Varmint shooting is carried out to control pest species and has been the subject of a lot of improvement and innovation in ammunition to stretch the range that small vermin can be shot at.
The ability to engage ‘varmints’ at long range reduces the amount of time required to sneak up within range using a smaller calibre rifle or shotgun and as long as you have practiced your marksmanship you can shoot at great range without the risk of spooking and scaring off your quarry.
Table of Contents
- What is a Varmint?
- Firearms for Varmint Shooting
- Accessories for Varmint Shooting
- Top 7 Best Varmint Scope on the Market Review
- Final Thought
What is a Varmint?
‘Varmints’ or vermin or pests are birds and mammals which might damage crops, predate livestock or threatened species, pose a threat to human health because of their great numbers or droppings or which might be an alien invasive species which needs to be eradicated.
Depending on where you are in the world these varmints come in different shapes, sizes and varieties. In the USA you might consider ground squirrels, coyotes and jack rabbits to be varmints, in the UK grey squirrels, rabbits and foxes are some of our most prolific varmints and in certain parts of Africa elephants which raid crops might be considered pests.,
Bird species are also controlled as pest but the modern discipline of ‘varmint shooting’ often focuses on mammals and the best varmint scope I’ll help you choose in the post won’t help you control bird pests unless they happen to be on the ground at the opportune moment.
Bird pests can be a huge problem though and certainly species such as pigeons, most of the corvid (crow) family and sometimes seagulls can cause huge problems. Passenger pigeons and Carolina parakeets were such a problem for famers in the USA in the 1800’s that they were shot in huge numbers and eventually became extinct.
Modern pest control is carried out in a more responsible manner and although I remember shooting species such as house sparrows and starlings as agricultural pests in my younger years these birds are now protected here in the UK to preserve their dwindling numbers, elsewhere though they are still rightfully controlled as pests and invasive species.
So a varmint could be anything from a pigeon to a crow to a rabbit or even something as large as a wild boar, deer or coyote depending on the damage they are causing.
Firearms for Varmint Shooting
As there is such variety amongst varmints there is a huge variety of firearms that are suitable for varmint shooting. For controlling pest birds shotguns are almost always the best choice and if you need to shoot birds such as pigeons or geese in large numbers high capacity semi-automatic shotguns are often the best choice.
In certain situation simple air rifles might be the best choice, pest controllers working in urban areas often favour air weapons to safely and discreetly control pests where the noise and danger of more powerful projectiles falling on populated areas prevents the safe use of regular firearms. Air rifles can be the perfect choice for this sort of pest control and scopes with mil dot style reticles will allow you to compensate for the relatively poor trajectory of air rifle projectiles most effectively.
For the most popular style of varmint shooting though, that is of small mammal vermin, at potentially very long range the rifle is the tool of choice. Small calibres such as .22lr is the first firearm experienced by many and it’s quiet accuracy makes it an excellent choice for varmint shooting at ranges up to a little over 100 meters in normal circumstances.
The .22 magnum and .17hmr give you a little more range in a similar package although the ammunition is much more expensive. While the .22 mag and .17 hmr might be useful out to ranges of 200 meters the small bullets are only suitable for smaller varmints such as rabbits.
The .17 in particular is devastatingly accurate and the ballistic tip rounds expand so quickly that they are the perfect choice for light skinned vermin but makes them completely unsuitable for larger varmints.
For varmint shooting at extreme range or on larger pests you will have to use a larger rifle; calibres such as .223, .243, .22-250 ruger or at the pinnacle of high velocity factory ammunition the .220 swift.
These calibres have been popular for varmint shooting for many years, in 1935 when the swift was first developed it was a full 1400 ft/sec faster than its nearest competitor and the first factory round capable of over 4000 ft/sec.
With recent developments and the introduction of calibres such as the .260 Remington in the 90’s and the .204 ruger in 2004 the .220 swift might not be the most coveted varmint cartridge anymore but we are now spoilt for choice when it comes to varmint shooting.
Other more high powered cartridges are available and while they may have excellent long range potential larger calibres such as .308, .30-06 and others are not as suitable for varmint shooting. The commonly available ammunition is generally much too heavy for sensible varmint shooting and they do not shoot with such flat trajectories as the lighter, faster calibres.
Bolt action sporting rifles are the most popular platform for varmint shooting, the ar 15 and similar styled firearms are not as accurate or stable when shooting at long ranges because of the long magazines, short barrels and semi-automatic actions. It’s not that they aren’t great weapons they just aren’t the best choice for varmint shooting.
Heavy barrelled, bolt action hunting rifles tend to be the most popular amongst varmint shooters and I use a variety of rifles depending on the nature of the pest control and ‘varmint’ shooting I am doing.
