The Cart Before the Horse – Putting Cheap Scopes on Expensive Rifles



A few years ago I had a guy come to me saying he’d just bought a Barrett 50 caliber and needed a new scope for it.  I asked him what his budget was and he said, “About $125!”

While that example (true story) might seem a little extreme, the concept is fairly common – buying a great rifle and then putting a not-so-great scope on it.  I think this happens for a few reasons.

#1) A lot of people think of the scope as secondary to the rifle.  They fall in love with a rifle and don’t put much thought into the scope.  This tends to be common with some hunters.  They buy an $1200 Remington 700 Sendero rifle and put a $99 Bushnell Banner 3-9×40 scope on it.  I’ve heard hunters say, “I’d never spend more than $300 for a scope”.  Now that’s just fine if the $300 scope is meeting your needs, but if you want to hit small targets, at long range, then you need to invest in a scope that is as good or better than your rifle.

#2) Other people fall in love with a rifle, gotta have it, but simply don’t have money left over for a great scope.  I recently talked with a guy who wanted to get into long range shooting.  He said he had $1200 for a precision rifle, but then said his budget for a scope was only $300-$400.  Now we all have to make the most of what we have, but there’s a better way to do it.

Putting a cheap scope on a great rifle is putting the cart before the horse.  First of all, a rifle (that doesn’t have sights on it) is practically useless without a scope.  That $1200, or more, rifle is useless without a scope.  Secondly, most modern rifles are capable of better accuracy than most people are capable of shooting without a good bit of practice and/or training – and you will never achieve the full accuracy potential of a rifle (or you as a shooter) with a cheap scope.

You really need to think of the rifle, scope, and mounts as a system.  Don’t set a separate budget for each component. Put all your money together and look at the entire system.  Using the guy above as an example, combine the $1200 and $400 into a total rifle system budget of $1600.  He would be better off paying $700 for a rifle and $900 for a scope and mounts.

Many factory rifles today are capable of sub-moa accuracy – which means they can put a shot group under a 1 inch diameter at 100 yards or 10 inches at 1000 yards.  The Savage 10 FCP-SR and Remington 700 Long Range both sell for around $700 and are excellent examples of what I’m talking about.

In order to achieve the full accuracy potential (sub-moa) of these rifles, you need to be a very good shooter and you need a great scope.  With persistence and practice, you will become a great shooter – but without the great scope you won’t be able to fully achieve what the rifle can do.  The more expensive scopes will give you better clarity, better adjustment tracking, and reliable repeat-ability.

Consistency is the key to accuracy and becoming a great shooter.  You need reliable performance from your rifle and optics to begin seeing the patterns that will allow you to achieve maximum accuracy.  Tactical rifle scopes will give you that reliable performance.  Cheap scopes will not give you the reliable performance you need.  Long range scopes should at least cost as much, actually more than your rifle.

The whole point of long range, precision shooting is hitting the target.  Rather than thinking of a rifle – and then a scope – start thinking in terms of the total package that will give you the best advantage of hitting a target at the distance you want to shoot.  The scope is the “sighting system” for the rifle.  An analogy I like to use is the Apache Helicopter.

The Apache is one of the most awesome weapons in the world.  It has a 30mm cannon and carries a variety of missiles and rockets – but without the sighting system the entire helicopter and all those cool guns are useless.  The true power of the Apache is only realized through the optical sighting and targeting system.  Your scope is the sighting and targeting system for you and your rifle – it shouldn’t be the weak link in the system.  A good rifle with a great scope will give you better performance than a great rifle with a good scope.


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