Good ‘ol air rifles… I hope you all grew up with a Red Rider or Daisy BB gun running around shooting cans, and trees, hopefully not harassing the local bird population… 

For many of us, this was as close as we got to a firearm during our childhood and may have ignited the spark that took us to where we are today. 

At their core, air rifles are firearms that propel projectiles using compressed air or other gases, in contrast to traditional firearms which use explosive propellants. The absence of a loud bang, reduced recoil, and affordability of ammunition have made air rifles popular for various activities ranging from backyard plinking to serious competition. That said, some of the newer ones are LOUD, like the .25 and .30 caliber air rifles that push 1,100 FPS.

There are many options when it comes to rifle sights, but one of the most useful accessories for an air rifle is the scope. These optics can turn your air rifle into a precision instrument. Here we will discuss the various aspects of an air rifle scope, from choosing the perfect one to understanding its key features, types, and maintenance. 

Air rifle scope
Air Rifle Scope

Choosing the Right Air Rifle Scope

I want to save readers a lot of grief up front- air rifles use different methods to propel the projectile which leads to a reversed recoil impulse compared to traditional rifles. That means if you mount your favorite Leupold to a pellet gun you will likely destroy the optic. 

When selecting an optic for an air rifle, several factors come into play:

  1. Purpose: Is the primary use small game hunting, competition, or casual target shooting? Each activity might necessitate a different type of scope. For instance, hunting may require a scope that provides faster target acquisition, while competition is usually more focused on precision.
  2. Shooting Distance: Air rifles are usually effective over shorter distances compared to traditional firearms. Therefore, a scope that offers outrageous magnification is unnecessary.
  3. Magnification Needs: For close-range shooting (20-50 yards), lower magnification or even fixed magnification scopes might suffice. For longer ranges, variable magnification can be beneficial.

Understanding Air Rifle Scopes

There are many different options and types of optics out there, and understanding what makes them different is important. 

Open Sights

Open rifle sights, or iron sights, are non-magnifying sights located on the rifle’s barrel. They consist of a rear sight (usually a notch of some kind) and a front sight.

They’re effective at any range for air rifles, it does take an experienced shooter to understand bullet drop, windage, and good eyesight to use them effectively at longer ranges. 

These sights are primarily what most rifles come with. They are commonly used in backyard plinking or instances where magnification isn’t as necessary.

Iron Sights
Iron Sights

Red Dot Scopes

Red dot scopes are non-magnifying reflector sights that display a red dot as the reticle. This dot is superimposed over the target. 

While red dot scopes can be used at various distances, they are most effective within the 10-100 yard range.

They’re favored because they allow the user to get on target faster than about anything else, while maintaining situational awareness. This is especially helpful with moving targets.

Generally red dot scopes don’t offer magnification, but with a red dot magnifier, you can extend the range.

Red dot sight
Red dot sight

Magnified Scopes

Magnified scopes provide magnification, bringing distant targets closer for a clearer view. They’re suitable for all ranges, with specific scopes tailored for short, medium, or long-range shooting.

Magnified scopes are perfect for situations requiring precision and clarity like hunting or target shooting at longer ranges. The magnification level varies based on the scope, from low levels of 2-4x to higher magnifications exceeding 24x or more.

Types Of Air Rifle Scopes

Diving deeper into air rifle optics, we’ll now dissect the subcategories of scopes — fixed magnification, variable magnification, and specialty scopes, illuminating their distinct features and utilities.

Fixed Magnification Scopes

The fixed-magnification air rifle scope offers a single, non-adjustable magnification level. The magnification as the name implies, is “fixed.” Since there’s no option to zoom in or out, the magnification remains constant, offering simplicity in use. They’re suitable for consistent shooting ranges and activities where the same distance is maintained, such as certain target shooting competitions.

Variable Magnification Scopes

Differing from fixed scopes, variable magnification scopes allow shooters to adjust the magnification level based on their needs. Shooters can increase or decrease the magnification of their scope simply by rotating the ring.

