Choosing an Air Rifle Scope
Many modern air rifles are finely engineered machines. With most countries imposing power limits, such as 12 ft. lbs. in the UK, manufacturers have focused on producing rifles that are consistent and supremely accurate. Some air rifles are sold with open sights – a traditional notch at the front and ‘v’ at the back, and good accuracy at shorter ranges is achievable. However, to fully exploit their potential for accuracy, the right telescopic sight is essential.
Like many other pieces of equipment, the range of telescopic sights is bewildering not only in terms of choice but budget too. We’d need page upon page to cover every detail, so our aim here is to provide you with the basics.
The magnification on some scopes is fixed, usually at 4x or 6x, though higher fixed magnifications are possible. Some competition disciplines stipulate the use of fixed magnification scopes only, but for most other shooting situations the flexibility of variable magnification is best. Most common are scopes with 3-12x, 4-16x and 6-24x magnification ranges, which cover most airgun scenarios. However, once again, higher levels and ranges are available. Zooming in and out of a target is usually achieved by twisting a collar at the back of the scope, just forward of the eye.
The size of the forward most lens, or objective lens, is expressed in millimetres. 32, 40, 42, 50 and 56mm are most common. A scope that is sold as 4-16×50 is one that has a magnification range of 4 to 16x and an objective lens of 50mm.
Ocular lens and eye relief
The lens located closest to the eye is known as the ocular lens. The distance between a shooter’s eye and the ocular lens is known as ‘eye relief’. Some scopes require the user to put their eye right against the ocular lens and are known as ‘zero eye-relief’ scopes. To avoid injury, such scopes are intended only for pre-charged pneumatic air rifles and other rifles that have no recoil. All other telescopic sites require a gap, or eye-relief, of several inches.
All but the very cheapest scopes enable you to adjust the focus on the reticle – the black lines which you place against your target – by twisting the ocular lens.
Most scopes give the ability to make adjustments to address parallax error which is the effect caused when the position or direction of a target appears to differ when looked at from different positions. Parallax adjustment, usually achieved by turning a dial on the side (often indicated as side focus or ‘SF’) of a scope or a collar on the objective lens addresses the issue and brings targets into sharper focus. Some scopes have fixed parallax, which is fine for airgun use as long as the parallax setting allows targets at typical airgun ranges to be in focus.
Reticle and mildots
The reticle is the name give to the lines that are visible through a scope and are placed over the target, and are sometimes referred to as ‘cross-hairs’. There are many different designs, varying from a simple vertical and horizontal lines to more elaborate designs. The lines on many reticles have small dots, lines or numbers. These markings are precisely placed to provide alternative aim points other than the point at which the vertical and horizontal lines cross. They exist to help shooters determine the extent to which they need to contend with the amount that a pellet will drop over longer distances. The markings on most scopes are measured in ‘Minutes of Angle, most commonly shown as ‘MOA’. Some scopes have an illuminated reticle (IR) feature in which part or all of the reticule can be illuminated to help shooting in low light conditions.
Air Rifle Scope brands
Family owned British company Hawke is one of the best known brands of telescopic sights and other sporting optics. Its range is huge and covers just about every specification and budget. Although its Airmax range is made specifically for airgunners, many of its other scopes are also suitable and include: Vantage, Endurance, Sidewinder and Frontier.
Check out our full guide to the Hawke Scopes range.
Marketed by MTC Optics in Staffordshire, UK, the range is comprehensive and though an excellent choice for rimfire and centrefire shooters, has been developed with airgunners in mind. Models include: Mamba Pro, Mamba Lite, Mamba Ultralite, Cobra F1, King Cobra, Viper Pro, SWAT Prismatic and Genesis.
Nikko Stirling Scopes
Australian Malcom Fuller founded the Stirling Scope Company Ltd. in Tokyo, Japan in 1956. Since then the company, now known as Nikko Stirling, has become one of the most recognised and respected brands around the world with a huge range for airgunners as well as rimfire, centrefire and big bore shooters. Models include: Diamond, Target Master and Panamax.
Czech company Meopta manufactures optical equipment for industrial and military applications as well as sporting uses. Best known for its fixed magnification scopes, its products are not often used by airgunners.
Starting off as a fishing tackle manufacturer in the 1950, Tasco scopes were a must-have for airgunners in the 1980s in particular. Today, its air rifle range of scopes represent affordable quality.
