If you’re going to hunt or target shoot to any decent distance and do it accurately and consistently your bow needs a scope.
Like rifle scopes crossbow scopes have many of the same characteristics, eye relief, aperture size, reticles, parallax and more. But what do all those things mean? How do you choose a good scope?
Our guide takes you through all these specifications, tells you who needs what and we’ve picked out some of the best scopes on the market for you to checkout below and reviewed them in detail later on in this piece.
Fixed Magnification Scopes
Speed Compensated Zoom Scopes
Red Dot Scopes
Note: Our individual reviews are below, but you can also click any of the links above to check current prices on Amazon.
Crossbow scopes and other types of optical like spotting scopes list scope numbers in the same way.
You’ll see specs like these:
The numbers before the ‘x’ denote magnification power. Using the examples above 4x is 4 times, 3x is 3 times and 2-10 is a zoom lens with the ability to show from 2x to 10x magnification of a target.
Numbers after the ‘x’ denote the objective lens size. That’s the lens on the far end of the scope that actually looks at the target. If you’re still unsure, here’s our guide to scope numbers.
As a general rule, a bigger objective lens lets in more light than a smaller lens.
More light means better better performance in low light conditions and a better image at higher zoom levels. That’s why you’ll see lens sizes increase as zoom levels increase. Spotting scopes that zoom in to 60x magnification can have up to 100mm objective lenses.
Crossbow scope manufacturers however are limited in the size of the objective lenses they can attach to a scope because a scope needs to sit close to the body of the crossbow to be usable by the shooter.
When you look through a scope you don’t just see the image of the target. Generally a reticle is overlaid on that image to aid you with aiming and measuring distance. There are a few different types of scope reticle with a few different users and uses.
Crosshair reticles usually have a single vertical line and either one or more horizontal lines that can span the entire width of the image.
Some reticles have a dot or dash to sight onto the target, again these may have either single dot or multiple dot/dash combinations.
Crosshairs, dots and dashes however they are laid out in a reticle are aiming reference points.
If a reticle has multiple reference points they are designed so that when you sight-in your crossbow you keep a note of which reference works at a particular distance. Then when you’ve judged your distance to target (either manually or by using a rangefinder) you can pick the correct one to aim with, or a spot in between if your target distance doesn’t match one of them exactly.
A target shooter doesn’t need or want a bold multi reference reticle when they shoot to a predefined distance. They want to see the finer detail that may be covered by a large crosshair and they usually have good light, so they aren’t concerned how small or easy to see the aiming reference point is.
Hunters on the other hand will make heavy use of multiple reference points as they often shoot targets at varying distances They will also find that thicker bolder crosshairs are easier to see in low light conditions.
In extreme low light conditions that’s when we need….
In the lowest light conditions even the thickest black reticle lines can be hard to see and aim with, this is where illuminated scopes come into their element.
Illuminated scopes will usually light up the crosshairs or dots themselves, making them a vivid red or green. Good scopes will allow you to adjust the intensity (and sometimes color) of that illumination so you can set it to not overpower the image of the target.
A red-dot scope is an illuminated scope with a red dot for the aiming reference point.
Because this type of scope is usually not magnified it has a larger eyepiece (more of a window) and gives you the ability to sight and align the dot on the target with both eyes and do it quickly.
Red dot sights are great when you need fast target acquisition or are shooting fast moving targets.
A scope will add weight to your setup. The weight of a crossbow matters if you’re going to hike long distances with it or even shoot for long periods with it. Scopes are normally a pretty small additional burden.
The bigger the objective lens the more glass and generally the higher the weight.
Optical lenses today are coated with treatments designed to increase the amount of light that the glass captures, this gives you a better image. These coating can also aid with fog-proofing and protecting the lenses.
Lenses can be Coated, Fully Coated, Multi-Coated or Fully Multi-Coated.
It’s also worth considering the type of lens caps that come with a scope depending on how you’re going to use it. Flip up, lanyard and attached lens caps will protect the scope and also make sure you don’t lose them whatever conditions you’re shooting in.
As you look through the specifications of crossbow scopes here are the common terms you’ll come across and what they mean.
Eye relief is the measurement of how far your eye can be from a scope eyepiece before you begin to lose the sight picture.
This matters if your bow is powerful, you want to see the full target but you don’t want your eye close to something with a sharp recoil. It also matters if you wear shooting glasses or spectacles because in these cases you can’t get your actual eye as close to the eyepiece as someone without them would be able to.
Here's a great video from Steve at Brownells that explains eye relief from the perspective of the rifle shooter, the principles are exactly the same for the crossbow shooter.
The exit pupil of a scope is the diameter of the circle of light that leaves the scope and enters the eye. A small exit pupil won’t will fill the iris with light and give a dim image whilst one that is too large will waste available light.
As a rough guide the human iris is approximately 2-3 mm in the day, 4-5 mm in low light and 6 mm in near dark conditions.
Not all scopes specify this.
Currently you should have a field of vision of about 210° in a horizontal arc. What field of vision you get when you’re looking through a scope is determined by the field of view spec. This is often given as a range or angle at a distance. Say 75 ft @ 100 yards. For a zoom scope the FOV will have a minimum and maximum range as it will decrease the further you are zoomed in.
