Rimfire rifles remain a favorite of many hunters for taking on small game and varmints and are also great for plinking and target practice. Odds are that many of you out there probably learned to shoot on a classic .22 Long Rifle, as their light weight and little recoil makes them great for kids. Still, gone are the days when these were mostly considered as weapons only for kids, as nowadays the number of outstanding rimfire rifles and scopes on the market has made them more popular than ever.
No matter what type of rimfire rifle you own and no matter what you use it for, adding a scope will definitely increase your accuracy. However, it isn’t as simple as attaching any old scope, as the best rimfire scope will have a couple of major differences that sets it apart from your standard centerfire scopes.
In order to help you make a more informed decision about which scope is right for you, we will first provide you with our top 5 choices to save the suspense. Next we’ll look at the differences between rimfire and center scopes and what you need to know to choose the best product for your favorite rimfire scope firearms. Finally, we’ll then provide you with rimfire scope reviews for the top products on the market today.
5 Best Rimfire Scopes
Rimfire vs. Centerfire Rifles
You’re probably already familiar with the basic difference between rimfire and centerfire weapons as it relates to how the bullets are fired, so we’ll skip the technical details here as whether the firing pin strikes the center or the rim of the bullet is unimportant for our purposes. Instead, what is important is the difference in terms of distance and caliber.
As the firing pin must crush the end of a rimfire bullet to ignite the primer, these bullets must be made of thinner metal than centerfire bullets and thus are limited to a maximum of .22 caliber. Obviously, a .22 caliber bullet won’t fly nearly as far or pack nearly as strong of a punch as more powerful weapons.
As it relates to scopes, this difference generally means that centerfire scopes are designed to shoot at longer distances and, as such, are adjusted to be perfectly dialed starting somewhere around 150 to 200 yards. Try shooting at distances below this and suddenly your accuracy will be seriously diminished due to the parallax correction.
Although you can easily shoot a .17 or .22 caliber magnum rimfire over 150 yards, this still doesn’t mean that you can just use any standard centerfire scope on it, as you’ll generally be shooting at shorter distances. In fact, even if you do planning on target or game shooting at these long distances, you’ll still be way better off picking up a scope that’s specially designed for rimfire rifles.
For many years, the .22LR was virtually the only rimfire weapon available, but nowadays shooters can also choose from .17 caliber rimfires as well. As each rimfire weapon and ammo has its own unique shooting characteristics in terms of trajectory, velocity and distance, it’s important that you choose the right scope for that particular weapon and your own needs if you want to achieve the best, most accurate shooting results.
Still, before we get into the best rimfire scope for each type of weapon, we’ll first look a bit more into the differences between rimfire and centerfire scopes to better illustrate why your standard centerfire scope is not the best for rimfire rifles.
The Importance of Parallax
Most centerfire scopes have a fixed parallax setting, which is usually set at around 150-200 yards. As you to start shooting at distances below the parallax correction, your shots will start to hit slightly to the side of the intended target, with the accuracy decreasing more and more the shorter the distance is.
On the other hand, you’ll find parallax-free, adjustable parallax and fixed parallax rimfire scopes, all of which are designed to be much more accurate at these shorter distances. However, deciding which of the three options is right for you depends on a few different factors—namely, the type of rifle you’re using (.22LR, .22WMR, .17HMR, .17 Mach 2, etc.), the distance(s) you’ll be shooting/what you’re shooting at and of course, how much you’re willing to spend.
When looking at rimfire scopes, you’ll generally find three different types of scopes as it concerns parallax: parallax free, fixed parallax and adjustable parallax. The most basic type of rimfire scope has parallax free sight, meaning that the scope hasn’t been adjusted to account for the slight difference in picture when looking it objects with one eye or the other.
Without getting too technical, parallax correction basically means that the picture you see through the sight has been adjusted slightly to the side. The reason for this our brain makes a mental image based on what it sees through both eyes. As each eye sees a slightly different picture, the brain must quickly combine the two into one image.
However, when you look at something with only one eye, as you do through a scope, the brain only gets one half of the picture. This means that your vision is actually shifted slightly to the side, with the result that your shot will be slightly to the side of where you thought you were aiming.
In order to overcome this problem, many scopes feature parallax correction, where the scope is adjusted so as to basically shift the image back to where it actually is. However, when you’re shooting at short distances, parallax really isn’t that big of an issue, as the parallax error only becomes worse as you reach greater distances.
When shooting at shorter distances, say less than 50 yards, the parallax problem will likely only cause your shot to be off by a tiny increment, which is why so many people choose parallax free rimfire scopes. That being said, over these distances, your shot will start to be a bit further and further off. While you can always just learn to adjust your shots, many people still prefer the added accuracy and so choose to spend the extra money on a fixed parallax scope.