Under the Cobalt brand, AGS is known for producing a range of affordable variable and fixed magnification telescopic sights that are popular with airgunners.
Aztec Optics offers a range of mid-ranged scopes with variable magnification, including a first focal plane option.
Air Pistol Scopes
Scopes for air pistols are designed to be used at arm’s length and usually have lower magnification ranges and smaller objective lenses.
Night Vision Rifle Scopes and Day/Night Scopes
Scopes that allow airgunners, predominantly hunters, to shoot once the sun has gone down have become increasingly popular, and cheaper, to the point that few use traditional lamping techniques now. Such scopes fall into three main categories:
As the name suggests, digital scopes generate an electronic image of the shooting landscape rather than rely on traditional glass. Used in conjunction with an infrared torch, they are excellent in the dark and although they are compromise compared to glass, image quality is improving all the time and they are more than adequate in day time as well. In addition, they are usually full of features and functions such as the option of changing the colour and style of the reticle as well as the ability to record video, take photos and even stream content to another device over Bluetooth and wifi. Some are also available with a built in laser range finder, or the ability to attach one as an accessory. Popular brands include: ATN X-Sight 4K Pro, PARD NV008 and NV008LRF and products from Sightmark and Yukon.
Thermal scopes are the most expensive form of night shooting scope running into thousands of pounds. Whilst they can be used on air rifles, they are intended more for big bore, centre fire and rimfire use. As you’d expect, thermal scopes detect heat and highlight targets in black, white or any of the other colour settings that are usually available. The more expensive products have higher specification sensors and provide sharper images. As with most night shooting, judging distances is an issue many airgunners struggle with. Top end thermal scopes have integrated laser range finders to help.
Night vision add-ons
Whereas digital and thermal scopes replace traditional glass scopes, add-ons attach to the ocular lens to enable night vision use. Add-ons take two basic forms. Some like those made by Nite Site, Night Vision UK and Digital Night Stalker attach a camera to the ocular lens. An infrared torch is used in conjunction with a viewing screen usually sited on top of the scope. To use, shooters have to adopt a heads-up position and use their rifle on some kind of support – either shooting sticks or a bipod. Such systems are an excellent choice for rat shooting as they allow the shooter to scan large areas without having to continuously put the scope to their eye. Other add-on systems such as the PARD NV007 also attach to the ocular lens or a regular scope and use infrared but allow the shooter to look through the scope as usual.
Using an air rifle without a scope
Whereas nearly all air rifles used to come with open sites as standard, fewer do so today as most manufacturers anticipate their customers using a telescopic sight. Regarded by many as essential for beginners to the sport in particular, open or iron sights usually comprise a post-type foresight on the very tip of the barrel and a notch rear sight located towards the rear of the action. To use, the shooter must line up the target, the post and the notch. Adjustment is achieved by moving the notched rear sight left, right, up and down.
Mounting an air rifle scope
Telescopic sights are attached to air rifles via a set of mounts. Most air rifles either have a dovetail rail – a set of grooves on top of the action – or a picatinny/weaver rail which looks like a series of ridges. You will need the right mounts for the rail on your rifle. In addition, most scopes have either a one inch or 30mm tube so you’ll need to make sure your mounts have the right diameter for your scope. Mounts vary in design as well; most comprise two separate mounts, though one piece versions are available too. They also vary in height to accommodate different size scopes, so make sure you have a set that will position your scope as close to the rifle as possible but give good eye alignment and clear obstructions such as your magazine. If using a scope on a break barrel rifle, make sure the objective lens clears the barrel when cocking the action. To attach your scope to your rifle, firstly make sure the rifle is on a secure and level surface. Unscrew the upper and lower parts of the mounts and attach the lower part to the rifle but don’t screw them down too hard just yet as you may need to adjust their position. Next, place your scope in the mounts allowing for an approximate eye relief. Attach the upper parts of the mounts and screw them down. At this stage allow the scope to rotate and move forwards and backwards so you can set eye relief correctly and ensure the reticle is level. Once you’re happy, tighten everything down. Don’t over tighten the mounts around the tube of the scope as you could cause damage. Every now and then check your mounts to make sure they are still tight.
