Optics for Beginners, by Chris Hernandez

Pick one. But how? (photo of a pile of scopes found on an online forum).

Pick one. But how? (photo of a pile of scopes found on an online forum).

Here’s a small snip from a post by Chris Hernandez at The New Rifleman, a blog aimed at rifle n00bs. Hey, everybody’s a n00b once, and the variety of optics available now can be confusing, so a review of the basics hurteth not.

Example: for complicated reasons, when the SOPMOD I gear shipped, we got bare equipment with no instructions and no training, so we had to figure it out on our own. That was not entirely fun.

In this snip, Chris tells you what he used, and a few facts about the civilian rifleman. Some of these facts probably qualify as “Tough love.”

I’m not a sniper, nor do I have extensive experience with optics in the civilian world. What I do have, however, is a decent background in military optics from my twenty-plus years in the Marine Reserve and Army National Guard, including two combat deployments where I used an Aimpoint CCO (Close Combat Optic), Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG), and Leupold MR/T (Medium Range Tactical scope). In the Marines my secondary MOS was 8531, Marksmanship Coach. I’m also a school-trained Army Squad Designated Marksman (SDM), meaning I’ve attended a two-week course which taught me to hit man-sized targets with an M16A4 out to 600 meters with iron sights and ACOGs. So I’ve got a decent background in medium to long range shooting, with and without optics.

So, first thing: If you’re a typical civilian shooter with limited training time and limited money for an optic and training ammo, there’s no reason to try to make yourself a sniper. It’s not going to happen. In the Army, with government ammo and decades of institutional marksmanship knowledge, the average soldier only shoots to 300 meters. And some of them struggle with that. So it’s not really feasible for the average civilian shooter, with extremely limited training resources, to expect to shoot like a sniper.

Second thing: For most modern combat, 300 meters is plenty far. I carried an M14EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle) in Afghanistan, and I could consistently hit a torso-sized rock at 900 meters – at the range, with perfect weather conditions, a good firing position, on a stationary target at a known distance. In combat, with extreme heat or cold, unknown distances, hasty firing positions, adrenaline and moving targets, plus little annoyances like incoming fire, I would have been ecstatic to smoke a mofo at 200 meters.

Third: 300 meters is about the practical limit for civilians in any foreseeable domestic combat situation. If you’re preparing to defend your family from rampaging gangsters, it’s not likely you’ll find yourself sniping them from 500 meters. Urban combat is a close-in affair. In Iraq, enemy snipers sometimes engaged from within 100 meters. Unless you’re defending a farm in the middle of acres of cleared land, you probably won’t do any long range shooting

There’s a ton more good info on the site, so get thee hence and Read The Whole Thing™.

We’d add a few bullet points:

  • Almost nobody is as good a shot as he thinks he is.
  • If he hasn’t been practicing, he’s not the shot he used to be, either.
  • And he’s definitely not the shot he thinks he was. 
  • ACOGs are the heat. They have something many scopes don’t: durability. In our opinion, they lose sales because they’ve got so many variations and models that it confuses people. Just get one with the right BDC for your barrel length and caliber.
  • But for a home defense or truck gun, a high quality red dot is probably your best choice.
  • In optics, you get what you pay for except at the very high tail of the cost bell curve, where most people can’t exploit the marginal differences in performance.
  • The flipside of that? You’re better off buying a cheaper rifle and a more expensive scope than you originally planned.
  • Lots of phony optics out there. Protect yourself (we wrote about this back in 2012, a couple of times).
  • Scopes put the target and the aiming point in the same focal plane, so they’re extremely beneficial to novice shooters, and also to shooters who wear glasses or have some eye problems.
  • Night vision compatibility is cool. Shooting with night vision is also a perishable skill that needs to be practiced. If you don’t already have a night vision monocular or goggles, and don’t have a need or a way to practice with them, don’t pay extra for this capability; all you get is bragging rights, nothing practical for you.
  • Chris’s post is a great place for a beginner to, well, begin. Read The Whole Thing™ (you knew we were gonna say that, right?)

Finally, don’t be too eager to step in to complicated and advanced techniques like shooting at moving targets, shooting on the move, clearing structures, obstructed areas, or linear targets, or engaging targets that are higher up or lower than your position. Work on accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. Speed will come in due course, once you’re consistent enough to be accurate.

3 thoughts on “Optics for Beginners, by Chris Hernandez

  1. Aesop

    As presbyopia kicks in, red dots are worth their weight in gold when you can no longer pull focus on a front sight blade. (One happy serendipity was finding that the old reliable iron rear peep sight on the back of an AR obviates any need for eyeglasses close in.)

    Most people would be best off if they spent more on the optic than the weapon, and more on ammo than the other two combined (which given recent ammo prices lately is not all that difficult), and proceeded to practice with all of that ammo until they could hit something the size of a dinner platter most of the time out to 500m or so, on a range, under perfect conditions.

  2. Stefan van der Borght

    Ah, but a nifty optic a sniper (or just a good rifleman) does not automatically make. There’s that Finnish sniper from WW2 that preferred iron sights for various reasons, the Boers with their 7mm Mausers, the BEF in 1914 with the SMLE and the AIF shortly after, for instances. Practice practice practice, until you can do it in your sleep. You’ll probably have to. Nothing wrong with learning long distance, especially when your playmates on the opfor aren’t majoring in it. 600m used to be medium range a century ago. Surely we should match and beat that….

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