Big game hunting is one of the most exciting and dynamic adventures one can go on. Hunting varmints can be a challenge, but it is nowhere near the level of excitement one gets from hunting big game. Big game hunting is something that takes dedication and a level of seriousness, it takes many cold mornings and late evenings, it takes the will to go out day after day without seeing neither hide nor hair of your chosen game.
There is also a level of danger that ups the stakes with hunting big game. Some of these animals are incredibly fierce, including the usual suspects like bear, alligator, and mountain lion. Others like elk and deer can be underestimated, especially when offspring is involved. The skill, time, dedication, and danger is serious, and so is the equipment involved. Rifles, ammunition and optics can be the most important investments, seeing as how they may actually save your life. Optics for big game hunting varies depending on a lot of factors, and hopefully this guide can help narrow your options a bit.
- 1 Shot Placement & Optics
- 2 What Makes a Good Scope For Big Game Hunting?
- 3 Consider Your Environment
- 4 Know Your Prey
- 5 Know Yourself
- 6 4 Best Scopes For Big Game Hunting
Shot Placement & Optics
If I had to name the one most important consideration for big game hunting it would be shot placement. This is on the assumption you have a proper caliber, but that’s a whole other guide. Shot placement, more importantly proper shot placement, is critical for two reasons.
- Proper shot placement guarantees or at least increases the chances of a humane kill. As hunters we respect and appreciate the animals we hunt and do not wish to cause unnecessary pain and suffering.
- Safety. A wounded animal is a dangerous animal. You want to put whatever game you’re hunting down with a single shot for your own safety.
What does this have to do with optics? It’s clear you need to have an optic that is capable of placing a precise shot at the range you intend to hunt. It’s generally agreed upon that most hunting should be done within three hundred yards to guarantee a humane kill, with only experienced hunters and shooters going further.
If you are hunting at three hundred yards you may need an optic that allows you to hit a small target with boring regularity. I say a small target because the game you are hunting maybe be big, but their vital organs are often still small. Even the massive elk has a vital spot only about 12 inches in diameter. A twelve inch vital zone on an animal that is potentially moving, in a wooded environment is a tough shot to make with shoddy optics.
What Makes a Good Scope For Big Game Hunting?
To maximize your scope’s accuracy you need to pay attention to a certain set of factors.
Prefer One Piece Tube
The first is scope construction which is important for precision believe it or not. In terms of precision a one piece tube is going to be more precise and have greater durability. When shooting a significant caliber a weak scope can be rattled to pieces.
Scope With Side Focus ( Parallax Adjustment )
Next is the parallax, and potential issues that arise in these optics. Parallax can create an optical illusion that makes your shots less accurate. A scope with a parallax adjustment allows shooters to adjust from a closer range out to infinity. The closer range varies but is commonly 50 yards or meters, but can be as close as ten.
To test for parallax get behind your scope and rest your weapon on something stable. Look downrange at something specific at a hundred yards. Move your head side to side, if your reticle moves off or around the target you have a parallax issue. This is why scopes with an adjustable objective are becoming the norm. This is often advertised as a side focusing optic, but that’s not an honest description. It doesn’t focus the scope, but corrects parallax.
Pay Attention To Lens
Other factors that affect your clarity and sight picture include the lens coating, lens quality, and objective size. Lens coating prevents flare and aid in light transmission, a fully multi coated optic is the best route to take for reduced flare and maximum clarity. Quality glass is another major feature that affects both price and optical clarity. Low quality scopes use low quality lenses and this creates distortion and can decrease precision.
Objective size affects the amount of light transmitted through the image which creates a clearer and brighter picture, especially during the mornings and evenings. A large objective lens will gather more light up to a certain point. Typically a 40mm or 42 mm is the best option when it comes to lighter weight, lower profile optics. After 40 or 42 mm the amount of light gathered versus efficiency of size becomes reduced.
Magnification levels vary between hunters but I believe that the 2-7 power range is one of the best choices, with the 3 to 9 coming in a close second. It’s important to always remember the danger big game presents, even a white tail deer can be dangerous when wounded. When approaching a wounded animal it’s important to have that lower setting available. Even a 4 to 16 power scope might be a bit too powerful. The 2 power option allows for close range shooting with nearly the same efficiency of a red dot, and even the 3 power is typically low enough to ensure a rapid sight picture.
