Choosing The Best Big Game Hunting Scope

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Whether you are an experienced hunter or just beginning, there’s one thing that all types of hunters can agree on. Big game hunting is is one of the most exciting hunting experiences for any type of hunter.

Sure, there are other hunting situations, like varmint hunting and even predator hunting, but these don’t even come close to the amazing adventures that big game hunting brings. If you want to hunt big game, it takes skill, dedication, persistence, long days, potential danger, and the will to go day after day without seeing your chosen game.

It’s a big challenge, especially if you are hunting bear, mountain lions, or even moose. Even deer and elk can be underestimated depending on if offspring are involved or not.

To be successful hunting big game, a hunter not only needs the skill, dedication, and persistence to succeed, but the right equipment is necessary as well. Big game hunter’s need the correct rifle , the correct ammo, and the best rifle scope.

For example, if you are using a .308 or .30-06 what are the best scope options?

Finding the best rifle scope for big game hunting isn’t easy and varies depending on a lot of factors. Hopefully we can narrow down these rifle scope options for you.

Choosing The Best Big Game Hunting Scope featured

Important Considerations for Big Game Hunting

When considering the best optic for hunting big game, there are a few considerations to go over:

  1. Shot placement
  2. Environment
  3. Your skill level
  4. What are you hunting?

1. Shot Placement

One of the most important considerations for big game hunting is the shot placement. The weapon you use is a factor. Are you bow hunting, using an Airbow, or a rifle? Assuming that you have the correct rifle caliber for the correct amount of range and power, shot placement is critical for a couple of reasons.

To be a great hunter, you need to have a large amount of respect for the game you are hunting. This respect involves making sure that you are shooting in the right spots to increase your chances of a clean and humane kill. There is no reason to cause unnecessary pain or suffering in the game we are hunting.

Another thing to consider is that when you have wounded an animal, that animal is going to try to survive at all costs if you haven’t killed it immediately. Wounded animals are generally much more dangerous. A one shot kill when hunting big game will also ensure your safety from any retaliation if the animals spots you.

This is where your rifle scope comes in. In order to have the best chances of the correct shot placement, you need to have the proper optic that is capable of placing an accurate shot at the range you intend. In most cases, if you are shooting long range, the typical range that most hunting occurs at is around 300 yards or so. The more experienced hunters can shoot at even longer distances as they are still able to have good shot placement from farther out.

Make sure you properly zero the rifle optic. Sometimes your shot can be way off and you potentially shoot something entirely different, like a rabbit instead of a deer.

Keep in mind that though the animal you are hunting is typically a larger animal, their vital organs for a clean and quick kill are still small and you need to be able to be very precise to hit the target for a successful humane kill.

A typical clean kill shot on a larger animal has a vital zone that is around 1 foot. So the challenge here is that you have a 1 ft area to shoot at with other factors that include the animal likely moving, wind factors, treed or wooded areas, etc. It’s a big challenge, and the correct rifle scope will increase your success dramatically.

2. Consider Your Environment

Since hunting big game is pretty broad, environments may vary greatly. For example, some big game includes lions or the elephants in Africa. For some, big game means elk, wild hogs, deer, or bear near the Rockies. For some it could mean an alligator in Florida.

From this small list of animals, you can already see the different kinds of environments that different big game animals can live in. One scope does not suit every environment.

When considering your environment you need to take into consideration the rifle scope’s eye relief.

If you are hunting elk in the Rocky Mountains at long distances you will want a scope with a short eye relief. What this does is gives you a wider field of view which allows the hunter to see more at a magnified level.

A long eye relief in contrast is perfect for hunting up close, as you don’t need a wide field of view to see your target. Long eye relief scopes are better for large and powerful rifles and are usually made in a way that makes it easier to rapidly load the weapon. After all, if you are that close and you miss, you’ll likely need another shot, or two.

Depending on the environment, you will need to ensure that your scope can handle the conditions. Is your big game near water? Is there lots of rain? Are you hunting wild hogs in marshes and swamps? Are you hunting white tail deer in the dry plains? Is the environment open and bright or is it treed with lots of shade?

All of these factors will help you determine the correct rifle scope. And there are scopes and some scope accessories that help in every environment.

3. Your Skill Level

So how skilled are you? Your skill level will determine the scope that you should get. You should always know the distance that you are comfortable shooting. Can you only shoot up to 150 yards comfortably or are you in the 500+ yards range?

Something to keep in mind, if you get a high quality scope that you know is reliable, are confident in your shot placement, and understand your animal and environment, then you will have more confidence which will increase your chances of a successful kill.

BUT, if you ever feel uncomfortable and doubt yourself, just don’t take the shot. Wait for the next opportunity to come.

4. What are you hunting?

The last thing that you need to consider when hunting big game, is what animal are you actually hunting? You need to know and understand what exactly you are hunting. This will help determine which rifle scope is appropriate. Combine this with the specific environmental and your personal skill factors and you can usually make a great decision.

