A Beginners Guide to Air Rifle Scopes

  • Written By Eric Crouch on May 15, 2020
    Last Updated: January 31, 2021

Having a scope for your air rifle can take your accuracy to the next level, but why exactly? What is an Air rifle scope? Why does owning one help so much with accuracy? What makes a good air rifle scope and why should you be careful when purchasing your first one?

These are just a few of the questions that will be answered in this definitive guide to air rifle scopes for the beginner.

What is an Air Rifle Scope?

An air rifle scope is much the same as a conventional rifle scope and put simply it is an article used for magnification and focusing in on your target. A good scope is a precision instrument used to point your gun directly at a target accurately, whether that target is 10 yards away or 100yards away. A scope is a sighting-in system that ensures your pellet hits the target with pin-point accuracy by allowing you to adjust its positioning and sometimes, its magnification.

Unlike open sights (or iron sights) a rifle scope is a singular unit that uses lenses to focus in on a target. It relies on the marksman’s initiative and adjustments to home in on the target in question in order to produce an accurate and precise shot. A rifle scope features a crosshair within its lens that is used to acquire a target and focus in on it accurately. If a scope is adjusted correctly the target in question should sit in the center of the crosshair and when it comes time to pull the trigger, the pellet should hit that point exactly. There are many different styles of crosshair, with duplex, mil-dot, and line crosshairs being just a few – we will get into this in more detail later.

How Does a Scope Work?

So how does your scope work? What makes it so accurate and why is it such a useful tool and companion to your beloved air rifle? In this section we will go over just that while giving an insight into the controls and functions of an air rifle scope.

The Lenses

The inside of an air rifle scope works in a similar way to a telescope or sighting scope. It uses an objective lens and the face of the scope (closest to the muzzle of the rifle) and an ocular lens at the rear (the lens you look through). Theses lenses work in conjunction to portray a clear picture to the marksman that is looking down the scope at their target. The objective lens allows light to enter the scope body and the ocular lens allows makes the light visible as a perfect picture of what is within the scope’s sight.

There are more than two lenses within a rifle scope but what is explained above is the basis of how a scope projects a picture to the shooter. The other lenses used in a scope are the focus lens (situated behind the objective lens), magnification lens (a sliding lens that is adjusted when the target is closer or further away), and the recital lens (either in front or behind the magnifying lens).

The focus lens is, of course, used to focus in on a target and help produce a clear picture of what is in sight. The Magnification lens is used to magnify the target by moving back and forth toward the ocular and objective lenses. When the magnification lens is closest to the objective lens the scope is functioning at its full magnification potential. When the magnification lens is closest to the ocular lens it is at its minimum magnification potential.

The reticle can be mounted either in front of the magnifying lens or at the rear. Its placement makes a difference to the image the marksman sees when he/she looks through the scope. When the reticle is mounted in front of the magnification lens the reticle’s crosshairs will change size as the magnification is adjusted. This means that no matter how far away the target is, the crosshairs will stay relative in size to the target in question. When the reticle is mounted behind the magnification lens the crosshairs stay the same size and don’t stay relative to the size of the target when magnification is increased.

All these lenses play an important part in your air rifle scope’s workings and all come together in conjunction to provide excellent accuracy and crystal-clear viewing. The lenses are the most important part of your scope and if the lenses are of poor-quality or have been damaged, then your accuracy will suffer as a result of this.

Other Factors That Make an Accurate Scope

There are many other factors in why a rifle scope is so accurate and such an essential addition to your air rifle when hunting or target shooting past close-range distances. We won’t bore you with all the details but in this sub-section we will overview some of these mechanical workings and how they come together to produce clear images that are true to what is ahead.

The area in between the objective lens and the ocular lens is called the erector tube. The erector tube is the area in which the magnification lens and reticle are housed. This area allows the free movement of the magnification lens towards or away from the objective lens when the magnification turret on the scope is adjusted.

