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Old August 23, 2018, 12:52 PM   #1
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Explain the Optics Prejudice

First I’ll start by saying that I’m posting here because this typically comes up in conversations surrounding hunting optics, not usually range/target optics.

There seems to be a fairly prevalent prejudice against high magnification for medium to big game hunting rifles, and I’d like to know why.

Recently there was post right here on this forum by a good fellow planning an elk hunt on or around the west coast region. He mentioned having a 4-12 power optic, and in the ensuing responses there were at least 3 comments that implied, or boldly stated, that he had too much magnification. One went so far to recommend a 2-7x optic.

This school of thought typically shows up right around a max of 9x. As soon as someone goes over 9x, he’s overpowered for hunting. Why?
Is it that if he can see farther than that, he’s taking risky shots? Is that his baseline will be too magnified for getting a shot of at bear charging from 20 yards? I can see the rationale behind these possible answers, but I’m not convinced.

I currently have a Leupold 4-12x40 on my primary hunting rifle, a 7mm-08. Before that I had 4-16x44 Vortex, which has since been relegated to my .223 bolt rifle for varmint hunting. I also have an old Barska 6-20 on my .243 which is a crossover varmint-to-deer rifle, but rarely used for deer. I generally hunt deer between 40 and 300 yards. 4 power is no problem for the close stuff, and for the far stuff, I like to be able to see as much as I can. I like the 16x for really getting the “lay of the land” on the shoulder/rib region of a hefty whitetail. Also, increased magnification helps gage movement when you’re trying to hold steady. And if you know you’re rifle, the more you can see, the more precisely you can pick your shot.

So what is the huge problem with increased magnification that seems to have so many people adamantly against it?

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Old August 23, 2018, 01:25 PM   #2
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It's all about field of view at min and max magnification. I've been hunting all my life and have rifles that can ethically kill large game at 400 yards. Typically I like a 3x18 50 with side focus. Good glass for hunting isn't cheap so most hunters that hunt once a year cant justify spending that kind of money. They typically go with a less expensive scope and lower magnification. They will defend their choice to no end and in many respects, rightfully so.

Think about it, is a 4x14 any better than a 3x18? No, as long as the field of view is equal at 4 and 14, they're basically the same.

Of course theres always the jealous defense that kicks in. Dont dare miss a shot after you've bragged about your 5000.00 gun at the campfire and the guy that gets a nice buck with his old worn out 30-30 with iron sights. He will most certainly make mention how the price of the gun doesn't make you a good hunter. Very true but a good hunter knows the real value of a top quality rifle and optics and knows the difference between a lucky shot and a skilled shot.

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Old August 23, 2018, 02:01 PM   #3
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The following is based primarily on my experience and 'Western Hunting' - not stand or blind 'hunting':

Have you ever been in a position to make a snap shot on game, at close range, with 6x+ magnification? It doesn't work well.

Have you ever made a long shot with low magnification? Works just fine.

Unless a hunter plans to sit on a ridge, glass a valley all day, and just shoot from an open position, unnecessary magnification can be a handicap.
It complicates (or ruins) snap shots.
It doesn't work well, at all, in dark timber.
And more...

I used to think that the more magnification, the better. ...Until I couldn't take advantage of a shot opportunity at close range on several animals, because I had too much magnification. I couldn't find the animal in the scope, couldn't identify the right animal in a group, or couldn't see more than a blob of hair.
Sometimes, 'too much' magnification is the base magnification for the scope - like 6.5x in a 6.5-20x. Sometimes, 'too much' magnification is just a product of forgetfulness or stupidity - leaving a 3-12x at 12x, for example.

Magnification can definitely make a hunter feel better about certain shots. I've been there myself, when I had the opportunity to sit and wait, watching an animal come closer, while I had my rifle in a solid rest (or on a bipod), and I could crank the magnification up. (Such as an antelope that I spotted at about 1,200 yards, set up in front of at about 800 yards, and then let walk in to 215 before I dropped it with the scope at 12x, from a bipod.)

But I could have been just as successful with a lower powered scope.
My longest shot on game was a called left-eye shot at 650 yards with a 2-7x. It worked just fine. I wouldn't repeat the feat for several reasons, but 7x magnification was plenty.

Low magnification is never a problem for what I consider to be ethical ranges. But high magnification can be a problem for short range shots (or opportunities).
I've been on hunts where the ONLY shot I had on a legal animal, over more than a week's time, was a snap shot ... and I couldn't make it happen, due to magnification. That's a really disappointing situation to find yourself in.

