Learning to shoot at long range is all the rage lately, but it can be a daunting discipline to approach. What sort of gear do you need? Where can you shoot at such incredible distances? How do different environmental conditions affect your ability to shoot? When it comes to long range shooting for beginners, there is much to be learned to be sure, but it’s no use trying to absorb it all at once. As such, read on for some tips on how to get started with long range shooting.
Tip 1: You’re Only as Good as Your Tools
Everyone in the industry seems to be selling hardware these days. The latest optic, or bullet, or rifle is apparently all the average-Joe needs to become a scout sniper. Obviously, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth does lie somewhere in the middle. While you don’t necessarily need a $10k setup to shoot 1000 yards, you won’t be doing yourself any favors trying it with a duplex 3-9x40mm on top of your granddaddy’s deer rifle. As such, before you even hit the range, make sure you’ve got a rifle capable of MOA accuracy (or better), and a riflescope capable of dialing for elevation. Also ensure you have a chronograph, or some other method for measuring the speed of your projectiles, and a rangefinder. These will become important later.
Tip 2: .22 For The Wind
If you’re not capable of procuring the above, don’t despair yet. Get a decent .22 rifle and top it with the sort of riflescope just described. Shooting out to 300 yards with a .22 is a great analogue for shooting legitimate long range, and can help build many of the same skills you’ll need to do it for real. Wind calls in particular are tricky with the light little projectiles, and you can get very proficient at gauging exactly how hard the breezes are blowing.
Tip 3: Stabilize It
There are plenty of myths out there about how easy it is for some folks to shoot long range. Many get the idea they can start out shooting off a tripod, bipod, or even standing. While you will work up to these in time (that final category will always remain much more limited than the others), nothing beats the good, solid rest provided by front and rear bags–either off a bench or from the prone position. Particularly while you’re still learning elevations and wind holds, it’s best to take all other potential influences out of the equation. Once you can hit any distance, any time off bags, you can move on to the next step.
Tip 4: Don’t be Scared of Data
When first encountering the world of long-range shooting, people can be turned off by the sheer amount of calculation, measurement and mathematics involved. Unfortunately, the quickest and easiest way to improve your skills is to utilize all these modern wonders, rather than simply slinging lead until you get a hit and recording how you did it.
For starters, download a ballistic calculation app like GeoBallistics, and put in as much information about your rifle, ammunition, and environment as you possibly can. Next, chronograph your rifle’s muzzle velocity (an average of at least five works best), then input that into your app–while muzzle velocity is generally recorded on the ammo box nowadays, having an exact measurement of how it performs in your own rifle is more desirable. Finally, range your target, input that into the app, and use the elevation calculation it gives you (you’ll want to decide up front if you’re going to learn/use MOA or MRADs, to save on confusion down the road). This should get you close-to or even right-on target, and you can make adjustments from there. Once you’re hitting consistently, note how far you had to dial before moving on to the next range.
Tip 5: Take a Class
As always, there really is no replacement for expert instruction. Learning from folks who know what they’re doing will put you lightyears ahead of figuring it out on your own, and can be extremely helpful when you have specific, potentially esoteric questions that only a human can answer, as opposed to a search engine. An investment in building your skills will almost always yield a better return than investing in equipment, so while you may balk at the price tag, compare it to how much you have or will spend on rifles, quality ammo, quality glass, etc. Once you’ve decided to make that jump, check out Outdoor Solutions long range schools. We have everything needed to take you from neophyte to knowledgeable in a hurry, and show you a good time while you’re doing it.
Hunting is a fickle pastime and the very definition of type 2 fun. Unlike planning a trip to Six Flags or a weekend at the shore, the only guaranteed joy of a hunt is the pursuit itself. Game animals have minds of their own, and particularly if you’re out after a trophy, there is always a chance your quarry will not cooperate. Deer do sometimes sleep in, bed down early, or even leave areas entirely for no perceptible reason. All that said, however, there are some things you can do to up your chances of success. Read on for three of the best hunting tips.
