Handgun Scopes

Hunting, Targets, Long-Range Or
Plinking What Do You Need To Know?

By Mark Hampton

As I looked through some of my dad’s old hunting photos dating back to the early and mid 1950’s, many hunters were sporting wool pants, plaid-checkered wool shirts and cigarettes hanging from their mouths. In many pictures, Dad held his trusty pre-64 Model 70. I believe the gun was topped with a Lyman Alaskan scope. Looking at this optic was thought provoking. If memory serves me correctly, the magnification on this particular model was 2.5X. Boy have we come a long way, especially in optics.

With today’s advanced engineering, inspired technology and creative innovation, optics has skyrocketed in performance, almost like computers. We have so many new designs, options and features for a huge variety of shooting and hunting applications it’s a bit overwhelming. It used to be a scope sort of did “general” duty for anything. Now, we have specific designs to accomplish specific chores. But there are more “general duty” optics too.

Frankly, hunters have never had it so good with today’s specific models for small game, dangerous game, woods hunting, wide open spaces, long-distance opportunities, competition, general plinking and use and more. While we can’t cover everything, let’s look at a few of the many possibilities to help you decide what you might need for your own application.


Having long — or shorter — eye relief depends upon the caliber
of the handgun and the intended use. Mark’s posing with a Magnum
Research BFR .460 S&W Mag. using a field rest. This shows how a
long eye relief scope would be needed in this situation,
with a heavy recoiling handgun and this field rest.


Leupold V 6 2-12X. Mark has a long history using Leupold optics
and says he’s never had one fail in the field, in spite of using
them in dozens of hunts all over the world. Optics are superb and
quality is at the highest levels.


Leupold 2.5-8X handgun scope fitted on a Freedom Arms .338 Federal s
ingle-shot pistol. Even in heavy recoiling handguns like this, Mark
says the Leupold brand has held up without any issues staying clear,
crisp and aligned in spite of rough handling on pack trains,
climbing mountains or ham-handed baggage handlers!


A classic brand if there ever was one, Leupold has been a favorite for many hunters over the years. I’m guilty of having a wide variety of gold ring scopes on my own guns. The Oregon-based company offers a wide range of optics, from their top-of-the-line VX-6 rifle scopes to purpose-built optics for hog hunting, competition, rimfire, muzzleloaders and handguns. I’ve been shooting their VX-6 2-12X model and must admit, this is a serious scope for serious hunters. The exceptional clarity screams — wow!

Their new VX-3i line-up is equally impressive. The 4.5-14X model with B&C reticle is one of my favorites and I mount it on single-shot handguns for accuracy evaluation and even hunting in some circumstances. Leupold has added magnification ranges to this series, along with their new Twilight Max light management technology. This innovation squeezes every bit of light left in shooting hours. Many of my handguns are wearing Leupold’s VX-3, 2.5–8X handgun scope. This is one of the finest handgun scopes on the market. After hunting all over the world with Leupold scopes — I have the utmost confidence in their performance. They also offer reflex sights, binos and spotting scopes. A few years ago I had the privilege of touring Leupold’s facility and saw over 700 Americans taking pride in manufacturing some of the finest optics available. If I sound enthusiastic about this, I am. I’ve never had a Leupold scope fail.


Meopta 4.5-14X Target scope. Meopta has become known for affordable
“European” quality and style optics, even though the company is owned
by an American family!


European optics are well-known for their high quality glass, and often the cost associated with those scopes. One European company is unique in several ways and provides exceptional optics for the money. Meopta has been making top-shelf European optics for over 80 years. The company is owned by an American family of Czech decent, with a production facility in the Czech Republic. Meopta also has headquarters in New York, where the company assembles its European-quality MeoPro line of scopes. This makes it rather unique in this industry — an American-owned European optics company.

Meopta offers a pretty full line of quality scopes offering superb low-light performance. The MeoPro and MeoStar line-up covers a wide range of magnification and reticle choices. I’ve been working with their MeoPro 4.5-14×44 Target scope with BDC reticle. The sharp contrast and clarity is noteworthy. European hunters often shoot game in low light conditions — even moonlight — so enhanced light-gathering capability is paramount. Well, this country boy waits for a monster whitetail to step out in fading light and I really appreciate all the ingredients Meopta offers for such a moment. They offer great value in a high-quality scope, including their binos and spotting scopes. I know my boss, Editor Roy, favors Meopta on many of his guns since I see them when he hunts with me on our farm here in Missouri.


Sight Mark 4X handgun scope. A new company in the optics market,
they are also known for red dot sights, rifle scopes and chamber
laser bore sights. This fixed 4X scope comes with mounts and rings
and is able to withstand heavy recoil. So far, Mark’s been very
happy with its performance on a hard-recoiling TC in .44 Magnum.

Sight Mark

You may not have heard about Sight Mark optics as they hit the radar screen around 2007. Some of their best selling products include red dot sights, rifle scopes and chamber laser bore sights. Recently I’ve been testing one of their handgun scopes, the Core SX 4×32 model. The company states it’s designed to withstand heavy recoil. I have this scope on a T/C G2 pistol in .44 Magnum and so far I am very pleased, indeed. A fixed 4X handgun scope on the .44 makes for an ideal hunting rig. The extra-long eye relief is most welcome too, especially for new shooters to help find the crosshairs. Plus, the scope is lightweight and very compact measuring only 9.1″ long.

It even comes with rings, ready to mount. That’s convenient and means you don’t need to dig around trying to figure out the best way to mount it. This is an entry-level scope that has performed well, with a price that won’t generate cardiac arrest.


Burris 3-12 with Ballistic Plex reticle on Freedom Arms 223. Burris
has a long history of offering high quality handgun scopes.