The body of the scope is a metal tube that holds all the lenses in place. The body of the scope also provides a mounting place for the scope’s adjustment controls, these are used in much the same way as telescope and camera controls. One is used to focus in to get a clear crisp picture and one is used to adjust magnification. Then you have two controls (or otherwise known as adjustment turrets) for adjusting the vertical or horizontal sight of the scope. These are used to sight in your scope and aren’t used as often as the focus and magnification controls, think of these turrets as a way to calibrate your scope and the magnification and focus controls as a way to adjust your scope to suit the target in question.

The usability and functionality of these controls is a leading factor to consider when purchasing an air rifle scope. If these controls are user friendly then setting focus and magnification quickly when under pressure will be much easier, allowing you to produce an accurate shot in a narrow time frame. The quality of these controls will also affect the lifespan of your scope. Being moving parts, they can be easily broken when used often if the build-quality is lacking. Make sure these are durable, high-quality, and built to last – this will always be the case with a reputable, high-quality scope.

The lenses on your scope are often coated in an anti-refraction coating in order to reduce lens flare and light reflection. This helps increase the amount of usable light that enters the optical system and ultimately, into the eye of the shooter. A good-quality scope will feature this coating and be made in a way that provides a crisp and bright image without flare or reflection.

What Makes a Good Air Rifle Scope?

So, what makes a good air rifle scope and what to look out for when you purchase your first scope? If you are the beginner, searching for the best functioning scope for your air rifle can be a daunting task. There is so much to look at when considering what may work best for you. In this section, we will outline the factors you need to consider when looking for that perfect air rifle scope while advising you on how to filter down the many brands and choices out there to one or two individual products. If you would like to skip to our handy table of favorite products and what uses they serve best, then feel free to click here.

When considering your first scope or a new scope for a specific rifle, you want to consider durability, magnification, quality, and usability. Your scope should suit your specific purpose, whether that is hunting or target shooting at long or short-range. A good scope will have high-quality lenses and be able to produce a clear, crisp picture while being easy to focus and magnify.

Overall, a good scope should be responsive, produce clear pictures, be user-friendly, and above all, suit your purpose well. There are plenty of excellent scopes out there for purchase and although you may pick something of high quality with great functionality, you may consider it worthless if it doesn’t serve your purpose properly. Choosing the right scope is just as important as choosing a good scope, a good scope to the target shooter may not be a good scope for the hunter. Making the right decision is an especially important factor.

So how do you filter down the many brands and models that are on the market to find the perfect fit for you? First, you need to ask yourself what exactly you will be using the scope for. Are you planning on hunting or target shooting? You then need to ask yourself how much you are willing to spend, what is your budget? Would you prefer a fixed scope or a variable scope? – more info on this in the next section. Once you have asked yourself these questions you can begin to look at some of the options available that fit these terms.

The Difference Between Fixed and Variable Scopes

Fixed and variable scopes both have their benefits and drawbacks. Overall, what will draw you towards one or the other is your specific required uses and the distances you want to shoot at. In this section, we will provide all the information you need to decide which is best for you.

The main difference between fixed and variable scopes is the ability to adjust magnification. A fixed scope is set to one range and can serve a limited distance, some fixed scopes are set to longer distances whereas some are set to shorter distances. The main drawback to a fixed scope is that you are restricted to the distance that is offered, this can be annoying when hunting, as anything too close or too far may be out of sight and hard to pinpoint.

The benefit of a fixed scope is the simplicity of it. Fixed scopes are generally lighter, and they produce a clearer picture due to the simplicity of the lens set up. Another factor that some die-hard fixed scope fans enjoy is the amount of depth perception you get when using a fixed article. When you are looking through a fixed scope you can clearly tell how far away a target is from you and your rifle, making it easier to judge your pellet’s trajectory and power upon impact. When you’re using a fixed scope, you will really get a feel for your rifle and its capabilities which ultimately gives you better judgment.

