescope can be removed with ease and stored inside a backpack (the same is true for mountains, where climbing is sometimes necessary). I also remove the riflescope when I’m thoroughly cleaning the rifle, or the scope would only get in my way.
I know that choosing a suitable riflescope is a formidable task. But this task will be much easier if we clearly set out the purpose for which the riflescope will be utilized and decide on a ballpark figure are prepared to spend. Here, I find it useful to mention the sensible recommendation I’ve encountered time and time again. The price ratio between the rifle and the riflescope should be approximately 1:1. This has often been proved as the right decision. Following these steps, we are bound to zero in onto the optimal selection of choices.
Well, good luck hunting or as the Germans would say - Waidmann’s Heil!
Author: Renato BRODAR