Richard Saunders: An Experts View
All of our reviews are based upon Richard Saunders opinions. Richard has been shooting air rifles for nearly forty years. Today he hunts and carries out pest control on more than a thousand acres spread across different locations in the south of England. He is a regular contributor to Airgun Shooter magazine, writing mainly hunting features and product reviews, as well The Airgun Show on YouTube.
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Over the last few decades, the pace of technological advancement has seen air rifles, particularly pre-charges pneumatics (PCPs), capable of phenomenal levels of accuracy at ranges we would never have thought possible in the past.
At the same time, many of them become increasingly expensive with some models approaching the £3,000 mark. For many that’s simply too much – either from a fiscal reality or need – and in reality, many shooters are happy with a rifle that costs considerably less. In fact, here at Alpha Militaria we have reviewed several ‘affordable’ rifles with a price tag of less than £500.
Most manufacturers assume that we will want to put a telescopic sight on our rifles, even the affordable ones, and don’t bother to provide good old fashioned open sights. But, of course, that means you will have to shell out more money in order to use your rifle.
Unlike air rifles, most telescopic sights look very similar and yet they can vary in cost as much as air rifles do. We’ve reviewed some high end scopes such as the ZEISS Conquest V4 and MTC Optics Atom, and they are fantastic products, both costing many £hundreds. And, if you’ve invested in a top end, high performance rifle you’ll probably want something similar in terms of scope.
But for many, it just doesn’t make sense to spend big money on a scope for a rifle that costs £400. As we’ve shown in our reviews on YouTube, many such rifles are capable of levels of accuracy that would compare with more expensive rifles. As a result, many airgunners find themselves wondering if they can find a budget scope that will go with their budget rifle and yet enable it to perform to its potential.
Thankfully, the resounding answer is ‘Yes’. In the world of affordable scopes there is some real rubbish out there, but there are also some great products to be had for not much money. In fact, many of them would grace even top end rifles as well.
We’ve rounded up three scopes on sale with a price tag of less than £150. Before we get into them, we should go through some of the basics that you will want to consider before making a purchase.
In practical terms, parallax adjustment is the ability to focus on your target. Generally speaking, scopes are either ‘fixed parallax’ or ‘adjustable parallax’. Bearing in mind that most airgunners operate at distances of 20-40 yards, a fixed parallax scope is fine if the parallax setting is set at, say 30 yards. However, if the parallax is fixed at 50 or 100 yards, as is often the case, you will not be able to focus on targets at closer distances. As the name suggests, scopes with an adjustable parallax feature enable you to focus on targets regardless of how far away or close it is. Generally, this is via a turret style dial, usually on the left, or via a collar on the objective lens. Affordable scopes tend to make use of the latter. In addition to enabling you to focus, an adjustable parallax feature will also provide an approximate idea of range.
Field of view
Field of view, or FOV, is the terms used to describe the breadth of view, or landscape, you will be able to see through your scope. The lower the magnification you use, the wider the field of view you will be able to see. And of course, the higher the magnification, the narrower the landscape. As a result, people tend to use low magnification settings to scan and locate targets, and then zoom in once the target has been acquired. Manufacturers provide a FOV in metres at 100 metres on the lowest and highest magnification setting for a scope. So a 3x setting might provide a field of view of 15 metres at 100 metres distance whereas at 9x magnification the FOV could five metres.
Objective and ocular lenses
The lens at the front of the scope, that is to say furthest from your eye, is the objective lens, the size of which is given in mm. So a 3-9x40 scope has a magnification range of 3-9x and a 40mm objective lens. Make sure that you buy a set of mounts that are high enough to ensure the objective lens will clear the barrel. The ocular lens is the lens you look through. Most scopes have an ocular adjustment ring which will allow you to focus the reticle.
The magnification on a scope is either fixed or variable. There’s nothing wrong with fixed magnification, usually at 4x or 6x, but many opt for a variable option. One thing to bear in mind is that affordable scopes, certainly those at the price we are looking at, will be second focal plane scopes. As a result, the magnification you use will affect the point of impact on your target. In other words, you will find that your pellet will strike the target slightly different at 3x and 16x.
The scopes we as airgunners use are based on designs that were originally developed for recoiling rifles. As a result, they require a gap between your eye and the ocular, or rear, lens to avoid injury when the rifle recoils. Although most PCPs have little to no recoil, many of the scopes we put on them still require this gap, or ‘eye relief’ to be present. Typically, eye relief is between three and four inches and will vary slightly to different users. There are some scopes that have much shorter eye relief – known as ‘zero eye relief scopes’ – enabling you to almost touch the rear lens. They are intended only for non-recoiling rifles and should not be used with spring piston air rifles.