Variable scopes have come a long way in recent years and offer a durable article that can be used at multiple distances. There are now more variable scopes on the market than fixed scopes and you will find it much easier to find a good quality variable scope that suits your needs than something that is fixed. Variable scopes give you the ability to adjust the magnification depending on the distance you are shooting at, making them much more versatile in a wider range of situations.

Variable scopes tend to be slightly heavier than fixed scopes and take away the awareness of depth perception by being able to zoom in to a target at multiple distances. This can be a drawback to some however as long as you know the limits of your air rifle then it is more of a good point than a bad one. You will find a fixed scope usually produces a clearer picture than a variable scope however variables have come a long way in recent years so the picture quality of something that is decent-quality will not let you down.

Whether you choose a fixed scope, or a variable scope really comes down to your own personal preference and what you desire to use it for. If you are shooting at one particular range, then perhaps you would enjoy a fixed scope more than a variable. If you are planning on shooting at multiple distances in many different situations, then perhaps a variable scope is a better option for you.

The 5 Main Scope Reticle Types

So, what exactly is a reticle and why are there so many different types? In this section, we will discuss how each reticle type differs and what each crosshair is suitable for. Let’s make sense of these differences and find the strengths and weaknesses of these main types.

Fine Crosshair

The fine crosshair is the simplest configuration of scope reticle. It features two thin lines that cross the center of your circular view that meet in the middle as a way to pin-point a mark on your target. The thin lines on this reticle make it very un-interrupting of the field of view and allow you to see the target clearly while still having a guide to produce an accurate shot.

There are a few issues with this configuration that stem from the fact that the lines are so thin. When sighting into a target that is against a treeline or other dark background it can be very easy to lose the crosshairs from your sight. This means it is not particularly ideal for hunting situations where you may be in poorly lit environments. This reticle is best used for situations where the target you are acquiring is in front of a high-contrast background in a well-lit area. The fine lines and uninterrupted field of view you get with this reticle makes it easy to sight-in rapidly without any issues.

Duplex Crosshair

The Duplex crosshair has a similar composition to the fine crosshair reticle however it can be used in lower-lit hunting and target shooting situations. This sight-form is built up of a horizontal and vertical line that intersects in the center of the field of view. It has thicker line segments until it reaches the intersection where a finer cross is present in the center. This gives the marksman more visibility when shooting against darker backdrops while giving enough visibility to home-in on a target quickly.

The thicker hairs on the peripheral view and the thinner lines on the central viewpoint make this reticle great for shooting against dark vegetation while minimizing coverage of the target when it reaches central view (the bullseye). This is an extremely popular choice for air gunners and is considered one the best choices for anyone that shoots in a range of situations.

Mil-Dot Reticle

The mil-dot reticle is a variation of the duplex and fine crosshair reticles. The mil-dot features many small dots along the horizontal and vertical crosshairs that intersect to create the central bullseye. These dots provide further targeting zones that can be used for finding targets at long range (providing the marksman is skilled enough with this).

The mil-dot, much similar to the duplex, provides brilliant sighting against darker backgrounds, with the dotted crosshairs showing up well against vegetation in poorly lit environments. Also similar to the duplex crosshair, this reticle doesn’t restrict the view of the target when it is central.

The peripheral lines (the lines at the edges of the view) are also clearer to see when shot against darker backgrounds, however, they do not restrict the field of view as much as the duplex reticle. This makes a mil-dot excellent for acquiring smaller targets and allows for a much clearer field of view over focussed and peripheral aspects.

The mil-dot is again one of the most popular reticle types for the marksmen shooting air rifles and is a great choice for the shooter hoping to control small pests and shoot smaller game. It functions well in many situations and can be used at short or long distances accurately (depending on magnification) while providing a clear and uninterrupted field of view.

Target Dot Reticle

A target dot reticle features the same configuration as the fine crosshair but with the addition of a central dot where the hairs intersect. This reticle isn’t very useful for the hunter or target shooter looking for a long-range application. It features all the drawbacks of a fine crosshair reticle with the additional drawback of the dot in the middle. This dot can cover up potential targets and disrupts your field of view, making this rifle extremely ineffective for long-range uses and hunting small game or pests. Probably one of the least popular reticles in this list and not really ideal for serious air rifle shooting.

