Editor’s Note: I know, Summer is hardly begun, some kids still have a long Summer breaks in front of them while some return to school this week; but the time to start preparing for the upcoming hunting season is upon us so this article from James Smith at PointOptics.com is timely in the overall scheme of things.
Nothing beats the feeling of stalking a game animal successfully. It’s the pay-off for rising before dawn, hitting the trail, and using the best equipment for the job. The devil is in the details when it comes to choosing the right rifle, scope, and ammunition. And when it comes to long range riflescopes, it is a crucial step in the stalking, sighting-in, and shooting process.
This is a comprehensive guide on how to hunt game using a long range rifle scope. It includes a breakdown of the five features you should look for in the long range rifle scope you use, and the best ways to hunt game with this equipment.
Features to Look for When Choosing a Scope for Your Hunting Rifle
When it comes down to selecting the perfect long range riflescope for hunting game, the process can get complicated. The many available options just end up muddying the waters sometimes. To help you get a better picture, there are five features to look for that will make this process much easier for you.
Magnification: Choosing the magnification capacity of your long range scope is half personal preference and half scientific algorithm. The most straightforward method of considering which magnification type is best for your hunting requirements is to work out the 1 x magnification per 100 feet (30,5 meters) of shooting distance.
For example, if you were sighting-in at 300 feet/91.5 meters, you would select the 3 x magnification setting on your scope. By using this scope selection technique, you will never be looking at a target that appears more than 35 yards/32 meters away. This viewpoint is a comfortable distance for the eyesight and brain to process.
Most game hunters sight-in at around 100 yards to 300 yards/ 274 meters in distance. It is for this reason that 3 x 9 power riflescopes are the most popular choice for most hunters. It’s the ideal range where most hunters like to take aim.
Ballistic Reticles: This long range scope feature is a relative newcomer to the hunting rifle scene. It provides additional crosshairs or aiming points in the available field of view. Once you have zeroed in your rifle sight picture, you can use the ballistic reticle feature on your scope for better aiming precision.
Ballistic reticles for hunting comes most typically in two formats: Minute Of Angle format (MOA) and mil-dot format. If you have a mil reticle, you will need to have mil-dot adjustments on your scope. Correspondingly, if you have a MOA reticle, you will need to have MOA adjustments on the scope. In that way, the adjustments you make with your elevation and windage turrets will coincide with the sub-tensions in the reticle. But more about that later.
Parallax Adjustment: A parallax is the position of the reticle on your target in relationship to your eye. The PA is a popular feature on bigger, higher magnification scopes because it allows you to dial out the parallax at a specific range so that what you see is what you get. It goes from zero all the way to infinity. If you have a 3 x 9 power scope, you probably don’t need this high-tech addition. However, if you have a 4 x 12 or 4 x 16 power scope, getting a parallax adjustment is a good idea.
First or Front Focal Plane Reticle: You used to find first focal plane reticles only in European manufactured riflescopes, but they have started to become more popular in other countries, and for a good reason. A first focal plane reticle allows you to adjust the magnification on your rifle scope, but the additional aiming points you have in the reticle will still be feeding you the correct trajectory compensation information.
A second focal plane reticle is different. The hash marks only typically match the trajectory when the scope is set at its maximum magnification capacity.
Fast Focus Eyepiece: One of the main benefits of this equipment is its user-friendly integration. It is yet another bit of European technology that is spreading across the Atlantic. It allows you to fine tune your interface with the rifle scope in real time. This saves on sighting and adjusting when shooting over long distances.
There are many things to consider when choosing a rifle scope, the size of the scope, the size of the game, and the shooting distance. But these are the five scope features that you need to have basic knowledge about.
The Anatomy of a Rifle Scope
Because riflescopes are fairly costly pieces of equipment, it makes sense to buy one suitable for your long range hunting rifle and the terrain over which you will be sighting in. It also depends on the company you keep when hunting outdoors as a group. If everyone on the team considers less than 100 yards/91 meters as fair game shooting distance, and you want to go after the more challenging targets, then you should change your hunting group, not your equipment.
The scope you choose should be at least 12 x top magnification, and 16 x is preferable. Higher magnification of 6 x 24 is possible, but finding a target at close range will be more difficult, especially if it is moving. The larger the magnification, the better the optics must be. It’s no good being able to zoom in when you can’t see a clear target in low light conditions.
When you mount the scope, it needs to be with the greatest possible integrity. Any movement in the tube or loosening of the mounting screws will turn your trip into a “one that got away,” saga. It is for this reason that a standard mil-dot or MOA reticle in front focal plane position is recommended.
Once you establish the perfect sight-in distance for each of the mil-dots descending from the center, the calculation won’t change. Even if the scope is set to 8, 22, or 16 x, the first mil-dot will be set at the correct distance. The same thing applies to windage turret calculations. When you have a front focal plane mil-dot, any windage (horizontal) adjustments are the same whether the scope variable is positioned at 10 or 16 x.