Best budget air rifle scopes under £100
Due to the relatively short ranges airguns are used over, budget scopes that are not engineered to the same level as scopes intended to longer distances are often more than adequate, and there are plenty of good options. Scopes with fixed parallax are fine, but check to make sure they are capable of focusing on targets at airgun ranges. And fixed magnification is also perfectly adequate. However, for a £100 budget, it is possible to buy scopes that have variable magnification as well as adjustable parallax.
Take a look at:
Hawke Vantage AO 4×32
A once inch chassis scope with a fixed 4x magnification rate and the ability to adjust the focus down to just 10 metres.Capped adjustment turrets and a clean mildot reticle make this a superb starter scope which has the additional benefit of Hawke’s lifetime warranty.
Hawke Vantage AO 3-9×40
Another from Hawke’s Vantage range, this scope benefits from a 40mm objective lens as well as variable magnification from 3x to 9x. In addition, parallax adjustment is achieved via an objective lens collar and there are two reticle design options. All backed with a lifetime warranty.
AGS Cobalt 3-9×40.
With parallax fixed at 35 yards, this scope is designed specifically with airgunners in mind. The one inch chassis houses a 40mm objective lens and variable 3-9x magnification.
London Armoury Resurrection 4-16×50
With a 50mm objective lens, 4-16x available magnification and the ability to adjust parallax via an objective lens collar, the London Armoury Resurrection 4-16×50 offers a lot for the money
How to zero or sight-in an air rifle scope
Some people are confused by the process needed to zero a telescopic sight, but really isn’t that hard. Having attached your scope and made sure it is level with the right eye-relief, attach a target to in the middle large piece of card, wood or any other kind of safe and suitable backstop. Place your target at the distance you want to zero your scope. From a rested position, shoot a group of say five pellets. Assuming your set up is correct, your rifle is performing as it should and your technique is sound, the pellets will group somewhere on the card or wood, even if they miss the target itself. If you miss the card completely, try moving it closer to achieve an initial zero that you can refine at a longer distance later. Scopes have two turrets – one on the top which adjusts elevation (up and down), and one usually on the right hand side that adjusts windage (left and right). Some turrets have screw on caps that must first be removed, others have exposed turrets that can be locked into position. If your pellets grouped low of the point you aimed at, rotate the top turret in the ‘up’ direction. Similarly, if your group is right right of your aimpoint, rotate the windage turret in the ‘left’ direction. On most scopes a single click on the turret will change the point of impact a quarter of an inch at 100 yards. Once you have made your adjustment, fire off another five pellets and see where they group. From then on it’s a case of repeating the process until you have moved the turrets up/down and left/right to achieve accuracy.
On occasion it is possible to run out of adjustment via the turrets on your scope. The problem rarely occurs with a decent set of mounts, but it’s not unheard of. In the first instance, try taking the mounts off your scope and rifle and re-mounting everything – it’s also worth swapping the mounts around front and back. Make sure you tighten the mount screws evenly and try zeroing again. If the issue persists you can shim your mounts. Small pieces of paper or pieces cut from a fizzy drink tin can be used to pack out one of the mounts. If you need to raise the point of impact pack out the front mount. If you need to lower the point of impact, pack out the rear mount. Often just one piece of paper or tin can will do the job.
Air Rifle Scope Cameras
Although there are some purpose made scope cameras, the most popular method of recording is to use a cradle or mount that attaches a smartphone to your scope so you can record video footage through it. Check out products made by Side Shot and Eagle Vision. Both companies also make cradles that will accept a Go Pro or similar camera. Digital scopes like ATN’s X-Sight 4K Pro and the PARD NV008 and NV008LRF have an inbuilt ability to record video and take still photos.
Airgun scope FAQs
Can you shoot an air rifle without a scope?
Yes, absolutely. Some air rifles are equipped with open or iron sights. And if you don’t want to use a scope consider a red dot or laser sight instead.
Do air rifles come supplied with scopes?
Some budget packages come complete with a scope and much more, such as a bipod, gun bag and even pellets in some cases. In addition, some gun retailers will put together a combo package comprising gun, scope and other accessories.
Can you use a standard rifle scope on an air rifle?
Yes, though some scopes intended for rimfire, centre fire and big bore use have a fixed parallax that will not focus at typical airgun distances. Always check the fixed parallax distance before buying.
Do fixed mag air rifle scopes have parallax set?
Not all of them. Some fixed magnification scopes have the ability to vary the parallax.