Choosing an optic

Andy McLachlan explains what he looks for when he’s choosing a telescopic sight that makes that optic truly useful for his style of shooting

This Bushnell Elite Tactical 3-12×44 has been mounted on board Andy’s wonderful Venom 80 tuned break-barrel

In airgun shooting, as in any other type of shooting that relies upon the use of an optical instrument, choosing a telescopic sight is very much a case of horses for courses.

It’s no use bolting on a scope with fixed high levels of magnification and a limited field of view if you intend to nip down to your permission for an evening’s rabbit shooting.

What you need is an optic that allows you to quickly acquire the target, see it clearly in what can be fading light and feel confident that the shot will end up precisely where you want it.

Moving away from the hunting arena, in competition shooting circles it is necessary to carefully consider just what you need for your own preferred type of shooting before you spend lots of money on an optical device that may or may not be suitable.

As I have mentioned previously, if it is not a problem taking your time to acquire a target and very carefully taking a solid aim at something like a benchrest target, then a high magnification fixed-power scope might be just the thing to help you achieve the ultimate in accuracy. 

But if you take that same scope out onto an HFT course it would lead to disaster due to the limitations of the optic and its inability to make out targets at different ranges, due to the competitor’s inability to adjust the scope’s parallax settings under UKAHFT rules. In FT shooting this is not an issue as the competitor uses the parallax adjustment to assess target range, and following adjustment of the elevation turret can then aim dead on at the target.

As you can see then, scope choice remains crucial for making the most of your chosen rifle’s ability to drop those shots where you want them. Here are the choices that I have made for my own shooting.

Leupold Competition Series 45×45

Currently residing upon my new benchrest rifle, the Walther LG400, this scope originally saw service as a Field Target optic. Leupold are a world-famous producer of high-quality optics and considering the high level of fixed magnification at 45x, the image is still clear.

As I personally do not shoot Field Target competition, I chose this scope to use as my frontline long-range (50 yards plus) benchrest optic. I can understand why many FT shooters have decided to use this scope as it ranges targets very accurately using the side parallax adjustment knob.

With a scope as well built as this one, while remaining surprisingly light, the shooter can remain confident that the quality internals are not going to bounce out of adjustment if it gets a knock.

My own well-used example is more than 10 years old and has had a few previous owners, but with its high level of magnification it still allows me to witness how far off the bullseye my shots fall with disappointing regularity. If only the scope could pull the trigger…

Hawke Airmax 2-7×32 AMX

I think of this optic as representing a truly excellent buy, particularly for the novice shot who wants a scope with amazingly clear optics and a useful range of magnification for the field. Even the reticle is good, although a hash mark above the centre would be useful. 

Many shooters will be put off by the relatively low magnification range. Don’t let that bother you! The scope can provide sufficient magnification for hunting duties and as a first HFT-friendly optic. It possesses an adjustable objective lens which allows focusing down to close-range airgunning distances.

Despite the scope’s relatively cheap cost when new, I think that it represents genuinely excellent value for money. I wish I could have had one of these living on top of my hunting springer decades ago. 

Bushnell Elite Tactical 3-12×44

Here’s Andy’s Leupold 45×45 sitting on top of his new Walther LG400 rifle with wooden stock that he uses for shooting benchrest

I originally bought this scope for HFT competition purposes. It is a Japanese-made model that possesses particularly clear lenses, an ideal reticle (G2DMR) for HFT and side parallax adjustment. It is not a physically large optic, but represents a step up component-wise to other Far Eastern products of a similar specification. 

This means that it is basically tougher and will tend to retain zero more readily when in use. The only thing I don’t like about it is the non-lockable turrets, although they click nicely when adjusting and are, like the rest of the scope, well built.

Due to its ability to withstand heavy use, the scope currently sits upon my Venom HW80, which when we are allowed, will once again be used for shooting 25-yard indoor benchrest cards.

Vortex Diamondback Tactical 6-24×50 (FFP) 

This scope possesses all the specifications required of an optic that could genuinely be classed as an all-rounder. Within my own group of shooting friends, some of whom have decades of experience, the scope is very popular indeed.

The reasons for this are its high-quality lenses, its large amount of magnification adjustment, side parallax focusing and high-quality adjustment turrets.

With the lenses being arranged in the first focal plane, this means that
the EBR-2C reticle’s aim points can remain the same regardless of the magnification used.

The fact that the optic can be focused to 24x means that long range-shooting can be tackled, and with the magnification turned right down it can be used either in the hunting field or for HFT competition.

Without doubt, this is a high-quality scope that is used by many experienced shots who know a good optic when they see one. Mine is currently on board my Rapid Air Weapons HM1000, a deadly combination.

Leupold VX3i 2.5-8×36 Illuminated

This scope appears in the Leupold catalogue with a parallax adjustment set at the usual 100 yards, as most scopes do in the US due to their usual firearm use.

My son James noticed it at a shooting show a couple of years ago and enquired if the manufacturer could make a couple of tweaks to the design which would then make it ideal as a specialist HFT scope. Sure enough, the Leupold Custom Shop agreed and a few of us got together and made a block purchase from Leupold directly in the States.

Andy’s kitted out this Hawke Airmax 2-7×32 with a sunshade and one-piece mount so it’s all ready to go on his springer

Firstly, the parallax adjustment was taken down to 25 yards, the much appreciated and HFT-perfect TMR reticle was included, as was illumination. To say that we were all pleased with the outcome of our spending would be an understatement. 

This scope is nearly perfect for HFT, although for those of us with deteriorating eyesight a little bit more magnification would have been nice. Nevertheless, the scope provides a superbly clear image with a large field of view that allows things like waving grass and leaves to be observed while remaining focused upon the intended point of aim.

The illuminated TMR reticle allows dark wooded targets to be placed correctly without losing sight of the crosshair, and the internal build quality is of the usual Leupold high standards. Not cheap, but as with most optics, you tend to get what you pay for.

So there you go. I do use other gun and scope combinations, but the particular optics I have mentioned above provide me with what I need. If I were rich, I would undoubtedly own lots of scopes made in Germany, Japan and the USA.

As I don’t even do the lottery, it is highly unlikely that I will ever change the above choices, but to be honest, the scopes mentioned are more than up to the jobs I ask of them.


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