Prairie Dogs & Ground Squirrels
This hunting environment typically has lots of flat terrain, with the targets near the ground. Usually, resolution will be limited by atmospheric turbulence. You can minimize turbulence-induced blur by shooting from as high a position as possible. You can’t eliminate it, though. Turbulence will decrease for a short time at dawn and dusk, which may help.
Even without turbulence, targets in full solar illumination will look about the same in any scope at a given magnification, as long as you minimize glare. Because the targets are small, hunters prefer to use high magnification (>9X for short range ground squirrels, >15X for longer range prairie dogs). A sun shade will minimize glare and doesn’t restrict the field of view at high magnification.
Select a scope with the reticle and other features you prefer, and don’t be overly concerned about optical performance, as long as you use a sun shade. Without a sun shade glare could be problem, especially at high magnification. A simple crosshair reticle, zeroed at 175 yds, has a point blank range out to about 200 yds with a flat-shooting varmint cartridge, like .223, 22-250, .243, etc. At ranges of up to about 400 yds, ballistic drop corrected turrets and reticles can be accurate if calibrated and zeroed properly for that altitude. Of course, graduated reticles (mildot, etc.) work very well with range cards or a ballistic computer. The small target size makes good wind estimation critical for ranges beyond 200 yds.
This application doesn’t require top of the line optical performance. A scope in the ~$300+ MAP range should work fine if you use a sun shade. That’s the minimum price point that will be likely to have good seals and reproducible reticle adjustments. Higher priced scopes are justified if they provide more accurate reticle adjustments and less glare, which is valuable if you can’t use a sunshade for some reason.
Scopes with a low to medium zoom range of 3-9X to 4-12X are recommended. Even the spot and stalk hunter can jump an animal and need to make a quick short-range shot. Hiking with the scope set to a low magnification setting helps with fast target acquisition. A simple plex crosshair reticle, zeroed at 200 yds, has a point blank range out to about 300 yds with a flat-shooting cartridge like .270, 7 mm RM, .308, etc. A thick outer crosshair greatly improves reticle contrast at dawn and dusk.
At ranges of up to about 500 yds, ballistic drop compensated (BDC) reticles can be accurate if calibrated and zeroed properly for that altitude. They require correction for incline, however. This usually means using a rangefinder that provides a corrected range value. BDC reticles with windage hold-off marks or dots are effective, but introduce more clutter into the sight picture. We recommend BDC reticles in the SFP location, because then the zoom ring can be used to calibrate the scope to the ballistic drop profile of your caliber. For information on longer range scopes, including BDC turrets and mildot-type reticles, see the section on Long Range Hunting.
An eye relief of 3”-3.5” is adequate 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.
With few exceptions, scopes with good optical performance are likely to cost $400+ MAP. Durability has higher priority than accuracy. First consider scopes with good glare performance and good correction of off-axis aberrations over a wide field of view. Then select reticle, turrets and other features from this group. Higher priced scopes benefit from the latest turret and reticle designs, are more durable, have more accurate reticle adjustments and less glare.
This environment typically has varied terrain. Hunters usually call large predators (coyotes and wolves) in to distances less than 200 yds. They often take aim either very slowly or quickly, acquiring the target when the animal is focused on a call or decoy, or when it momentarily looks away. Animals are first sighted with the naked eye, so optical resolution is not the primary issue. Shooting positions vary a lot – from prone to sitting to standing behind a tree. Having a rifle scope with medium magnification, a wide field of view, large exit pupil and a forgiving eye relief, is the highest priority.
Bobcats and foxes are frequently taken between dusk and dawn, and also in total darkness. Hunters use flashlights, spotlights and auto headlights for illumination. Again, having a rifle scope with a medium magnification, a large objective and a wide field of view is a priority.
We recommend scopes with a magnification range or 2.5-6X to 3-9X. Large field of view and large eye box are important features. Don’t be overly concerned about optical performance. A simple crosshair reticle, zeroed at 200 yds, has a point blank range out to nearly 250 yds with a flat-shooting varmint cartridge, like .223, 22-250, .243, etc. At ranges of up to about 400 yds, ballistic drop corrected turrets and reticles can be accurate if calibrated and zeroed properly for that altitude.
This application doesn’t require top of the line optics. A scope in the ~$300+ MAP range will work. That’s the minimum price point that will be likely to have good seals, reproducible reticle adjustments and a low return rate. Differences in glare and off-axis aberration correction between premium and mid-priced scopes are not likely to be noticed. Higher priced are justified if they provide a wider field of view, larger objective, better durability and more accurate reticle adjustments.