If all you want out of your 22 lr rifle is to occasionally eliminate a raccoon-sized varmint around your home or to shoot beer cans at 25 yards, then most of the current scopes on the market today that are specifically manufactured for and labeled “rim fire” are a good choice.
They are usually only around $100 or slightly over and will consistently deliver enough reliability and accuracy to get those jobs done well.
However, if you are looking to have some serious fun with higher levels of precision like 50 yard head shots on rats, 25 yard eye shots, 200 yard shots on clay pigeons, competing in NRL or other precision rifle matches, or shooting half inch groups at 50 yards, you will need a more serious optic on your 22 lr.
The best rim fire scopes for target shooting and competition are not designated, or sold as, “rim fire” at all. They are scopes that were designed for center fire rifles with higher recoil and are therefore more robust, more dependable, and with higher magnification levels all at the lower end of the price range for center fire scopes.
If you are looking to have some serious fun with higher levels of precision like 50 yard head shots on rats, 25 yard eye shots, 200 yard shots on clay pigeons, or competing in NRL or other precision rifle matches, you will need a more serious optic on your 22 lr.
Of course your rifle, and your shooting ability, have to be capable of these shots but you won’t stand a chance if you are not using a serious optic.
“Serious” doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. Why not spend a little extra and have a scope that allows the ultimate in precision at both long and short range and can be used on any of your rifles at any time, including center fire.
Spending $300 on a scope like this makes much more sense to me than spending $100 on a one that is rimfire only, is very limited in it’s capability, is probably not a lifetime investment due to not being durable..
I wrote an article on the difference between rimfire and “other” scopes here that goes into detail on what typical rimfire scopes are designed and manufactured to do.
The article also lists the ones I consider to be best in that category. But there is a category of scopes that are just slightly more expensive but will 10x your rifle’s, and your, ability. Why settle for mediocrity.
What features make a serious rim fire scope?
Magnification – A scope must give you the ability to clearly see what you are shooting at. You can’t hit what you can’t see. When shooting for accuracy, I believe in having as much magnification as possible until it becomes impractical to find the target in the scope. Accuracy requires that you shoot at the center of the bullseye, not just the bullseye. Magnification that is to low to allow this is too low for the shot.
Parallax – Parallax is when looking through the scope the focal plane of the target is offset from the focal plane of the reticle. Parallax is an optical illusion that must be corrected for an accurate shot
I won’t get into detail around parallax here but you can find more information in this article. For the purposes of this article just know that a side parallax adjustment knob is what you want when shooting for precision or long range.
This allows fine tuning of the scope and reticle focus planes without sacrificing your shooting position. A must for higher performance shooting.
Light gathering ability – The ability of an optic to gather light so the shooter has a clear picture of what he is shooting at is of utmost importance in low or reduced lighting conditions. Shots taken on rainy, foggy, and twilight situations will be much more accurate.
The ability of an optic to gather light is mostly controlled by the size of the objective – the end opposite the eye piece. The larger the objective, the better the optic will gather light.
Tube diameter – This is another feature of an optic that also aids in gathering light to present a better picture for the shooter. The larger the tube diameter the better the performance.
External elevation and windage adjustments – The ability to make adjustments on the fly, or to dial in a known setting for a specific distance and wind speed is important to have for a serious rim fire optic.
First focal plane reticle – when the reticle is in the first focal plane, any hold over marks or gradutations will shrink and grow with the target as you change magnification. A second focal plane doesn’t so this, it remains the same size no matter where magnification is set. Thus, a ffp scope allows more accuracy for longer shots.
Reticle – simple and quick to read. Some reticles are so complicated they actually drive errors in shooter hold. Stay away from these.
Repeatability – The internal turret system must be robust enough to handle the recoil from any rifle and engineered so that it returns to it’s original zero when adjusted for different shooting distances and then returned.
Durability – Any serious scope should be able to withstand the rigors of hunting, traveling and just normal handling without losing repeatability
Below are my recommendations for scopes for serious rimfire shooters. I own or have shot and tested all of them. Are they the best scopes made, no. But they are the best scopes for rimfires that won’t cost a fortune and every one of them has all of the features listed above.
- Best 22 LR semi auto performance rifles 2020
- Differences between center fire and rimfire scopes
- Best all around 22 lr scopes
My recommendations for competitioin rim fire scopes
Being the owner of several Athlon scopes which are used on both rim fire and center fire rifles, I don’t think there is a better value in rifle scopes out there today.