1. Know Your Ground
Of prime importance is knowing the area and animals you plan on hunting. Instead of spending your whole summer wetting lines and skipping stones at the nearby watering hole, get out there and burn some boot leather in the backcountry. Find bedding sites, feeding areas, and migration corridors to start, and the closer you get to fall, look for any specimens you can find stomping around in velvet. Will much of this pattern change when the rut sets in? Of course. Does that mean scouting is useless? Of course not! Having a general idea about deer activity is far superior to none at all.
As a corollary to this, if you’re hunting out of state and cannot spare the time necessary to properly scout your hunting area beforehand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with hiring a local guide. Many will hem and haw about the purity of DIY hunting, and they are correct, in a sense. There is nothing quite so rewarding as doing the entire process yourself. What they fail to recognize, however, is that knowing your ground is an integral part of the process. If you skip it, you should really hire someone who hasn’t, otherwise, you’re simply blundering around the woods with a gun, looking for a sign. If you choose to ignore this advice, or simply cannot afford to take it (let’s be honest here, guides are not cheap) at the very least use an app like onX to digitally “pre-scout” your location, to find promising locales. This will greatly up your odds of happening upon a game-rich area.
2. Know Your Gun (or Bow)
The internet is aflame these days with admonitions to not simply buy a gun, but to train with it too. Thing is, that advice is in vogue because it’s dead-on accurate–there is not much more important than having an intimate knowledge of the weapon you’re carrying. As hunters, however, we need to take this advice a step further.
Benchresters shoot from benches, concealed-carry practitioners fire from a draw, and bullseye competitors shoot bladed, but hunters shoot from … well, just about everywhere. Can you hit out to 1000 yards off a bench? Great. But can you hit 400 yards standing? How about 600 seated, or off your knees? These are the kind of shots you’re going to have to make out there, all the while taking into account the effects of wind, elevation, and the invisible timer that buzzes as soon as your target buck disappears behind a tree. If you can’t make these shots on a flat range, I guarantee you have no chance of doing so in the field, so make sure to not just train your wind holds and trigger squeeze, but your different shooting positions too.
Find out how to get the most stability in every position (it will generally be when you have the majority of your weight supported by bones, bags, and bi/tripod legs, rather than muscles), and practice dropping into these positions in a hurry. The best part? You can do this in your basement as a dry-fire drill. Disclaimer: Be sure to check that your chamber is empty before doing so. Put a small thumbtack in the wall as an aiming point, and see how quickly you can stabilize enough to execute a comfortable “shot” on that target. You’ll thank me when a distant deer’s vitals are in your reticle.
3. Know Yourself
Okay, I know that subhead is a little out of left field, but I wanted to keep to my theme and it sounded cool, so hear me out. When I say know yourself, what I mean specifically is to know your own mind. Why are you out there? What are your motivations for hunting? How far do you plan on pushing it to find success? As with everything worth doing, hunting contains a vast mental aspect that most people overlook. Ever notice how much heavier that trigger seems when you’re on an animal, as opposed to when you’re banging steel at the range? I guarantee your trigger didn’t just happen to gain 5 pounds overnight (unlike myself coming back from the Golden Corral). What’s changed is your situation: your brain knows that’s a target you likely only have one clean shot at, and it is petrified of missing. This could be due to the shame seemingly imparted by a miss, the fear of wounding and losing the animal, or a myriad of other factors personal to that particular hunter.
If you know what I’m talking about, I have news for you. We all miss. I’ve missed, you’ve missed, your dad missed, even your dead-eye grandpa missed (though he might never have admitted it, we both know that jackalope got away back in ‘48). Instead of getting caught up in the emotion of the shot and the possibility of a poor outcome, analyze it logically. Are your crosshairs wandering outside of the vitals? If so, don’t pull the trigger, that’s a poor shot. If they aren’t, for God’s sake don’t try to squeeze every last inch of wobble out by flexing, and definitely don’t attempt to time your shot for the moment the sights rest over the top of the middle of the center of the deer’s main aortic valve–you’ll jerk the trigger and send your shot into orbit. If you’re confident in your wind hold and elevation, and your sight picture is solid enough, there’s nothing more to think about. Squeeze that trigger, and worry about where your impact is after the bullet has left the barrel.
