You may not need to see your target 800 yards away, but quality scopes and glass are still crucial to successful crossbow hunting.
By Gary Lewis
There is an old saying that a hunter should expect to pay as much for the scope as for the rifle. It's not that simple for the crossbow hunter. Because each hunter is unique, and a crossbow is a personalized tool, so too, the optic is a critical personal component in the system.
Today there are many options for the hunter who would put a high-quality optic atop a crossbow.
One major difference between rifle and crossbow scopes is the type of recoil and the amount of vibration. When the bolt leaves the string, the recoil is opposite of a centerfire rifle.
And with a crossbow, there is no need for high magnification. Shot opportunities are 10 to 70 yards and a wide field-of-view is more desirable.
The optimal magnification range is between 1X and 4X. This gives a better exit pupil with more light to the eye.
Another unique factor in crossbows is that the scopes can be calibrated to the speed of the bolt to give the shooter a precise aiming point, tuned to the trajectory.
In other words, with your magnification ring set to, say 340 fps, the reticles will match point of impacts at 30, 35 and 40 yards, for instance. Some shooter like a magnification ring, some don't. But it's definitely a uniquely crossbow feature.
WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU?
The best way to pick a scope is not out of catalog. Instead, try to put the scopes side by side and take them outside, if possible, to view the optics in natural light, preferably in the last hour of the day.
First, can it pass the smell test? Take it out of the box. Was there a scent when the lid came off the box? If it smells like used oil, put it aside. A new scope with fresh lubricant has a clean smell, like it just came out of the laboratory.
Turn the scope backwards and look at it through the objective lens. Look for small particles and glare from the interior finish. If there are bright spots, they represent light bouncing around, light that doesn't make it to the pupil.
Now look through the ocular lens. Pick a spot across the room and turn the focus ring. Is there slop or binding in the focus adjustment? Check the clarity of the image in the center of the view then look at the overall picture for a clear picture all the way to the edges.
Now take off the windage and elevation caps and check the adjustments.
The interior lenses should be treated with phase and metallic coatings for color fidelity and light transmission. Look at the specifications then take the scopes outside. Which scopes render colors true? Which scopes show fine detail? The quality matters and a fine crossbow should have the best scope a hunter can find. Which reticle will provide the most precise shooting opportunities. The price tag is not the main concern, the brand on the tube doesn't matter. It's what's inside that counts.
Is The Scope Important?
It's tempting to think a crossbow is a short-range tool and the optic is not as important as it is on a rifle. Remember, this is a telescopic sight, and is a precision instrument that is subject to abuse in the field. A sight that breaks, or fogs, on the hunt is worse than no sight at all.
Sighted-in at 10 yards, a crossbow arrow that leaves the bow at 200 fps will drop about 87 inches at 50 yards. The same arrow at 300 fps will drop 38 inches. At 400 fps, the arrow drops 22 inches at 50 yards. At any speed, a reticle tuned or calibrated to the arrow should have multiple aiming lines, or stadia. Also, windage and elevation dials should be precise and the focus adjustments should be smooth. Glass should be of the quality that your can see clearly in low-light conditions, which is when we do most of our hunting.
To my way of thinking, there is no good reason to skimp on crossbow glass, lens coatings and internal construction. A crossbow hunter should put a high priority on a premium scope.
The Latest Crossbow Scopes
Designed for the Bear X crossbow, this scope is compatible with any crossbow with speeds between 205 to 430 fps. The Trophy Ridge SpeedComp is adjustable from 1-5X with a 26mm objective. The illuminated reticle is designed to sight-in at 20 yards with 9 positions out to 100 yards.
Rated for speeds between 275 fps and 410 fps, the Tact-Zone has a substantial 30mm tube and a reticle with aiming points out to 60 yards. The illuminated reticle can be switched between red and green.
First thing you notice on this scope is the 44mm objective and the 30mm tube. Both of these qualities aid in light transmission for maximum advantage in low light. The reticle is designed for 10-yard increments with speeds between 300 and 400 fps. The illumination goes red or green.
Dial the speed selector from 215 fps to 450 fps to calibrate to the drop of the arrow. Turn the step-less rheostat for brightness of the reticle. And look at the reticle — with its floating range-finding bars and windage holds. Flip-up lens covers keep weather off the glass.
Although this optic was purpose-built for a semi-auto centerfire (up to 458 SOCOM), it can do double duty mounted on a picatinny rail on a crossbow. Three reticle options give the user the ability to tune to the drop of the arrow.
This 3X fixed-power scope boasts a single point of aim. The user simply ranges the target, dials the elevation turret (in one-yard increments, tuned to the arrow) and shoots. Pin point illumination options are red and green.
This low-priced compact scope gives the user one magnification, 4X, but two options, red or green, for reticle illumination. It takes a 3V-CR2032 battery.
Vibration has always been the hardest thing about using a rangefinder. This new Monarch uses vibration reduction to make ranging more precise. The user can easily switch between actual distance and horizontal distance (incline/decline) modes to range from 8 to 1,000 yards.
The Droptine comes in two options: 8x42mm and 10x42mm. Look for multi-coated lenses for maximum light transmission and reduced glare. Internally, the tubes are nitrogen-filled for waterproof and fog proof performance. Outer surfaces are rubber armored for grip and drop protection.
Instead of a spotting scope, a hunter can opt for a 15X binocular for those days spent glassing long canyons and wide open country. That's where this BX-5 Santiam comes in, with a long, forgiving eyebox, extra-low dispersion HD glass for low-light conditions and a tripod adapter.