How To Scope-Out A Riflescope

You don’t need world-class optical quality in a riflescope.

Based on advertising hype, the above line is heresy. But it’s true. The most important attribute in a scope is not “brightness” or astronomical resolution: It’s the ability to maintain zero.

The brightest target in the world is just a clear miss if the reticle points where the barrel doesn’t. Spending hundreds of dollars on superb optical quality is silly if your scope can’t keep a reticle in the same place, shot after shot … after shot.


See anyone you know in there? Shining a light into a scope might reveal something sticky.

Scope durability results from the highest quality materials manufactured and assembled with the highest precision possible. More screws and less glue.

So how do you get this durability? Good question. Since most of what makes a scope tick is hidden inside a black tube, you can’t exactly kick the tires and check the lug nuts. But you can turn the dials and click the turrets.

When examining a riflescope, turn, twist, crank and adjust everything that can be manipulated, listening and feeling for alarm bells. These bells sound and feel like gravel, coarseness, scraping, inconsistent tightness or excessive looseness. Tight is better than loose if everything is smooth. Everything will loosen with age. Nothing will tighten up.


Turn, turn, turn. Manipulating all moving parts of a scope is a great way to test for smoothness, tightness and overall build quality.

If possible, lock down the scope so it can’t move. Aim it at a grid target (one-inch squares are perfect) or an old- fashioned arbor boresight. Turn the elevation and windage turrets, counting clicks and watching for consistent movement of the reticle against the grid. Does it come back to the same spot?

Next, watch the reticle in relation to the target dot while you twist the power ring up and down. Does the reticle move off target? It shouldn’t.

Next, shine a flashlight into the objective lens and look inside. You should see the flat black, possibly ribbed inside walls of the tube stacked with lenses. How are those lenses attached? See any streamers of glue? Stripped screw heads? Such blatant anomalies are rare these days, but they are clear warning signs.

Finally, consider the warranty and reputation of the company. The longer a scope is guaranteed against malfunction and broken parts, the more likely the manufacturer trusts it to function properly. Lean toward scopes with solid, lifetime warranties and companies with reputations for standing behind them.

So, remember: When it comes to riflescopes, keeping the crosshairs in place is job No. 1.

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