While I think this is its most important aspect, the mental game goes much further. There is no such thing as too cold, too far, or too wet if you’ve got the right equipment, paired with the right mindset. On the other hand, you could be decked out in the best gear imaginable, but you’ll turn around at the first sign of adversity if that adversity is what you choose to focus on. Get your mind right before you hit the field, you won’t regret it.
If your skills are dialed-in and you have a rifle capable of MOA accuracy or better, there is only one crucial component remaining, before you can execute a successful shot on a distant deer. Your hunting rifle ammunition–in some ways an even more important choice than your rifle–must be up to the task. So, what ammunition should you select for your next backcountry excursion? Read on for a list, as well as the qualities that make these particular cartridges extraordinarily capable.
Let’s start in a slightly unconventional spot for long-range projectiles, with the monolithic Barnes TSX bullet. I first came across it back in its old Remington HTP loading, as the favored projectile of my favorite deer rifle. Unfortunately, with the demise and subsequent restructuring of Big Green, the HTP is no longer in current production (though I am hopeful for the future). Federal, however, has resurrected its much-venerated Barnes TSX load, and I have found it to be a more-than-solid replacement for my old, green-boxed friend. As the exclusive ammunition used on hunts by Outdoor SolutionsFrom Field to Table program, which particularly favors Federal’s Terminal Ascent cartridge, the brand knows a thing or two about making quality ammo that performs at distance.
The TSX is a monolithic bullet of a solid-copper design, a longtime favorite of dangerous-game hunters the world over. This is due to the fact that, being of a uniform construction, almost 100-percent of the bullet’s weight is retained upon impact, for a devastating amount of muscle slicing and bone-busting penetration on even the hardest targets. For expansion, the bullet is hollow-pointed to mushroom to a large diameter, particularly at closer ranges where velocity remains high.
From a precision standpoint, a grooved shank improves accuracy, while simultaneously reducing barrel fouling. At distances beyond 400 yards, where velocity drops, monolithics will be slightly less accurate than a standard lead-core projectile, as lead is a denser material that better maintains its velocity. Copper-jacketed lead bullets, being softer, also tend to better mold themselves to the shape of the barrel, for another slight boost in accuracy. In hunting terms, however, this difference is negligible. If you’re looking for a hard-hitting round capable of taking big-game at medium- to long-ranges, the Barnes TSX is a great way to go.
Next comes Hornady Precision Hunter. Every rifle will have its own favorite brand and grain weight of hunting rifle ammunition, but when I put several brands against each other, quite often Hornady Precision Hunter comes out on top of the heap.
This is due in no small part to the fact that the round is quite literally the hunting version of Hornady’s famed competition ammo, Hornady Match. Unlike its paper-punching counterpart, however, Precision Hunter is fitted with an ELD-X bullet, which allows the round to retain ballistic efficiency, while adding the terminal performance a standard ELD round lacks. The X, after all, stands for eXpansion, and the ballistics offered by the ELD’s non-deforming Heat-Shield Tip and secant-ogive, boattail-profile remain.
From 0-400 yards, the bullet is designed to continually expand upon impact, while a thick jacket and InterLock ring keep the core and jacket fused for better weight retention (up to 60 percent). Beyond 400 yards, where velocity begins to dip, the specialized Heat Shield tip drives rearward into the bullet to initiate expansion, while simultaneously retaining up to 90-percent of its weight. Translation? Deep penetration with a large cavity.
Finally, the powder used in Precision Hunter burns clean and is loaded uniformly, so you can be sure that the round you fire at your quarry is about as close to the round you zeroed with as is physically possible (this side of a handload). For just about any sort of category of game short of dangerous, there is likely a Precision Hunter round to fit your needs.
Another great choice is Sierra GameChanger ammunition. Much like Precision Hunter, and most any long-range hunting projectile, the GameChanger utilizes a boat-tail profile for a high ballistic coefficient that slips swiftly through the air and bucks wind well. GameChanger also utilizes a polymer tip, settled over a hollow point, for swift expansion upon impact. Penetration is maintained throughout a variety of ranges thanks to a thick copper jacket around the bullet’s lead core. For a long-range hunt, this is another fine choice.
