Learning how to use rifle optics effectively is a requisite for precision shooting, be it hunting, sports, or tactical. Understanding each component of a rifle scope and how to use them in sequence is fundamental. As easy as it looks and ingrained as it becomes, there is a process to using a scope with basic fundamentals that can easily be forgotten. Tacticon Armament is proud to offer a variety of scopes to cater to the various needs of our shooters. Today we will cover some essential components of a scope and general principles for effectively using it with your rifle. 

Understanding Rifle Scope Components

Rifle scopes comprise several vital components: lenses, turrets, adjustments, and the body. Each plays a unique role in the functionality of the scope. Let’s quickly take a look at some of their essential functions. 

Objective Lens

The objective lens is located at the front of the scope. It’s responsible for gathering light and focusing it to create a clear image of the target. Larger objective lenses can gather more light, which is beneficial in low-light conditions. Regularly clean the lens with appropriate materials to maintain clarity to prevent scratching.

Parts of a rifle scope
Parts of a rifle scope

Ocular Lens

The ocular lens is situated at the scope’s rear, closest to the shooter’s eye. It magnifies the image formed by the objective lens. The clarity of the ocular lens affects the shooter’s ability to aim at the target accurately. Like the objective lens, it requires regular cleaning with suitable tools.

Reticles

Reticles are the aiming points or crosshairs seen when looking through a scope. They come in various types, such as Mil-Dot, BDC (Bullet Drop Compensation), Duplex, and others, each serving different shooting needs. There are many options that we will discuss more. However, it is essential to know that not all reticles are created equal, but shooters’ preference is most important.

BDC Reticle
BDC Reticle

Mil-Dot

Mil-Dot reticles use dots along the crosshairs for range estimation and windage adjustments. Each dot represents a specific measurement in milliradians, allowing shooters to calculate the distance to the target. They differ from bullet drop compensators because they are usually spaced at equal distances along the reticle. 

Bullet Drop Compensation (BDC)

BDC reticles help shooters compensate for bullet drop over longer distances. They have marks on the lower vertical axis to indicate where the bullet will hit at different ranges. These are caliber, ammunition, and velocity dependent, which is vital when picking one out.

Duplex

Duplex reticles feature a thin crosshair in the center that thickens towards the outer part. They are ideal for quick target acquisition, especially in wooded or brushy environments, because they offer the least obstructed view. This is an older, classic design, but the benefits are the same. The drawback is it doesn’t compensate for bullet drop.

Illuminated vs Non-Illuminated

Illuminated reticles feature built-in lighting that enhances visibility in low-light conditions, while non-illuminated reticles rely on ambient light. Illuminated reticles are preferable for dawn, dusk, or cloudy conditions, whereas non-illuminated reticles are suitable for bright daylight. The only downside is a slightly increased cost, and you have to remember to change out your battery. 


Magnification

Magnification in a rifle scope is central to enhancing target visibility. It enables shooters to see their targets more clearly and in greater detail, essential for precise aiming. Higher magnification allows for a closer view of the target but reduces the field of view and makes the scope more sensitive to movements. Shooters should balance magnification with their shooting range and conditions to optimize visibility without sacrificing stability.

**Pro tip** A few months ago, my friend was zeroing his rifle at 50 yards but was having a really hard time seeing the reticle and the target. I hopped on the rifle and realized he was on 24X magnification, the highest his scope would allow. Over magnification for the distance you are shooting will result in difficulty with the focus unless your scope has an adjustment for focus. Keep in mind that magnification can be detrimental.

Focus & Parallax Adjustment

Parallax adjustment is a feature in high-powered scopes that ensures the reticle remains aligned with the target regardless of the viewer’s eye position. This adjustment is critical for precision shooting, especially at distances beyond 250 yards. Look through the scope and slightly move your head to adjust for parallax. If the crosshair appears to shift on the target, adjust the parallax knob until the crosshair stays static as you move your head. This ensures that parallax error is minimized and helps achieve a clear and consistent point of aim.

Mounting & Zeroing A Rifle Scope

Zeroing a rifle scope is a fundamental step in ensuring accuracy. It involves adjusting the scope so that the bullet’s point of impact aligns with the crosshairs at a specific distance. This process is central for accurate shooting, accounting for variables like bullet trajectory and windage.

