Sun. May 19th, 2024

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices – My Patrick Meitin – Varmint shooting involves shooting non-game or pest critters such as ground squirrels, prairie dogs, groundhogs, rockchucks or jackrabbits that infuriate landowners and farmers through incessant digging and insatiable appetites. Varmint shooting involves anything from rimfires shot off-hand to extreme long-range shooting from atop portable benches or bipods—and includes completely different parameters than big-game hunting. Targets are not only much smaller, but often engaged at much longer ranges than we would consider ethical while big-game hunting. 

Serious burrowing rodent shooting can obviously be conducted with the big-game scope you already own, but for smaller targets and greater distances more magnification is welcomed. I started varmint shooting with the same 2-7x40mm to 4x12x44mm scopes tacked atop dual-purpose rifles such as the .243 Winchester, used for everything from prairie dogs to elk. But as I acquired true varmint rifles, including heavy barrels and tactical-style stocks, optic magnification increased substantially. I always say, you can’t hit what you can’t see. 

I understand why some shun high magnification: midday heat shimmer, every heartbeat telegraphed into wiggling reticles, the difficulty of picking up isolated targets, and even weight. The heat-shimmer argument I find overblown. My extreme-range varmint rifles hold optics with top-end magnifications from 27 to 30 power, and spend most of their time while afield twisted to the highest power. I just don’t experience the degree of troubles commonly related in magazine articles. The fact these are top-quality wares holding the very best glass and coatings available likely factors. Unsteady reticles aren’t a factor, as I do very little unsupported varmint shooting. Finally, if you can’t find your target through the scope, you need to spend more time shooting in the field. 

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices – Rimfire Varmint Optics

Just because you’re shooting a rimfire doesn’t mean you don’t need a quality optic. First and foremost, a rimfire scope should include objective-bell or side focus parallax adjustment. When shooting .22 LRs, in particular, targets are engaged at ranges from point-blank to maybe 150 yards, and parallax focus allows shooting at tack-sharp targets. 

While a straight 4x (or iron sights) might have been considered sufficient in days gone by, more rimfire shooters now embrace more powerful optics. A couple of my tricked-out Ruger 10/22s, for instance, hold Bushnell Rimfire Optics, one a A22 3.5-10x36mm, another a 3-12x40mm. They include exposed turrets for dialing range and parallax adjustments, plus reticle ballistic hash marks. I consider these ideal, and they seldom come off the top-end magnification.    

When stepping up to the more powerful .17 HMR, I like a little more magnification yet to give me some extra range capabilities. My Vortex Crossfire II 6-18x50mm or Nikko Stirling Diamond LR 4-16x50mm serve well on a couple of my 17-cal rimfires. The latter includes turrets, which make sniping ground squirrels at 300 yards with a .17 HMR as challenging as shooting steel with a .338 Lupua Magnum at 1,000 yards.                    

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices – Centerfire Varmint Optics

For predators the scope used for big game is ideal for coyotes, foxes and bobcats shot while responding to calls. When targets become distant ground squirrels, prairies dogs, and other burrowing rodents, I prefer additional magnification. I’ll say it again—you can’t hit what you can’t see. I also want exposed turrets (ballistic hash marks welcomed, only if don’t create clutter), side parallax adjustment, second focal plane (SFP), 50mm objective lens and top-notch optics coatings. If forced to choose a single configuration, 6-24x50mm it would be.     

I happily employ ballistics hash marks, though abhor busy “Christmas tree” reticles. Sometimes ranges are such that dialing turrets simply isn’t necessary. In all honesty, most small varmints are shot between 150 and 250 yards, be that over a ground squirrel colony or prairie dog town. At those ranges it’s easy to establish gaps with provided hash marks. What sets high-volume varmint shooting apart from, say, chance-encountered coyotes or long-range rockchucks (marmots)—or big game—is small varmints commonly provide multiple shots opportunities, or the opportunity to shoot companions occupying the same mound after your original target dives underground. It’s pretty easy to make quick hold adjustments between shots in trial-and-error fashion. 

Three hundred yards represents an exponential point of diminishing returns, hit-to-miss ratios deteriorating dramatically beyond that range. When varmint shooting beyond 300 yards, amateurs use Kentucky windage, seasoned shooters twist turrets. Modern ballistics charts (including not only drop D.O.P.E. but wind holds), finely tailored handloads and some range confirmation make cold-shot hits at extended ranges feasible. 

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices – Side parallax adjustment provides tack-sharp images and ensure the reticle is precisely aligned in the image plane, making perfect eye-to-scope alignment less critical. This is particularly important when shooting at extended ranges. 

I’ve never understood the first (FFP) verses second focal plane (SFP) debate in direct relation to varmint shooting (or big game hunting for that matter). FFP means the reticle remains consistent in relation to the target through the entire magnification range, allowing more accurate through-the-scope yardage and moving-target lead estimations using MOA or MIL marks of known value. This is useful to military snipers engaging human targets in fluid battlefield scenarios, or PRS professionals running a shooting course. The problem with FFP reticles is reticles grow thicker in relation to the target as magnification increases. All of us own laser rangefinders. We don’t need to establish range through FFP reticles. SFP reticles remain fine at every magnification, obscuring less target at longer ranges.  

Some of my favorites include Trijicon’s AccuPoint 5-20x50mm, Vortex’s Viper PST 6-24x50mm, Leupold’s VX-3i 8.5-25x50mm and VX-5HD 4-20x52mm, or Meopta’s Optika6 MeoPro 4.5-27×50, just as random examples.

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices

Varmint Shooting Riflescope Choices – Extreme-Range Optics   

A few of my varmint rifles are decidedly specialized, coming out only at ranges starting at 400 yards. My .22 Creedmoor is one of those, shooting 80- to 90-grain bullets with G1 ballistic coefficients (BCs) in the .500s. My .24-bores also qualify, like my fast-twist 6mm Remington or 6mm Creedmoor, custom and chassis rifles, respectively, shooting 105-to 110-grain slugs with G1 BCs in the .600s. These combinations cut 10 mph/400-yard wind drift margins from feet to inches.      

In this case, typically sniping rockchucks or prairie dogs in breezy conditions, my favorites include a Trijicon’s AccuPower 4.5-30x56mm (.22 CM), and Hawke Optics Frontier 30 SF 5-30x56mm SF Mil Pro. Both include zero-stop turrets, big objective lenses, side parallax adjustments, and high-light-transmission glass and coatings. 

These are my preferences, though your tastes may differ. That is why varmint shooting has become so popular. It’s all about fun. For me, pushing things to extremes equals fun (which I do not advocate for big game). This dictates by my optics choices.           

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