As always of course, this is simply a starting point. From newer offerings like Remington Core-Lokt Tipped and the previously mentioned Federal Terminal Ascent, to longtime fall favorites like Winchester Super X, there are quite a few hunting rifle ammunition offerings on the market. Take a few to the range and see how they stack up. Once you find out what your rifle likes best, you’ll be far more confident with hair in the scope this fall. Happy hunting!
If you read our article on hunting rifles for beginners, it may have left you wondering what other sorts of rifle types are out there. After all, most everyone is familiar with the ubiquitous bolt-action and the classic lever-gun, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a complete list of rifle types? Read on for such a lineup, in alphabetical order.
Thanks to an accident of the alphabet, we start here with the familiar bolt gun. Utilizing an action actuated by a bolt and handle, the bolt action seats a round when the bolt is driven forward, after which pushing the bolt down locks the action into place. Once fired, the bolt is unlocked by lifting, then pulling the handle rearward to eject the spent shell. The process can be repeated until the magazine is empty. Bolt handles come in a variety of different throw angles (the distance which you must rotate the handle to unlock the bolt)—60- and 90-degrees are popular options. As a general rule of thumb, the shorter the throw angle, the quicker you can run the bolt, the quicker your follow up shot, hence why companies like Benelli use 60-degree throws on their premier hunting rifles (in Benelli’s case, the Lupo).
Standard bolt-actions come in a wide variety of subsets. Some utilize push-feed actions, which strip the cartridge off the top of the magazine to seat into the action. Others utilize controlled-round feed, which locks the round into a claw-style extractor as the bolt is pushed forward. As far as feeding is concerned, some feed from detachable box magazines, while others utilize fixed, hinged-floorplate variants, and still others can be single-shots. Safeties can be standard two-position or three-position variants (the latter has an option to lock the bolt in place), which can be mounted on the tang, the trigger guard, or even the bolt head. Some bolts cock when opened, others cock on close, etc. ad infinitum. Despite this multitude of minute differences, however, bolt-actions all run about the same way. Lift the bolt, pull it back, push it forward, lock it down, and you’re ready to go.
Does the above procedure seem a little too complicated to you? Want to shave off a few fractions of a second on your follow-up shot? If so, the straight-pull bolt-action is for you. Unlike its traditional sibling, the straight-pull locks and unlocks without manipulating the bolt handle up and down, but simply by sweeping it back and slamming it home.
This is accomplished in different ways by different companies. Savage’s new Impulse utilizes the Hexlock system, a series of six ball bearings which lock the bolt into place in a barrel extension when closed. Other systems, like the classic Blaser R8, utilize a radial locking system. There are even more out there, but the main characteristic, of course, is the operation of the action. Pull out, push in, and fire.
Break-action rifle types are among the simplest designs on the market, and tend to skew either to its high or low end. Many exquisite double-barreled dangerous-game rifles are of a break action design, as are many small rimfires. Break-actions are actuated by a lever either on or near the tang of the rifle, which hinges the barrel(s) forward to reveal the chamber(s). Cartridges are then placed into the chamber(s) manually, and the gun closed to seal the chamber and cock the gun. After firing, the action is broken back open, which either fully ejects or extracts the spent shells, based on the design.
Incredibly accurate and durable, falling blocks can be found in such famed firearms as the Sharps rifle (Quigley down under, anyone?), and the fine Ruger No. 1. Its design is as simple as it is effective. A block rides in tracks cut into the breech, and is actuated by a lever that generally doubles as a trigger guard. Dropping the lever opens the chamber, after which a cartridge can be fed in by hand. Lifting the lever raises the block, sealing the chamber tight–so tight, in fact, that this is the design often used in artillery, and other high-pressure weapon systems. To unload, the rifle is generally equipped with extractors rather than ejectors, necessitating the removal of spent shells by hand. Cocking the hammer is accomplished manually by pulling it back.
This is a hunting page, meaning you likely are not reading this article to get informed on full-autos. That said, it is technically a type of rifle, so I feel obligated to include it here, lest people forget about this pinnacle of firearm technology.