Plus... More magnification nearly always means more weight. If you're sitting on your butt, in a gravel pullout on the side of a highway, waiting for other hunters to push an elk in front of you at 400+ yards, that weight doesn't matter. But if you're busting your butt hiking through the trees, the extra weight can have an impact.

I used to like magnification.
Now, I find myself wanting less and less of it. I've even started replacing variable scopes with fixed magnification. (And some low power scopes with iron sights, but that's another subject.)
Fixed 4x scopes dominate my gun safes now, and I have my eye on a few 3-9x and 3.5-10x scopes that will likely be replaced with 2-7x.

I generally don't, however, tell another hunter what they should be doing. We hunt different things, in different ways, with different preferences and techniques.

I think it is definitely possible to 'over-scope' a rifle for the type of hunting that I do. But what you have on your rifle is your business...
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Old August 23, 2018, 02:14 PM   #4
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Never was a fan of high magnification rifle scopes or variable power scopes for that matter. My favorite scopes are fixed 4 and 6 power Leupold and Zeiss. For many years my deer and hog hunting has been with scoped muzzleloaders at ranges that seldom exceed 100 yards. Several years ago i killed a doe at a measured 418 yards with a .30-06. The 3x9 scope on that rifle has been set on 6 power since 1992.

i've hunted with folks who are forever changing the power settings of their scopes. Watched a few hunters get surprised when game showed up at 15 yards with their scopes set on max power.

BTW: With the exception of a few Unertl scopes on USMC rifles, all the sniper scopes used during WWII were of 4 power or less.
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Old August 23, 2018, 03:57 PM   #5
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I get the bias towards lower power. It is primarily that most game ime is shot at 25-350 yds. A 4x scope can do that. 7,9 or 12 x is better.

Is 27x better? No, because somewhere in this increased magnification came weight, complexity, size and cost. You can hunt great with a PRS optic, but do you want to? I say I don’t, but......

I’m hunting deer this year with a Burris 5-25x on a Savage 12 in 300 WSM...
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Old August 23, 2018, 04:29 PM   #6
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Never felt I had too little magnification

I have felt I had too much thou...

Perfectly fine hitting targets out there to 5-600 meters consistently but I dont have that terrain Nor the inclination

Regardless of skills and gear you are introducing too many risk factors imo to consider it ethical
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Old August 23, 2018, 06:01 PM   #7
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"prejudice against high magnification for medium to big game hunting rifles, and I’d like to know why. "

1:You don't need to see a deer blink it's eye at 400 yards to shoot it.
2:There's often a tendency to have the scope power set way too high leading to a loss of field of view. This causes difficulty in finding the game in the scope.
3: Higher powered scopes are typically heavier and more bulky than "normal" scopes.
4: Higher magnification may lead to shooting beyond the capability of the user simply because "it looks so close".
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Old August 23, 2018, 07:33 PM   #8
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I don't think I have a big prejudice against higher mag optics for med-large game hunting, but my current deer rifle sports a 2.5x10 mag scope. For me it comes down to how much/little i have to futz with my scope to stay on my animal (field-of-view). With my 4x16, if I was zoomed in to 16x, and the deer trotted off into some brush, or I took my eye away from the scope for a second, I almost always had to dial the zoom down to 8x or so to find the deer again. With my 2.5x10, this is largely unnecessary, due to the larger FOV.

Also, when I'm hunting deer-sized animals I'm not trying to put a bullet between two ribs; heck, if I'm shooting off-hand over 100 yards I can't do that anyway regardless of what scope is on the rifle. I'm trying to put a bullet into an imaginary circle about 6 inches in diameter in and around the shoulder or neck, so I don't need higher magnification for that kind of shooting.

Finally, when I deer hunt I still-hunt mostly, consequently I want the lightest rifle/scope combo I can shoot well, since I'm going to be the one carrying the thing around all day. Scopes get heavier as mag goes up, so a reasonable compromise is somewhere around 3x9 or so. For me anyway.
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Old August 23, 2018, 10:12 PM   #9
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Not everyone needs a 25X scope to hunt deer at 200 yards, but some people with less than perfect eyes do. Not everyone needs a 54mm tube for greater light collection, but some people like to be able to see better in low light.
I have a 4x Cheapo scope and a high end variable. Yea, I'll carry the extra weight of the high end, it just works better. But I'm confident I could bag a deer with either at 200 yards.