The majority of fixed parallax rimfire scopes will be adjusted to a distance of around 50 or 60 yards—providing much greater accuracy at the shorter distances you’ll typically be shooting. As rimfire scopes are designed specifically for these shorter distances, you’ll be able to accurately target most things within range without the need to constantly refocus the scope. However, parallax again begins to become a problem above these distances, meaning you’ll quickly start to lose accuracy until you figure out how to properly adjust for it.
Of course, some people mainly use their rimfire rifles for longer distance shooting, especially .22WMRs. For this reason, the best scope for a .22 rimfire or a 17 caliber rimfire isn’t necessarily the best scope for a 22 magnum. The reason here is that you’ll likely need a higher level of magnification for shooting at these longer distances, which suddenly makes parallax much more important.
Basically, the parallax-free and fixed parallax sights are designed only for close shooting. For this reason, you’ll probably want to choose a parallax-adjustable scope if you plan on doing both close and distance shooting, as this gives you the ability to readjust the parallax correction as you increase the magnification for longer distance shooting.
Choosing the Right Level of Magnification
As you’ll generally be shooting at quite short distances, many hunters find that 4x magnification is plenty strong enough to produce tightly grouped, accurate results. Not only that, but at these levels of magnification, parallax really isn’t an issue, which is why so many of the best 4x rimfire scopes are parallax free.
Basically, a standard 4x scope will work well for most distances you’ll typically be shooting with a .22LR. While choosing a scope with an adjustable magnification will definitely give you more options, adjustable scopes are also typically more expensive, which is why so many people choose a basic 4x fixed scope for their standard small game and plinking rifles.
On the other hand, if you’re shooting a .22WMR, you’ll probably be better off choosing a scope with adjustable magnification, as these rifles tend to shoot farther and with more velocity than the Long Rifle. As well, they also have a much flatter trajectory—as does the .17HMR— so the increased magnification will definitely help improve accuracy at longer distances with these rifles.
All this being said, the level of magnification you’ll need depends on the distances you’ll typically be shooting and the size of the target you’re shooting at. So, if you plan on shooting small varmints at longer distances, you should probably look for an adjustable scope that goes up to 9x magnification. As well, if you plan on shooting both close and long distances, adjustable rimfire rifle scopes are really the only way to go.
Rimfire Scope Reviews
Nikon Prostaff Target EFR 3-9×40
The old Nikon Prostaff Rimfire Classic 3-9×40 has long been one of the most popular rimfire scopes on the market, but recently, the company has improved upon the original with the new and improved Prostaff Target, which features the newest Nikon Precision Reticle. This reticle has extra fine crosshairs and a dot, a huge plus on a rimfire rifle as it ensures the crosshairs don’t interfere with your ability to see exactly where you’re shooting—great for those who planning on shooting targets at longer distances.
Speaking of longer distances, the Extended Focusing Range means you’ll have no problem clearly and precisely focusing in on objects close by or hundreds of yards away. In fact, this Adjustable Objective is probably the main reason that the Target EFR stands head and shoulders above the older Prostaff Rimfire Classic.
Due to this adjustable objective, you can view targets parallax free at only 10 yards. Adjusting the setting to whatever distance is as simple as can be, as the various distances are clearly marked by the ring. Basically all you have to do is turn the ring to the correct distance and your target will already be in focus.
The scope also features multi-coated lenses, providing increased clarity, contrast and brightness. As well, like any good scope, it is fully waterproof, shockproof and fog-proof. Although it’s made specifically for the .22LR, it also fits air rifles as well, with many professional target shooters often using this exact model. With a price just under $200, if you’re looking for an excellent rimfire scope for target shooting, you definitely can’t go wrong with this one.
Leupold VX-II 3-9×33 EFR
If you’re looking for the ultimate in versatility and don’t mind paying a higher price for it, the Leupold VX-II is surely one of the best. This scope features an extended focusing range, meaning you can turn the front ring to adjust the parallax to anything from 10 yards to 10,000. Ok, while you won’t actually be able to shoot that far, the fact that you can adjust the parallax for any distance you want gives you the ability to shoot incredibly accurately at any distance—even 500 yards or more. There’s a huge difference in parallax correction even between 25 and 50 yards, so you can imagine the difference when you’re shooting at only 10 to 15 versus several hundred yards. Of course, this isn’t the only adjustable parallax scope out there, but it is likely one of the best due to its overall quality, durability and reliability.
Leupold has a fantastic reputation for producing some truly world class optics and the VX-II Rimfire is no different. Like most other Leupold products, it features a lifetime warranty, which is transferable to the new owner should you ever decide to sell. Another reason it stands above the competition is that it’s one of the few rimfire scopes to feature fully multi-coated optics, ensuring it can stand up to the rigors of hunting. As well, this model features Leupold’s Fine Duplex reticle, considered by many to be one the best reticles on the market due to the fact that its crosshairs stand out even in less than favorable shooting conditions.