Circle Reticle

A circle dot reticle is like the target dot however instead of a dot where the crosshairs intersect is has a circle. This circle surrounds the cross in the center of the sight making it very intrusive on your field of view. Circle scopes are mostly used with shotguns however have been used with air weapons as well. You will find the same problems related to the fine crosshair reticle and the target dot reticle, making this a poor option for accurate air rifle shooting.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Reticle Type

Reticle typeStrengthsWeaknesses
Fine crosshairNot imposing on your field of view Perfect in bright, clear environmentsCrosshairs do not show up well in darker environments or against dark backdrops
Duplex CrosshairVisible crosshairs in a multitude of situations Not imposing on central viewpointThicker crosshairs on extended field of view impose on peripheral viewing
Mil-Dot ReticleClearly seen in most environments and on most backdrops Not imposing on central viewpoint Not imposing on peripheralNo specific weaknesses
Target Dot ReticleGood peripheral viewCovered central viewpoint Not ideal for air rifle shooting
Circle ReticleGood peripheral viewImposing central view Not ideal for air rifle shooting

Picatinny Weaver Scope Mounts

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Dovetail Scope Mounts

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How to Sight-in Your New Scope

A scope is a great way to improve your accuracy and take your shooting to the next level, however, if you don’t know how to sight it in properly it is as good as useless. In this section, we will guide you on exactly how to sight in your rifle’s scope properly and ensure your rifle is shooting as accurately as possible. Sighting in your scope well will allow you to shoot in a range of situations and within a wide distance range. Knowing how to sight in your scope properly is an essential skill that every marksman needs to develop in order to progress in their shooting career.

When you first sight in your scope you must set up a close-range target and adjust your scope roughly so you can get a pellet on the paper. You adjust your scope using the horizontal and vertical turrets, the horizontal turret adjusts the scopes sighting from side to side and the vertical turret adjusts the sight up and down.

Stand in close proximity to your target at around 10 to 15 feet and fire a pellet while looking through the scope. Once your scope is adjusted so it is hitting the paper roughly, you can start to zero in your scope more accurately. Aim for the bullseye on your target at this distance but adjust your scope so the pellet hits 2 inches lower than the mark, this will make it easier to hit the mark as you increase distance. If the pellet hits high then adjust your vertical turret to counteract this, if it hits to the left then adjust the horizontal turret to the right and visa versa.

Once you are hitting the target 2 inches lower than the bullseye with the bullseye at the center of your scopes sight, it is time to move your target further away. Move back your target to around 30ft and fire a pellet at it to see where it lands. Aim for the bullseye and this time adjust your sighting so the pellet is hitting 1 inch lower than the mark when the bullseye is in the center of the scope’s sight.

Keep in mind that as your target gets further away you need fewer adjustments on the turrets because fractional changes make a big difference over longer distances. Adjust the scope in small increments and fire a pellet each time to ensure you aren’t adjusting horizontal or vertical aim too much.

Once you are hitting the mark accurately at 30ft it is time to move the target back further once again. This time you should move your target around 70ft to 75ft away from your shooting position. For the most accurate and usable rifle for a range of distances, this is the best distance to sight your scope in at. You will find it easier to adjust aim with posture when shooting at different distances by using the dots on a mil-dot reticle or the crosshairs on the duplex to get a reference of aim.

When shooting at 70 to 75 feet you want to aim for the bullseye and hit it with the pellet as well. Repeat the past steps of firing pellets and adjusting aim but remember that at this distance you will need very minute adjustments to correct your aim. Turn your horizontal and vertical turrets only one or two clicks at a time between firing pellets in order to make sure you don’t move your shot off of the paper unintentionally.