For foxes I use either a browning x-bolt in .223 or Tikka T3 in .243 and will also shoot rabbits with the .223 but normally wouldn’t bother shooting at rabbits with the .243, it’s just too much gun for such small animals. I normally use a .22lr or .17hmr rifle for rabbits and other smaller vermin though, these are also ideal for foxes at close range to ensure a clean kill.
For grey squirrels shotguns are almost always the best choice unless you happen to spot one on the ground at a suitable moment when you have a rifle. If they are coming in to a bait station or are taking feed from bird feeders you can lay in wait for them with an air rifle very effectively as well. This strategy works well for bird pests too and air rifles can be very effective for pest control under these circumstances.
Accessories for Varmint Shooting
As well as your rifle and the scope that we will get onto later there are a couple of accessories that will be useful to you when you are varmint shooting. A bipod is an absolute must have piece of kit, if you are set up in a completely static shooting location waiting for your quarry then you might get away with bean bags or other alternative rests but as most shooting requires a bit of stalking and moving around a bipod attached securely to the qd stud of your rifle is the perfect shooting aid for almost every situation.
I would certainly never head out to shoot deer or varmints without a bipod, and adding one to your rifle is easily affordable and for the money enhances your shooting drastically. My top recommendations would be for bipods by harris which feature a swivel to allow for some movement while the rifle is mounted on the bipod and extendable legs to facilitate different shooting positions and to suit your size.
I particularly like the slightly longer bipods which allow me to use the rifle from the prone position or to extend the bipod and shoot from a sitting or kneeling position but retain the support of the bipod; something like this.
I use this style bipod on my .243 rifle for all my deer hunting, as well as giving me a stable shooting position being able to use it from a sitting position, which I find more stable than kneeling when combines with the bipod, it gives me a little more elevation to see above weeds and undergrowth on some of the flatter areas where I hunt where I can easily lose sight of the small reeves muntjac and Chinese water deer that I hunt behind the weeds and crops.
As well as a bipod if you are planning to do the kind of long range varmint shooting that calibres like the .220 swift, .204 and .260 make possible a range finder can come in very useful.
For shots of less than 200 meters these may not be strictly necessary especially as at those ranges you should be good enough at judging range to make necessary adjustments yourself but at extreme range the rangefinder will come in very useful to fine tune your aim and make the fine adjustments that are necessary to ensure a kill shot on small vermin.
Brands I would trust when it comes to range finders and other optical equipment include ATN, Bushnell and Nikon. Range finders can be expensive but they are more affordable now than when they first hit the market.
Top 7 Best Varmint Scope on the Market Review
Well you’ve chosen a rifle in your calibre of choice, fitted a bipod and picked up a lazer range finder now for the scope that is the true topic of this post.
Most people would advise you to spend as much as you can afford on a scope, even up to as much as you would spend on your rifle and this certainly isn’t bad advice. Don’t scrimp on your optics especially if you are hoping to shoot at longer ranges and in poor light conditions.
For deer hunting at moderate ranges I normally favour scopes with fixed magnification but for varmint shooting where your targets are significantly smaller and the ranges potentially much longer a scope with variable magnification is advisable. Also go for a scope with a larger objective lens such as 50mm to gather more light and give a better image in low light conditions.
You will also need to consider the reticle that your scope features; the reticle is the part of the scope that allows you to aim your rifle, the very first reticles were made of wire fastened inside the body of the scope and would have been in the form of a simple ‘cross hair’, later when the reticles began being etched into the glass of the scope other types of reticle started to appear, this change also meant that a problem with wire cross hairs being obscured by sunlight was overcome. There are so many different styles of reticle now that it’s hard to choose one. Consider the following options though;
A duplex reticle is a cross hair which is thicker, these ticker portions are the ‘duplex’, at the edges and steps down to a fine cross hair in the centre. This style of cross hair is popular for hunting and allows for slightly faster target acquisitions than a standard cross hair
These reticules feature dot’s along both axis of the crosshair which can be used to assist in making adjustments when considering distance and windage while aiming. These dots are spaced one ‘milliradian’ apart. A milliradian is a measurement of angle equal to 3.6 minutes of angle. A minute of angle is equal to one inch at 100 meters so a one inch group at 100 meters is known as a minute of angle group.
The mil dots are useful for very precise shooting at range or for shorter range shooting with weapons, such as air rifles, that are relatively low powered and have a poor trajectory as the mil dots provide additional points of aim which can be used to match with the trajectory of the rifle.
Single Dot Scopes
These generally have low magnification and are designed for hunting or tactical users for fast target acquisition and for taking targets on the run. They are often fitted to scout style rifles and occasionally on pistols and shotguns but are not generally suited to longer range varmint shooting.
