How Much Magnification For Long Range Shooting?

It seems that everyone has a different opinion or preference for the amount of magnification needed at different ranges in order to hit small targets.

Through any long range scope you should be able to see where the center of the cross hairs are inside the target you want to hit. If that target is large, less magnification is required.

If it is tiny, more magnification is necessary. For rim fire, I prefer a low to medium priced variable power scope with as much magnification as possible, as long as the scope is clear and repeatable.How much magnification for 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 yards?

Any time the question “how much magnification is required” is discussed it should be accompanied with a description of the target size and expectations of moa at the specific distance. Is it 4 ft by 4ft or an 8 inch circle ? Is it 1 MOA or 4 MOA at what distance. At 400 yards there is a big difference in the amount of magnification that will be needed to dependably hit a 4 x 4 target vs an 8 inch circle.

With our rim fire rifles we will be shooting at tiny targets like clay pigeons at 300 or golf balls at 200. Precision at long and short range is our goal. If you can’t see your cross hair intersection in the middle of that golf ball, you won’t be able to hit it unless you are terribly lucky.

For an example look at the image above. This magnification is fine if we are trying to shoot the center of the hollow red circle, but what if we were trying to hit the center of the small black dot in the upper left hand corner of the target”

If the cross hairs were on the center of this dot would you know it? Sure we could get close, but we could not put a shot in the middle of this dot repeatedly. We don’t have enough magnification to have the odds in our favor.

I understand that at 200-300 yards most rifles probably aren’t capable of putting a bullet in center of that little black dot (which appears to about an inch) consistently but accurizing a rim fire rifle is another topic covered in other articles on this site.

I also understand that the moa required to be that accurate at 200-300 yards might not be achievable but in order to improve we must strive for perfection. The point is, if you can’t see your cross hair in the middle of the target your are trying to hit, you stand very little chance of ever hitting it or coming close consistently. Your groups will be larger than they should be. So how do you see your target better…with more magnification.

How much magnification is too much?

If you speak with 50 shooters at the range and ask them how much magnification is too much, I would bet you will get a different answer from every single one of them.

Every one has their opinions and preferences. Below are some of the answers you might get. In my opinion they are all myths or statements that haven’t been thought through properly. Too much magnification makes the sight picture shaky

I have heard many experienced shooters say that too much magnification causes too much wobble in the sight picture. It makes them nervous, their heart rate increases as they struggle to stabilize what they are seeing and the whole process is exhausting.

By reducing magnification the sight picture is much more stable. If the sight picture is “shaky” at higher magnification, it is still “shaky” at lower magnification. You just can’t see it as well. This may help with the psychological issues like increased heart rate and tension but the wobble is still there. This is just fooling yourself.

The solution to this is to work on technique or until your technique improves to use a tool to properly stabilize your rifle for the shot you are about to take.

At the range, use of a good sled can completely stabilize your sight picture and help you produce very accurate shots. In the field, a bipod and rear bag can accomplish the same thing. If you are using these tools and still can’t stabilize the sight picture, your technique needs serious work.

Don’t sacrifice magnification which allows you to see what you are shooting at because your technique is wrong.Higher magnification reduces exit pupil diameter making your sight picture darker

The exit pupil is that circle or beam of light that you can see in the ocular lens (the eyepiece) if you were about 10 inches away from it. This shows you how much light is being transmitted to your eye and it can ultimately give you an improved and brighter image as you turn down the magnification setting. In other words a larger exit pupil diameter makes it easier to acquire the sight picture.

A smaller exit pupil diameter means you have to be more consistent at placing acquiring the distance of your eye from the scope in order to get the sight picture. This design fact is true with all scopes. One way to lessen the impact of magnification on exit pupil diameter is to use a scope with a larger objective lense.

A 50 mm objective will give you a very usable exit pupil diameter while providing more light gathering ability to improve sight picture in low light conditions.

When you look at the scope numbers, 4×32 means the scope is a fixed 4 power magnification and the objective lense is 32mm. 6-24×50 means the scope is a variable power and can be adjusted from 6 power to 24 power and anywhere in between and the objective lens is 50 mm. The 50 mm objective will collect more light than the 32mm in the first scope.

Probably the largest factor effecting light transmission for any scope is the quality of the glass. Scopes that are identical in every way except quality of the glass will have very different abilities at long range. The poorer quality glass will always be darker.

Don’t give up more magnification for this reason. Use a scope with a 50mm objective and decent quality glass instead.Higher magnification sacrifices field of view

With more magnification you have less field of view with any given scope. Field of view is how much of the target’s surroundings you can see. When you zoom in and the target becomes larger in the scope common sense tells you that you will able to see less of what is around the target with any given scope.

