Choosing the right airgun optics

Shooters have never had so much choice when it comes to optics, and Andy McLachlan explains how to pick what will work best for you.

This Leupold has a small objective lens and is perfect for shooting HFT where optical clarity is more important than a raft of features

After looking at the guns that I currently use, I thought it might be interesting to now consider more closely the scopes that I choose to use and why I have chosen to use them.

Before we consider that though, let us remind ourselves just what we require from our optics. It is no good using a high-power 45x magnification scope for plinking with as it is just too powerful. Nor is the mega-high magnification optic suitable for hunting duties.

Decades ago the ‘normal’ sized scope we used for everything was usually of four times magnification, often with a 20mm objective lens, but more likely to be of 32mm diameter.

This slowly increased in size until 40mm became the average size. Magnification levels also crept up slowly, with six power enjoying great popularity, until readily available and higher quality variable magnification scopes first started appearing in airgun-friendly specifications from the Japanese market.

Products such as the Tasco 2-7×32 scope with high quality lenses and build quality to match quickly found favour with serious airgunners willing to pay a little bit more for a genuinely good quality product. I still have an example of this particular scope in service on my Feinwerkbau Sport rifle, and it is just as good today as it was 30 years ago.

The fact that the Tasco also possessed an adjustable objective lens, allowing the shooter to focus for individual ranges and remove the dreaded parallax error, also helped to ensure that the scope remained ready for action.

This Simmons Whitetail Classic may only have five times magnification and a small objective lens, but has proved great to use in the field

But if the shooter started adjusting either the magnification or the objective lens, it would be necessary to readjust the zero due to the movement of the internal lenses and componentry. Therefore, most of us set the magnification at seven times, adjusted the objective lens to our zeroing range of say 35 yards and just left it at that.

This is where the argument for fixed-magnification optics arises. It must be said that the fewer the lenses and internal componentry that reside within a scope, the fewer bits there are to either fall out of adjustment or fail.

Plus, I have noticed that the image always tends to be a bit brighter with fixed magnification. This is undoubtedly due to fewer internal lenses soaking up the available light as it passes through the objective lens.

Still, if you take a look around at the vast array of scopes that are now available for us all to buy these days, it will be very rare, if ever, that you will find a fixed-magnification scope on board an airgun. This is because one with adjustable magnification is obviously far more adaptable to different shooting applications.

When most of my time was spent shooting pests in the field, I was more
than happy using six power magnification as anything more elicited a case of the wobbles when taking regular standing shots. The six-power scope also gave a good field of view, meaning that target acquisition was a lot easier than it is with higher magnification. 

In those days I could only afford relatively cheap optics, and usually ended up with a 3-9×40 Chinese scope set on six mag with the front objective adjusted to suit. Like all things however, I soon got used to using this basic setup, with the lack of twiddling with scope adjustments in the field leading to far fewer misses and more meat in the game bag.

Talking of fixed-power scopes, my friend Dave and I have recently been looking at some German-built eight times magnification optics for hunting purposes.

These scopes have been designed for centrefire shooting at animals such as boar, but with super high-quality lenses and unbelievable build quality that means they would rarely, if ever, need to be re-zeroed if left on the same rifle. The problem is that the scope has a parallax fixed at 100 yards, which is obviously way too far for an air rifle, even at FAC power levels. 

When shooting Field Target, the user is allowed to make adjustments to the telescopic sight prior to each shot

I have re-parallaxed many fixed objective scopes over the years, but suspect that such a high-quality scope would have its objective lens Loctited into position, meaning that the ability to screw the lens in or out to compensate might possibly damage the scope. As a result, we have decided that the scopes we currently have are more than capable, and have for once left our wallets in our pockets.

It is a rare event indeed these days to find a scope that does not appear to be of a quality build and have really clear lenses. I have been extremely impressed with scopes such as the Hawke Vantage and Airmax ranges, which remain affordable to most.

These Chinese-built optics are way better than anything that I used a couple of decades ago, and they possess the kind of clarity that’s typically only seen in Japanese or German optics at that time. Things have certainly moved on regarding the standard of scopes, particularly in the last decade.

The areas that set apart scopes from the cheaper end of the market to those at the top is obvious. Higher-end lenses and coatings, and better engineered internals and adjustment mechanisms all add up to high prices, especially when you consider that the top-end products will have been built by a technician and not a machine.

If you take a peek through a top-end scope and then look through what most of us are currently using you will be amazed at the improvement in image quality, particularly when evening draws in or you are looking into a dim wood. 

The top-end scope will also retain its ability to hold zero despite any knocks or you dropping your gun bag into the boot of the car that would have cheaper offerings boinging their way out of your chosen settings.

It’s important to match the rifle to the scope and its intended use – this Hawke 2-7×32 is the perfect companion for Andy’s Air Arms TX200

With a scope that has been engineered to withstand a nuclear blast, this is not going to happen, particularly if you have chosen to use high quality mounts to secure the optic to your gun’s action. I rarely use anything other than Sportsmatch mounts as they have yet to let me down, are well built, affordable and made in Blighty.

The problem we face these days when choosing a suitable optic is the vast choice that is available. Most of these airgun-type scopes will appear lower down the price scale in comparison to those found on the actions of fullbore firearms, whose optics have to be able to take on targets at extremely long range in some cases while being able to withstand severe recoil. 

It should be noted though that scopes intended for spring-powered air rifles need to be specifically designed to cope with the dual recoil bounce inherent in a springer as the action moves both forwards and backwards at high speed, potentially trashing internal components if not designed to take the loadings.

In my next article, I will attempt to explain why I use the scopes that are currently mounted on my guns. If I were well off, no doubt the choices would be different, but as an average person, my choice of optics will hopefully allow you to consider your own list of primary requirements for each type of airgun shooting.

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