Shooting ranges in North America tend to be oriented so that downrange is North, causing targets to face south and always have good illumination from the sun. Targets have high contrast and are well marked. Sighting shots are usually used to adjust point of aim. The terrain between the target and shooter is typically flat. Competitions are often run during the mid-morning hours, before the afternoon wind kicks up, and certainly not near dawn or dusk. In this environment, atmospheric turbulence, rather than scope optical quality, tends to determine image quality. Public ranges often have covered shooting positions, which prevent direct sunlight from falling on the scope objective.
Long range competitors prefer very high magnification so that they can place a target dot over the X ring, or even over a paster. Riflescope magnifications in the range of 24X to even 80X are typically used. At these magnification values, the image is larger, but not clearer. Micrometer style turret knobs are used exclusively. In addition, competitive shooters often use sun shade tubes to prevent barrel heat from distorting the target image. These tubes also minimize glare.
A relatively new type of competitive event, often called “tactical rifle” or “precision rifle” competition, involves the use of military-style sniper rifles against targets presented at various ranges. In these events shooters often prefer to dial both elevation and wind. These competitors should read this section and the Military/LEO Sniper section below.
Read the section on Elevation Adjustment at the end of these quick guides.
Select a scope with a magnification appropriate to the shooting range and your preference. If a very high magnification (>30X) is required for long range competition, a 30 MOA base will likely be needed. It may not be possible to zero the rifle at 100 yds using this base, but that is not a requirement for long range competition. Low glare, correction of off-axis aberrations, large field of view and large eye box are not important features. A simple crosshair reticle, with exposed turret knobs for different target ranges, works well. Graduated reticles (mildot, etc.) work well with range cards or a ballistic computer, as long as pressure and temperature data are accurate.
Contrary to common practice, this application doesn’t require top of the line optics. A scope in the ~$250+ MAP range will work for the casual shooter. That’s the minimum price point that will be likely to have good seals and a low return rate. Competitors will budget for ten times that amount to get accurate reticle adjustments and/or very high magnification, for example. Pride in one’s equipment will steer even noncompetitive shooters to respected name brands, which will have a price penalty. Higher prices are justified if they provide better durability and more accurate reticle adjustments.
A simple plex crosshair reticle, zeroed at 100 yds, has a point blank range out to 200-225 yds with a medium caliber like 30-06, 300 WM, .338 and .35, etc. A thick outer crosshair greatly improves reticle contrast at night. Accuracy of reticle subtension and tracking is usually not a concern for such short ranges. Ballistic drop compensated (BDC) reticles provide ample accuracy over a wide range of conditions up to about 350 yds. They require correction for incline, however. This usually means using a rangefinder that provides a corrected range value.
Good correction of off-axis aberrations over a wide field of view is valuable to the woods hunter. Glare performance is less of a concern than overall ruggedness, however. A sturdy scope with small turret knobs protected by caps will be less susceptible to POA shifts when stumbling over fallen trees and branches, and bumping the scope while climbing up to the tree stand or back down again. Standard eye relief of 3”-3.5” is fine for lower recoiling calibers up to 30-06. Heavier recoil calibers may require longer eye relief. Training yourself to hold the rifle firmly against your shoulder is advised.
In this magnification range there is a lot of competition. Scopes with an acceptable mechanical design can be had for as little as $200 MAP. However, risk of scope failure is higher at the low end of this range. Budgeting for $300+ reduces that risk. A wider field of view, more durability and more accurate reticle adjustments will tend to drive the price up. In this arena, you tend to get what you pay for.