Handgun Scopes: The Good, Bad And In-Between

By Mark Hampton

When I was young, iron sights ruled. Today, I need the optics to help me make better, sure shots. There are a lot of factors to consider before choosing a particular optic. Things like the type of hunting, terrain, anticipated distances involved, type of handgun and cartridge, along with a host of other considerations all need to be given some thought. Mounting the right scope on your hunting gun will not only increase your shooting enjoyment — but will benefit you with tags punched and freezers filled.

We’ve come a long way since that 1.3X Bushnell Phantom I mounted on a T/C .44 Mag. many decades ago. I swear, I still think it seemed to make the target smaller! But to be perfectly honest, even though there’s a lot of good in scopes today, there’s still room for plenty of improvement too.

For example, the field of view (FOV) pales in comparison to rifle scopes, and let’s not even discuss light gathering ability. These are two critical features needing enhancement. If the tactical market ever recedes, hopefully someday optics manufacturers will catapult handgun scopes to the current century. Upgrades in handgun scopes during the last decade or two have been as rare as snow leopards here in Missouri.

Some choices

Despite my constructive criticism, we do have some good ones available. Leupold makes a straight 2X and 4X along with their 2.5-8X variable in silver or matte. Burris offers a straight 2X and two variables, a 2-7X and 3-12X. These variables are available with the Burris Ballistic Plex reticles which are a welcome feature for long range pokes. Bushnell has the 2-6X in both silver and matte finish. Nikon provides a straight 2X along with their 2.5-8X variable. Weaver has four budget-friendly handgun scopes, including a straight 2X and 4X plus two variables in 1.5-4X and 2.5-8X.

While you may run across a discontinued Simmons, Tasco, Redfield, or other obsolete models, the handgun scopes mentioned above represent current offerings. As with most things in life, there’s no free lunch when it comes to optics. You get what you pay for.

Revolver cartridges, limited to their effective range, will be fine with either a 2X or 4X. If I were hunting in heavy timber with shots restricted to 50 yards or so, the 2X would suffice. When extended opportunities materialize I prefer a 4X just so I can see the target better. You can’t hit what you can’t see.

I do have a Bushnell 2-6X mounted on a Freedom Arms Model 83 revolver in .44 Mag. The combo works just fine, and there’s nothing wrong with a variable on a revolver. Some may actually prefer a low-powered variable like the Bushnell mentioned, Burris’s 2-7X, or Weaver’s 1.5-4X on their wheelgun. With two upcoming .44 Mag. revolver projects in the works, both will wear a fixed 4X, though.

When shooting opportunities extend beyond one hundred yards and single-shot handguns come in to action, those 2.5-8X variables and the Burris 3-12X make solid choices. You can always crank the power down for close range shots if needed. Having the flexibility to adjust the power setting to a higher magnification for longer shots is always helpful.


Left, H-S Precision with Leupold 2.5-8X. Right, T/C with Burris
3-12X and Freedom Arms with Bushnell 2-6X in front.

Handgun scopes have a restricted field of view. According to manufacturer’s specifications, Leupold’s 2X, the Burris 2X and the Nikon 2X offer a FOV a tad bit over 20 feet from 100 yards. Crank the power up on Leupold’s 2.5-8X to the highest setting and you’ll get a FOV of 4.8′ at 100 yards. When you set the power of Burris’s 3-12X on its highest setting you merely get 4 ft. Positioned on 2X, Bushnell’s Elite only provides a FOV of 14′ Adjust the power up to 6X and you’ll see just 4.5′ at 100 yards. Unless you have shot a handgun scope considerably, you may have a difficult time even finding a deer in the scope’s field of view!

In contrast to rifle scopes, handgun scopes feature a critical eye relief. My wife has a terrible time trying to find the target in handgun scopes. She really hasn’t shot extended eye-relief optics much and it’s very “challenging” as she might say, and definitely often frustrating. Your eye has to be in correct alignment with the tube and the correct distance away to gain a full, clear picture. It can be difficult to get a handle on it for a novice.

The best way to consistently acquire a clear sight picture is practice, practice — and then practice a bit more. Take a .22 fitted with a handgun scope, a brick of ammo and shoot a variety of targets at various ranges. You will reach a point where you can acquire targets without frustration and suddenly wonder why it was so hard at first!

Regardless of their shortcomings, handgun scopes — set up properly — can greatly enhance shot placement. Choosing the right optic for your particular handgun and intended application will serve you well. Perhaps someday we’ll see major improvements in handgun scopes, so keep squawking at those makers. I need all the help I can get!

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