A fully automatic firearm is, essentially, a gun which allows the bolt to continue cycling and firing for as long as the trigger remains pulled, until your magazine runs out of ammunition (one technical exception to this is guns offering a “three-shot burst”). How it does this is barely different in principle to how a semi-automatic works, which I have written about in some detail down below. The only primary difference is between closed- and open-bolt fire.
A closed-bolt design will chamber and fire a round exactly like its semi-automatic sibling: the primer is struck by a firing pin, actuated by a hammer. The only difference is that a device (generally some sort of sear) will allow the hammer to release again as the bolt or bolt-carrier moves forward, firing the next round. An open-bolt full-auto, on the other hand, simply uses the force of the bolt driving forward to ignite the primer–the firing pin will thus often be attached directly to the bolt.
If you really need an explanation here, you may have not watched enough Westerns as a child. Lever-action rifle types are those stylish guns you often see hanging off horses in saddle bags, or in the hands of men with 10-gallon hats. They are operated via the lever riding below the receiver, and are widely favored for their quick-running actions, delivering fast and accurate follow-up shots. The downstroke of the lever ejects the spent shell in the chamber and cocks the hammer, while driving it back up chambers a fresh cartridge.
Magazines are almost always tubular, though some companies equip the guns with detachable- or fixed-box magazines, as these can help the rifle chamber more efficient styles of ammunition. For traditional tube-magazine-fed lever guns, some are fed through the top of the tube via a removable inner sleeve, while others utilize a side-gate loading mechanism. Some rifles even have both. Safeties are not traditionally affixed to these sorts of firearms, though some now come with the feature.
Let me start this section with a warning, to ensure no one runs afoul of local game seasons. All muzzleloaders that sport rifled barrels are rifles, but not all rifles are muzzleloaders. A muzzleloader is defined as a gun in which propellant (powder) and projectile are both loaded from the muzzle The powder is first measured and poured into the chamber, after which the bullet is driven home by a ramrod. Some more modern designs like the Traditions Nitrofire only load the projectile down the barrel and feed propellant from the breech, but as some states do not consider this a true muzzleloader, I will stick to the stricter definition.
Ignition is accomplished via either a #209 shotgun-style primer or a large-rifle primer for inline muzzleloaders, in which the primer is seated in front a bolt face in the breech. For more classic designs, called sidelocks, ignition can be achieved by #10 percussion caps, musket caps, #209s, or even a flint stone struck against a frizzen. That last option is worthy of an article in and of itself.
While mostly relegated to shotguns in modern times, pump-action rifles were all the rage back in the day, and you may stumble across a classic Remington 760 Gamemaster at some point. Instead of a handle running the bolt back and cycling the action, the bolt is connected to a mobile fore-end by one or two action bars, along which the fore-end can be moved, or “pumped.” Doing so ejects a spent shell casing, chambers another one and cocks the gun.
Pump-actions have mostly fallen out of favor these days due to the strength needed for a locking mechanism to handle modern chamber pressures, as it would make the pump almost unworkable without massive effort. That said, there are still companies making them for older, classic deer chamberings like .30-30 Winchester. As with most every rifle-type on this list, there are a variety of ways the gun can be fed and made safe, but the action remains roughly the same across all pump guns.
One of the first actions designed to withstand modern smokeless powders, the rolling-block is an incredibly strong system. The breech is sealed by a block that rotates in place on a pin, and is locked in place by a hammer, hence the name. While a durable design, the rolling block is limited mostly to slow, single-shot applications, thumb-cocked by a hammer and is thus generally only found on vintage or reproduction guns.
Semi-automatic rifle types, plainly put, are rifles that do not need to be manually cocked for every shot. Firing a round initiates the ejection of its case, the chambering of a new round, and the cocking of its hammer. It will do this every time the trigger is pulled, until the gun runs out of ammunition. If you thought having two types of bolt-actions was excessive, you’d better hang on tight, as semi-automatics can be blowback operated, recoil operated, gas operated, or even piston driven.
