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Shooting with a pistol scope

by B.B. Pelletier

Here is an observation expressed by a reader named Michael. “If you have to place your cheek in the same place every time [to shoot a scoped rifle accurately], what happens with [a scoped] pistol? My guess is that one would have to practice a LOT to make sure the gun was exactly the same distance, height etc. EVERY time. I wonder if it is possible to get BETTER accuracy with a scope on a pistol.”

That’s a good observation!
Michael has thought it through and he’s right – shooting a scoped pistol is a lot harder than shooting one with open sights for exactly the reason he states. But the pistol scope is designed to help you. Unless you hold the pistol correctly, it is difficult to see the reticle or even the image in the scope. The better the scope, the harder it will be to see through it unless it’s in the right position. This can be very frustrating to shooters unaccustomed to using a scoped pistol.

I’m no expert
I dislike scopes on handguns, but I have used them. I learned the necessity of holding the pistol two-handed at arm’s length to acquire both the image and the reticle. Because I hate holding a handgun with two hands, this bothers me. After all – it’s a HAND gun, not a HANDS gun. At least, that’s my thinking.

They are more accurate
On the other hand, a scoped handgun can be more accurate than one without a scope for the same reason a scoped rifle can be more accurate. It has to do with the precision of aiming. With a scope, it’s just far easier to hold exactly where you want because you see the aim point magnified in the eyepiece. There is an entire group of firearms hunters who use handguns exclusively and the majority of these are scoped. There are scoped handguns shooting centerfire rifle cartridges that can group nearly as well as a rifle!

Remington XP100 is a popular hunting handgun. This one is caliber .222 Remington.

Stainless Ruger Super Blackhawk in .44 magnum is a good deer gun.

Handgun scopes are more expensive
Pyramyd AIR doesn’t carry a lot of pistol scopes because they don’t sell that many. Pistol scopes have an extra long eye relief of about 20 inches, which makes them very different from rifle scopes. The low demand tends to keep the price a little higher than rifle scopes, which sell in far greater numbers. The only pistol scope I’ve found at Pyramyd is the BSA pistol scope in either black or silver finish.

Handgun scopes are lower power
A handgun scope has to be lower power because the eyepiece is so far from the eye. The field of view is very limited, and high power limits it even more, so 1x and 2x scopes are common. A 4x scope is a real monster in the handgun world, though Burris does make a variable that goes up to 12x.

Handgun scopes are gaining in popularity, even in the airgun world, so maybe we’ll hear more about them in the future.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

13 thoughts on “Shooting with a pistol scope”

  1. BB –

    I’m considering purchasing a Benjamin AS392 and fitting it with a Williams’ 0065P peep sight (at Crosman’s online store, under Crosman Shop / Custom Accessories). I have three questions that I’d appreciate your assistance with: (1) how easy is it to remove the rear sight without marring the barrel’s finish, (2) do you know if the front sight is tall enough to work with the new peep sight, (3) the manual does not show the use of placing a drop of pellgunoil on the tip of the AirSource cartridge before use – is this correct? Thanks for your assistance!

  2. Mark,

    Yes, oil every cylinder you install.

    The rear sight will scratch the painted finish when it comes off. I’d have the factory do it.

    Since Crosman has been selling this same sight for this gun for years I have to assume it works. I have never tried it, but I do know Crosman has specified a Williams sight of a certain height, so it will work.


  3. BB

    ahhh, your response:
    “I don’t need the Condor’s power. The SS has 45 foot-pounds when a 24-inch .22 barrel is on. But I find that 25 foot pounds from the regular barrel is good for 95 percent of my airgunning needs.

    When I want more power, I shoot a .22 long rifle.”

    makes perfect sense, I guess I slipped back into the ‘need more power stage’ of air gunning! Is there pennance to be paid? 🙂


  4. I have a Beeman P3 and am considering a red dot sight. I’m also nearsighted and this causes a problem with iron sights as I can focus clearly on the sights but the target is blurry. If I wear glasses I see the target but the sights are blurry. Will I be able to wear glasses and use the red dot? Any other ideas would be helpful.

  5. B.B.

    Just wanted to thank you for your advice and your blog as I’ve learned a lot through reading this blog. I also went with your advice and went ahead and bought both the walther CP99 (with nickel slide) and the walther nighthawk since I like walther P99s alot, and am very pleased with their craftmanship.