Choosing the suitable scope mount for your rifle scope is as important as selecting the scope itself. The most common types of mounts include:

  • One-Piece Mount: Offers solid stability and is easy to install.
  • Scope Rings: Versatile and widely used, suitable for most rifles and scopes.
  • Picatinny Scope Mount: Provides a universal mounting platform with high compatibility.
  • Dovetail Scope Mount: Known for its simplicity and secure fit.

Each type has its advantages and is suited for different types of rifles and shooting scenarios.

Step-By-Step Rifle Scope Mounting Overview

Mounting a rifle scope correctly is vital for accurate shooting. Here’s a general overview of the process:

  1. Choose the Right Mount: Select a mount that fits your rifle and scope.
  2. Position the Scope: Place the scope in the rings or mount, ensuring it’s level and at the correct eye relief distance.
  3. Secure the Scope: Tighten the mounting screws according to the manufacturer’s specifications to avoid over-tightening. Some companies advise using blue Loctite during the process; consult with your instructions before using any. 
  4. Align the Reticle: Make sure your rifle’s reticle is perfectly vertical and horizontal.
  5. Boresighting: This initial step helps align the barrel and the scope, reducing the adjustment needed during zeroing.
  6. Zeroing the Scope: Fire at a target at a specific distance, usually 100 yards, and adjust the windage and elevation turrets until the point of aim matches the point of impact.

Each mount type has its own set of benefits and is suitable for different shooting applications and rifle types.

General Rifle Scope Mounting Tools

Mounting a rifle scope correctly is crucial for achieving the best performance. This section will provide a general overview of the process.

  • Torque Wrench: For precise tightening of screws to the manufacturer’s recommended specifications.
  • Leveling Kit: To ensure the scope is perfectly horizontal and aligned with the rifle. This is often accomplished using small levels, such as the ones included with Tacticon LPVOs and scopes
  • Gun Stabilizer or Vice: To securely hold the rifle in place during the mounting process.

Select Mounting Hardware

Basic hardware required for mounting a scope includes:

  • Scope Rings or Mount: Depending on your rifle’s base (Picatinny, Weaver, etc.).
  • Rail System: A rail system like Picatinny or dovetail is required if your rifle doesn’t have a built-in base.

Mounting Bases to Rings

The approach to mounting can vary based on the type of base and rings. Key considerations include:

  • Applying Oil: Lightly oiling the screws can prevent rusting.
  • Torque Specifications: Following the manufacturer’s torque specifications is critical to avoid damaging the scope.

Leveling A Rifle Scope

  • Step 1: Place the rifle in a stable rest and attach the lower half of the rings.
  • Step 2: Set the scope in the rings and loosely attach the top halves.
  • Step 3: Use a leveling kit to ensure the scope is perfectly horizontal.
  • Step 4: Adjust the scope’s position for proper eye relief.
  • Step 5: Tighten the ring screws in a crisscross pattern to the specified torque.

Adjusting the Reticle Focus

This step is essential for a clear-sighted picture. The procedure can vary based on the scope model, but typically involves adjusting the diopter or focus knob until the reticle is sharp and clear and ensuring the reticle remains in focus as you shift your eye position.

Zeroing A Rifle Scope

Zeroing a rifle scope means adjusting it so the bullet hits the target at a specific range. This process is essential for accurate shooting, as it aligns the scope’s reticle with the bullet’s point of impact at a predetermined distance.

Steps for Zeroing a Rifle Scope:

  1. Boresighting: Before firing, align the bore (barrel) of the rifle with a target at a set distance (usually 25 yards/meters). This can be done visually or with a boresighting tool.
  2. Live Firing for Initial Adjustment: After boresighting, fire a group of shots at the target. This initial shooting helps to gauge how far off the zero is.
  3. Adjusting the Turrets: Based on where the shots hit, adjust the scope’s windage (left/right) and elevation (up/down) turrets. Each click on these turrets typically represents a certain distance at a specified range (e.g., 1/4 inch at 100 yards).
  4. Refining the Zero: Fire in groups, adjusting the turrets after each group until the bullets hit the desired point.
  5. Fine-Tuning at a Longer Range: Once zeroed at a closer range, you can fine-tune the zero at a longer range, such as 100 yards, especially for high-powered rifles.

