Got a variable-power scope? Use it!

By B.B. Pelletier

Today’s post comes from a recent conversation with an airgunner having some scope problems. He has a variable scopes and told me the maximum magnification is too high.

Learn to twist the power wheel!
He has an AirForce 4-16x variable-power scope mounted on his Condor. He bought the gun to police his orchard in southern California. Ah, ain’t life grand? Usually he shoots birds and squirrels at 40 to 60 yards, but at this time of year rats come down the mountainside behind his property to eat his fruit when it falls to the ground. They’re much bolder than the other critters, and he often encounters them as close as 15 feet. Too bad his scope doesn’t focus that close! He guessed he needed to remove the scope and attach open sights for those close shots.

The power wheel goes DOWN as well as up
All he has to do to see his target at 15 feet is dial the power wheel to its lowest setting, which in this case is 4x. With the parallax wheel set to the closest distance, he’ll see targets even closer than 15 feet with clarity.

As I write this, I’m looking through a 4-16x variable set on 4x, and I can see stuff at 10 feet clear enough to shoot. At 15 feet, things are almost in sharp focus. And, with the AirForce scope, the change in magnification doesn’t affect the zero. While some scopes will shift as the power changes, most scopes keep their zero throughout the power range. Shoot targets at the same distance using different power settings to confirm that yours doesn’t shift. There’s your homework assignment!

Remember – close shots require different aim points
Now, the message from the posting on June 1 about what range you should zero your scope will make some sense! When your target is at 15 feet and you are zeroed for 20 yards, you’ll shoot low. VERY low, it turns out. The separation of the scope and barrel makes you point the scope downward to intersect the pellet’s flight, and at 15 feet there hasn’t been enough distance to get all the way down, yet. So, you might find your pellet striking 2.5″ below the aim point of your crosshairs. This is where a duplex reticle comes in handy.

Duplex reticles have multiple aim points!
Besides the intersection of the crosshairs, the duplex reticle has four other aim points, which are the tips of the heavy part of the reticle that taper to the thin inner line. See a duplex reticle in the article All about scopes. Part 1 on this website. The bottom post has an aim point below the crosshair intersection. It may not be perfectly zeroed for 15 feet, but it’s easy to use some “Kentucky elevation” with it. I bet you can hit a dime every time once you figure out where the pellet goes. That’s how you shoot rats at 15 feet with a scope that’s zeroed for 20 yards.

So, USE the variable power feature of your scope. Your scope can do more for you. You paid for it; let it pay you back!

6 thoughts on “Got a variable-power scope? Use it!”

  1. In Field Target, many shooters tend to always shoot at the highest power. When shooting at a dark target, though, it can be helpful to “dial down” the power since you will get more light into your eye (to a point) as you lower the power. Being able to see the kill zone is vastly better.

    That said, there are some excellent scopes with adjustable objectives (AO) for not much money. The value of AO is not just seeing a better “picture” and eliminating the parallax but being able to determine the distance to the target.



  2. I have a RWS Diana (.22 134 rifle length) that I purchased about a year ago. I put a variable power pellet gun scope on it. At 100 feet I am getting a group around 8″ dia. If I were shooting my .22 firearm I can hit the quarter at this range regularly. I am new to air guns and I am wodering if an 8″ group at 100′ is normal?

  3. Nope! As long as the scope is mounted tight you should be able to group inside a quarter at 100 feet, which is 33 yards and one foot.

    Here are some things to try. First, let’s shoot the best pellets. Try JSB Exact domed pellets. Pyramyd Air sells them.

    Next, let’s refine your shooting rest. Under no circumstances should you ever rest your rifle on sandbags. You can rest your hand on a bag and rest the rifle on the flat of your palm. If you don’t own sandbags, several thick telephone books will work just as well. All you need is something to support your hand when the rifle lays on it.

    Do not grip the stock with the fingers of either hand. Do not hold the butt into your shoulder. Let the rifle recoil and move as much as it can when it shoots.

    Always rest the forearm on your hand at the same place. For an RWS 34, the best place I have found is out near the end of the stock. You always want to feel the split of the stock (the cocking slot) on your off hand.

    If you don’t yet have a scope level, draw a verticle line through the center of the bullseye you are shooting at and align the verticle reticle of your scope with that line for every shot. That will cancel cant.

    If what I’ve said sounds strange to you, then prove me wrong. Do exactly what I say and prove that it doesn’t work. In fact, with what I have told your here, you can try this technique with any pellet and I bet your groups shrink significantly.

    How about getting back on this message and letting us all know how this turns out for you?


  4. What power range for a variable power scope would you recomend for casual target shooting in the 30 – 50 yard range? I currently own only 4x scopes but have been told I should get something stronger for better accuracy, but don’t know how high I should go. Are there any rules of thumb? Thanks.

  5. Four power is fine for the casual shooting you do at 30 to 50 yards. In the 1970s, four power was the power of choice for deer hunters who took game out to 150 yards.

    The confusion comes when you listen to airgunners who are looking to shoot the tightest groups possible. For them, 32 and even 40 power is not too much.

    For precise shooting at 50 yards, I like 12 or even 16 power. That gives 90 percent of the accuracy potential of a 32 power scope, but with 3/4 the size and weight, not to mention the cost.


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