Photo of a variable power scope mounted on a rifle, set against a blurred forest background. The focus is on the scope's adjustment rings

Variable Optics: Understanding Variable Power Scopes

Variable optics are your ticket to mastering precision shooting. If you’re keen to elevate your game from casual shooter to a seasoned marksman, you’re in the right place. With this versatile equipment, you’ll leap from just getting by to being a top gun in your field. Whether you’re a newbie or an old hand, this guide will serve you well. So buckle up, aim, and fire up your learning – your journey into the expansive world of variable optics starts here.

What are Variable Optics?

Variable optics are gun optics, or scopes, that let you adjust your zoom level on targets. They’re versatile, meaning you can use them for a whole range of shooting fun, from close-up, speedy target scenarios to slow-paced, focused long-range shooting.

Types of Variable Optics

Variable optics come in different flavors. Let’s jump in and look at the different types:

Type of Variable OpticMinimum MagnificationMaximum MagnificationTypical Use
Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs)1x4x to 10xClose to medium-range shooting, tactical situations, hunting
Medium Power Variable Optics3xUp to 18xHunting, medium-range target shooting
High Power Variable Optics6x20x and higherLong-range target shooting, benchrest shooting, long-distance hunting

Note: These categories are broad and the magnification ranges can overlap between categories. For instance, some LPVOs can go up to 8x or even 10x, while some high power scopes might start at lower magnifications. Always check the specific specs of an optic before purchasing to ensure it will suit your needs.

  1. Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs): Perfect for targets that aren’t too far away. These guys usually start with 1x magnification, but can go up to 10x in some cases. They’re the ideal pick for tactical scenarios or hunting in thick woods.
  2. Medium Power Variable Optics: When your targets are a bit further away, these are your go-to. They start around 3x and can go up to about 18x. These are top picks for hunting in open areas or medium-range target shooting.
  3. High Power Variable Optics: For the really far-off stuff, you’ll want high power variable optics. They kick off around 6x and can go over 20x. These are perfect for super precise long-range shooting, or hunting in wide-open spaces.

Choosing the Right Variable Optic

Looking for the right variable optic might seem like a huge task, but we’re here to make it simple. We’ll walk you through the main stuff to consider – like what type of shooting you’re planning, how far away your target will be, and of course, how much cash you’re looking to drop.

How will you use it?

First off, your game plan matters. Are you a hunter needing clear shots at varying distances, a target shooter who needs precision at all ranges, or maybe a tactical operator who might encounter a mix of close and long-range scenarios? The type of shooting you’ll be doing will massively impact the kind of variable optic you’ll need.

How far away is your potential target?

Next, you should consider the distance of your typical target. If your targets are usually close to medium range, an LPVO (Low Power Variable Optic) with a 1-4x or 1-6x magnification might be all you need. But if you’re shooting at longer distances, you’ll need a High Power Variable Optic (HPVO), offering a higher magnification range, typically starting at 5x or more.

What can you really afford?

Lastly, but certainly not least, is your budget. As with any gear, you get what you pay for in the world of variable optics. Higher-end models offer more features, better durability, and superior glass quality. But don’t despair if you’re working with a smaller budget – there are plenty of solid options that offer good performance without breaking the bank.

Prices vary greatly based on brand, model, and where you’re purchasing from. This table just gives a general idea of what to expect.

Type of ShootingLow Budget ($100-$300)Mid Budget ($300-$800)High Budget ($800+)
HuntingNikon Buckmasters II 3-9×40 (MPVO)Vortex Optics Diamondback 4-12×40 (MPVO)Swarovski Z5 3.5-18×44 (HPVO)
Target ShootingBushnell Banner 4-12×40 (MPVO)Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10×50 (MPVO)Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×56 (HPVO)
Tactical/Self-DefenseVortex Crossfire II 1-4×24 (LPVO)Trijicon AccuPoint 1-6×24 (LPVO)EOTech Vudu 1-6×24 (LPVO)

Understanding why you’re shooting, estimating the potential distance of your target, and being honest about your budget are the key factors in choosing the right variable optic. It’s not about finding the ‘best’ optic on the market; it’s about finding the best optic for you and your specific needs. And remember, even the most high-tech gear won’t replace practice and skill – so once you’ve got your new optic, get out there and put some rounds downrange.

How to Use a Variable Optic

You’ve picked your variable optic, but you’re not quite sure what to do next? No sweat. We’ll cover the basics like how to change the zoom, focus the reticle, and make sure your shots hit the mark every time.

The first step to mastering it is understanding the essentials. Here’s how you get your optic playing by your rules:

Adjusting the Zoom

The primary feature of variable optics is the ability to switch between magnification levels. The zoom ring, typically found at the end of the scope near the eyepiece, is the key player here. Twist that ring to cycle through the optic’s magnification range. Lower magnifications will give you a wider field of view, handy for close quarters or moving targets. Crank it up for those precise, long-range shots.

Focusing the Reticle

So, you’ve got your target in sight, but your reticle’s a blur. That’s where the diopter comes in. This nifty little adjustment, found on the eyepiece, will bring your reticle into sharp focus. Just look through your scope at a plain backdrop (like the sky or a blank wall) and slowly adjust the diopter until the reticle is clear. This is usually a one-time setup – you’re good unless your eyesight changes.