The higher levels of magnification of 7 to 9 are as powerful as you really need to go. If you are hunting like 99% of hunters in the world your farthest shot will be between 2 and 3 hundred yards. A 7 or 9 power optic is more than capable of allowing the shooter to place an accurate shot at these ranges. 7 to 9 power also allows you to scout and see at further ranges.
Consider Your Environment
Big game means different things to different people. For some, big game means the African Lion, or the elephant, for others it means deer, hogs, elk, or bear. From this short list you can already see the vast variety of environments these animals live in. One scope will not suit every environment. For example if I am hunting elk in mountainous or hilly terrain I need to be aware of my scope’s eye relief.
Hunting big game, like elk, means the hunter will have to use a significant caliber, one that will have some recoil. If my scope has an exceptionally short eye relief this distance will be shortened even more as I aim up a hill or to a mountain. This increases the chance of scope eye, a painful symptom of buck fever.
Other environmental considerations include the presence of water, and the likelihood of rain. Hunting feral hogs in the marshes and swamps of Florida in considerably wetter than hunting in the plains of Texas. You’ll need to ensure your scope is protected from environmental factors like water. You may also need a sunshade if you hunt in bright environments.
Know Your Prey
This is one of the most important aspects in choosing an optic, what exactly are you hunting? You combine this factor with the environmental factors and you can make one an informed decision. Elk and deer are similar, but an elk is much more likely to attack, and charge. This may necessitate a greater need for a close range optic. However, if you are hunting in mountainous terrain, or across long plains, then a charge isn’t as big of a danger.
Bear is one species that may stalk hunters back, especially when young cubs are near, this is another situation where a closer range optic is superior to a longer range optic. This can be a life or death decision for large game hunting. If you are hunting in the Southeastern United States you may forego a magnified optic altogether and choose to use a 1 power reflex sight.
Hog hunting is probably the most common big game hunting in the United States and can be one of the most exciting and even one of the more dangerous hunting experiences. Hogs often gather in small herds, and are constantly on the move, with this animal a low powered optic with a wide field of view will allow you to take more than one if you are skilled enough. Hogs are also prone to charge and their razor sharp tusks can make short work of a hunter.
Always take into account your own skill level, and your proficiency with your optics and your weapons. Know the distance you are comfortable shooting, and if you ever feel uncomfortable and doubt yourself, don’t take the shot. If you purchase a practical, high quality scope, and understand your animal and your environment, then you are more likely to have a successful hunt. To give you an idea of some of the better big game hunting scopes we’ve done the legwork and have found four that fit most hunters needs.
4 Best Scopes For Big Game Hunting
On paper I shouldn’t like this optic, on a rifle though, I’m in love with it. It does have a massive 56mm objective lens, which is a bit larger than I’d ever prefer, and the lowest power setting is 3x, which is the absolute most I’d want as a minimum setting on a large game rifle. However, the scope works well. The 56mm does gather every little bit of available light, and does provide a very wide field of view. This wide field of view would allow you to effectively scout a herd of feral hogs.
I would still prefer a 2x or even a 1x for dealing with close range hog encounters. The Vortex Hog Hunter is build for one specific need for hunting hogs, but would work well for deer, and predators. The 12 power is more than enough power to scout out a herd and choose your hog, also the scope is rather long and wide and it does weigh 21 ounces. The Hog Hunter is made from a single piece of aircraft aluminum, and is sealed against water, dirt and debris. The scope is also nitrogen purged to prevent fog build up.
The scope features an adjustable objective lens for parallax correction, a feature that is barely negotiable when it comes to serious hunting scopes. The center dot is illuminated, so it can be seen regardless of the light available. The Vortex Hog Hunter is another solid entry into the Vortex catalog of optics.
Eye Relief: 3.5 inches
FOV @ 100 yards: 36.7-9.2 feet
Parallax Setting: 10 yards to infinity
Length: 14.3 inches
Weight: 21.1 oz
Lens Coating: Fully Multi Coated
Now here is a scope that looks good both on paper and on the range. Minox ZA 5 is a German designed, American manufactured optic that is perfect for big game hunting. The on paper goodness includes a 2 to 10 power magnification, which is perfect for those close range encounters.