For many years I’ve had some form of Burris optics mounted on my handguns. Depending on the gun and purpose at hand, Burris provides handgun hunters several fine options. My favorite is probably their 3-12X with Ballistic Plex reticle. This BP reticle feature allows you to sight your gun in at a particular range then use the hash marks for hold-over at extended ranges. It’s important to shoot at varying distances to know exactly which hash mark to use for any given range.

Their 2-7X is another fine choice. I have this model on a T/C Contender in .17 HMR and it has served me well — although small game and prairie dogs hate it! The Burris Eliminator III is a favorite of many rifle hunters, as well as the company’s Veracity, XTR II, Timberline, Scout and Predator Quest series.


Vortex Diamondback HP 4-16X. Mark is very impressed with the Vortex brand
and their wide selection means you can likely find something you need for sure.


At a recent MOA long-range pistol match I noticed several competitors employing Vortex scopes. I spoke with each one of these guys and they all had nothing but positive things to say. So, I came up with a Vortex Diamondback HP riflescope and mounted it on a Freedom Arms single-shot in .260 Rem. Fitting rifle scopes on handguns is not a new concept by any means as many long-range handgunners are going this route. The 4-16×42 scope with Dead-Hold BDC reticle is ideal for wringing out accuracy potential. This 4x zoom range optic features side focus parallax adjustment and is made from a single-piece of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy.

If I overuse the term “clarity” it’s simply because of the crisp, clear image today’s optics provide. This Vortex scope will be headed to the MOA long range pistol match this year and I’ll join the growing crowd. In the top-tier category lies their Razor HD AMG line featuring versatile magnification ranges and state-of-the-art, high-performance attributes. Other models are available and their VIP warranty is what attracts a lot of shooters. Vortex also provides quality binos and spotting scopes such as the one my sheep guide in Alaska was using during a 12-day hunt recently.


Sightron SIII 6–24X. A favorite of long-range handgunners,
Sightron’s side focus is convenient and quality is excellent.


Another optic I observed at the long-range pistol match was Sightron. After looking through their optics I decided to try one of the SIII series in 6-24×50. It too comes with a lifetime warranty. The side focus was easy to adjust and the magnification ring turned flawlessly through a wide range of power. I have this model on a .300 Win. Mag. and so far it has performed wonderfully. The glass is simply crystal clear, and a delight to look through whenever I use it.
Sightron also offers other models, including their SI Hunter series. If you’re looking for solid, quality optics at affordable prices, Sightron is definitely a stand-up company. I’ll be using more of these scopes in the future.


Bushnell Elite 2-6X handgun scope on a T/C Encore. Marks says the Elite
“ … one of the toughest scopes I have ever mounted on heavy-recoiling
handguns.” Proof Bushnell can take a beating in a hard-recoiling
hunting handgun with the best of them.


While not the newest kid on the block, Bushnell’s Elite 2-6×32 is one of the toughest scopes I have ever mounted on heavy-recoiling handguns. This scope is built like a tank. I’ve never had an issue with one after many years of shooting. The user-friendly eye-relief stays the same regardless of the power setting. For handgun hunters, this is a great scope. If Bushnell would offer some options like adding more magnification, with hold-over reticles, handgun hunters would be dancing in the streets!

Bushnell offers a full range of rifle scopes and I’m particularly fond of their Legend series. I’m currently working on a .223 project with a 3-9x40mm with DOA 600 reticle. This is a lot of scope for the money. The fast-focus adjustment eyepiece and side parallax adjustment work as advertised. After several hundred rounds of shooting at various ranges, this scope provides a lot of features and quality for the money.


Leupold, Talley, Warne rings. Like the foundation on a house, unless
you put your scope on solid bases using high quality rings, you’re
wasting your time and money. Stick with name brandsand do a bit of
research to find out the best combo for the job you have at hand.


Scopes are available in every price range, with features
and options for every purpose.

Mounting Hardware

Shooters would not be able to take advantage of all the bells and whistles on today’s scopes without proper mounting hardware. Mount your quality scope in cheap bases and rings and you’ll likely experience a headache a 50-gallon barrel of aspirin won’t help. We celebrated the 25th anniversary of Warne scope mounts in 2016, and I have been using their Maxima steel rings and bases for years. I couldn’t be happier. They hold scopes solid as a rock, and when properly mounted, never leave ring marks on your scope tube. Warne has added new Mountain Tech rings and rails to their line-up, machined from aluminum for a lightweight platform.

Leupold’s Dual Dovetail bases and rings have been dependable on many of my bolt-actions. When Weaver style bases are fitted, their PRW rings are easy to install and just as easy to mount a scope. The PRW rings have never failed me and have endured thousands of rounds of rifle and handgun abuse in my hands.

Burris Signature Zee rings are another favorite. There’s no ring marks left behind with this system too. They also hold the scope securely in place. Burris provides these dependable rings in various sizes to accommodate a variety of tube sizes.

Weigand Combat also provides handgunners with some quality options. Their Weig-a-Tinny scope mounts are ideal for many handguns. Weigand Magnum scope rings are reliable, and if three rings are necessary on heavy recoiling handguns, Weigand has you covered.

If you’ve ever mounted a scope, you’ve probably heard of Talley rings. For years I’ve found these high-quality rings to be super-dependable. No need to worry about scope mounting problems with Talley. Period.

Regardless whether you’re hunting small game, shooting competition, ringing steel plates at 1,000 yards, or waiting for a big whitetail on the back 40, today’s scopes offer a wide range of features and critical ingredients for any application. If Dad were around today I’m sure he would be astonished at the advancements and I’m sure his hunting rifles would be wearing the most up-to-date optics he could find. We should too.

For more info:


Leupold & Stevens



Smith & Wesson

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