What’s The Best Airgun Scope For Me?
One of the most common questions raised by newcomers to airgunning is this. “What’s the best airgun scope for me?”
In this post, we’ll look at some of the basic features that you want from a riflescope for your airgun – well, specifically air rifle. We’ll also deal with some of the things to avoid.
Let’s cut to the chase. If you want to hit what you are aiming at, the basic features you’ll need are:
– A sharp image.
– The ability to focus on targets close to you.
– A “Mil-dot”, or similar, graduated (marked) reticle.
– If you have a break barrel airgun you’ll also need the scope to be proof against the recoil produced by those models.
Top. The MTC Viper Pro is an excellent high-end scope for use with a PCP air rifle.
Below. The UTG 4-16 x 40AO scope is a great choice for a relatively low price. It can be used on breakbarrels and is a HAM Gold Award winner!
The first question is often: “Do I need a scope for my new air rifle?”
The answer is almost always an emphatic “YES”!
It’s true that airguns are generally shot at what are – by firearms standards – short ranges. In fact, the majority of air rifle shooting takes place at 50 yards range or less.
However the targets – living or inanimate – shot by airguns are generally very small. Targets the size of a US Quarter coin are common and hitting this confidently and consistently is really tough for most of us without a scope, even at 20 or 30 Yards.
So even if open sights are fitted to your air rifle, you’re almost certain to shoot more accurately with a scope.
Below. The Sightron S-TAC 3-16×42 is an excellent mid-range scope for PCPs.
“My new air rifle includes a free scope. Surely that’s the best airgun scope for me?”
That’s often the second question. The answer is – almost inevitably but equally emphatically – NO, it’s not!
Often a 4 x 32 bundled scope is included in the price of the air rifle. So it’s not clear how much you are paying for it. However, you certainly are buying it – it’s not “free” with the gun!
In fact, this 4 x 32 bundled airgun scope probably cost you about $20.00. That’s including the rings and accessories.
Below. This is a simple Duplex reticle from a bundled 4×32 scope.
When similar 4 x 32 scopes are “unbundled” – that is sold separately from an air rifle – they typically cost $30 – 35. That’s understandable because of the separate packaging, distribution and marketing costs associated with such a product.
But these 4 x 32 scopes suffer from a number of problems.
Firstly, they typically deliver poor optical quality. Secondly, they do not have a close-focusing capability. Thirdly they have a simple “Duplex” reticle that limits your ability to hit the target.
Fourthly they are usually not braced to withstand the recoil of a breakbarrel air rifle for long – even if they are sold bundled with one. Here’s what can happen to the reticle. Oops..
But, hey, they’re “free”! Free is good, right? Well, in this case, maybe not. Just check out this HAM Test review of a bundled 4 x 32 scope for the gory details…
It’s true that some air rifles have a better-quality scope bundled with them. But – with the exception of the (now discontinued) SIGAir ASP20 rifle/scope bundles – I’ve never yet found one that satisfies all of our four basic requirements for a good airgun scope.
So, if a scope was bundled with your air rifle, my advice is to replace it with a more capable riflescope. You’re likely to be very pleased that you did!
“So what’s the best airgun scope to look for?”
That’s the logical next question. You’ll be looking for good optical quality. Also the ability to have a higher magnification than 4x will make the target appear much larger and easier to hit.
As a result, many people buy a zoom scope with magnification ranges of 3-9x or 4-16x. This will be ideal for most air rifle shooters, particularly when combined – as most of them are – with a larger objective (front) lens like 40 or 50 mm diameter that lets in more light. Hence the popularity of “3-9 x 40” scopes.
Select an “AO” scope. AO stands for Adjustable Objective. This means that the scope can provide sharp focus down to short distances – typically 10 Yards. Some scopes like the Leapers UTG Bugbuster range (below) focus even closer – down to 3 Yards!
If a riflescope does not have AO (parallax correction is another term used to describe the same result), it’s likely to be designed for use with firearms and so be focused at 100 Yards. That means it will definitely provide an unsharp image if used at typical airgun ranges of 20 -30 yards.
Because even the most powerful airguns shoot lightweight ammo at relatively slow speeds compared to firearms, the pellet’s flight tends to be effected by wind. The pellet also drops rapidly with distance.
Both these factors mean that it’s important to be able to predictably “aim off” – high or low, left or right – to hit the target at different ranges and wind conditions.
Below. A Mil-Dot reticle from a Leapers scope.
Predictably “aiming off” requires some sort of calibration, or marking, on the scope’s reticle. That’s what is achieved by a “Mil Dot” (or similar) reticle. Now you can predictably aim “one dot high” when you have a target that’s (say) 40 yards away instead of 20 yards.
With a plain, un-graduated “Duplex” reticle. it’s impossible to do this consistently. The result will likely be a miss…
Below. High end scopes offer a range of sophisticated reticles, like this range of choices from Sightron.
Finally, if you have a spring/piston or gas ram-powered air rifle – usually cocked by breaking the barrel – you will need a riflescope that’s braced against the forward – yes FORWARD – recoil that’s produced by these airguns.
Even the most expensive, $1,000+, scopes can be ruined by shooting with a cheap, $100, breakbarrel if they are not specifically designed for airgun use! PCPs and CO2-powered airguns do not generate this forward recoil and so are generally suitable for use with scopes designed for use on firearms.
So if a scope is not marked as being suitable for airgun use, don’t assume that it will be OK for use with your air rifle. Check out the specs thoroughly first. For example, Leapers scopes are marked as incorporating the “True Strength (TS) Platform”. This indicates that they are specifically designed to withstand the forward recoil of powerful breakbarrel air rifles.
Below. This Leapers UTG 3-9 x 40AO scope uses the company’s True Strength platform and is a great, low-cost match for breakbarrel air rifles.
But wait, there’s more…
Yes, there’s much more to look for in a riflescope, but this provides the basics. You’ll shoot much more accurately with a good quality scope and following our advice will allow you to choose the best airgun scope for you.
If you’re looking to up-grade from a bundled scope without breaking the bank, Leapers has some excellent low-cost products. For higher-end scopes, the HAM Team has had good luck with scopes from Aztec Optics, MTC Optics and Sightron.