The 40mm objective lenses is the perfect compromise in size and light transmission, and can be mounted with medium or low rings. The optic has a side focusing objective adjustment device, and fingertip adjustable turrets. The reticle is a simple German #4, which balances simplicity with effectiveness.
Once mounted to a rifle the Minox ZA 5 continues to shine brightly. Looking through the optic you get a crystal clear view of the world around you. Cranked down to 2 power the optic gives you nearly a 50 foot field of view at 100 yards. The 2 power is perfect for approaching potentially wounded game, or stalking through thicker brush. In the wide open you have the option to crank it to 10 power and see near and far.
The eye relief is a nice 4 inches, which is plenty of clearance for hunting up hill, and on the occasional mountain. The 4 inch eye is accommodating up to the most powerful of calibers. In practice this may take some getting used to when one is used to standard eye relief. The simple German #4 reticle is not the only option, and users can choose a BDC reticule, or a PLEX reticule when ordering. The Minox ZA 5 is a scope I expect to start seeing on big game rifles.
Eye Relief: 4 inches
FOV @ 100 yards: 9.4 – 47.5 ft
Parallax Setting: 100 yards
Length: 12.4 inches
Weight: 12 oz
Lens Coating: Fully Multi Coated
We’ve covered optics that give users options for both close and long range hunting, and while these optics work for close range, they are not perfect for it. If I was stalking bear in the wilderness of Northern Florida to the mountains of North Carolina, then I’d want something I could bring to bear as fast as possible. No pun intended.
The VX-3 has a variety of different powers, but for this review we are looking at the Compact VX-3. This model has a magnification that ranges from 1.5 to 5 power, with a 20mm objective.
The small size and low weight make this the perfect optic where a 100 yards or less is the intended range. This is a perfect optic for big game stalkers. Weighing a mere 9.3 ounces and being only 9.5 inches long the optic is barely noticeable when mounted. Your reticle options include the German #4, a heavy duplex, and a standard duplex. This is also a Leupold Gold Ring product, which gives it a lifetime, no questions asked warranty.
When set to the lowest setting you get a 67 foot field of view at one hundred yards and the scope acts more like a red dot than a scope. The picture is crystal clear and at short ranges the 20mm objective lens works hand in hand with Leupold’s unique multicoat system which does an excellent job at gathering light. I see this scope being an excellent choice on a powerful brush lever gun like the Marlin 45-70, or a Browning Bar Semi automatic.
Eye Relief: 3.7 to 4.4 inches (1.5x)
FOV @ 100 yards: 23.8 ft to 68 ft
Length: 9.5 inches
Weight: 9.3 oz
Lens Coating: DiamondCoat 2 coating
Trijicon is mostly known for its tactical rifle scopes, especially the ACOG. The Accupoint could surely be used as a tactical scope, but upon closer examination would make an excellent big game hunting optic. Now there are several models of the Accupoint, but for big Games hunting three distinct models stand out, the 1 to 4 power model, the 1 to 6 power, and the 2.5 to 12.5 power. Their objective lenses are 24mm, 24mm, and 42mm respectively.
The Accupoint is any of these setting would be perfect for big game hunting. The Accupoint offers a wide variety of different reticles for the optic, that range from complicated mil dot options to simple illuminated post and triangles. The Accupoint is tough enough to go to war and back, so you can trust that it is dependable. One of the best features is the battery free illumination, which uses fiber optics and tritium to gather and retain light for the reticule. You can also manually override the brightness level by covering the receptor with the built in sunshade.
The Accupoint makes it very easy to hit targets are a variety of ranges, and the lower settings allow shooters to stalk, or approach a wounded animal with their weapon ready and a wide field of view. The lenses are crystal clear high quality glass and fully multi coated for a bright, and glare free sight picture. The body of the scope is a one piece aluminum tube that strengthens the optic, and makes it more precise. The Accupoint is not a cheap scope, but is a well made scope, capable of withstanding the elements, and brutal recoil of hunting rifles.
Eye Relief: 3.9 inches
FOV @ 100 yards: 41.3 – 8.3 ft
Parallax: 10yds to infinity
Length: 13.8 inches
Weight: 22.4 oz
Lens Coating: Multi Coated