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Old August 23, 2018, 10:32 PM   #10
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More magnification reduces field of view which makes it harder to see game at close to moderate ranges. Something with 1-3X on the low end makes it a lot easier to pick up the animal when you look through the scope. Especially if the animal is in thick brush or close.

More magnification is less effective in poor light unless the front objective is huge. Even a 50mm lens is useless in low light with over 10X magnification. If you go up to a 12X or larger you will have to turn them down in low light to see anything. A 40mm lens is only good up to about 8X in low light. Most game is shot in poor light. That is when they are more active.

More X's mean more money and more weight to lug around. You will get the most scope for the same money with a 3-9X40 scope. Going up to a 4-12X40 scope of the same quality adds about $100 to the price tag. If you see a 4-12X40 priced the same as a 3-9X40 it is most likely lower quality.

You don't need a lot of magnification to hit a large target like big game animals. I've killed deer at 200 yards with 2X scopes. I've shot 3" groups on paper with 7X scopes at 400 yards.

High magnification scopes are useful for shooting small targets or varmints in bright light. Or for shooting at ranges over 1000 yards, in good light. But for most big game hunting something around 2-3X on the low end and 7-9X on the high end is a good compromise between weight, light transmission, cost, and FOV. If you know shots won't be taken much past 200 yards and you need something fast and quick the 1-4X scopes are a great choice.
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Old August 23, 2018, 11:01 PM   #11
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People just aren't used to it. Some guys hardly ever use optics, some never use more than 3 power, some only use optics at the bench... or some people just repeat old mantras.

I've had optics on literally every gun I've ever owned except my Glock handgun and a Beretta 22 handgun. When I was 7 years old I had a scope on my Crossman BB gun. I'm so used to optics that I don't even think about it. I don't recall a single instance where I had target acquisition issues. Hell, one time a shot a deer that was bounding past me at no more than 25 feet, with my 3-9x scope set on 5x.

I like magnification. My .243AI carries a 5-25x Minox ZA-5.

Why would I go under 5? I had 3-9x on all my previous deer rifles, including shotguns. I found that I left it at 5 almost all the time and immediately turned it up for ANY shot that gave me time. Honestly, the difference (good or bad) between 3 and 5 is virtually zero. Folks aught to try it sometimes. Sit at a bench, aim at a bullseye and change the magnification from 3-5, back and forth. See how little it changes.

Even on my Encore Pro Hunter handgun, I started with a 2-7 because I (foolishly ) believed less was better on a handgun. It lasted one season and I traded it for a 4-12 and have never looked back.

I used to have a 10-50x on my .204Ruger. I'd take 100 on that gun if I could get it.
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Old August 24, 2018, 12:12 AM   #12
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Magnification does not increase how well you can see beyond a certain point. Clarity is much more important, but that clarity comes at a higher cost. Some people think buying higher power at slightly lower price than a higher quality, clearer scope gives them something better for a lower price, but you don't get something for nothing. I tell people to buy the best quality scope they can afford, and if that means lower power, so be it. And when I hear people pipe up with the old lame "my brand X scope is a lot clearer than brand Y that costs twice as much" I remind them that lenses are an internationally traded commodity, and are sold based on optical clarity, lack of color aberrations, light wavelength transmission and sharpness of focus (among other things). So, you get what you pay for, get the best you can.

I have hunted with a 2-7X scope on my 7X57 for 4 decades. When I first got it, it was a lot of magnification, since I had been shooting irons up to that point. I learned to keep it set on the lowest power so that I could see deer and pigs in the thick brush in coastal CA, but turned it up to 7X for varmint hunting. Although I lusted after my brother's 3.5-10X Leupold, I could not afford one, so I made do. A few years later, I built my first 22-250, and all I could afford was a Weaver K4. Not a bad scope, and it had super-fine crosshairs so it worked well on ground squirrels. Really well, I could still hit them out to 500-ish yds because the crosshairs didn't hide the squirrels at longer ranges. A few years later, my re-enlistment bonus let me splurge on a Leupold 6.5-20X. I liked it fine for ground squirrel shooting because it's out in the open grasslands and usually at ranges from 150-500 yds. Then I moved to NV. Yes, NV is wide open, but the varmints were not long-range squirrels, we were kicking up jackrabbits from 15 ft to maybe 100 yds out. I just couldn't find them in the scope, the field of view was too small. I pretty quickly swapped for a 4.5-14X Leupold, and that worked OK, I could set the scope to 4X for jackrabbits and turn it up to 14X for long-range shooting. But for deer, antelope, pigs, coyotes, etc, I still relied on low-magnification scopes due to larger field of view. So, two things I have against high magnification scopes are limited field of view and weight. Higher power scopes might work just fine for some, but not for me.

