Zoom vs Fixed Power

Spec Ops Shooting

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The single greatest sniperscope controversy is the reliability of a zoom versus a fixed-power scope.

A fixed-power rifle scope is solid and dependable due to its simpler design. The tube is stronger than a variable because it doesn't need all those cuts to accommodate the more complicated zooming apparatus, and overall there are fewer moving parts and thus fewer things to go wrong and fewer places where dust or dampness can penetrate.

My personal experience over four decades is that most zoom scopes are reliable and adequately rugged for hunting situations. Having worked with many law enforcement agencies in recent years, I have yet to encounter reports of a zoom scope failing in a situation where a fixed-power would nor equally have failed. The great majority of police snipers use zoom scopes, mostly 3.5-10x.

Where I have seen rifle scopes "break," it has been almost exclusively broken reticle wires, along with a few bent objective lens bells when a rifle was dropped. In the latter cases, these were thin-tubed civilian hunting scopes on police sniper rifles.

If kept to the mechanics of scope design, the arguments for fixed power would appear compelling. It's only when you consider che capabilities of a variable-power rifle scope that benefits really come to the fore.

The disadvantage of a fixed-power scope is that you're locked into one magnification—you cannot adjust to changing circumstances, engagement distances, target sizes, and available light. In particular, police snipers and counter-terrorists often need high magnification to facially identify a suspect, but 20x magnification isn't suited for the typical law enforcement sniper's engagement distance of 70-75 yards, where he'll only have a 4-foot field of view. This limits him to covering one window or one door. If something happens beyond that narrow confine, he won't be able to see it, much less engage it. A close-range moving target, too, is almost impossible to track with a high magnification scope.

Instead, 1 think he should have a variable scope: crank it to high power to visually ID a suspect's face, then crank it down to a suitable power for that engagement distance. You must shoot in low light? Reset the magnification to yield the best exit pupil, as explained in Chapter 22.

The strongest argument for a zoom scope, I believe, is the ability to turn it to low power so you can shoot defensively at short range. A zoom scope set at 3x has a 17-foot field of view, more than three times wider than a I Ox scope. While I don't want to "cheap shot" those critical of zoom scopes, I don't think they fully appreciate how tough it is to get off an accurate snap-shot in short-range, chance shootouts. Having narrowly survived some horrific short-range gunfights myself, I think these honest men don't realize how critical it is to be ready for sudden, unexpected close-range encounters.

The bottom line: a zoom scope with a minimum 3x or 4x and a maximum of 9x, 10x, 14.5x, even 20x—and higher when shooting a ,50-caliber at extreme range—is perfectly fine if it's a real sniperscope, not a thin-skinned hunting scope. Neither a zoom nor a fixed-power scope has a monopoly on suitability; this is one of those honest-men-with-honest-differences issues.

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Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Hunting Mastery Selected Tips

Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.

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