Different manufacturers of rifle scopes, for a given magnification, might have different sized fields of view. The field size is affected by both the focal length of its objective lens, and/or the size of the field stop at the eyepiece.

Many hunters don’t want to sacrifice field of view for good reason. If game is moving, it is much harder to keep the target in view with higher magnification or if there is a larger animal standing close by the one they are watching, it may escape their sight if magnification is too high. Having hunted for years, I understand this concern and the need.

I have always made sure when I purchase a scope that I get one that provides the best field of view I can find to start with. From there you have to realize that more magnificaiton will make the field of view smaller. Field of view is just one option that should be considered when purchasing a scope. I am always looking to maximize it, but not by sacrificing magnification.

My rimfire rifles are all for long range shooting. Magnification is much more important than field of view but at when set at lower magnification, field of view is more than acceptable.

Based on my experience with over 30 years pushing rim fire rifles to the max, none of these issues are worth sacrificing magnification for. If can’t see the exact spot you want to hit, you won’t hit it.

Are fixed power scopes more accurate than variable power?

Based on my lifetime of experience hunting and shooting rifles in competition, I would say no. Fixed power scopes are no more accurate than variable power scopes at an acceptable level of quality. Very cheap variable scopes will not be clear at high power but neither will a fixed power that is just as cheap.

There are many shooters that may disagree with this and for their shooting objectives they may be right. In my case though, shooting rim fires out to 500 yards, I have never seen a difference between variable and fixed accuracy as long as we are comparing apples to apples.

As stated earlier, glass quality and other factors can make a huge difference. I would say this might be what some are seeing when they make this statement. With variable power scopes i have ability to adjust sight picture to one that best allows me to be successful with the shot I am attempting.

I will say that any scope that won’t repeat and / or doesn’t hold it’s zero during zoom or from shot to shot is not one that I want. If you have one of these, send it back or sell it. There is something wrong with it. I can also say that I have tested this on several variable power scopes and out of 4 tested, I found one that wasn’t repeatable.

It was a super cheap Japanese model that had a price tag of around $35. I intentionally included this one in the test. It’s zero would change as you zoomed and even while shooting at the same magnification. You can’t really expect much out of that kind of scope.

It belonged to a friend of mine who bought it just to see what it was capable of. But you can’t say that too much magnification is what caused this. The true source of the problem was just that it was a piece of junk. At the same time, I tested other non big brand, lower priced scopes in the $200 range, variable scopes that after having elevation and windage adjustments made 4 times, returned back to zero when those adjustments were dialed in.

All also held their zero through the entire range of magnification. Here is the one on Amazon that performed the best. I have two of these Primary Arms scopes now and plan to have more.

So what is the answer?

We are shooting rimfire rifles for fun, or for hunting which is also fun. Our needs for magnification will vary considerably from tiny targets at long distance to tiny targets at 25 yards to larger targets anywhere in between and further.

Our mission is not specific but varied. When I build a little rim fire tack driver, I build it so it is flexible for all situations. I am not interested in being perfect at just one.

For that reason my answer to the question on how much magnification is needed at any distance is as much as you can get with a clear sight picture but with the ability to reduce it with the turn of a knob when / if needed to give me better odds off pulling of the shot.

In other words, I recommend variable power scopes for our purpose. I shoot with the belief that if I can’t see my target well, I certainly can’t hit it well. In fact after 30 years of shooting, I can’t think of a situation where I would not recommend a variable power scope.

Maybe if we were into rim fire bench rest shooting where distances don’t change, ok, fixed power makes sense but only if that is all the rifle will be used for, but I wouldn’t plan on doing much else with the rifle. I found low to mid priced variable scopes to be very repeatable, reliable, and accurate.

Why would I want to limit my capability by choosing a fixed power that will do one job well. In rim fire shooting, I want to do all jobs well. Of course we don’t want scopes of poor quality with bad glass that are not repeatable and won’t hold zero.

For that reason I don’t recommend the bargain basement scopes you see advertised because some are just junk. But there are many lower priced scopes out there that will accomplish everything we need as rim fire shooters, including extaordinary magnification.

Most of my rimfire scopes are variable 6-24 range with 50mm objectives. Another reason we are able to get away with lower priced scopes is because our rifles have no recoil. Check out this article if you are looking to purchase a new rim fire scope. It will walk you through what I think a good rim fire scope is before you buy.