What do rifle scope specifications mean?

Rifle manufacturers are consistently making improvements to their scopes to offer hunters and rifle enthusiasts reliable equipment. With a wealth of models on the market, it can be difficult to decipher the evolving technology and how best to capitalize on the functions to improve your shooting experience. You may be an experienced shooter and still ask “what do the numbers mean on a rifle scope?” So do not worry, we have gathered everything you need to know!

There’s a few other numbers you’ll see listed in rifle scope specifications.

Field of view (ft or degrees @ yardage)

A normal human field of vision is about a 210 degrees horizontal arc. The closer you magnify something the smaller the field of view will get. Scopes normally list a field of view parameter at a certain distance so that you can gauge the difference between them. This is a much longer range for spotting scopes than rifle or crossbow scopes.A bigger FOV is better for acquiring targets or following moving targets. Something like a spotting scope will have a much higher FOV than a rifle scope as they are designed for spotting things before you zone in on them with the rifle or crossbow scope to make a shot.A sample field of view from a spotting scope:

100-142 ft @ 1000 yards or 1.9-2.7 degrees @ 1000 yards

As you can see at 1000 yards you can only see 100th of the field of view you see with your naked eye.A sample field of view from a long range rifle scope:

7.6-19 ft @ 100 yards

See the difference? This is much less than the spotting scope at a tenth of the distance.


Eye Relief (inches or mm – range)

Eye relief tells you how close your eye has to be to the surface of the eyepiece of a scope so that you see the full field of view. A lower power scope will generally have a larger eye relief distance whereas a higher power scope will require you to get up close and personal in order to get the full view of the image.

Typically a low power rifle or crossbow scope will list something like 4”, meaning your can be upto 4” away from the surface of the scope before you lose any of the image. Eye relief for rifles and high powered weapons is crucial as you don’t want to get your eyes too close to something with a lot of recoil!

A spotting scope may list something like 16.7-17mm for eye relief. This is much more precise and much closer… however a spotting scope will come with an eyepiece allowing you to get your eye comfortably that close and generally you don’t expect any recoil.

The reason for listing eye relief on this type of scope is so that you can understand how well you can work with the scope if you wear eyeglasses. If your glasses push your eye further away than the maximum eye relief you will lose some of the field of view. Generally something like 12-16mm works fine with all but the thickest of spectacle wearers.


Exit Pupil (mm)

The exit pupil of a scope is the diameter of the circle of light that leaves the scope and enters the eye. A small exit pupil won’t will fill the iris with light and give a dim image whilst one that is too large will waste available light.

As a rough guide the human iris is approximately 2-3 mm in the day, 4-5 mm in low light and 6 mm in near dark conditions.

Not all optics specify this parameter.


Tube Diameter (mm)

Rifle and crossbow scopes may list their tube diameter. That’s the diameter of the central part of the tube of the scope. Having a bigger tube doesn’t affect the optical quality, but it can mean that you can adjust the scope higher from the rifle than with a slimmer tube.


Length (inches or mm)

Simple enough, this is the longest length of the scope from tip to tip.


Weight (kg or oz)

Again, pretty obvious this is the total weight of the scope (without packaging). If you’re worried about how adding a certain scope will affect your rifle balance or add weight to your pack, this is sometimes a consideration.
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