How to Use a Rifle Scope

Given the title of this post, it would seem that I have oversimplified the subject. Anyone can use a rifle scope, correct? Well, not so fast my friends, because in my 5 decades of writing, testing, and shooting a wide variety of firearms, one of the major hangups to becoming a successful shooter is the ability to correctly use a rifle scope. 

The following information should help some shooters when screwing down a new glass sight to that brand new rifle.

how to use a scope for long range shooting

300 Win Mag on 1000 yard range. Shooting this big Ruger long rangerifle, you had better know what you're doing and understand your rifle scope.

Glass sighting system

Performance depends on exactly what you purchase in a glass sighting system (scope). As the old saying goes: ''you can’t get blood from a turnip.” That assumed as a fact, you also can’t get performance from junk glass sights either.

rifle scope basics

Shooting half a mile means understanding your scope very well. Learn about the tools and follow the rules.

Assuming you're buying a workable scope for the firearm you're adding those sights to, having them installed by a competent gunsmith is critical if you don’t possess the necessary skills yourself. In this case, the scope must be installed dead on level, the length of eye relief must be exact, and all screws and mounting parts must be completely secure.

With all of this covered and correctly approached, step two is the actual physical handling of the scoped rifle itself. The first detail that needs to be addressed is making use of the windage and elevation knobs. 

Zeroing the scope

These knobs are the key to zeroing the scope correctly by first obtaining a bore sighted zero. This is a gunsmith's task, or yours, again depending on your level of experience.

Never over-tighten these knobs when moving them in any direction. When the knob hits its stop position, that’s the end of the amount of sight correction you have with that scope.

how to use a scope

One shot, one kill. Dead before he knew he'd been hit. Good rifle, optics, and training.

Shimming the rifle scope

In the event you have reached the dead stop position on the adjustment knobs and require, say, more elevation or windage, the use of shims comes up front and center. Shims are thin metal strips that can be added to one side of the scope to additionally move the crosshairs one way or the other, and also to increase or decrease elevation adjustments. 

Again, in the event you don’t feel comfortable shimming a scope, see a gunsmith or someone with those basic skills as well. As to where you get shims, most of mine come from cut up beer cans. The aluminum is thin and soft. Even if several of them are required at the same time, they are workable and won’t mark the scope rings or the scope tube.

how does a scope work

Scopes correctly used make for great accuracy at longer ranges. But low grade glass can be a problem.

Power settings

Because Best Scopes for AR 15 allow the shooter to see the target clearer at longer ranges, choosing one offered with standard iron or open sights, making the best use of the power setting, is critical. For example, when shots are at a closer range, use a lower power setting. 

Squirrel hunters sighting up an oak tree might dial their scope to 3X, or less. Shooting squirrels across a wide stock dam in a tree some 55 or 60 yards away could require an increase in power settings of 6X or 8X,

When the shooting situation becomes much more complicated, as in big game or longer distance target shooting, the basics are still the same, but the situation could involve a major increase in power settings.

Here is where some differences arise between better grade glass and low budget scopes. When power setting (magnification) is increased, good glass filters out distortion, haze, and rainbow effects at the edges of the viewing area. These effects will not always be encountered, but at least you have a good idea of what I mean if they are.

rifle scope basics

Scope size matters, but in some cases attention to purpose means more. Here the Russian Drag is mounted on a standard Russian sniper scope. Small, dedicated, effective, and feared by many across the world as a very deadly system.

Some ways to fight off the bad effects of magnification issues is to stay as far away as possible from high power settings if your scope is not handling them well. For example, most snipers in the real world of military and police work like a 10X setting versus some jacked-up 18X 24X magnification. 

I find that I prefer to do my shooting at about 6X, as this is enough to clearly see my target, keep vibration and sighting movement low, and deliver an accurate shot.

Eye relief

Getting a handle on magnification is one thing, but understanding the eye relief, or the distance the eye is from the scope itself, is paramount as well and needs to be addressed. 

