Riflescope Magnification Explained

What does magnification on a rifle scope mean?

The magnification refers to how much larger an object appears when looking through the scope compared to how it would look using just the naked eye. Another way manufacturers describe the magnification is by power rating, but this is just another term used to describe the magnification.

Rifle Scope Magnification Types Explained

Fixed vs Variable

There are two types of scopes where magnifications are concerned, the fixed and the variable. Fixed magnification scopes are set at a specific zoom ratio, these used to be the best type of scope for a number of reasons. For one they used to be cheaper and because less money was spent on making the zoom ratio the quality of the other features such as optics clarity were better. However this is no longer the case as advances in manufacturing technology have made variable power scopes just as cheap and with the same quality features. The only positive compared to a variable scope nowadays is that they are easier to set up and mount properly as you only have to take into account one zoom ratio. Variable power scopes are identified by the label of two numbers separated by a dash and ended with an (x) such as, 3-9x. This type of scope can change the zoom ratio of the image you will see, usually you will have graduated changes similar to turret controls where you have finite clicks or settings but it has been seen to have complete adjustable zoom. When increasing the zoom ratio the field of view will decrease so it is best to increase the zoom once you have spotted your target using the lower zoom settings.

What do rifle scope numbers mean?

Apart from the numbers describing the zoom there are a few other important numbers that you need to factor in when choosing a certain magnification scope. Eye relief: This is the distance your eye has to be from the scope and still be able to see the whole field of view. Longer eye relief is considered better and safer as your eye is further away from the rim of the scope in the case of heavy recoil. Field of View: Describes the distance measured on the ground that you can see through the scope, as in from side to side. Objective Lens Size: The larger the objective lens size the brighter the image through the scope appears, larger lenses are heavier and can add a significant amount of weight to a scope.

Uses for different magnification scopes

1-5x : The lower magnifying scopes are best used for close range shooting such as turkey hunting. These types are often parallax free meaning that no matter where you move you head left or right, the crosshairs will remain on the target. This is useful for quick shooting which is generally what the low zoom scopes are used for. Usually useful out to about 100-150 yards but can be used further with practice. Most red dot sights are 1x but can have separate magnifiers attached to increase the zoom ratio. 3-9x : The most common zoom scopes for everyday hunting uses. They can be used for close range and long range shots with good accuracy. Mainly used for deer, rabbit and prairie dog hunting. 9-12x : Pretty much exclusively used for long range target shooting and competition shooting. Because of the length of set up time for making shots and the weight of these scopes they are not particularly practical for game shooting.


We’ve explained what the magnification of riflescopes actually means as well as the best uses for the different zoom ratios. Hopefully you can use this information to make better buying decisions. Please view the reviews and other helpful guides on this site.

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