For example, an elk is much more likely to attack, and charge if it spots you, whereas as deer will likely run away. If you are hunting elk, you will need an optic that can handle long range as well as close range. If you are hunting elk in the mountains, or across very long distances across long plains, then a charge isn’t as likely so you will still need great long range capabilities and a scope with higher power magnification, but can also focus at closer ranges.

If you are hunting a bear or mountain lion, you could be in a situation where you are getting stalked right back! This is another situation where having a closer range optic is superior to a longer range optic. In a situation like this, you don’t need a scope with a lot of magnification power and may just need a 1x reflex sight.

Hunting wild hogs is another situation of an animal that can be very dangerous. If you are hunting wild hogs, you need a scope that allows for fast target acquisition as hogs are always on the move and can potentially charge you as well if you are spotted. They also gather in small groups so you have the potential to get more than one.

A recommended scope for hog hunting would be to get a low powered rifle scope with a wide field of view.

What Should A Great Big Game Scope Have?

For great accuracy and precision for a successful hunt your scope needs to have a few things:

A One Piece Tube Optic

There are lots of different styles of scopes. The recommended scope for big game hunting is a tube style optic. Scopes that have tube style construction are more precise and are more durable. Hunting big game requires a higher caliber, and you will need a scope that can handle the recoil.

You’ll also want to make sure that the scope is lightweight and not too bulky. Some tube style scopes can get heavy and bulky, but if you are hunting all day, your rifle will get heavier than it needs to be with the added weight.

Parallax

A scope with a parallax adjustment allows shooters to adjust from a closer range out to infinity. This will be extremely important if you need to hunt in a wide range of distances. The closer range varies but is commonly 50 yards, but can be as close as ten.

To test for parallax, look downrange at a target at 100 yards. As you move your head from side to side, if your reticle moves off or around the target you have a parallax issue and it will need to be adjusted so make sure you get a scope that allows you to adjust the parallax.

This is usually advertised as a side focusing rifle scope, but just keep in mind that it doesn’t focus the scope, but corrects the parallax.

Glass and Lens

Pay attention to the lens coating, lens quality, and objective size. When considering a good lens coating, it prevents flare and a good lens coating will have better light transmission which will help with brightness and clarity. A fully multi coated lens is the best route to take for reduced flare and maximum clarity.

A high quality glass usually has amazing optical clarity for higher precision, but usually comes at a higher price. Low quality scopes use low quality lenses and this creates distortion and can decrease precision.

The objective lens size affects the amount of light transmitted through the image which creates a clearer and brighter picture as well. If you are hunting big game close to dusk and dawn, you will want a scope that has a bigger objective lens to gather more light into the lens. Typically a 40mm – 42mm objective lens is the best option when it comes to lighter weight, lower profile scopes.

Magnification Power

Getting the right magnification power will determine the distance you will be able to hunt. The 2-7x range are usually the best choices, with the 3-9x coming in a close second.

When approaching a wounded animal you will want to lower the magnification power as you get closer. The 2x option allows for close range shooting with nearly the same efficiency of an AR-15 red dot sight, and even the 3x is typically low enough to ensure a rapid sight picture.

If you are hunting big game at 200-300 yards, like most hunters, a 7x – 9x rifle scope is plenty to place an accurate shot at this distance. This magnification power also allows you to scout and see at further ranges. Keep in mind that as the magnification is increased, the field of view decreases.

You don’t need an optic with really high magnification power. Instead of improving your accuracy, it can actually impair it.

Reticle

The last thing to consider in finding the best big game rifle scope is to figure out which reticle is best. The reticle is the aiming point that you see through the rifle scope. It’s sometimes called the crosshairs.

If you are hunting big game at longer ranges, one of the best reticles you can get is the Duplex reticle. This reticle has heavy side-bars that usually taper to fine crosshairs in the center. This allows for faster target acquisition with the thicker lines but you will still be able to see the target at the intersection of the finer lines.

A big game hunter needs a coarse crosshair. Anything finer is hard to see in poor light.

BDC, Rangefinders, Mil-Dot and Tactical reticles have their place in scopes, but not for big game shooting. These reticles are too complicated and clutter up too much of the field and hide too much of the animal.

Final Thoughts

Remember, look for an optic that’s light and not too bulky, has low to medium magnification, a wide field of view and the proper reticle – these are the worthwhile features of a good big-game hunting scope.

Tie this with the factors of your environment, skill level, the type of animal you are hunting and correct shot placement and you are well on your way to finding a great scope for hunting big game.

Finding the best big game hunting scope can be difficult, but as you consider all of the factors we’ve talked about, your success in finding the right optic will greatly improve. Good luck!

Do you have a favorite big game rifle scope that you prefer over another?

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About Author

Guest post by Gary Fretwell, rifle optics guru and big game tracker. He is a 33-year-old die hard hunter from Wyoming. He served in Iraq and is an Asset Protection Officer and a big game tracker who helps hunters like himself find big game.