Sequence of Using the Rifle Scope

Properly using a rifle scope involves a sequence of steps to ensure accuracy and safety.

Pre-shot Checklist & Safety Considerations

Before aiming and shooting, it’s crucial to go through a pre-shot checklist and safety considerations. Always verify that the scope is securely and correctly mounted to the rifle, then ensure the reticle is appropriately aligned and straight. Adjust for parallax to avoid reticle movement relative to the target when you move your eye, and set the scope’s magnification level suitable for the distance to your target. Based on your zeroing process and current shooting conditions, ensure these are set correctly.

Adjust the brightness of the illuminated reticle per the lighting conditions, if available, and if you so desire. Confirm the rifle is still zeroed in for the chosen distance, mainly if it has been transported.

Practice proper breathing and trigger control techniques to stabilize the shot.

Depending on personal preferences and specific shooting scenarios, each shooter may have additional steps in their procedure. Consistently following this sequence can significantly enhance shooting accuracy and safety.


Shooting Techniques with a Rifle Scope

Effectively using a rifle scope involves mastering various shooting techniques. These techniques help hold the rifle correctly, estimate range, adjust elevation, and adopt the best shooting position for accuracy and stability.

Holding A Rifle With Scope

The correct technique for holding a rifle with a scope is vital for accuracy and control:

  • Hold the rifle firmly to ensure stability but avoid gripping too tightly as it can cause muscle tremors. You want your grip to be firm but relaxed. 
  • Use the non-shooting hand to support the weight of the rifle. This hand should be under the stock, near the rifle’s balance point. If you are using a tactical rifle, the C-clamp style grip is very effective, but there are also foregrips that some shooters prefer to use. 
  • Place the butt of the rifle securely in the shoulder pocket to absorb recoil. I had seen some shooter take larger caliber rifles when they didn’t have the weapon making contact with their shoulder. When the shot was fired, the rifle accelerated back into their shoulder with much more force. 
  • Remember, keeping the elbows down and close to the body helps stabilize the rifle and reduces fatigue.

Estimating Range

Estimating range using a rifle scope involves using the reticle markings:

  • Reticle Markings: Learn how to use the specific markings on your reticle (like Mil-Dot) to estimate distances.
  • Practice and Familiarity: Regular practice and familiarity with your rifle and scope will improve your ability to estimate ranges accurately.

Mank reticles, such as the ACSS reticle, are designed so the horizontal lines of the crosshairs estimate an average chest size at prescribed distances. My main point is to be familiar with your gear and learn to use what you already know. 

Shooting Positions

Certain positions allow shooters to be significantly more stable, and, thus, more accurate. However, the real world is not the flat range, and sometimes you have to contour your body into the most stable firing position you can while working with cover.

Night Vision & Thermal Scopes

Night vision and thermal scopes are advanced technologies that differ from illuminated reticles and have come a long way since their inception. Unfortunately, they are still quite expensive, night vision being the more affordable option. 

Night vision is designed to amplify ambient light from the moon and the stars, but in extremely dark conditions requires the use of IR illumination for ambient light. It is extremely rare that you would be in conditions this dark. 

Thermal shows temperature differences in the environment, which expands it’s uses into low light and daytime hours compared to night vision. Again, it is very expensive, but does increase one’s ability to find targets and achieve a solid outline of the target’s shape, even through thin concealment. 

Pros of Night Vision and Thermal Scopes:

  • Effective in complete darkness.
  • Can see through obstructions.

Cons:

  • Expensive.
  • Heavier and bulkier.
  • May require additional IR illumination in pitch-black conditions. 


Rifle Scope Care & Maintenance

Taking care of rifle scopes will ensure proper functionality and longevity. Neglecting maintenance can lead to various issues, such as blurred vision, misalignment, and even permanent damage to the scope. Proper care is essential to maintain the scope’s accuracy, clarity, and performance.