The variable magnification air rifle scope is ideal for a ‘do all’ air rifle that can be used for target shooting, pest control, or competition.

Specialty Scopes

Specialty air rifle scopes are equipped with unique features and reticles similar to those often seen on LPVOs:

  • Mil-dot: Uses dots in the reticle to estimate range and windage.
  • Crosshairs: Traditional intersecting lines that aid in aiming.
  • Illuminated Reticles: Reticles that glow, assisting in low-light conditions.
  • BDC: Bullet drop compensators
Mil dot reticle
Classic Mil Dot

These scopes provide specific advantages, from range estimation to enhanced visibility in dim conditions, catering to the specific needs of the shooter.

Key Features & Components Of Air Rifle Scopes

Getting into the minutia of air rifle scopes, knowing their key components is useful for understanding the principles at work. Let’s dissect three critical features that can make or break your shooting experience: the lens quality & coatings, and turrets.

Lens Quality & Coatings

The lens of an air rifle scope play a large role in the clarity and brightness of the image you see. Coatings, on the other hand, play a part in enhancing performance as a high-quality lens will produce a sharp, clear image, while coatings prevent glare and maximize light transmission, especially in low-light conditions.

Lenses are the eyes of your scope. A scope with poor-quality lenses can never offer a clear view, regardless of its other features. The right coatings, meanwhile, can significantly reduce reflection, ensuring a brighter, more vivid sight picture.

Turrets, Windage & Elevation Adjustments

Turrets are the scope adjustment knobs used to adjust for windage (horizontal alignment) and elevation (vertical alignment). These adjustments enable the shooter to align the reticle with the intended point of impact. Windage and elevation adjustments are vital to account for variables like crosswinds and shooting range. Properly adjusted, they ensure your shots land at your point of aim.

Tactical turrets are all about speed and adaptability, while target turrets prioritize precision. Depending on the type of shooting, one might prefer one over the other, or avoid tactical turrets as they may get bumped, changing the zero.

Considerations For Air Rifle Scopes

Beyond the optics and adjustments, certain other factors come into play when selecting the perfect scope for your air rifle.

Recoil & Durability

Recoil is the backward momentum of a gun when it’s discharged. While air rifles have less recoil than traditional firearms, the unique double-recoil of some spring-piston air rifles is punishing on scopes not designed to handle it.

Mounting & Rings

Rifle mounts and rings secure the scope to the rifle. They play the largest role in consistent accuracy. Proper installation is the foundation of consistent accuracy. Misaligned or loosely attached scopes lead to inaccuracy and might even get damaged.

Eye Relief

What is eye relief? Eye relief refers to the distance from the rear lens of the scope to your eye, where you can still see the full field of view.

Sufficient eye relief ensures you can shoot comfortably without straining your eye. Furthermore ensuring that the scope doesn’t hit the shooter’s eye upon firing is especially important given the unique recoil of certain air rifles.

Air Rifle Scope Maintenance & Care

The longevity and performance of your air rifle scope is directly proportional to the care and maintenance it receives. Just as the rifle itself requires regular upkeep, the air rifle scope deserves some attention as well.

Cleaning Tips:

  1. Lenses: The lenses are delicate and need regular cleaning to remove dust, smudges, and fingerprints. Use a lens brush or a soft cloth specifically designed for optics. Avoid touching the lenses with your fingers, and NEVER, NEVER use paper towels to clean lenses.
  2. Body: Wipe down the scope’s body with a slightly damp cloth to remove dust and dirt. Ensure you dry it thoroughly afterward, to prevent rust.
  3. Silica Gel Packs: When storing your scope, including some silica gel packs in the storage box or safe can help absorb any moisture, preventing potential fogging or internal water damage. This is also best practices in general to prevent firearms from rusting.
  4. Anti-Fog Coatings: There are sprays available that can be applied to the lenses to prevent them from fogging up in humid conditions. Personally I have never used them, but they are out there.
  5. Avoid Rapid Temperature Changes: Moving your scope quickly from a cold environment to a warm one can cause condensation. Allow it to slowly acclimate to temperature changes. Don’t leave your scope out in the sun, or in a place that is cold or damp.

