Scope Settings For Whitetails

Ron Spomer |


At 4x small tremors and wobbles — which could amount to significant distances far downrange — are hard to see. At 15X you’ll notice every quiver and either hold more steadily or forego the shot. You might even spot intervening limbs you’d miss at 4X or detect the wind blowing branches far downrange, alerting you to the need to recalculate wind deflection.

But… More shooting opportunities are probably lost to too much power than too little. Shooters routinely carry their guns with scopes set on a high power, sometimes because they think more is better, often because they cranked the scope up to admire the view or check something out (which for safety reasons should be done only with a binocular, which can’t accidentally fire when you realize that funny looking “deer” is really your Uncle Andy). When a deer suddenly pops up at 20 to 100 yards, the high-power scope user starts cussing all that wonderful magnification. He either can’t find the deer in the scope or finds only hair.

That’s an easy problem to avoid. Just get in the habit of always carrying your rifle with scope power turned to or near the bottom of its power range. You usually have time to safely, without alerting your subject, turn up scope power. You less often have time and distance to turn it down without spooking the deer.

But that isn’t the only problem inherent in big scopes. As magnification increases, field of view decreases. You may cram the entire buck into the view at 10X, but if he starts running, can you keep him there? And if you’re forced to take a running shot to finish off a wounded deer, can you establish a sufficient lead without swinging the scope clear off your target? You need to see enough area around the deer to establish the necessary lead of half-a deer, one deer, etc. depending on range to target. This is a lot easier done at 2X to 6X than 8X to 24X.

Then there are the issues of follow through, calling your shot and seeing the result of it. Recoil will throw any rifle off target. At low scope power with sufficient field of view, you can usually keep a deer somewhere in the scope when the bullet hits — or misses. Seeing dirt fly under his brisket or over his back provides you with useful information. Seeing the bullet strike the shoulder does, too. With too much scope power, you miss all this. Questions like “What happened? Did I hit him? Where did he go?” are all to common in hunting fields.

Given the optical quality, functionality and dependability of today’s highest quality variable scopes, there is little reason to settle for a straight 4X scope. But the old traditionalists are right. That 4X can do it all — without compromising any shooting opportunities inside of 400 or 500 yards. And how often do any of us shoot that far?

Bottom line? Buy that big variable if you must. But train yourself to use it judiciously. That 2X to 4X bottom end isn’t just the starting point. Sometimes it’s the best point.