Riflescopes On Handguns?


Mark was using a Leupold VX-3, 4.5-14x rifle scope on his
Nosler pistol in 6.5 Creedmoor to take this antelope.

The other day, while at the shooting range wringing out the accuracy potential in an Anschutz Exemplar, I had a fellow shooter come up and initiate a conversation. He asked, “You have a riflescope on a handgun?” It’s not the first time I’ve fielded this question. Mounting a riflescope on a handgun is not new or revolutionary. There are benefits of using a rifle scope on a handgun in certain circumstances, but there are aspects to consider. Before you rush out and mount a riflescope on your T/C 45-70, please continue reading.

While shooting competition and preparing for hunting season,
Mark is using a rifle scope on a 6BR where shots on steel went
beyond 400 yards. His head is backed away to prevent scope warts.


This discussion is not directly intended around revolvers or semi-autos but rather single-shot handguns such as T/C Contender or Encore, Nosler, H-S Precision, XP-100 and other models. There are valid reasons behind mounting a riflescope instead of a long-eye relief handgun scope. Simply put, I can see better! In the above situation, I wanted to determine the accuracy possible from the Anschutz 22 LR from 100 yards and beyond. I was using an Arken EPL-4, 4-16x44mm FFP scope. This can be accomplished much better with a good rifle scope with higher magnification. Shooting a rimfire, you can get a full field of view in the rifle scope without worrying about getting an eye socket cratered.

Long-range competition from a variety of disciplines, such as PRS matches and many other forms of competition shooting, has driven scope manufacturers to develop and provide many features on today’s rifle optics. Even demanding hunters who frequently are challenged with long pokes for critters such as antelope, Coues deer, sheep and especially varmints are searching for optics to accommodate their needs and specific applications. Due to this demand, scope manufacturers offer a plethora of options in riflescopes, such as First Focal Plane, zero stop, a wide variety of reticle options, and more.

Handgun scopes, on the other hand, are vastly limited in features and options. In the big scheme of things, handgun scopes pale in comparison to rifle scopes. Don’t misinterpret, I’m not knocking handgun scopes. I use them all the time — but they don’t provide the hunter with as many options compared to riflescopes. I completely understand the business concept — there are a lot more people buying riflescopes.

This Anschutz Exemplar in 22 LR is fitted with an Arken EPL-4,
4-16x rifle scope. The combination provides superb accuracy
— a squirrel’s worst nightmare.

Rifle Scopes Normalized

During the past few weeks, I have participated in three different handgun competitions. These handgun-exclusive matches entailed a variety of shooting applications, including rimfire games to long-range steel and paper targets with centerfire cartridges. Where permitted, most competitors were using rifle scopes on their .22 LR handguns — shooting out to 200 yards. In the long-range steel shooting, where cartridges ranged from 6BR to .308 Win, most everyone was shooting with a rifle scope. At another match, the long-range MOA Shoot in Sundance, Wyoming, every shooter was using a riflescope, and some of those chaps were shooting cartridges such as 6.5×284 and even a 7 WSM. While all of this revolved around competition shooting, many of these competitors will be heading to the field this fall hunting with a single-shot handgun fitted with a riflescope. During these three competition events, I’ve observed over 100 participants shooting riflescopes on single-shot handguns.

There are a couple of serious considerations before fitting a single-shot handgun with a riflescope. First, recoil is obviously a factor. The rimfire presents no issues, but when moving up to centerfire cartridges, proper technique is paramount. An effective muzzle brake is your friend — and fortunately, we have many great choices available. Yes, I’ve heard it 1,000 times: Muzzle brakes are loud. We should wear hearing protection at all times when shooting, even when hunting, regardless of brake or not. An effective muzzle brake reduces muzzle rise and lessens felt recoil. I often hunt with an H-S Precision handgun in .270 WSM, and it is amazing how the muzzle brake allows me to shoot with a riflescope.

Experienced shooters will look through the scope and find their target. Then back their head away from the optic. When doing so, you will lose a full field of view and be looking through a donut hole. The outer edge of your view will be black. As long as you keep the crosshairs centered in the “donut hole,” the shot will not be distorted. This keeps your eye far enough away from the optic to eliminate getting a bleeding gash above your eyebrow. There are variables to keep in mind. How much recoil does your gun generate? How effective is the muzzle brake? Are you far enough away from the scope?

If your hunting is limited to short-range opportunities, a riflescope will provide no benefit. Shooting prairie dogs at 300 yards, antelope in wide open spaces, or a big whitetail buck across the bean field, a riflescope may enhance your success.

Subscribe To American Handgunner

Purchase A PDF Download Of The American Handgunner Jan/Feb 2024 Issue Now!