By far, the most common scope used on hunting rifles is 3x-9x, which means that it magnifies about 3 times at the low end of adjustment, up to 9 times at the high end. A 40mm objective lens is plenty big, and that's what I prefer on my own hunting rifles. So for the purposes of this discussion, I'll stick with the most popular scope there is: 3x-9x, 40mm.
What Brands are Good?
Well, there are plenty of them to choose from. I find myself gravitating towards Sightron at the low end of the price scale, now that I have tried a couple, and liked them. The high end, for me, would be Leupold (excluding their cheaper Rifleman series), although there are others that cost more and offer better optics. For my needs, the improvement in quality doesn't justify their high prices.
What's it Going to Cost?
Often, it comes down to how much you want to spend. I have some very good scopes, and I have some junky ones. The cheapest good one I own is a Sightron S1 (I now own three of them, all on centerfire hunting rifles). Before I discovered this brand I bought a couple of Nikon scopes in the $200 range and a Burris for a little more, and I'm pleased with them... but the $130 Sightron gives me about the same performance, and offers considerable savings.
Gloss or matte finish?
I often use matte scopes because most of my guns have matte finishes, and I don't want my gun shining like a new dime when I head into the woods. If you enjoy the cosmetics of your rifle as much as its performance, then a more polished gun would look better with a gloss scope on it. I did put a glossy Sightron S1Sightron S1 on Dad's old Browning BAR 30-06 (and took a doe with a 100-yard head shot the first time I took it to the woods).
When it comes to choosing a crosshair or reticle (that's what you see and use for aiming - usually a cross - when you look through the scope), it's hard to beat the tried-and-true cross with lines that are thicker towards the outer ends of the "hairs" and thinner in the center, where they cross. Different manufacturers call them by different names, but usually they will be named "plex" or some variation thereof.
All in all, you can get a good quality scope without breaking the bank, if you're careful. 3x-9x is a good range of magnification, and scopes in that range are readily available and often cost less than others. Go with a 40mm objective lens and you will have all the light you need and will still be able to mount the scope nice and low, as it should be.
Buy a scope that's good enough so you can trust it to perform when you need it, where you need it. The hunting woods isn't exactly a gentle environment, and that means our scopes should be able to take some punishment. Make your choice accordingly - the trophy of a lifetime may depend on it!
- Russ Chastain