And since I'm passing on the tradition to my sons, they are starting out with 2-7X Leupolds.
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Old August 24, 2018, 08:23 AM   #13
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Lots of good stuff here... and a lot of the same points made again and again.

Thanks for the time and thought that went into your responses!

So... while I think my mindset is more in line with Mr. Pfleuger's, challenge accepted! I'm going to leave my scope at 4x this rifle season and see how I do. I'll do all my zeroing at 4x, and practice at ranges I'm used to more magnification. No sense in punishing the deer for my experiment.

I didn't realize that increasing magnification decreased light, so that will be an incentive.

Most of my hunting is stationary, so weight hasn't been a huge deterrent, but I do like how light my 7-08 setup is, and if I could make that happen on the 243or the 06, I may use them more.

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Old August 24, 2018, 09:08 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Tallest View Post
There seems to be a fairly prevalent prejudice against high magnification for medium to big game hunting rifles, and I’d like to know why.

Recently there was post right here on this forum by a good fellow planning an elk hunt on or around the west coast region. He mentioned having a 4-12 power optic, and in the ensuing responses there were at least 3 comments that implied, or boldly stated, that he had too much magnification. One went so far to recommend a 2-7x optic.

This school of thought typically shows up right around a max of 9x. As soon as someone goes over 9x, he’s overpowered for hunting. Why?
Is it that if he can see farther than that, he’s taking risky shots?

Is that his baseline will be too magnified for getting a shot of at bear charging from 20 yards? I can see the rationale behind these possible answers, but I’m not convinced.
It's not the max power that's an issue, it's the bottom power. If you have to take a quick shot at close range, even a 4 power makes it hard to define the animal, giving the classic "All I could see was fur" problem.

If a deer sized animal is too far away to hit with 7 power, it's too far away, period.

That's why a 2x-7 is indeed a good choice. Save the 4-12 for varmints.
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Old August 24, 2018, 09:19 AM   #15
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I've always been mostly a walking hunter. I always set a variable scope to its lowest magnification for its maximum field of view. Better to see all of a deer than just some part of the brown, or a horn and ear.
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Old August 24, 2018, 10:23 AM   #16
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Back in the day when a high top power necessitated a high bottom power, things were different. Now that you can get a high number 6x the bottom number, have the best of both worlds.
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Old August 24, 2018, 04:27 PM   #17
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I have 3X9s on my hunting rifles. If I had a do over I'd prolly choose 2X7s, less bulk, less weight. Longest shot I ever made was 400 yards with an old Leupold 4X M-8. I use binos for looking scopes for shooting.
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Old August 24, 2018, 09:16 PM   #18
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When on a deer control hunt on anLake Michigan island..

took my M70 with a Burris 4X scope.
Took a stand in the woods overlooking a old logging trail intersection, when I spotted an buck from 20 foot. Threw up the rifle/scope and it look like I hand my fingers filling the scopeview.