Generally constrained to pistols, blowback operation utilizes the rearward force of the propellant from the cartridge to move the bolt back, ejecting the spent casing and chambering a new one. This is a relatively weak force, hence why it is generally limited to pistols, but it is sometimes used on small rimfire rifles.
Another type of operation no longer commonly found on rifles, recoil operation utilizes the force of the recoil to work the action. In a long-recoiling system, the barrel and breechblock stay locked together throughout the process, meaning the barrel retracts with every shot. A short-recoil system, on the other hand, only has the barrel move a tiny distance, with the breechblock traveling alone for the majority of the cycle. Nowadays, recoil operation is generally found on shotguns and pistols, the glaring exception being heavy machine guns like the M2-HB.
The most common way to cycle a semi-automatic firearm, gas systems channel the gas from a fired projectile out a small hole (generally in the barrel), and use the pressure it creates to cycle the bolt. The piston-driven design–best known in the AK-47 platform–is a cleaner-running variant of this, as it uses gas to press on a piston, which is attached to the bolt by a rod, to cycle the action. It is cleaner since gas is not routed to the bolt, from there escaping directly into the action, but requires more moving parts, and thus is slightly more complicated.
You’re probably wondering if your author has lost his mind, or understands the proper definition of a rifle. As it turns out, only one of the above is true. Revolvers were once in vogue both as pistols and rifles, particularly for cavalry troopers, though misfiring problems have relegated them to reside only in history books, and as careful reproductions. Nonetheless, you may one day stumble across a six-shooting long-gun, so its existence merits inclusion. That said, I’d certainly not recommend it for your next hunt. They have a nasty reputation for firing several shots simultaneously, right when you least expect it.
In a recent piece, we discussed choosing your first hunting rifle, gave a few examples, and discussed the important qualities of each. That’s only half the equation, however. You’re going to need to top that new gun with some sort of optic, so what should you look for when it comes to glass? Read on for some important features, factors, and a few models to take into consideration on your quest for clarity.
Your first consideration when choosing a hunting scope, generally, is magnification. Primarily hunting back east, and rarely see a shot past 200 yards (if that)? A standard 3X9 is probably enough to fill your needs. Looking to push the envelope? You’ll likely want to go up to 15 or 20X on the magnification. Don’t let your bottom magnification get much higher than 4X, however. There is always the possibility of a close shot, and you don’t want your lower magnification so high you have trouble finding your target quickly in your scope. This is one reason why you should not simply get the highest power scope you can find: the higher magnification the scope, generally the higher the bottom end. The higher the magnification range, the more expensive the scope.
Additionally, from a performance perspective, you actually do not want that high a magnification of scope. For an ethical hunter, your longest shot should be nowhere near as long as a competitive shooter is generally firing onto paper. As such, the additional magnification at hunting ranges will do little more than make your sight picture needlessly wobbly.
Do you need an adjustable scope? That depends on how far you care to go in your hunting career. For the average, backyard hunter, a lack of ballistic turrets is no real problem. If you intend on pursuing longer, more precise shots however, an ability to dial in your adjustments is a must. At even longer hunting distances, you can get away with holding for wind, provided you have a reticle marked with wind holds (another thing I would highly recommend); the ability to dial is most critical on elevation. It takes a very skilled marksman, or a real Christmas tree of a reticle, to successfully hold for windage and elevation at the same time. Translation? Get a scope with a turret/turrets.
Next, you need to determine whether you’ll be using MOA or MRAD for your calculations. While the differences between the two are worthy of their own article, in general, there is little advantage to one over the other for hunting purposes. MRAD has long been the military standard, while MOA has traditionally been used more by hunters. The important thing to keep in mind is that once you’ve decided on a system, it will be far easier to stick with it. Switching is, of course, possible, but you will have to relearn all your calculations and distances to do so.
First Focal Plane (FFP), or Second Focal Plane (SFP)? The debate over which is preferable when choosing the best hunting scope is almost as bad as the caliber wars. In a nutshell, FFP magnifies from behind your reticle, which means that your crosshairs and other markings enlarge proportionally to your target, and thus your windage- and elevation-holds (subtensions) retain their accuracy. With SFP, the magnification mechanism is on the far side of your reticle, so your subtensions are only technically accurate at a certain magnification (generally the highest one). From the sound of that, you’re probably thinking: “why would anyone ever choose SFP?” As it turns out, the choice is not quite as simple as it sounds.