Once you are sighted-in accurately at 70 – 74 feet it is a good idea to tap your scope lightly a couple of times and fire a few rounds to make sure it is staying true. Sometimes tapping the scope can release a loose aspect that you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed until you took your newly adjusted set up out to hunt or practice.

Once you are all sighted in it is time to enjoy the accuracy of your new scope and take your rifle out to hunt or shoot targets in the field! Hopefully, this short description of how to sight in your scope has enabled you to set it up accurately, however, if you need some extra guidance perhaps the video below will help you.

Adjusting Your Scope to Counteract Parallax

Parallax is a phenomenon that makes objects appear to change positions in your sight when at different distances. The nature of your scope and the way it projects images through the lenses means that the image of the targets is focussed at one location within the scope. Depending on the distance you are shooting at that location may be different from where the center of your reticle is located. When you move your eye side-to-side you will notice the parallax (the illusion that the object is moving).

Most modern high-quality scopes come with a parallax knob or target focus knob (depending on what the manufacturer calls it). The purpose of this knob is to reduce the effects of parallax when shooting at different distances. The overall aim of adjusting this knob is to line up the image so it sits on the same focal plane while sitting centrally in the scope’s reticle. When you adjust this knob, it will move the location of the projected image, so when you look through your scope and encounter parallax you can counteract it with some minor adjustments.

The parallax (or target focus knob) usually has distance markings printed on it. If you know the rough distance of the target you are shooting at you can use these markings to focus in your scope roughly, and then fine-tune it to suit your eye. Make sure you adjust your parallax knob when out hunting or target shooting to ensure you are placing the pellet exactly where you want it, this is especially true when taking out prey where a vital kill shot is important for a humane kill.

Once you’ve adjusted your parallax knob to a specific distance you can expect a clear image at this range, however, when you change distances you should readjust the knob. Doing this often and ensuring you are always in focus on your target will give you greater accuracy and ultimately help you become a better shooter.

General Scope Maintenance

So, how do you maintain and look after your scope to ensure that it is always working at the top of its specs? Generally, scopes do not need much maintenance but there are a few rules and guidelines you should follow to ensure it doesn’t get damaged or drop in performance. In this section, we will discuss what good practice is when using your scope and how to treat it with enough care, so it lasts a lifetime without repair or replacement.

Prevention is always better than a cure and keeping your rifle clean will ensure you avoid expensive repairs or having to buy a replacement scope. Just as you should keep your rifle clean in order to keep it in tip-top condition, the same should be done with your rifle scope, especially if you’ve been out hunting in the rain and mud.

As mentioned in the lens section of this article, a scope’s lenses are coated in an anti-refraction coating that helps keep a clear picture without too much lens flare and light reflection. The most common form of scope damage after a breakage due to a drop or fall is the removal of this coating from excess dirt or water not being cleaned off of the lens regularly.

There are plenty of decent lens clothes and brushes available on the market suitable for cameras, telescopes, and rifle scopes, with plenty of gun scope specific cleaning kits as well. If you are looking for a good lens cloth to keep in your gun slip or case, then these Jumbo Microfiber Lens Cloths will do just fine. If you are looking for a general scope maintenance cleaning kit, then the Vortex Optics Cleaning Kit will serve you well and provides everything you need to keep your scope squeaky-clean and in great condition.

Overall, you really don’t need to do much with your scope to keep it working as it should for a healthy amount of time. Just try to avoid dropping or knocking your rifle, keep lenses clean from debris and water, and avoid scratching your lenses. Always clean your lens with a suitable microfiber lens cloth to avoid damaging your lens with scratchy fabrics.

Air Rifle Scope Buyers Guide – What is the Best Choice for You?

So, what is the best choice for you? Deciding on which scope is best for you will ultimately depend on your intended uses for the scope and your level of expertise in shooting. It will also depend on the distances you will be shooting at most, whether long or short-range, or whether you want a good all-rounder that serves well in a multitude of ranges and situations.