Changed to a Bushnell Banner 1-4X variable,

For early squirrel hunting , took my 4X scope off and replaced with a Weaver K2, with a post and cross hair and sighted in for 25 yards, with standard .22 ammo, as the resulting point blank range allow the bullet to rise a maximum of 3/8 and cross backover the point of impact..
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Old August 26, 2018, 03:34 PM   #19
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Doesn't matter if it's optics, action or caliber, folks are going to support and defend whichever they chose to use. Why do the majority of deer hunting folks defend 3X9s? 'Cause that's what the majority of deer hunters have on their guns. Why is that? I dunno, probably cause it's kinda been the standard for as long as I remember, when it comes to variables. Could also be because the majority of deer hunters in the country rarely see a deer in the woods farther than 100 yards, much less shoot at one farther than that. Thus, in reality, the only time they use their highest power(9X) is when they sightin' the gun in at the range, or when they're checking for horn. The majority of mid-west deer hunters do not go out west. Until recently, the majority of Whitetail deer hunting was done east of the Mississippi, where shooting distances are fairly close. many of those areas also had/have caliber/weapon restrictions that shortened shooting distances. Many states had/have shotgun only, so who needs more than 9X. Now some of these states have opened things up to handgun caliber rifles. Still, 9X is more than one needs. I have 2X7s on both the .357 and .44 carbines I use. More than enough for the 100-120 yards they are good for. Smaller targets require a more magnification. One reason a 3X9 is so popular for hunting squirrels is because the target itself is so small, even tho the distance one shoots at is generally quite short. While distances are greater, one reason higher powered scopes are popular among those that hunt PDs or varmints is because the target itself is so small. The whole animal is significantly smaller than the kill zone of a deer, so a killing shot needs to be more precise. Thus a higher powered scope is a necessity, not just a luxury. Those folks that spend several thousands of dollars on a guided western hunt is going to be willing to spend more on a higher powered scope than a guy that s going to use the scope for a coupla days a year out his back door. That guy is likely going to go to Wal-Mart or a big box store and get the most scope they can for the least money.......ultimately, this is generally the ol venerable 3X9. He has a $450 rifle with a $200 scope on it and it works just fine for his needs. This is the norm, thus why so many are happy. Not that folks that are outside that box should be happy with it. But they should not question the reasoning. One should use what works for them and not worry so much what works for others. Life and the hunting season is too short.
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Old August 26, 2018, 04:07 PM   #20
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The more it magnifies, the less bright the image will be for a given objective lens size. The reason a large objective lens is desirable is for maximum light gathering ability, i.e. a bright image. The 200 inch telescope at the Palomar observatory is not so much for magnification, it's to see incredibly dim objects in the universe.

I have a 2-7 power scope on my .22 and I do most of my shooting with the scope on its lowest magnification, only going to 7x when shooting groups on a bench rest.
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Old August 26, 2018, 04:57 PM   #21
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I let my hunting conditions choose my optics power. I hunt in the woods of Wisconsin and my longest deer kill to date was 80 yards. The scope was a 3 to 9 power Leopold VX 2.

I am to poor to afford cheap scopes.
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Old August 26, 2018, 05:53 PM   #22
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Some people may actually need more magnification for special needs. More often, I think that's an unnecessary excuse when what they really need is to correct some of their shooting habits. A bad flinch can make you miss the barn if you aren't inside it when you shoot at it. But a subtle flinch might not be as easily detected and can readily be denied. Therefore, more magnification will help you see the target better and we all know that it's hard to hit what you can't see. And then: "This ammo won't group worth a darn. I'll have to try another brand." Eventually, the equipment gets blamed, or the wind, or whatever else is convenient.
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No amount of magnification will overcome poor shooting. Some magnification is undoubtedly a good thing, but if you get too much of a good thing, it comes with some undesirable side effects. I use a 3-9x40 on a 270 Winchester and commonly leave it on 3x as a default setting for maximum field of view at short range for a quick shot.
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Old August 26, 2018, 06:26 PM   #23
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These days I’m a stand hunter. Shots over the last 10 years or so have been 60 yards to 350 on deer and up to 400 on hogs and coyotes. I prefer 4-16 or 4.5-14 magnification scopes, and generally keep them on 8 power. Years ago, when I did more walking while hunting, I preferred to keep the scopes set on 5 power. I don’t have any 3-9 scopes anymore, but it’s only because when I target shoot at 100 yards, I just put the scope on 14 power and don’t need my spotting scope. My 2-7’s are relegated to 22 rimfires. My fixed powers are in boxes in the barn.

My next scope will be a Leupold VX5 3-15 with an illuminated fire dot. Perfect magnification range for me, and the fire dot for shooting black hogs in dim light.
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Old August 27, 2018, 12:20 AM   #24
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The bottom line to what scope is the best is the one that allows you to hit the target the fastest and most accurate with. Has anyone here done any tests on the clock to verify any feelings about what scopes you get good hits with the fastest?
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Old August 27, 2018, 11:17 PM   #25
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"Getting hits the fastest" is not a universal measure of optics requirements or quality. In fact, in the dozens of deer and thousands of small critters I've killed, I doubt it's been a consideration enough times to even warrant thought.

Can I see the deer that comes out in the last moments of shooting light?

Can I see that woodchuck enough to tell which end I want to hit... or is that "woodchuck" someone's cat?

Is that a coyote or someone's dog?

Do I have enough clarity to tell if that brown patch behind the deer is another that I might wound or just my eyes playing tricks?

Those sorts of questions matter a lot more for hunting purposes than "getting hits the fastest".
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