Why Is My Rifle Scope Blurry?

Have your ever attempted to shoot a friends rifle and once you looked through the scope, you wondered how in the world anyone could see what they were shooting at with this piece of equipment?

Inexperienced shooters sometimes will suffer for years before being taught the right way to set up and focus a scope. Others will try and save a few bucks by buying one of the cheap China specials. Not that China doesn’t make some good optics but the cheap ones are just that……cheap.

When I say cheap I mean the $50 variable power variety. I have a few scopes made in China and they work really well on rimfires. The truth is there are several reasons why a rifle scope could be blurry ranging from incorrect adjustment of the scope, human error, human eyesight, and factors caused by the environment.

The only way to find the true source of the problem is to step through the possible issues one at a time. In the end, you will know what the problem is, or you will know you have a bad or defective scope.

Some of the steps will seem too simple to experienced shooters so just skip down the list if you want. Realize though that there might be something very simple you are overlooking. All of us are human and capable of that. Let’s get started.


It goes without saying, make sure both lenses are clean. Use a glass cleaner and a good micro fiber cloth to accomplish this. Blow any hard particles off of the lenses before using the cloth. You would be surprised how easy it is to scratch lenses, especially cheaper ones.

If you have used a dirty hunting coat or an old towel you carry around in the back of the truck to clean you scope previously, this could be part of the problem. Once lenses are scratched, especially over and over, they will never be clear again.

But don’t throw the scope out yet, there are more things that could be this issue. Just clean the lenses and check to see if the problem persists. If it does, let’s move on.


Don’t laugh but I have seen people complain about a blurry scope and get so aggravated they were considering returning it, or if was an older one, just threaten to throw it away only to find out the front sight or some accessory they had installed on the rifle was in front of the scope objective lense and interfering with the sight picture.

This happens mostly an ARs where you have so many possibilities for options and a flat top rail, It’s not hard to get so much stuff mounted on them, even if you think you are clear, you are not.

Removal of the sight or whatever is causing the blurring is one option. The other is higher, or lower rings, whatever the situation calls for. Know that higher rings can cause other issues.

Reticle focus

Look through your scope at a white or light colored wall. You are checking to make sure the reticle is in focus. Not the down range sight picture but reticle only. If it is clear and sharp you are ready to move on the next step.

If it isn’t clear and sharp you will need to adjust the focus until it is. If your scope has no reticle focus ring and the reticle is not clear and sharp, the problem may be with your eye sight. If you are absolutely positive your eye sight is good and the reticle is not clear, you have a scope issue.

Your choice now is to return it to where you purchased it, throw it away, or get an eye exam. If your scope has a reticle focus adjustment, it will be on the eye piece or diopter end of the scope. There will be a locking that locks it into place once the adjustment is in the correct position for your eye. Unlock the ring. It should be only finger tight.

Make sure you can turn the diopter. It will be threaded on very fine threads to allow exact adjustment. Turn the adjustment ring until the reticle is crystal clear. Then take your head away from the scope for a second, then check it again.

Keep doing this until the reticle is sharp and in focus immediately when you look through the scope. Again, don’t yet worry about the blurriness down range, just the reticle.


I won’t go into detail here on what parallax is but you can check out this article that will explain it in detail. Here we will just worry about getting it adjusted correctly in order to try and clear up our scope’s sight picture.

Your adjustment for parallax will either be on the objective end of the scope, with distance graduations, or on the side of the scope opposite the windage adjustment knob. Below is an example of what side parallax adjustment would look like.

Here is an example of where your objective parallax adjustment would be located. The ring should show distance graduations.

After the reticle focus has been adjusted correctly and locked down turn the parallax adjustment ring or knob until you see the down range view get clear. Usually the graduations on the ring should be close to the actual distance to what you are focusing on but not always.

Don’t worry if the numbers on the ring or the knob don’t agree with the true distance. To ensure parallax is adjusted correctly, move your head around while looking through the scope. If you see the crosshairs move from the center of the target, parallax is not yet right.

Keep adjusting until you get that scenario. The target focus downrange should then be clear. If that is not the case there are a couple of things left that could cause the issue.


No mirage is not an oasis in the desert on a really hot day, but it does have something to do with heat. Mirage is the heat waves rising from the ground that you can see on a hot or warm day through a rifle scope. These heat waves cause distortion in the scope and sight picture.

Even the best scopes will show mirage because it is an actual phenomena. The longer the range you are viewing and the higher the magnification setting on your scope, the more distortion you will see because of this. The picture below is an example of minor mirage.

Mirage is not all bad. Experienced long range shooters can use the angle and direction of the heat waves to help read the wind. This is another article altogether. If you would like more information on the subject click here.

You should be able to tell pretty easily if your blurry scope is just blurry or are you seeing a mirage. Mirage will usually also show distortions that look like water pools on a hot road. You’ve probably seen that before. A bad scope that is just blurred won’t show this.If this is the case get rid of the scope or get it fixed.

Blurry only at high magnification

All you need do is check the forums to find out that there are a lot of people who say their scopes lose clarity at high magnification levels. Supposedly this ranges for high end to lower end optics. If that is the case, I would guess, and that’s all it is, that these people are seeing mirage or the parallax is not adjusted correctly. If neither one of those are the issue I would say your scope is bad.

I have a $2000 leupold variable that goes up to 24x and I can tell you that the only time I see distortion is when mirage is present. I also have a $220 UTG that goes to 24x with no clarity issues. In fact, the UTG may be more clear than the Leupold.


If your scope is clean, there is no interference, both the reticle and the parallax are adjusted correctly, your eyesight is not the problem, mirage is not the issue and your scope is still blurry at any range, you have a malfunctioning scope or one with very cheap glass.

You can confirm this if you have recently seen your groups spread apart, it won’t hold zero, the clicks don’t sound like they used to before the issue started, you shake the scope and hear parts rattling inside, and / or you can see obvious water or condensation on the inside when you look through it normally.

Rifle scopes are fairly robust but can be broken by dropping them or even when placed on a hard surface when transporting and the scope is subject to a lot of vibration. If you haven’t been able to identify and address the source of the blurriness with this information, your scope is broken and will have to be replaced. You can get a good plan on how to pick a long range rimfire scope from this article. Happy shooting.