How Much Riflescope Magnification Do I Need?

By Mark Butler

Magnification is a wonderful feature for any type of ocular, camera, microscope, or telescope. Without going deep into the science, just know magnification involves specially-built convex lenses bending light rays, so the light converges when it meets your eyeballs – essentially tricking your eyes into seeing something differently (bigger or smaller) than it really is. This is how we can see microscopic bacteria and far-away planets, and for the purposes of this blog, shooting targets with a rifle.

But the question remains – how much riflescope magnification do I need? It depends entirely on your purpose. Are you hunting? Competitive shooting? Engaging in self-defense? For each unique purpose, a different riflescope magnification might be used. The general rule is you want the least amount of magnification that can still give you a clear image of your target.

A Sightmark Citadel Riflescope

Sightmark currently manufactures several series of riflescopes: Latitude, Wraith, Citadel and Core among others. Each of these riflescopes offers varying degrees of magnification. The Citadel Series has a model able to magnify objects 3-18X their true size, whereas the Wraith magnifies 3-24X. For comparison, a high-powered telescope can magnify celestial objects 250X their true size. However, more magnification is not always better. A high magnification yields a smaller field of view, making it harder to locate an object, or to stay on target of a moving object. Again, the question becomes, what is your purpose?

For long-range or competitive shooting, more magnification is preferential, right? Then you can see your target more closely and pinpoint your shot. Unfortunately, the laws of physics dictate when magnification is doubled, an image gets 4X dimmer – consequently, most long-range scopes have a large objective lens (to let in more light). This also means in poor light conditions, more magnification is not always better. In good lighting, for long-distance shooting, more magnification is ideal, but not if your target falls out of view. A larger-appearing target will increase the amplitude of tiny movements, such as muscle tremors and breathing. Use high-powered magnification with caution, and do not be afraid to briefly double-check your target with the naked eye to ensure your field of view is still safe for shooting.   

For mid-range shooting or hunting, the optimal magnification level can be difficult to determine. On average, a 4X magnification should be adequate for game at 300 yards. However, most hunting takes place during dawn and dusk, in poor light conditions. This means mid-range shooters must make a judgment decision on the amount of magnification they use. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you can see the entire body of your target, and then magnify until your target spot is clearly identifiable. If your target moves, you may need to zoom out and refocus, but this is preferential to taking a bad or unethical shot and scaring away your quarry permanently.

Close-range or ‘point-blank’ shooting is the most difficult and stressful type of shooting. You may be engaging an enemy combatant on the battlefield, a home intruder, or a game animal that wandered too close to your position. For these situations, no magnification may be required at all, and there may be no need to adjust the elevation of your weapon or account for the effect of gravity. At close-range shooting, to achieve your objective, you may simply place your sights on the center mass of your target and fire. This simple ‘aim-then-fire’ philosophy can backfire, though, if you rush. If you ever find yourself in a close-range confrontation, remember a near-miss and a total miss provide the same result – a miss. Therefore, even at close-range, it is worth taking a deep breath, steadying your hands, and ensuring you strike your target.

Many readers of this blog may wonder, what if I shoot competitively, hunt and want to engage in self-defense? What are my options for cost-effective scope shopping? Can any single product cover multiple scenarios? The short answer is…yes. Low-powered variable optics (LPVOs), including many of Sightmark’s Citadel Series, offer magnification ranging from 1-6X or 1-10X. These LPVOs cover nearly all your short and mid-range shooting purposes, and save you time and money, as well.

In the end, optimal riflescope magnification is a question of personal preference and situational demands. Long-range shooting typically requires more magnification, mid-range shooting involves more variables, and closer-range shooting prioritizes speed over pinpoint accuracy. For your specific shooting distance, Sightmark offers a wide variety of riflescopes to match your needs.