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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Is it time to upgrade your riflescope?

Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, July 12, 2008.)

If a cheap scope has been riding on your rifle for a while
now, and if your eyes aren’t what they used to be,
it’s probably time to think about an upgrade in optics.

When it comes to hunting optics, some writers sound like elitists. They say that if you spend $500 for your deer rifle, you should spend at least that much on a scope.

This recommendation usually comes from people who take multiple hunting trips each year, and whose livelihood is at risk if a trip is spoiled thanks to an inferior scope. They say they can’t figure out why a guy puts a $50 scope on a $500 gun.

But it doesn’t take a PhD in economics to figure it out. It’s as simple as this -- some hunters don’t have the money to spring for high end optics. They get a new gun and want to hunt with it now, not after waiting to save up another $500 for a scope. So, they reach for the scope on a shelf near the bottom.

Why should anyone tolerate wasted money and wasted opportunities due to a scope not being up to snuff? The answer is that for lots of hunters inexpensive scopes do just fine for a while – until age begins to creep up on eyes that have literally seen better days.

Youthful eyes sometimes don’t see the difference between premium glass and inferior optics. Part of it is inexperience. Even a cheap scope can be impressive when you have little to compare it to and look through it inside a well lighted store. But as eyes age, and hunters have more opportunity for comparison, they begin to see what they’re missing.

When you hit your forties, the irises in your eyes don’t open up as widely as they did in your twenties. Literally, the windows that once were bright now have the curtains partly drawn. The iris of a youthful eye opens up to about 7 mm in total darkness. In an older man, it might not open up to more than 4 mm. What does that have to do with a scope?

Simply put, a thing called “exit pupil” (the spot of light entering your eye) is important. Your eye needs more light than some scopes give you. Add to that the inferior, uncoated lenses inside the scope, and the light bouncing around due to poor interior design, and you lose too much light to make your scope useful that last 10 minutes of shooting time.

If that’s when a buck shows himself, and it often is, then you can’t see him well enough to shoot him. You need a better scope.

Besides the inability of an inferior scope to transmit enough light during the beginning and ending minutes of a hunting day, there are more reasons to avoid inferior glass on your rifle. Some distort the image you’re looking at. A few cause eye fatigue. Many are blurry around the edges. Often variable power scopes change point of impact when you turn the power ring. Lots of scopes have crosshairs that don’t move consistently. And if a scope lets water in, you might as well be looking through the bottom of a pop bottle.

If a cheap scope has been riding on your rifle for a while now, and if your eyes aren’t what they used to be, it’s probably time to think about an upgrade in optics.

Fortunately, the marketplace now gives you plenty of brands to consider, and better technology has produced some very excellent choices that perform better than the top brands of 20 or 30 years ago, at far less money.

I’m going on an early fall bear hunt in Ontario in a few weeks. I’m taking two guns. One is a Savage 10-ML, a modern muzzleloader. The other is a .30-30. I’ve never killed anything with a .30-30, but for sentimental reasons I’m taking an old Westernfield lever-action that belonged to my brother.

I’ll need to be able to shoot right to the last drop of daylight, so I’m upgrading the scope to an Alpen Apex. Alpen is a brand that entered the market in 1997, and it’s competing very well with names that you’ve heard are some of the best, for far less money.

I’ll let you know how it does.


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