    Do you know if the walther red dot sights and the walther flashlight that came with the walther nighthawk are made in germany also?
    The walther red dot sight seems to be really good quality, but I think I read that a lot of quality scopes nowadays are made in China. (My BSA scope that came with the CF-X gamo was made in china but it’s craftmanship was pretty good).
    Does this apply to red dot signts too?
    Just thought I’d ask since it would be nice to just know this information.

    Thank you,
    -Walther P99 Fan

  6. Walther P99 fan,

    I don’t know for certain, but I would guess the Walther dot sight and flashlight are both made in China or somewhere close.

    Canon professional camcorders are made in Indonesia, and Rollei, Nikon and I believe Canon camers are made in China. China makes some of the finest optic in the world and has been doing so since the 1970s.


  7. Dave,

    I have astigmatism and wear bifocals, so I understand. Yes, a dot sight will be easy for you with glasses on.

    You DO know a blurry target is normal for all shooters? I am assuming you mean that it’s too blurry to see.


    • I read somewhere that astigmatism at red dot sights don match. A shooter with this impairment will see the dot as a fuzzy dot!?

      BTW are you an old bull eye shooter by chance, since you dislike holding a pistol with two hands. I have similar feelings about the subject, but must confess two hands works better!

      • _Axel_,

        I am a 10-meter pistol shooter and that is one-hand only. I also learned how to hold and shoot a 1911 Colt from a 2600 shooter (pre-Olympic qualification in the U.S.) and was amazed by what I can do. But now I am old and shaky, and I sometimes do use 2 hands for a steadier hold.


      • Axel,

        as someone who has astigmatism and shoots 25 yard Bullseye, I can advise you that if not carefully corrected, astig will cause the dot to appear elongated or irregular, not perfectly round. Assuming your vision is at least 20/40 or better, the dot will be sharp – just not round. Astig typically introduces curvatures that don’t exist in actuality, but make the object – whatever you are looking at – appear that way. A straight line will appear curved, a circle will appear oblong and so on. It’s a real pain shooting at a round bull (G rating on this blog).

        Fred DPRo NJ

  8. A little background leading to questions regarding a scope for a Beeman P1.

    With a centerfire rifle, I reached a point where I realized that with a 3-9 variable scope with adjustable objective, I was setting the scope in the middle of the magnification range and never touching the AO, so I eventually bought a very nice and somewhat lighter fixed 6x42mm and have been very happy with it hunting at distances usually under 200 yards in wooded areas.

    With my RWS 48 air rifle, I tend to zoom the scope to maximum magnification, focus for a specific distance with the AO, then zoom out to minimum magnification (and maximum field of view) to seek a target. Once a target is sighted, I zoom back in (not necessarily to maximum magnification). By doing this, I find that any target within reasonable proximity to the prefocused range is in focus at any magnification.

    When I competed in local USPSA/IPSC pistol competitions with a highly-modified and exceptionally accurate limited class Colt’s 1911A1 “Government” model, I discovered that I never used the sights at distances under 25 yards. I simply looked at the target over the slide with both eyes open, pointed as if with my finger (which, of course, was curled onto the trigger) and fired (usually, middle-of-mass aim at silhouette targets). Most of the targets required a “double-tap” of two rounds, and I found that I often had one-hole pairs using this technique. Several times, I had to convince a judge to measure a hole to confirm that I had not missed with one of the bullets, and I once dropped from 1st to 4th because I could not convince the judge to make such a measurement (ten point penalty for a miss on the next to last stage—if I did miss, it was the only complete miss I had in competition).

    I’m a bit older now, sixty; my eyesight may not be so sharp, nor my hands so steady as they once were, and I haven’t done any shooting for several years, so I don’t know if I could still manage such accuracy (I’m a bit curious to find out).

    Now I’ve purchased a used Beeman P1 air pistol primarily as a small game survival hunting weapon. And I know for a fact that, even at 10 meters, I need the scope to shoot one-hole groups with the RWS 48. I’ve chosen the P1 pistol because of its small size and light weight when compared to the air rifle (and because I can use the same Pachmayr grips I used on the government model). I may find myself in a situation where I have to move overland on foot for long distances with weight and volume being a major concern for the survival pack I’m putting together. But I believe accepting the bulk and weight of an optical sight may be the difference between eating and going hungry, so I wish to attach one to the pistol. I haven’t yet received the P1, so I have no experience with it, only facts and assumptions (guesstimates?) gleened from online research and questions the research may not have answered. Some of the facts, assumptions and questions follow:

    1. The Beeman P1 pellet pistol differs from my RWS 48 in that the major spring “recoil” is to the rear.

    2. I’ve also read that the P1“recoil” is sufficiently strong to destroy a weak scope OR a quality scope not specifically designed for a spring piston airgun.