Cleaning & Protection

  • Keeping the scope clean is vital to maintain its clarity and accuracy. Here are some tips for effective cleaning and protection. 
  • Use a soft or specialized lens brush to remove dust particles from the lens gently. Avoid using rough materials that can scratch the surface.
  • Gently wipe the lens with a clean, dry microfiber cloth in a circular motion. This method is effective for removing fingerprints and smudges without scratching the lens.
  • Never use spray cleaners directly on the lens, as harsh chemicals can damage the coatings. Excessive moisture can also seep into the scope and cause internal damage.
  • Q-Tips help clean hard-to-reach areas around the eyepiece or the turrets. They can delicately remove dirt and grime without causing harm.
  • A LensPen is a handy tool designed explicitly for cleaning lenses. It has a soft tip that safely removes debris and an anti-fog formula to clear the lens.
  • Regularly remove the batteries and clean the battery compartment to prevent corrosion. Pay attention to the connections and ensure they are free from dirt and grime. This is frequently overlooked, and battery corrosion will render an optic useless. 
  • Regular maintenance prolongs the scope’s life and ensures it performs at its best during critical moments. Proper care includes routine cleaning and safeguarding the scope from environmental factors like moisture, dust, and extreme temperatures.

 
Storage & Transportation

  • Proper storage and transportation of a rifle and its scope are as crucial as their usage and maintenance. Improper handling can lead to misalignment, damage, and reduced scope functionality.
  • Always keep the lens caps on when the rifle and scope are not in use. This simple step protects the lenses from scratches, dust, and moisture.
  • Use a storage case or rifle bag that can accommodate the rifle with the scope attached. This reduces the need for frequent readjustments and maintains the zeroing of the scope.
  • Always transport your rifle and scope following local laws. The trouble is not worth it, and different areas can have varying laws. 
  • Use padded cases or specific gun cases for transportation to protect the scope and rifle from shocks and vibrations.

Troubleshooting

Understanding the basics of scope troubleshooting is essential for firearm owners to address common issues.

Common Scope Alignment Issues

  • Over-Tightened Screws: Avoid tightening the screws too much, as it can warp the scope. Use a torque wrench for precise tightening.
  • Incorrect Screw Size: Using the wrong size screws can damage the threads. Always use the manufacturer-recommended screw size.
  • Improper Ring Alignment: Ensure the rings perfectly align with the scope’s body to avoid undue pressure.
  • Lubrication: Lightly oil the scope tube to prevent rust and corrosion.

Fuzzy or Blurry Images

  • Parallax Errors: Adjust the parallax setting if your scope has this feature, especially for long-range shooting.
  • Scope Focus: Check and adjust the diopter setting for a clear reticle image.
  • Mirage: Mirage effects caused by heat waves can create blurry images. Adjust your magnification or wait for cooler conditions.

Understanding these basics can help maintain the functionality and longevity of your rifle scope, ensuring it performs optimally when you need it most.

 How To Use A Rifle Scope FAQs

What are the 3 dials on a rifle scope? 

The three dials typically found on a rifle scope are the elevation adjustment (for up and down adjustments), windage adjustment (for left and right adjustments), and the parallax adjustment or magnification dial (depending on the scope model).

Which end of a rifle scope do you look through? 

You look through the ocular lens, which is the end closest to the shooter’s eye when the rifle is shouldered.

How does a rifle scope lose zero? 

A rifle scope can lose zero due to several factors, including recoil, impacts or bumps, changes in temperature or altitude, and loose mounting hardware.

What are the lines in a rifle scope called? 

The lines in a rifle scope are called reticles or crosshairs. They serve as the aiming point and can come in various patterns like duplex, mil-dot, BDC, etc.

Does a rifle scope have to be perfectly level? 

Yes, it’s important for accuracy that a rifle scope is perfectly level. A misaligned scope can cause errors in elevation and windage adjustments.

Final Thoughts

Understanding how to use a rifle scope involves knowing about its components, the proper mounting and zeroing process, maintenance, and troubleshooting. While the information covered here is general, there is much more to learn about rifle scopes, their use, and how to choose the right one for your specific needs, whether hunting tactical or long-range shooting. It’s essential to assess your needs, explore the options available, and select a scope that best suits your specific requirements.

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

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