Scopes are an immediate improvement over iron sights when it comes to shooting in low light conditions and illuminated reticles provide an even greater advantage. They also draw the eye and help with target acquisition in general. Scopes with illuminated reticles may also have an additional adjustment turret if the brightness of the reticle is adjustable, they will also require batteries.
Remember as well that your scope may need to vary depending on the rifle you have chosen for your varmint shooting task, let’s start with something suitable for a .22lr or 17 hmr rifle which you might select for shooting rabbits and other small vermin at close to medium range.
Our Picks for the Best Scope for Varmint Hunting:
1 Simmons 8-point 3-9x50mm
I wouldn’t recommend this scope for a heavier recoiling rifle such as a .243, .260 or larger but this is the perfect option for smaller lighter recoiling rifles such as the .22lr or .17hmr. It’s very affordable price, well under $200 for the budget conscious and in fact this scope retails at around $50 and gives you great features for the money and won’t break the bank.
The lower magnifications will be ideal for those closer range shots while the full 9x magnification will come in useful for longer range shots with a .17hmr. There is no sense in spending a fortune on a scope for a rim fire rifle that may only cost couple of hundred dollars itself.
This scope though will do the job for you and will be ideal for the ranges and quarry you are most likely to shoot with rim fire cartridges. It would also be suitable for some larger varmint rounds such as .223 and .222 that give you more stopping power, range and the ability to shoot heavier bullets but still produce relatively little recoil. To make the most of these more capable rounds though consider upgrading your scope a little.
2 Bushnell Legend Ultra HD Multi-X
This 3-9x50mm scope offers a range of suitable magnifications for shooting from close to medium ranges. It offers the same magnification and objective lens as the offering by Simmons but with more robust construction suitable for larger rifles.
In addition it features a side turret for parallax adjustment. These scopes a bit more expensive than the offering from Simmons but still in the mid priced range and available for under $200.
3 Carl Zeiss HD5 5-25x50mm
Zeiss scopes represent the pinnacle of optical perfection when it comes to sporting and tactical optics. Not only does this scope cost considerably more than the previous two and offer significantly increased magnification for precise shooting over longer ranges but it also features a reticle that includes features for precise long range shooting.
It will be very hard to beat the quality and clarity of zeiss optics and although you do pay a premium of them. This scope also offers finger adjustable turrets for dialling in adjustments allowing you to make adjustments on the scope so you do not have to deliberately aim off to adjust for wind and range.
4 TASCO Varmint 6-24x42mm
TASCO scopes offer great value for money and this particular model offers a mil dot reticle which will help with accurate shooting over range and allows you to adjust for windage. This kind of reticle is perfect for shooting with an air rifle although I wouldn’t suggest a scope with such powerful magnification combined with an air rifle. This would be suitable for full bore rifles for use at range though.
5 Nikon Pro Staff 4-12 x 40mm
This scope also features a mil dot reticle but without the extreme magnification of the TASCO scope, it would still be suitable for centre fire rifles and Nikon have a reputation for quality but this particular model would not be out of place on air weapons or rim fire rifles while the TASCO would just be too much.
The magnification is still suitable for longer range shooting and this scope could easily fill all your varminting needs.
6 Leupold VX-3I 4.5-14x50mm Duplex
I’ve had a Leupold scope on my Tikka T3 for ten years and it has never let me down, I favour a fixed magnification scope for deer hunting but for varmint shooting, especially if you are expecting to shoot at long range, the adjustable magnification offered in this scope is useful.
This model has a duplex reticle, which is a fairly standard reticle which everyone would recognise;
As well as all the traditional looking scopes with the modern fascination with gadgets and technology a list of varmint scopes would be incomplete without at least one of the more technologically advanced scopes on the market.
7 ATN Day/Night Riflescope
This ATN scope offers the very latest technology to aid the shooter. Not only does it allow you to stretch your shooting into the hours of darkness without employing powerful lamps but it features an array of modern technology including recoil activated recording, bluetooth compatibility with your phone allowing you to save and record footage and images using your phone.
It features in built range finding and an array of other features. It will do almost everything except pull the trigger for you.
Any of these scopes will serve you well in your varminting but my personal preference would be for the Leupold scope listed here. It would give me a range of magnification options as well as the quality I am used to from leupold and the 50mm objective lens would gather plenty of light for low light shooting, although it wouldn’t be useful in the dark like the ATN offering. The duplex reticle gives me something I am used to and comfortable with and the easily adjustable finger turrets allow adjustments to be made easily. All in all a great all round best varmint scope.