Although you can expect to pay around $400 or more, there’s no doubt that this scope is worth the price. That being said, if you’re looking for something really top of the line, you may want to check out the VX-II Rimfire EFR CDS, which features a Custom Dial System that enables you to precisely adjust the scope to match your particular ballistics.
Nikon P-Rimfire 2-7×32
When it comes to choosing the absolute best rimfire rifle scope, there are a number of serious contenders, but for the money, this outstanding Nikon scope is one of the top choices considering its price, versatility and overall quality. Like many others, it has a 50 yard fixed parallax setting, making it a great choice for shooting at virtually any distance. However, what I really like about this one is that it allows you to perfectly adjust your shot for this distance.
Many scopes on the market allow you to make ¼ inch click adjustments when dialing in your rifle, but oftentimes these adjustments are set at a distance of 100 yards or more, making it incredibly easy to overcorrect and sometimes nearly impossible to get the scope precisely dialed in at shorter distances. That’s not a problem with this scope though, as it features 1/4 inch adjustments set at 50 yards, enabling you to easily dial things in more precisely.
The fact that this particular scope also comes with two elevation turrets means it works easily as well on both .17 and .22 caliber rifles, as you’ll have no problems precisely compensating for the bullet drop when shooting something like a .17HMR, especially if you use Nikon’s cool ‘Spot On’ ballistics app on your smartphone. To make it even easier, instead of the standard Nikoplex reticle you can always go with the Nikon BDC reticle, which features additional sight circles that help you to compensate for bullet drop at specified longer distances—no matter whether you’re shooting a standard Long Rifle or a Magnum.
As well, with adjustable 2-7x magnification, it’s great for shooting targets of virtually any size at a wide range of distances. Combine this with the fact that it will only set you back around $150, and you’ve got the making of one outstanding rimfire rifle scope. In fact, the only reason it doesn’t score perfectly is that it doesn’t feature an Adjustable Objective.
BSA Sweet 17 3-12×40
If you’re looking for a scope designed specifically for your .17 rimfire, the BSA Sweet 17 definitely hits the mark. The scope’s turret was designed specially to fit the .17HMR, making it super easy to change and to adjust for wind and elevation. In terms of magnification, this scope will give you a huge range, as the 12x magnification should be more than enough to shoot even small rodents like prairie dogs and gophers at distance. Still, if you want something even more powerful, BSA also makes a Sweet 17 6-18×40.
The scope is easy to sight in and provides a crystal clear picture, making it simple to get quite tight groupings even at distances well over 250 yards depending on your rifle and choice of ammo. As well, it features an adjustable objective focus that can be set at anywhere from 10 yards to infinity. Durability also shouldn’t be an issue, as the scope comes with a lifetime limited warranty.
For all of these features, you wouldn’t be wrong for expecting to pay upwards of several hundred dollars for this scope, and yet, it also just happens to be one of the least expensive on this list, as you can generally pick one up for under $100. A great quality .17 rimfire scope for an even better price is exactly what you’ll get with the BSA Sweet 17. That being said, there have been many reported complaints about reliability issues with this one, which is why it only gets 4 stars.
Simmons . 22Mag 3- 9×32
If you’re in the market for a quality scope for your .22 rimfire, but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on buying a high end model, this Simmons scope is definitely worth checking out. Although you can generally pick one up for less than $50, many people find that this scope works nearly as well as many that cost three to four times that price. Of course, it definitely can’t quite compare to a Leupold or Sightron, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still get the job done.
Like many of the higher priced models, this scope features an Adjustable Objective, making sure that you’ll see a clear, focused view at any magnification level. The magnification and objective adjustments move smoothly and easily, while still staying precisely in place when you’re shooting.
Another handy feature is the elevation and wind adjustment knobs, which can easily be turned even when you’re wearing gloves. Of course, there’s a cap you have to remove first, which prevents you from accidentally making adjustments as you move around.
All of these features make the Simmons .22Mag rimfire scope an outstanding choice for those looking for something with a more than decent level of versatility for a great price. That being said, this model definitely isn’t without its faults, although that’s to be expected considering the price.
Probably the biggest complaint concerns the lenses, as the fact that they are not multicoated means that they’re not able to let in nearly as much light as the more expensive fully multicoated scopes. What this means is that while you’ll probably still be able to make out your target in low light situations, such as dusk or dawn, you will probably struggle to be able to see the reticle properly.
Final Words on Selecting the Best Rimfire Scope
The fact remains that many people still consider using a scope on a rimfire rifle unnecessary, especially if that scope happens to cost several hundred dollars. However, the truth is that you’ll soon find you get even more enjoyment out of shooting your rimfire when it’s paired with a scope that’s even halfway decent.
Considering that there were once only a few decent rimfire scopes on the market, the fact that there are now so many outstanding choices is obviously a great thing. However, as previously stated, finding the best rimfire scope for your particular rifle and your needs depends on a variety of factors, but hopefully after reading this guide, you at least have a better idea of where to start your search.