    3. I’ve read more than one statement that suggests I must use an “airgun” scope on the P1, but I wonder if that is a known, verified fact or if it is an assumption made because the P1 is a spring piston airgun and spring piston airguns as a class are known to destroy scopes not specifically designed for airguns.

    I found the following information in an internet post by Ian Pellant: ‘Because the net “jolt” is in the direction of piston travel, it can be appreciated that with the piston causing a jolt forwards, away from the shooter, anything attached to the rifle will be left behind. . . In effect, most spring air rifles have the opposite “recoil” to firearms. That is why firearm ‘scopes are prone to breakage. Some old design spring air pistols resemble cut down spring rifles, with the piston traveling forwards. Most contemporary pistols, however, have the piston traveling back towards the shooter, which places the majority of the jolt against the hand.’

    With the major “recoil” of the P1 being to the rear, is the forward recoil/rebound of the P1 still sufficient to destroy a quality scope designed only to withstand the heavy rearward recoil of a large caliber centerfire handgun?

    Burris tells me that all of their handgun scopes are suitable for a spring piston air pistol. Is that likely to be true for other manufacturers (I’ll ask the specific manufacturer when I decide on a particular scope)?

    The only adjustable objective handgun scope I’ve found so far is the Burris 3-12x32mm, but the parallax adjustment is only down to 25 yards, where their rifle scopes are adjustable to 7 yards. With my anticipated hunting distances being in the 25 yards or less range, the 25 yard AO doesn’t seem likely to be very useful. Your opinion?

    Burris’ ballistic plex reticle looks rather interesting. Might be useful in pre-determining holds for different distances more or less like the reticle in a crossbow scope or pins on a bowsight. Have you any experience with or insights regarding the ballistic plex reticle?

    Having read your comments from June of 2006, I may find that a 1.5-4x26mm (ballistic plex reticle not available) or perhaps a 2-7x32mm is more suitable from among the Burris offerings. I did find a comparison article on variable scopes, but it was from 1997, and at least two of the four scopes are no longer in production (might find one used).

    From what you’ve written, I’ll probably need to spend some time actually looking through the available scopes before I decide on one. Who knows, I may find that I can actually hit small targets with the P1 without optical sights (I practiced on 3×5 cards to learn to shoot my competition 1911). Wouldn’t that be nice?

    I read your May, 2005 comments on the P1 recommending a shoulder stock and red dot sight. I used a red dot sight thirty years ago; I liked it then and I’m sure they’ve improved—may be a good lightweight option. Do you happen to know the weight and length of the shoulder stock?

    I didn’t find any pistol scopes when I searched the Pyramyd website, so I suppose they have become even less popular.

    I don’t know what the functional condition or age of my P1 will turn out to be; I purchased it online from a firearms dealer who rated it at 95% cosmetically but admittedly knows nothing about airguns and had no history on the pistol. Whether I will need to have the mainspring replaced is as yet unknown to me, but I made the purchase primarily because of the price and based on the reputation of durability the P1 has earned over the years. I am relatively new to the area where I now live, so I will have to learn whether there is a skilled airgunsmith in the area (northeastern Washington in the Pacific northwest of the U.S.A.).

    Sorry to have been so wordy, an unfortunate failing of mine. For any advice or assistance you may be able to offer . . .

    Thank you,


  9. Robert,

    As it turns out, I shoot both the 1911 and the P1. My primary 1911 is a Wilson Combat TQC Light Rail, and my P1 will out-shoot it at 50 feet. At 25 yards I’d have to go with the Wilson.

    Yes a pistol scope is needed, because the eye-relief of a riflescope is normally about 3 inches. You can not see the image when you hold the scope at arm’s length. That’s the reason pistol scopes exist.

    The only pistol scope Pyramyd AIR carries is this one:


    Leapers is supposed to be bringing out a pistol scope this year, but I haven’t heard much about it.

    Most dot sights come with built-in Weaver bases that won’t fit the P1. Here is one that will fit:


    Here is the P1 shoulder stock:



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