Suppose that you’ve chosen to use a rifle for home defense. What is the best type of rifle scope to use for that purpose? I won’t argue, in this article, the merits of a long gun over a pistol. But if you need a firearm for defensive purposes outdoors as well as indoors, you may well need an optic. Sure, you should practice and be able to use the iron sights for all your pistols and rifles, just in case. But optics are extremely useful.
Now, if you are dealing with only short range targets, almost everyone will tell you that a red dot sight is best. There is no magnification (1x), so you can keep both eyes open, and the dot (or other reticle pattern) can be used to target your assailant very quickly. But without magnification, the further away the target, the less ideal the 1x optic becomes.
Sure, you can hit a target out beyond 100 yards without magnification. But how did you identify the target as an assailant? For self-defense purposes, you are much better off with at least 3x or 4x magnification, even if you’re able to hit the target at that range without it. I don’t know about you, but these old eyes are not so sharp anymore. I want to see what I’m shooting.
So now we’ve established two truths, that 1x is best for quick close-up target acquisition, but that magnification is also useful. And that’s why the most popular CQB (close quarters battle) scopes are variable power, with true 1x magnification on the low end, and at least 4x magnification on the high end. It works almost like a red dot sight when dialed down to 1x — quick target acquisition with both eyes open. But you then can dial the magnification up to 4, 6, or even 8x.
Variable power scopes use specifications that are summarized as in this example: “1-4×24″. Here, the numbers 1-4x indicate the range of power of the scope, from 1x on the low end all the way up to 4 times (4x) magnification on the high end. The last number indicates the diameter of the objective lens, which is the lens farthest from your eye. Typically, these types of scopes are 24mm. The larger objective lenses (greater than 24mm) are usually found on higher magnification scopes.
How do you choose between a scope with variable power of 1-4×24 or 1-6×24 or 1-8×24? To my mind, the answer is simple: PRICE. The 1-8×24 scopes are fairly new to market, and are much more expensive than the 1-4x scopes. The 1-6x models have been around longer, but they are still kind of pricey. But a decent 1-4×24 scope will do everything you need it to do, for less money.
Is 4x enough on the high end for a home defense scope? Well, the general rule is that the magnification power number roughly matches the distance in yards. So a 4x scope is good out to 400 yards (probably a bit further, but it’s only a rule of thumb), a 6x scope is good out to 600 yards, and an 8x scope out to 800 yards. I would say that a 1-4x scope is plenty of magnification for a defensive rifle.
There are some disadvantages to the 8x power, even though 1-8x is the newest cool scope spec. The higher the power, the smaller the field of view. So it’s harder to find your target at 8x than at 4x. So for a distant target, 4x is a good balance between getting a good look at the target and finding it fast.
What distinguishes one 1-4x scope from another? To my mind, the biggest difference and biggest bone of contention in some cases is the reticle. It should work great at the low end to quickly pick up a target, and yet it should be fitting for longer range shooting, where drop and wind come into play. And that is not easy to find. A lot of reticle patterns offer one, but not the other.
Now this is rather subjective. YMMV. But I detest BDC (bullet drop compensator) reticles. They have markings for how much a round drops (in the angular measure of MOA or mrad) at each distance in hundreds of yards or meters. But that only works if your ammunition has the velocity and BC for those markings. Switch ammo and now the markings are off. They will not be at evenly spaced distances in steps of 100 yards.
I much prefer a reticle with minute of angle (MOA) or, better yet, milliradians (mils or mrads). You can easily range a target on that type of reticle. And you can change to different loadings and bullets, without trouble. You just need to print out or memorize a range card.
I hesitate to start talking about particular models, since there are so many. But I’ll mention a few, not as recommendations, but as examples of the range of what’s available.
On the very low end, there’s the Primary Arms 1-4×24 scope, very reasonably priced, but the reticle is just an illuminated dot and crosshairs. Not bad for mostly close up work. But without any markings for ranging or drop. It might be a good scope for a pistol caliber carbine or a .22LR rifle, where you aren’t shooting beyond 100 yards much.
The midrange of prices has quite a few entries. I’m liking the Fullfield TAC30™ Riflescope 1-4x24mm and it’s up-town cousin the MTAC. However, they both use the BDC type of reticle, which is not my cup of tea. Really, though, it’s an easy to use reticle at close range, with some useful markings for longer range targets.
Now if we are avoiding the most pricey scopes, but going further upscale, the Bushnell 1-4x 24mm Throw Down PCL is good if you like BDC reticles. And the new Sig Sauer Tango4 has two BDC and one mildot reticle choices. Sig also has a Tango6 1-6x scope, but it’s more than twice the price to go from 1-4x to 1-6x. Not worth it, in my opinion.
Well, if you know of a 1-4x (or better) scope that you prefer, mention it in the comments below.