I was in Vienna when I heard “our hunting scopes are designed by hunters for hunters” that I decided it was time to evaluate what mattered most for hunting scopes used in Southern Africa. Considerations do not include long range hunting, meaning that we talking distances of up to 400 m.
A scope reticle equates the front sight, it must point to where the gun shoots! The scope must first and foremost hold zero, hence robustness is a fundamental requirement. The scope is the weakest link of rifle, scope and mounts? Kahles won’t agree, this rifle found in the mountains 40 years after it was lost with their scope still functional.
30 mm tube diameters are the most widely used hunting scopes in Southern Africa; a trend started on the incorrect assumption of greater light transmission. Other than greater turret adjustment there is no optical or robustness benefit of a 30 mm tube over a 25.4 mm tube scope. Light transmission is a function of lens coatings and the objective lens and not the tube diameter.
Choose the scope diameter which gives the best balance for your rifle; fit a 25.4 mm tube scope to a light small rifle and a 30 mm tube scope to a bigger heavier rifle. Keep in mind that you can mount a 25.4 mm scope lower.
Ring mounted scopes are by far more popular than rail mounted scopes in Southern Africa. This is a trend based on the availability and lower cost of ring mounts vs. rail mounts. A rail mounted scope offers many more advantages than a ring mounted scope, except that the lowest mount can normally be achieved with ring mounts.
Foreigners travelling to Africa often take a 2nd cheaper scope with them because anyway they almost all use detachable mount systems. Flight and safari costs are expensive whichever way you look at the Rand, hence a 2nd cheaper optic is a good insurance policy for them. As a minimum ensure that your open sights are accurate.
How to judge the durability of a scope? I stay with trusted brands because they normally provide a host of other important benefits also. Some measure durability based on the scope guarantee; I am doubtful of that correlation. Test a minimum of 30 shots with every new scope, factory faults will show up early on.
Scope magnification and objective lens are important criteria based on application. A larger objective lens provides greater light transmission than a scope with a smaller objective lens. In Southern Africa light conditions are usually bright. Hunting stops shortly after sunset because the period of twilight zone is minimal.
For bright daylight hunting conditions in South Africa you will seldom, if ever, need an objective lens of greater diameter than 50. I like a scope and the rifle to be in proportion and the scope to be mounted as low as possible. My selection for Africa is a scope objective of 42 – 50; all you need and less bulky than a 56.
We are not considering long range hunting (over 500 m) where a larger objective lens does add benefit as the magnification is cranked up. Light transmission is a factor of the objective lens divided by the magnification. Below, testing the long range Swarovski DS hunting scope; fitted to a sporting gun for test purposes only.
Illuminated scopes? I doubt ever a situation in Southern Africa with the bright light conditions and a scope of good optical clarity that you will not be able to clearly see the black cross hair on an animal. Light conditions hunting in Africa are very different to hunting in Europe. If an illuminated reticle gives you more confidence then go with it.
Everyone ponders magnification. Do not over magnify, especially in the hunt. When shooting off sticks I always advise to turn the magnification right down. You might think that you cannot see well but you will shoot better. Less shake, more confidence and less risk to snatch the trigger. Prove it to yourself on the range!
The one gun (30-06) one hunting scope for Africa – a magnification of 2-10 is ideal. With a power of 2 the field of view is wide enough for hunting the big 5 at close quarters and a 10 magnification is plentiful for hunting out to 400m, considering that 95% of your shooting will be between 100m and 350m. More mistakes are made at higher magnification than at lower magnification!
With a 10x magnification you do not need an objective lens greater than 50. At a magnification of 10 you get an exit pupil of 5 mm which is sufficient light transmission for all hunting conditions in Southern Africa. Keep in mind we not discussing varmint hunting in moonlight conditions.
An important criteria is the lens coating! We always recommend to buy a scope with the “most” anti-reflection coatings that you can afford; the less light that is reflected back the greater the light transmission, and glare is minimized.
Turrets are a personal choice, either way they must be simple to use and you must practice with them. I use turrets for longer range shooting (normally you have more time for set-up) and ignore the turrets for hunting up to 150 m. Simple and easy turrets avoid wasting time fiddling. You don’t need an accessorized scope! If you have spare cash buy turrets or else you better off buying higher quality lenses and using the “point-blank-sighting” range.
Hunting in Southern Africa is likely to be in dusty environments and dust quickly builds up on the lenses. Often overlooked is carrying a simple lens brush. Wiping lenses with a cloth can easily damage quality lenses.
Our “one” universal scope for hunting in Southern Africa is pictured below. You don’t need more out to 400 m (10x), you don’t need a wider field of view (2x) and you don’t need a brighter image (50 objective). With Kahles you can buy turrets and fit anytime if you choose; AND you will never miss the moment!