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How Much or How Little?


The Question is asked often, "How much magnification do I need for shooting at xxxx yards?"

This is a difficult question to answer. Many equipment choices hinge on what type of shooting you partake in. The choice a tactical shooter makes will not necessarily be the same as a benchrest shooter. The accuracy requirements are not the same and the targets are quite a bit different. Since this website is dedicated to tactical shooting we will look at magnification requirements from that angle.


COMBINED ARMS TRAINING CENTER CAMP FUJI, Japan – Corporal Dustin Hill, a scout sniper team leader with the 31st MEU, fires a round downrange from an M82A3 (Official United States Marine Corps. photo by Lance Cpl. Kevin M. Knallay)


The most common form of the magnification question is "What magnification do I need to shoot 1000yards?" The answer usually given is 10x. The problem is that this is an oversimplified answer. It does not take into account the type of target or the glass quality. Thankfully at 10x even some of the cheapest scopes on the market will resolve a 1.5-2 MOA target at 1000 yards. If you are shooting 20" steel plates at 1000 yards a cheap fixed 10 power may be adequate. For regularly sized targets, lower magnification is not an issue. Highpower shooters regularly engage targets at long range with iron sights. However they are not shooting at a 1 MOA target. The x-ring is not visible through the sights, but it is in a consistent position in relation to the the rest of the target. Since the x-ring is in the center of the target, centering the sights on the target will have them centered on the x-ring. The same is true of lower powered optics. If you are shooting for the center of a regular shaped object you can simply center the object in the crosshairs regardless of if you can actually see the middle of the target or not.

So 10x is fine? Well yes and no. The US Marine Corps used the Unertl 10x for many years with great success. Most Marines would have told you that they wished for more magnification when shooting long range. It aids in target ID as well as precision on targets that may be hard to see. Marines aren't shooting at white or black plates of steel or huge target carriages. They are shooting at targets that may be wearing camouflage or attempting to conceal themselves in their environment.

If money is a concern, then a fixed 10x is a good option. If you have the budget for a medium to high end variable, then there is no reason not to purchase a scope in the 4x-16x range. Not only will you have the ability to better identify your target at greater ranges, but you will also retain an acceptable field of view for closer targets and movers.

If you do not have the budget for a mid-level variable and you plan on purchasing a cheap variable, plan on not being able to use the high end of the magnification. On most cheap scopes the top end looks like the bottom of a milk glass. Magnification is nothing without resolution.

So why not a fixed 16x? This may seem like a great option and is asked frequently. This is where mirage steps in and ruins your day. Mirage is the distortion of the air cause by heat waves. It doesn't have to be hot to get mirage. There just has to be a temperature difference between the ground and air. More of a difference will cause more mirage. This is why you see it very prominently coming off of a paved road or a hot barrel. Higher magnification optics make mirage more visible. In some situations it is desirable to reduce the magnification to reduce the visibility of the mirage. If you have selected a fixed power, you eliminate this option.

Finally you have those of us who use our rifles for double duty. I shoot my work rifle for long range quite frequently. On days when I can dial up to 17x to observe impacts on long range steel it's a great advantage. This advantage becomes a horrendous liability if I am covering a barricaded gunman at 36 yards. Being able to reduce the magnification to 3.2x allows me to see more of my target and track a close range mover with greater accuracy than a high power optic will allow.

In conclusion, 10x is fine for long range shooting. A fixed 10x is too much for a LE rifle. 16x may be great for long range target shooting, but be prepared to fight mirage. Low-cost high magnification variables are almost always a poor choice. As always, define the mission then select the equipment. Do not let the equipment define the mission.