Rather than get into the science behind it parallax is best explained with a simple video. Here’s one that shows parallax in action. This clearly shows a fixed rifle with a red dot, cheap scope and crosshairs that move around depending on the location of the eye to the eyepiece of the scope.
When you’re hunting with a crossbow and going for a quick shot you may not always get the exact same cheek and eye placement in front of the eyepiece. If your scope suffers from parallax and you’re out with your cheek your crosshairs won’t be pointing where you think they do.
Scopes are often labelled with a distance upto which they don’t exhibit any effects of parallax. If you’re shooting beyond that range you need to make sure you’re setup on the eyepiece the same way every time.
The tube diameter of a scope matters to you because it tells you the size of rings you’ll need to mount it on your scope rail. Some scopes have rings included, some come as just a scope.
Scope rings are the brackets that wrap the scope and hold it in place. They can be made to attach to ⅜” dovetail, picatinny or weaver rails. You should know from your crossbow the type of mounting rail you’re attaching to.
Scope rings can be quick release or more traditional screw fitments. Quick release rings are usually tightened to the rail using a lever or latch and this makes switching or removing attachments a snap. Traditional screw fitments can't be easily removed from a rail without (usually) a hex key and are better for setups where you know you don't need to change your optic.
When you’re shooting you may find the conditions different to when you sighted in your bow. This is why most scopes come with the ability to adjust the sights for elevation and windage.
Windage being left/right and elevation being up/down. These adjustments are usually easily made with your fingertips, but it’s worth knowing if they aren’t that and need to carry a screwdriver around with you.
"excellent scope, everything you want for a reasonable price"
Here’s a very popular scope from Leapers Inc. Leapers started over 20 years ago as a garage business and now have over 150,000 sq ft of USA complex from which they do business.
This scope if you want the detail is the SCP-M4CR5WQ, it’s a fixed magnification (4x) scope and is built under the banner of the ‘True Strength’ or TS platform.
What’s that mean? Well as far as we can tell… to test the scopes ability to handle recoil it has an 11 lbs hammer swung at it in both directions and it’s taken it without any of the mounting bolts shearing. They’ve also mounted the scope on a special vibrating plate to simulate the effect of thousands of shots over a period of time and checked that this hasn’t caused any undue failings.
You can be sure then that this scope will take more than you’re going to throw at it.
The reticle is illuminated and includes a rheostat adjustment to allow you to fine tune just how bright or dim that illumination is. You also have both red or green illumination choices.
This is a 5 step reticle with five horizontal lines and one vertical which is calibrated for 300 fps and aiming at 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 yards.
Windage and elevation adjustments on this scope are lockable and you can reset the zero mark. It has a sun-shade on the objective to help in bright conditions. The lens caps flip open (so aren’t easily lost). The included rings are Quick Detach (QD) so you can attach and detach the scope just by pulling a lever, no tools necessary. Great if you want to switch accessories on the move.
"tamper proof windage and elevation"
Truglo have “when brightness counts” as their company strapline. They make a wide variety of other kit alongside optics for archers / hunters and firearms enthusiasts.
This scope is their TG8504B3L 4x magnification scope with a 32mm objective lens and an illumated reticle. You can choose either red or green illumination for differing conditions.
As you’d expect this scope is water, fog, scratch and shock resistant. The windage and elevation adjustment dials are hidden under screw caps, but those caps are attached to the scope, so again, no chance of losing them out in the field.
"a high quality scope with good low light visuals"
You’ve heard of Trophy Ridge right? and if you haven’t? Where have you been? Their sights and quivers are some of the best accessories you can get. I think they’re also still owned by Bear Archery who are another firm favorite in our eyes.
The XV525IR is a 1.5-5x magnification scope with a 25mm objective lens. It has an illuminated reticle with 5 different brightness levels that you can adjust to be either green or red. These levels are well calibrated for low light conditions and the reticle is great for hunters as it has 9 different reference points.
This is a variable speed scope which means that it has a dial that allows you to adjust the scope reference points to take into account the drop of an arrow (bolt) depending on the actual speed of your bow. This means you can adjust it to get those reference points to match exactly with yardages that you want, you start at 20, step back to 40, adjust for speed and eventually when totally sighted in you end up with nice 20, 40 yard references, no guesswork needed.
As always with optics, this is a higher quality scope than some others in this list and with that quality comes better low light visuals and better quality glass that gives a better image at full 5x magnification.
"versatility and performance and a great price"
If you’re out to shoot or hunt fast moving targets or need quick acquisition at shorter range then a red-dot is where you’re going to want to invest. This scope is NOT magnified, and because of that you get unlimited eye-relief and a wider field of view through the 30mm objective.
The reticle has adjustable brightness and 3 dots that are factory defaulted to 400 grain bolts / 300 fps 20, 35 and 45 yards respectively from top to bottom. Although this will adjust to suit your bow when you sight it in. Truglo have calibrated this to have minimum parallax at 30 yards.
The lens caps on either end of this scope simply ‘flip-up’ so there’s no chance you’re going to lose them. The windage and elevation adjustments are also kept safe from tampering under screw down caps and those caps are attached to the scope body so even if you adjust out in the field there’s little chance you’ll drop and lose one.
And that's it for now! We hope you enjoyed reading and if you've anything you'd like to add please let us know in the comments!