For starters, FFP optics tend to be more expensive than their SFP counterparts. If you’re not planning on doing extremely complicated holds and calculations (as are common in PRS matches, where FFP is now a sine qua non), the extra cost can sometimes not be worth it. Second, for an FFP reticle to work when at full magnification, it has to be incredibly tiny at its lowest power. If your hunting area has ranges that are not all that far, and you expect to do some snap shooting, this is not always an optimal state of affairs. For hunting at extreme ranges, of course, FFP is irrelevant, as you’ll be at maximum magnification anyway, and your subtensions will be accurate. In my opinion, both have their place, so do your research and determine which is best suited to your particular needs. You can learn more about their differences here.
This is a simple one. The objective lens is that final number you see on a scope model (for instance, on a 3-9X40mm, 40mm is your objective lens size). The larger the objective lens, the more light is let into the scope, the better it will perform in a low-light environment, be that twilight or thick, dark woods. The smaller your lens, the less light will be let in. Additionally, the higher magnification you’re running, the more light your scope will need, which is why you tend to see objective lens size increase with higher magnification models. The downside? Larger objective lenses can be heavier and more cumbersome. For hunting optics, common objective lenses tend to be in the 30-45mm range. Take stock of your needs and find a good balance.
Above are the main considerations you’ll need to take into account. Want some models to consider? Check out the list below for a couple of our favorites.
Zeiss Conquest V4
Much as with my article on hunting rifles, I am starting here with a bit of a Cadillac, but if you’re serious about hunting and long-range shooting, “buy once cry once” should be your mantra. While this is a bit of dough to drop right off the bat, it is still less than dropping a paltry amount this year, and then spending the exact same amount next year when you’ve decided you need a higher-quality optic to achieve your goals. The Zeiss Conquest V4 line is based off a 4X zoom ratio, and boasts 3-12, 4-16 and 6-24 models. Reticles are all SFP, with both illuminated and non-illuminated options available. If you’re going straight to the Conquest V4 line, I would avoid the Reticle 60 option, as it is the only reticle offered without any subtensions. Models can generally be found for between $699 and $1,299, depending on magnification and other options (adjustability, etc.).
Leupold Mark 5HD
I gave you an SFP Caddy, so I feel obligated to present a similar offering from the FFP side of the market. The Leupold Mark 5HD provides a 5X zoom ratio and FFP performance. It is available with a variety of reticles in 3.5-18X44mm, 5-25X56mm, and 7-35X56mm (I would recommend the lowest magnification model for most hunters). Turrets are all adjustable with ZeroLock technology, to ensure your dials don’t do any self-adjustment, and models can generally be found for between $1,499.99 and $3,199.99 depending on magnification level and features. If those prices seems way out of your range, Leupold also makes a Mark 3HD, with a 3X zoom ratio, while its VX line of SFP models move even further in the affordable direction.
Vortex Diamondback Tactical FFP Riflescope
For more budget performance without diving too far into the $5 bin, check out the Vortex Diamondback Riflescope. Simple, rugged and affordable, these FFP scopes come with a lifetime warranty with adjustable turrets, and have one choice each of well-marked reticles in either MOA or MRAD. Models consist of 4-16X44mm and 6-24X50mm, and can be found for between $350 and $450.
There are plenty more worthy brands and models, but these three would be an excellent place to start when choosing the best hunting scope for your needs
Your first time afield can be a daunting prospect. From how to conduct yourself and dress, to which gear to bring and which to leave at home, the experience can be as humbling as it is rewarding, revealing just how little you yet know about how to thrive in the great outdoors. Potentially the most daunting part, is deciding on a rifle. While the process can be eased by using a mentor’s firearm, you will eventually need to pull the trigger on a purchase of your own. This is a big decision, as it can represent a substantial outlay of cash, and a potential commitment to a platform and caliber. Read on for a few great options to get you started on your search for the best hunting rifles.