Here is our table including some of the best scopes on the market. The products we have listed here are of top quality, with some suitable for the beginner and some suited for the more experienced shooter. We have provided this useful table so you can find the best scope for short – long-range with hunting, target shooting, plinking, and competitions in mind. We have provided plenty of good-quality scopes for the marksman on a budget and plenty for the shooter that isn’t concerned about their budget as long as they receive a high performing, accurate package.

Scope NameFixed or Variable?Magnification Numbers and Reticle TypeWhat Is It Good for?Price and Where to Buy
CVLIFE Tactical Rifle ScopeVariable4 – 16×44 Mil-Dot ReticleThe Hunter and Field Target ShooterCheck Price
Vortex Optics Crossfire 2Variable4 – 12×44 (with other options available) Duplex ReticleSerious Hunting and Target ShootingCheck Price
Leupold FX-1 RimfireFixed4×28 Duplex ReticleHunting and Target uses around 60 yards where a lightweight scope is neededCheck Price
CVLIFE Compact Hunting ScopeFixed4×32For the Hunter on a budget that needs something compact and lightweightCheck Price
UTG 30mm ScopeVariable4 – 16×44 Multi-color Illumination Mil-DotGreat All-rounder for the hunter or target shooterCheck Price
UTG Hunter ScopeVariable3 – 9×32 Mil-Dot ReticleGreat for the Hunter. Beginner to ExperiencedCheck Price
BARSKA Plinker ScopeVariable3 – 9×32 Duplex ReticleExcellent budget scope for the backyard plinker and casual target shooterCheck Price
Mantis AO Air Rifle ScopeVariable3 – 9×32 Mil-DotPerfect for the Hunter and Serious Target Shooter. Great all-rounder for all rangesCheck Price
Daisy Winchester ScopeVariable2 – 7×32 Fine Crosshair ReticleGood Scope for the Target Shooter on a range or open fieldCheck Price
Simmons .22 TruPlex Rifle ScopeFixed4×32 Duplex ReticleExcellent budget fixed scope for the all-weather HunterCheck Price


To conclude everything we have discussed in this article we have summarised the key points in a digestible 10-point summary list that you can use as a quick reference to refer back to if you need some reminding.

  1. A good scope is a precision instrument used to point your gun directly at a target accurately. They offer superior accuracy and range compared to iron sights and help take your shooting to the next level.
  2. The inside of an air rifle scope works in a similar way to a telescope or sighting scope. It uses lenses to project, magnify, and focus in on a target accurately.
  3. A fixed scope is set to one range and can serve a limited distance, some fixed scopes are set to longer distances whereas some are set to shorter distances.
  4. Variable scopes give you the ability to adjust the magnification depending on the distance you are shooting at, making them extremely versatile at a wide range of distances and applications.
  5. There are 5 main reticle types that are offered in a scope with the mil-dot crosshair and the duplex crosshair being the top of the list for the marksman shooting an air rifle.
  6. There are 2 different types of mounting rails that are commonly found on air rifles, these are: the weaver/ Picatinny and the dovetail. These rails are used to hold your scope mounts. The weaver/ Picatinny is ideal for heavier recoil and the dovetail for low recoil weapons.
  7. There are 3 mounting ring options that are built in the same way and only differ in height. Measuring up your scope properly is paramount to fitting your scope correctly for the most accurate shot. The closer to the barrel the better but make sure it is not touching.
  8. Sight in your scope accurately at 70 to 75 feet for the best all-round use. Start zeroing in your scope at close range and slowly move the target further away in increments, ensuring that you adjust your scope each time. Remember that the further away you get, the smaller the adjustments need to be.
  9. Make sure you adjust your scope’s parallax knob to focus in on your target correctly at different distances. Doing this often and ensuring you are always in focus on your target will give you greater accuracy and ultimately help you become a better shooter.
  10. Keep your scope clean and the lenses free of dirt and debris to ensure the prolonged life of your scope. Try to avoid dropping or knocking your rifle and always wipe your lenses with an appropriate microfiber lens cloth.

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