Mat Manning reflects on the rising popularity of first focal plane sights, and presents the scopes that airgunners should look out for.
Thanks to the consistent accuracy of modern air rifles – springers and PCPs – most airgun shooters now regard a telescopic sight as standard equipment. There is no denying that a modest investment in a decent optic can make a huge difference to results both on the target range and in the field.
For a long time, basic requirements didn’t extend much beyond reasonable light transmission and adjustable magnification. Over recent years, however, more and more features that were once regarded as extras have become the norm on airgun shooters’ telescopic sights.
The long list now includes finger-adjustable windage and elevation turrets that don’t require tools to tweak zero, side parallax wheels, larger tubes for an even brighter sight picture and, increasingly, the ability to illuminate the reticle to achieve improved contrast against dark backgrounds. Some scopes even feature integral bubble levels to help avoid accuracy problems caused by canting the gun.
The curved trajectory of an airgun pellet, which typically starts well below the central point of the crosshairs before passing through it, rising up above it, and then dropping back down to pass through it once more before falling to the ground, means that shooters need to apply hold-over and hold-under to keep shots dead on target over varying ranges. This has prompted further developments in the design of telescopic sights, and their reticles in particular.
Manufacturers began by adopting the traditional mil-dot reticle to give shooters additional aim-points that could be utilised to make quick and simple compensation for the rise and fall of the pellet.
The constant clamour to go one better than the competition has resulted in a wide range of weird and wonderful reticles with more reference points than any shooter is ever likely to require. The principle remains the same, though, and they serve their purpose.
Until very recently, most airgun shooters were satisfied with second focal plane scopes. With these optics, the reticle does not change in size when zoom is wound up or down, which means the aim-points used to apply hold-over and hold-under will shift when the level of magnification is changed.
With this arrangement, shooters either have to put in more practice and establish where to aim over varying ranges at different zoom levels, or simply stick to the magnification that best suits the type of shooting they do and resist the urge to crank the power up or down.
First focal plane scopes overcome that problem because their reticles change size in proportion to the target as magnification is increased or decreased. That means the correct aim point required to achieve a direct hit at any given range remains exactly the same whatever level the zoom is set to.
An initial disadvantage with first focal plane scopes was that they cost significantly more than their second focal plane counterparts – hence most airgun shooters’ willingness to put up with the niggles of the former system.
The situation has changed over recent years, though, and very good first focal plane scopes are becoming more and more affordable. FFP is now the big word in airgun scope must-haves, and most airgun shooters expect to see them on the shelves of their local gun shop.
The Talon Atlas BTR 4-14×44 FFP IR-MIL is made in China and combines quality glass with an impressive list of features.
The zoom range of 4-14x is just about perfect for general airgun use, and the 44mm objective lens combines with the 30mm tube to give excellent light transmission. The reticle features a huge number
of different reference points, and can be set to 11 different levels of brightness.
Turrets are exposed for quick adjustment, and the sidewheel parallax focuses from 10 yards to infinity. Measuring 328mm and tipping the scales at 669g, this mid-size scope wouldn’t look out of place on most modern airguns.
Pao F1 First Focal Plane Rifle Scope
The Shooting Party has a reputation for delivering feature-packed scopes at affordable prices. The F1 5-20×50 IR PA First Focal Plane Rifle Scope maintains that theme, and its rollcall of features is even longer than its name.
At 320mm long and 785g in weight, this scope is at the bigger end of the size scale. Its 5-20x zoom gives more than enough magnification for long-range work while its 30mm tube and 50mm objective lens make for a bright image.
Additional features include exposed Push-Lok turrets, a half-mil-dot reticle than lights up red and green with seven levels of brightness and side parallax from 10 yards to infinity. This scope even comes supplied with two-piece mounts, a sunshade, flip-up lens covers and an integral bubble level.
Discovery ED 4-16X50 SF FFP
Discovery optics tend to look a little different from the norm, and that’s apparent in the red and blue touches to the finish of this scope. They also tend to use high quality Japanese lenses, and the ED FFP range is no exception – the 50mm objective lens and 30mm tube give great light transmission and the image is bright and crisp. The compact unit features
pull-out windage and elevation turrets for fast adjustment, and the side parallax, which incorporates a removable oversize wheel, focuses from 10 yards to infinity.
The reticle features countless aim points so you’ll never run out of markers to compensate for the effect of gravity or a sidewind. Supplied with mounts, sunshade and lens covers.
Hawke Sidewinder FFP 4-16X50
Hawke telescopic sights have a huge following among the airgun fraternity, and for good reason. These sensibly-priced optics are loaded with useful features and equipped with exceptionally good glass.
This scope is 366mm long and weighs 810g. That makes it comparatively large but it boasts a broad zoom range and excellent build quality.
Light transmission is very good, thanks to the 30mm tube and 50mm objective lens. Turrets are the exposed push-lock variety, and parallax focuses from 10 yards to infinity – an oversize wheel is supplied.
The FFP MIL reticle offers plenty of aim-points without appearing cluttered, and has five levels of illumination in both red and green. Kit includes screw-in sunshade and flip-up lens covers.
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