Your scope should hold up to the recoil of your rifle caliber as well. Taking this into account when choosing a long range rifle scope may limit your options, sadly, but it’s a vital component to getting the job done.
Mil-Dot vs. MOA for Game Hunting
Do your research before deciding on which system to use.
- Stick to the measuring system with which you are most familiar
- If you are more comfortable with metric, mil-dot may be the best choice, although the “mil” is not an abbreviation of millimeters
- If you are shooting over shorter ranges, many hunters holdover using a reticle altogether
- Long range riflescope accuracy should consider precision, calculation ability, and equipment cost
If this calculating is ruining your hunting experience, simply carry a dope card with you at all times. Once you are more familiar with your mils, you can give over using the dots and make super-fast shots without it.
Proper shot placement for long range hunting is a very important factor. It’s not as simple as sighting-in your rifle so that the cross-hairs are dead-on at 300 yards/274 meters and pulling the trigger. That means the first mil-dot (see diagram) down would be dead-on at around 500 yards/457 meters.
The best way to illustrate this is by using a trophy object standing at a distance of approximately 300 feet away at a steeply inclined uphill angle as an example. When the rifle scope is zeroed at 300 yards, it is actually almost 4 inches/10 cm too high because of the shortening of the trajectory angle. The bullet’s pathway is 4 inches above the aim point, even though the game target was at 300 yards. The best calculation is to zero the target per 100 yards. The first mil-dot should be down dead-on at around 400 yards/366 meters and the second at 550 yards/503 meters. These adjustments will ensure that the bullet path will never be above your point of aim.
Depending on what caliber and bullet weight you’re using, most riflescopes will use this basic sight-in and trajectory. The bullet has a slight left to right arc at long range. If the windage turret is set at zero per 100 yards, this can veer as much as 7 inches/17 cm off target. Counter this by setting the windage at 550 yards on a calm day. The bullet will still be 1.5 inches/3.8 cm to the left of the target when shooting at 100 to 400 yards, but it will be dead to rights at 550 yards.
Remember, the more practice you get in making these decisions, the faster they will become second nature to you on the field. And that brings us to the crucial part of long range game hunting:
Taking the Shot
Before you take any shot over 200 yards/182 meters, make a few calculations in your head using the WAR acronym: wind, angle, and range.
Wind deflection calculations: Use a handheld wind speed calculator if mental arithmetic is not your forte. It will help you formulate the wind speed, angle of the wind, and how it will affect your trajectory. There are also some useful computer software programs to help you grasp the required compensations.
Angle: Straight down being zero, and level straight out being 90 degrees, if your target is approximately 65 degrees, your angle x range multiplier will be 0.8. The more hunting experience you have, the easier it will become to gauge the angle degree. A good handheld rangefinder will calculate and angle x range multiplier of 0.7 for a 45 degree target.
When to Take Another Shot
If you are using a spotter to let you know when you’ve made a marginal hit on the target, base your next shot on the information you receive from your spotter. If the first shot was a complete miss, but the trophy target is still unaware, make the necessary adjustments and try again. If the target is on the move, withhold shooting again until the target is stationary once more.
If you begin game hunting with an experienced crew, they can guide you to all the best places to sight-in. Someone can use the spotter, and point out any beneficial observations. Remember that once your spotting scope is deployed, you will be locked into that position for a while.
A few other hunting essentials are water or energy drinks, PB&J sandwiches (they don’t turn in the heat), granola bars, and jerky. Don’t forget to wear weather-appropriate clothing, and cover up with insect repellent if it’s bug season.
The only thing left to say is Happy Hunting!
Glossary of Long Range Rifle Scope Terms:
- 1-inch tube: The erector tube of the rifle scope, most come in 1 inch diameter
- AO: Adjustable objective. A type of parallax correction feature
- Ballistic reticle: Incorporates many factors for correct point of aim
- Ballistic turret: A feature of high-end riflescopes. Allows for more than one predetermined turret setting distance
- BDC: Bullet Drop Compensation. The relationship between the fired bullet, target, and gravity
- Clicks: the number of rotations of the turret adjustments
- Duplex reticle: The most common style of available reticle with cross-hairs reaching the field of view edge
- Elevation: The vertical cross-hair of the reticle
- Fast Focus Eyepiece: Sighting and focusing technology from Europe that allows for a sharp, crisp image
- Fixed Power: The magnification is fixed without varying high to low power settings
- Holdover: Calculation using BDC technology
- Light Transmission: The amount of light that’s collected by the objective bell and transmitted to the eyepiece
- LR: Long range
- Original Zero: The distance for which you have sighted your scope.
- RS: Rifle Scope
- Turrets: Used interchangeably to describe the knobs and dials that protrude from the scope
- Windage: The horizontal cross-hair of the reticle.