When heavy rifle cartridges, such as in the 300 Win Mag, 300 PRC, 458 Winchester and others like these illustrated are used, the installed eye relief needs to be substantial.

Light rifles, as in .223 , 243, or even the new 22 Creedmoor and 224 Valkyrie, can get by with far less distance measured for the eye to the scope in this area. I have seen first-hand a very major professional shooter get behind a high power rifle and, forgetting this rule, get cut completely around the eye socket.

Also to be considered here are handguns and shotguns. Shotguns can generate massive recoil, so the correct distance is critical. Handguns make use of a very long eye relief, because the scope is so far away from the shooter's eye when two-handing the weapon for a shot. But a detailed discussion on this issue is best saved for another time.

When it comes to making everything work in the area of getting the most out of our scope sight, the simple task of reading the instructions can go a very long way. As the old saying goes: ”when all else fails, read the directions.” and also learn How to sight in a scope? to improve your accuracy.

Dumb rifle scopes

Scope sights are, in many cases, very different from one another. For example, the limit of adjustment, the type of adjustments MOA, MRAD, or even dumb scopes. The new computer dumb scopes do everything for the shooter. 

I recently learned of a 9-year-old boy who dropped a 350 yard bull 5X5 elk with one shot by just looking through the scope, centering the elk, and raising the elevation through the lens to a bright red dot. When the dot was on the elk's vitals, the boy dropped 3 or 4 pounds of pressure off the trigger. The result was a one-shot kill instantly.

Some high grade scopes that use standard elevation and windage tools (sub tensions) are complicated scopes that demand some study and schooling. Many of the big glass scopes will factor range, keep wind in check, and establish the correct elevation for the shot. 

All this comes at a price and, to be sure, reading the manual or getting information from the manufacturer, if it's a used scope, will pay off big time when that once-in-a-lifetime bull elk walks in front of you. Unlike that 9-year-old, you most likely won’t have a shooting coach standing next to you.

DOPE charts

One of the best things you can do when it comes to placing the shot at any extended range is to build and tape a DOPE chart for the exact bullet you're firing to the stock of your rifle. Using a home computer, type the load into a ballistics program and hit the print and save keys. The technology will do the work and you can do the shooting.

how scopes work

On the range building a ballistic profile of a new rifle. DOPE matters a whole lot and one way to generate it is to shoot your rifle.

While this work may feel like rocket science, it is not at all complicated with a little training. Shoot 50 yards in the back 40 and forget most of what I am telling you, push the range, and buy fancy scopes with lots of bells and whistles, and it's back to school, or fail at your intended task.

Down range

An easy way to learn important details about your scope is to visit Amazon, and search for your scope. In almost all cases, Amazon will bring up clear and effective information as to what that scope will or will not accomplish down range. It is a simple fact, but sadly so many shooters flounder and don’t take the time to even remotely help themselves much of the time.

I can zero and get on a long range target in 3 rounds with a freshly mounted glass sight. I have a buddy who, try as he might, can’t get a zero or hit anything past 100 with a full box of 20 rounds in his 308 Winchester AR-10. This happens year after year as I re-check his rifle for him. 

The problem here is that he is lazy, will not go to the totally free 1000-yard range only 6 miles from his house and, as such, is never in the envelope when it comes to getting off an accurate shot. He has also lost some magnificent animals because of it. 

Working with your rifle scope

As a final saying: ”you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” By working with your rifle scope, you can be sure when it is crunch time that the scope will work for you.

When it all comes together, it works just great.

Want to know How To Choose A Rifle Scope? Check out our guide.

L.P.Brezny has been writing and reviewing products as well as how to projects for the past 50 years. He has authored four books on shooting with three on long range, and one covering shotgunning.(Amazon) With 26 years in a metro police department as a street officer and the rank of SGT / training L.P. has covered all the bases regarding weapons and street survival.

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