Storage Tips:

  1. Scope Caps: It’s a good idea put the scope caps on when the rifle is not in use. This protects the lenses from scratches and dust.
  2. Padded Case: If you need to transport the rifle, using a padded rifle bag or case offers protection against physical shocks, and scratches.
  3. Temperature-Controlled Environment: It’s important to store your air rifle scope in a place where there are minimal temperature fluctuations. Extreme cold or heat can affect the internal components and lubrication.
  4. Avoid Direct Sunlight: Prolonged exposure can degrade the lens coatings and the scope’s external finish. Always store in a shaded or dark place.

While modern air rifle scopes are designed to be resilient, they still require care. Proper maintenance not only ensures a clear, crisp sight picture but extends the scope’s life, ensuring it remains a trusted tool for years to come. Regular checks, proper cleaning, and mindful storage can make a significant difference in the performance and longevity of your scope. 

Air Rifle Scope FAQs

Do air guns need special scopes?

Yes, air guns often require special scopes, especially spring-piston air rifles. This is because many spring-piston air guns produce a unique double recoil that can be more punishing on scopes than the recoil from standard firearms. Air rifle scopes are built specifically to handle this recoil and ensure longevity and consistent performance.

Is there a difference between air rifle scopes and rifle scopes?

Yes. While they might look similar externally, the key difference lies in their construction and durability. Air rifle scopes are designed to withstand the unique double recoil produced by spring-piston air guns. Traditional rifle scopes are built to endure the rearward recoil from firearms. Using a standard rifle scope on an air gun might lead to a quick failure of the scope.

What magnification is best for air rifle scope?

The ideal magnification for an air rifle scope depends on the intended use:
Short Range (10-35 yards): Lower magnification or no magnification is usually sufficient.
Medium Range (35-60 yards): A magnification of 3x can be more appropriate.
Long Range (60+ yards): You might consider scopes with higher magnifications, such as 3x-9x or variable magnification scopes.

What range should I sight in my air rifle?

This largely depends on your intended use. For general-purpose shooting, many sight their rifles at 20 to 30 yards. If you know your primary shooting will be at a different distance, then you might want to sight in at that specific range. It’s always a good idea to test your air gun at different ranges to understand its ballistics and adjust accordingly.

Can you put a red dot scope on an air rifle?

Yes, you can mount a red dot scope on an air rifle, provided the rifle has the appropriate mounting rails. Red dot scopes can be particularly useful for quick target acquisition and short-range shooting. However, ensure the red dot is durable enough to handle the recoil of the air rifle, especially if using a spring-piston model.

Final Thoughts

Air rifles are different than traditional firearms, and have unique considerations, particularly when it comes to the air rifle scope itself. The unique recoil mechanism and shooting dynamics necessitate specially designed scopes to endure and perform well. While the external appearances of air rifle scopes and traditional rifle scopes might be similar, the internal designs and durability factors can be considerably different.

Choosing the right scope for your air rifle is not just about magnification. It’s about understanding the type of air rifle you have, the distances you’ll be shooting at, and the kind of shooting you plan to do—be it hunting, plinking, or competitive shooting. Lens quality, and turret functionality all play a role in ensuring you have the best shooting experience.

Maintenance cannot be overlooked. Regular upkeep, proper cleaning, and mindful storage ensure that your scope offers you clear sights and remains in good condition for years to come.

Wrapping up, remember that the world of air rifle scopes is vast and varied. What’s been covered here is aimed to provide some foundational understanding. Every shooter’s needs are unique, and it’s important to assess personal requirements, research thoroughly, and select the scope that aligns best with your specific needs. Whether for sport, competition, or leisure, the right scope can significantly enhance your air rifle experience.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.

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