Zeroing the Optic

This is where the magic happens. You’ve got to get your shots hitting exactly where you’re aiming. Start by setting up a target at a known distance. Now, take a few shots to see where they’re landing compared to your point of aim.

Next up, it’s time to dial in adjustments. Your optic will have a couple of knobs (usually on the top and side) known as turrets. The top one controls the up-and-down (elevation), while the side one deals with left-and-right (windage). If your shots are landing high, dial the top turret down. If they’re hitting to the left, dial the side turret to the right. Do this iteratively, taking shots and making adjustments, until your point of aim matches your point of impact.

Now, whether you’re stalking prey in the woods, taking aim at a long-range target, or stuck in a fast-paced tactical situation, you’re armed with the know-how to get the most out of your variable optic. Always remember that practice makes perfect – the more time you spend behind the scope, the sharper your shots will become. Happy shooting!

Maintenance and Care

Your tools are your best friends, and they deserve some love. We’ll show you how to keep your variable optic in top-notch condition, so it’ll serve you faithfully for years.

Keeping your variable optic in prime condition isn’t just about preserving your investment – it’s about ensuring you’ve got a reliable tool when you need it most. Follow these steps, and your optic will be ready to perform when the pressure’s on.

1. Cleaning

Just like your firearm, your optic needs regular cleaning. But this ain’t your barrel – you’ve got to be delicate here. Use a lens brush or canned air to gently remove dust and debris. For fingerprints or stubborn smudges, a lens cleaning solution applied to a soft, non-abrasive microfiber cloth will do the trick. Remember, never wipe your lenses with a rough cloth or paper towel – those delicate surfaces won’t thank you for it.

2. Storage

When you’re not out in the field, your optic should be kept in a dry, temperature-controlled environment. You might consider a dehumidifier if you live in a humid area. When transporting your optic, use a scope cover or a case for protection. This helps to prevent scratches, bumps, and knocks that could knock your optic out of alignment or damage the lenses.

3. Regular Checks

Even when well-protected and cared for, your variable optic can develop problems. Regularly check your optic for loose mountings, misalignments, and any issues with the lenses or adjustments. This way, you’ll spot any potential issues before they ruin your shooting experience.

4. Battery Care

If your variable optic includes illuminated reticles or other battery-powered features, remember to check and replace batteries as necessary. Remove batteries if you won’t be using the optic for a while, to avoid the risk of leaks damaging your equipment.

5. Respect Your Gear

Sounds obvious, right? But this can’t be overstated. Your variable optic is a precision instrument. Avoid throwing it around or treating it roughly. Keep it securely mounted and avoid subjecting it to unnecessary shocks.

Follow these steps and you’ll keep your variable optic in the kind of shape that’ll see you through any scenario you might face. Your gear’s only as good as the care you put into it, so look after that optic like it’s your wingman.


1. What is the benefit of a variable optic?

A variable optic offers flexibility that fixed optics can’t match. Its adjustable magnification levels mean you can adapt on-the-fly to various shooting distances and target sizes. Whether you’re aiming at a close-range target or a distant one, a variable optic lets you get the best possible sight picture for each scenario.

2. Is a variable optic suitable for beginners?

Absolutely. While they might seem complex at first glance, variable optics can be a valuable learning tool for new shooters. The adjustable magnification allows beginners to experiment with different settings and discover what works best for their shooting style and the given circumstances.

3. Are variable optics durable?

Quality and durability vary by brand and model. However, many variable optics are built with rugged materials designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and heavy recoil. Check the manufacturer’s details for information on build quality, weather resistance, and warranty.

4. How do I choose the right magnification level for my needs?

Choosing the right magnification depends on your intended use. For close to medium-range shooting, such as home defense or competitive shooting, a lower magnification range (like 1-4x or 1-6x) can be ideal. For long-range shooting or hunting, higher magnifications (6-24x, for example) may be more appropriate. It’s all about what suits your specific requirements.

5. Can variable optics be used at night?

Many variable optics models have illumination features that make them usable in low-light conditions. Some even have night vision capabilities. However, not all variable optics are created equal when it comes to night use. Ensure to check the product specifications before purchase if you intend to use your scope in low-light environments.

6. What is the price range for variable optics?

Variable optics can range widely in price, depending on factors like brand, features, and build quality. You can find entry-level models for around a hundred dollars, while high-end models with advanced features can run into the thousands. It’s essential to consider your budget and needs when choosing a variable optic.

7. How do I maintain my variable optic?

Proper maintenance extends the life of your variable optic. Keep it clean, especially the lenses, using appropriate cleaning tools and solutions. Protect it from extreme temperatures and humidity. When not in use, store it in a dry and safe place. Always follow the manufacturer’s specific maintenance and care instructions.


Check out these additional resources to dig deeper into variable optics:

“The Ultimate Sniper: An Advanced Training Manual for Military and Police Snipers” by John L. Plaster. This book, while not solely focused on optics, contains substantial information about snipers’ scopes and their use.

“Long-Range Precision Rifle” by Anthony Cirincione II. It covers many topics, including scopes and optics.


Whether you’re all about that up-close action or pinpoint precision from afar, variable optics offer versatility like no other. With a bit of know-how and the right optic, you can elevate your shooting to a whole new level.