This scope comes with many features offered only on higher end models costing $1000 and much more for less than $310 currently on Amazon. This BTR model boast a 30 mm tube, first focal plane reticle, side parallax adjustment, external elevation and windage adjustments, coated lenses for clarity and and a whopping 56 mm objective for super light gathering ability.
Price these features on a Leupold or other scope considered to be high end. You’ll find this combination of features to be in the $1000 to $2000 range. Athlon offers more expensive scopes in their ETR line that supposedly have better glass and upgraded turrets.
I don’t own any of the ETR scopes, all of mine are the BTR models because they give me what I need at a very low price. I do own top of the line Leupolds and Nikons but honestly after using the Athlons, there is not a lot of difference, at least in the ranges I shoot the most.
This could be because most of my Athlons are mounted on rim fire rifles. My higher end scopes tend to be on my center fires. I never take my rim fires beyond 400 yards. After that, really starting around 300 yards, ballistics just die so fast it is hard to hit anything.
I have shot a few of my center fire rifles at 1000 yards. One, a 25.06 Remington 700 varmint special was topped with the Athlon BTR highlighted above and there was no haziness what so ever. It held zero perfectly through many distance adjustments.
The scope pictured above features a variable 8-36x variable magnification range which for me is just about right for shooting precision groups at 50 yards and long range targets out to 300 yards or further. Athlon offers several different magnification ranges.
The illustration below displays the reticle for this specific scope and is a great example of how a first focal plane scope works.
The body of the scope is made of high grade aluminum and mine has withstood everything I have put it through which is a lot of hunting and traveling to competitions.
If you want to check out all of Athlons offerings, you can do that here.
At a cost of less than $250 on Amazon, The Primary Arms SLx3.5 is a huge bargain while still offering all of the components necessary for a high level of performance.
There are reticles offered in many different configurations. See them all here.
This particular reticle is in the first focal plane and is very easy to read accurately and quickly Not like some reticles that are so complicated that it’s easy to take the wrong hold and are very confusing to a shooter trying to make a fast shot.
The magnification range is 4-14×44 which is a little low for me. I would prefer to have a maximum of at least 25x for longer shots but I do own this scope and have shot it on several rifles. 14x is still enough to make consistent shots on clay pigeons at 200 yards.
Some may say that this much magnification is not needed and actually hurts accuracy because of the shaky sight picture. My argument with this is if you see a shaky sight picture at high magnification, you have the same amount of shakiness at low magnification, but now you can see it and work on a more steady technique.
The 44mm objective is plenty large enough for most shooters and gathers enough light for most shooting conditions. The lense clarity on the scope is so clear it actually makes up for the objective being below 50 mm.
The turrets have extra tight clicks and have proven to very repeatable during precision matches at several different distances. Construction is of 6063 aluminum and this scope can take the punishment. I have used it both on my ar15 in .223 and on several rim fires I use for hunting with no issues.
The Vortex Diamondback Tactical comes in a variety of magnification ranges starting at 3-9×40 with a price around $200 to the 6-24×50 recommended here which is about $400. Check the latest prices here on Amazon.
This scope has all of the features discussed above for a high level of performance including multi-coated lenses combined with a 50 mm objective to deliver a super clear and bright sight picture even in low light at dusk and dawn. When I first saw the clarity, I had to double check to make sure I had the right scope. It is comparable to $3000 scopes that I have owned.
It is easy to tell that the internals of this scope have been designed to be rugged by just turning the turret knobs. The clicks are super crisp and zero return is right on every time.
Below is an illustration of the MOA reticle. This reticle is a good combination of simplicity combined with enough detail to minimize guessing on holdover and hold offs.while in the first focal plane to allow a higher level of accuracy at high magnification.
It is nitrogen purged to ensure that the scope is fog and water proof with a 30 mm tube and features a side adjustment for parallax.
The only negative I have found is that the price is around $400 for the 6-24×50 magnification range which makes it a little more expensive than those recommended above.
But this scope has all of the features of optics priced in the 4 digit price range which still makes it one of the best values out there for the shooter. I own one of these and have never had a minute’s problem from it and will probably buy another one in the future.
Just because a scope is labeled as “rimfire” does not mean it is the best performer for rimfire rifles or the best value available in the market for the shooter. Will those with the rimfire label work for an average shooter?
Absolutely, but if you want to get the most out of your rimfire rifle you need a scope that will
Rifle scopes are expensive and as with everything else, shooters are always looking for the best value. Is it worth an extra $50 to $100 to have a scope that will last a lifetime, interchange to any rifle, even high recoil center fires, and allow you to hit targets at distances that you couldn’t do before? To me, the extra money is well worth it.
Happy shooting !