I won’t lie to you, if we were to liken this process to your first car, the Benelli Lupo would be a Corvette, but hear me out. Unlike flipping your 15-year-old self the keys to a 400-horsepower monster, there are some significant benefits to starting near the top of the proverbial heap. For starters, if (like me) you prefer to minimize your overall expenditures, this is not a rifle you will ever need to graduate from. With nine different caliber options, sub-MOA accuracy, a threaded barrel, and a weight tipping the scales right around seven pounds (caliber dependant), this rifle can take you from the treestand to intense backcountry excursions, and will likely outshoot your own capabilities at any distance. Additionally, for beginner shooters, the Lupo tames recoil with a Progressive Comfort system and Combtech cheek pad, though I would recommend a smaller hunting caliber for a first rifle anyway (unless you’re jumping straight to elk). The controls are also intuitive, with an ambidextrous, tang-mounted safety, a detachable-box magazine, and an adjustable trigger. The gun also comes pre-mounted with a two-piece Picatinny rail, to make mounting your first optic easy. MSRP: $1,699; www.benelliusa.com
Savage Model 110 Hunter
I should disclose upfront a small bias toward Savage Arms, as my first and most trusted hunting rifle is an old Model 111 I got a deal on at the local auction house. I say small, however, as my large predilection for the company’s firearms is due in larger part to the incredible accuracy and dependability I have seen out of their guns over the years. The company’s Model 110 line is about as storied as a hunting rifle can get, and encompasses guns from basic utilitarian models, all the way up to ultralight backcountry bruisers. The Model 110 Hunter is a great place to start. With the company’s adjustable AccuFit system, tunable AccuTrigger, and an AccuStock rail that secures the action along its entire length, the gun is a solid performer that can grow with you as your skills improve. Additionally, the tang-mounted safety and detachable box magazine will get you used to the ergonomics of other Model 110s when you’re ready to step up your game to a more lightweight or game-specific variant. MSRP: $849; www.savagearms.com
Ruger American Standard Rifle
Ruger’s primary offering to hunters, the American rifle, also comes in a variety of different trims, each with its own specific features. For a beginner’s hunting rifle, however? The American Standard will serve your purposes just fine in your quest for the best hunting rifles. Available in seven common calibers, the Ruger American Standard weighs in between six and six-and-a-half pounds, with a 22-inch barrel for good accuracy results. An alloy-steel receiver and a black-synthetic stock mean this gun can take all the abuse a beginner can give it, and keep on ticking. The Marksman trigger is adjustable between 3 and 5 pounds, the magazine is detachable, and a soft rubber buttpad is included for recoil reduction. To make the gun safe, an ergonomic tang safety provides easy access at a moment’s notice. MSRP: $579; www.ruger.com
Henry Long Ranger
While I don’t think any roundup of the best hunting rifles for beginners is complete without the inclusion of a lever gun, I must make one caveat. If you ever intend on getting into longer-range precision shooting, or longer-distance hunting, your first gun should be a bolt-action. While I appreciate the appeal of a good old lever-gun as much as the next red-blooded American, the fact of the matter is that with modern loadings and cartridges, a bolt-action is almost always going to be the best bang for your buck, and you should get familiar with how to run one right off the bat. Please note, however, that I said “almost.”
If you have a true need to go the lever-action route, and you don’t plan on pushing the distances all that far, Henry’s Long Ranger has found a way to allow the classic design to run with modern calibers, making for an excellent and well-rounded hunting gun. Coming chambered in .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester or 6.5 Creedmoor, this lever action comes with a detachable-box magazine instead of the ubiquitous tube, which allows it to run the aforementioned cartridges. Weighing in at seven-pounds empty, this gun is right around the weights of the other rifles on this list, despite some truly beautiful American Walnut furniture. A round, blued-steel barrel meshes nicely with a hard-anodized black receiver, which is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. While I’d consider mounting a scope essential for any hunter, it does come with a standard set of irons. Using a high set of rings, you could even cowitness your irons underneath the scope–this is a favorite setup of Eastern hardwoods deer hunters. MSRP: $1,195; www.henryusa.com