Windage and elevation
All scopes need to be adjusted to ensure that your shots strike (point of impact, or ‘POI’) where you aim (point of aim or ‘POA’). On traditional glass scopes, this is achieved via two turrets. The turret located on the top of the scope adjusts the POI up and down, known as ‘elevation’. And the right hand turret adjusts POI left and right, known as ‘windage’. The adjustment dials are exposed on some scopes. On others, especially affordable scopes, they are covered by a cap that you will have to remove, usually by unscrewing. Each turret will show an arrow indicating left and right, or up and down, to enable you to adjust your point of impact to coincide with your point of aim. The increments, or clicks, will usually be graduated in ‘minutes of angle’ (MOA) or milliradians (mills). For example, a single click on an MOA scope will equate to shifting the point of impact a quarter of an inch at 100 yards. In practice, most airgunners will make their adjustments on a trial an error basis rather than trying to calculate how many quarter of an inch turns they need at 30 yards.
Also referred to as ‘cross-hairs’, the reticle on a scope is the name given to the lines you will see when you look through the ocular, or rear, lens. They come in various styles and designs ranging from two plain lines that intersect in the middle, to more elaborate designs with dots and lines. These dots and lines are intended to provide references for when you need to aim above or below your target at different distances to accommodate the trajectory your pellet will follow. Some scopes have an illuminated reticle feature. Turning a rheostat dial, usually a turret on the left side of the scope, cycles through different brightness levels, allowing you to more easily acquire your target in low light conditions. Note that ‘low light’ does not mean you can shoot in the dark!
Tube or chassis
As name suggests, the tube, or chassis, on a scope refers to the main cylinder that makes up most of the length of a scope. In the main part, scopes have either a 25mm or 30mm tube, and some have a 34mm tube. Make sure you buy the right mounts to fit your scope’s tube.
Lens coatings and nitrogen purging
Manufacturers will coat their lenses to improve performance by increasing light transfer and reducing glare for example. In most cases, scopes will have multiple layers. Manufacturers also purge their scopes with nitrogen to reduce the potential for them to fog up with condensation on the inside.
1. Richter Optik Exact 3-9x50 AOESee more
The 25mm tube Richter Optik Exact 3-9x50 AOE has an RRP of £72.95 and is supplied with a set of push on, flip up lens covers and a CR2032 battery. It features a rubberised ocular adjustment ring which turns smoothly, as does the magnification ring to zoom through the 3-9x range. The illuminated reticle has 11 brightness levels in red. The illumination dial is located on top of the ocular lens which has a cap you will need to unscrew to insert the provided CR2032 battery. Although easily accessible, the position of the control is likely to impede the attachment of infrared night vision add ons such as the Pard NV007 and Nite Site type products. The reticle consists of solid vertical and horizontal lines that break to contain thicker central lines that have half mil dot aim points. The windage and elevation turrets are of screw cap design and the adjustments are ¼ MOA. Although they can be moved with your finger, there is a slot for a coin or screwdriver. A parallax ring on the objective lens is smooth to operate down to just 10 yards and out to infinity and field of view at 100 metres is 10.5m on 3x and 4.1m on 9x.Check Price
2. Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9x50 AI IRSee more
The ocular adjustment and magnification rings on the Nikko Stirling Panamax are textured to make them even easier to turn and the magnification markings are clearly marked so you know which of the 3-9x settings you are using. Although the scope comes with a CR2032 battery, a set of bikini lens covers and a lens cloth you’ll need a pair of 25mm mounts. Unscrewing the elevation and windage adjustment turrets reveals clearly marked dials that move easily by hand which one click equating to ¼ MOA at 100 yards. The illuminated reticle control is a third turret located on the left of the scope and gives the option of five brightness setting in green and red to light up the centre part of the floating cross reticle that has a range of four and a half mildots with half mildot markings. Located on the objective lens, the parallax collar twists easily to enable you to focus on targets as close as 10 yards away. Field of view at 100 metres is 14.7m at 3x and 4.9m at 9x magnification.Check Price
3. Hawke Airmax WA 3-9x40 AOSee more
Based on a 25mm tube, the Hawke Airmax WA 3-9x40 has a field of view range of 12.4 to 4.5 metres at 3x and 9x magnification respectively at 100 metres. The ocular lens can be adjusted to achieve perfect focus on Hawke’s AMX reticle which has plenty of aim point markings but does not illuminate. Working through the 3-9x magnification range is easy thanks to a smooth, rubberised collar that is easy to grip. The screw caps on the windage and elevation turrets reveal dials that can be turned easily by hand to dial in ¼ MOA adjustments. And like the magnification collar, the parallax adjustment located on the objective lens has plenty of raised ridges to aid grip as you move through the 10 yard to infinity range.Check Price
It’s very easy to spend money on a scope that has way more performance than you need on an air rifle. The basics of good glass, a clear image and turrets that work well will get you a long way. Of course, there are refinements such as side parallax adjustment, more precise reticles and first focal plane arrangements to be had as you start paying more. And although I have some cheap scopes that hold their zero well, generally speaking, better engineered, more expensive models are better in this regard. As I often find myself telling people who ask me ‘what’s the best…’, the most important thing to do is ask yourself what you need. If you’re only planning on shooting out to 30 yards do you really need 24x magnification for example, or would a 4x32 do?