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The Advantages of a Prism Scope for Hunting

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Traditionally, hunting rifles tend to follow a pretty familiar pattern: Bolt-actions, wood stocks, medium-sized cartridges, and usually, a nice mid-power scope. In recent years, though, the stereotype is changing rapidly. Autoloading rifles are rapidly gaining popularity, which has only been further boosted by the recent introduction of straight-walled, specialized hunting cartridges like the .350 Legend. 

As the stereotypical hunting rifle evolves, so too is the standard optic. Where 3-9x scopes once dominated the landscape, hunters are not beginning to branch out and experiment with alternative options, including red dot and magnifier setups, low-power variable optics, and prisms. 

While red dots and LPVOs both have their merits, which we’ve discussed at length in our low-power variable optics vs. red dot and magnifiers article, today we’ll take a look at the value of a prism scope for hunting. 

COM SOLGW SEPT GAW 3x Micro prism

What is a Prism Scope?

A prism scope is an optic that uses a solid glass prism as its primary magnification element. Unlike a traditional rifle scope, which uses two lenses connected by an erector assembly to achieve magnification, a prism does so using a single element. This element typically also houses the reticle. A more in-depth explanation of the inner workings of prism optics can be found in our article, What is a Prism Scope? 

In many cases, prism optics integrate powered illumination elements as well. This works in essentially the same way as a red dot, using a battery to create an illuminated reticle. Unlike a red dot, the illumination is not projected on a lens in the form of a dot, but instead illuminates the existing reticle, or elements of it. 

In some designs, illumination may be generated by a non-electric element, such as tritium, which uses radioactive illumination, or using fiber optics, which gather and concentrate ambient light. 

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Advantages of Prism Scopes for Hunting

Prisms come with several advantages, particularly when compared to traditional scopes. Because of the simplified nature of their design, prisms tend to be both lighter and smaller than variable power scopes. 

In some cases, the difference in weight can be slight, such as between a full-sized prism like an ACOG and a lightweight scope. Modern microprisms, though, can be substantially lighter than nearly any scope, and even lighter than some red dots. 

This weight advantage can be very valuable for backcountry hunters, or any hunter who spends a lot of time carrying their rifle rather than sitting in a blind. 

Prisms also compare favorably to rifle scopes when it comes to the field of view. On average, a prism optic will have a significantly larger field of view at the same magnification power as a variable-power scope. Again, this is largely due to the nature of their design; variable power scopes simply cannot be made to match. 

While it’s not true of every prism, certain models such as the Primary Arms® 1x MicroPrism™, offer significantly more forgiving eye boxes than common rifle scopes. This can make acquiring a sight picture and firing a shot substantially quicker, which can be particularly useful for predator or pest hunting, where shots may have to be taken suddenly. 

Compared to red dots, prisms can’t offer an improved field of view, of course, but they do deliver much more capable reticles. Red dots are generally limited to simple reticles, often composed of one or two dots and sometimes a larger exterior ring. Prisms, on the other hand, can utilize much more complex designs, offering solutions for drop, wind holds, ranging, and more. 

Additionally, since most prisms use an etched reticle, they are not battery-dependent the way red dots are. Their illumination relies on a battery, but with a prism, even if your battery should die, you’ll still have a black reticle to use, much like a scope. 


Prism Optics vs Rifle Scopes

Despite their many advantages, prisms aren’t a perfect solution. They’re lighter than rifle scopes, with superior field of view, but they still have their limitations. 

The primary drawback to a prism optic is the lack of variability in the magnification power; coincidentally, this is where traditional scopes shine. Common hunting scopes can often adjust their magnification from 3x to 9x, or sometimes even a larger range like 3-12x or even 3-18x. Prisms, on the other hand, are limited to one single power level. 

Depending on your type of hunting, this may be a big deal or a non-issue. Most whitetail deer  hunters in the continental U.S. take most of their shots from within 200 yards—and the lion’s share of those tend to be much closer at 100 yards or less. 

If you fit the statistics, then a scope that can dial up to 9x or 12x really isn’t all that necessary; most hunters won’t use the top range of their scopes for a 200-yard shot anyway, much less a 75-yard one. For this type of hunting, a 3x or 5x prism is wholly adequate. 

This makes prism scopes a good fit for hunters that find themselves primarily in denser brush where long sight lines aren’t available, or those who hunt from a blind overlooking a nearby food plot or feeder where the engagement distance is more or less fixed. 

If, on the other hand, you hunt larger game such as elk, or hunt in an environment that tends to demand longer range shots, you may find that you really do need that extra magnification. 

For many hunters, though, prisms can deliver all of the functionality you really need from a rifle scope, but with a superior weight and field of view. 

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2X, GLx, Optics, Prism, Prism Scopes, Scopes

Prism Setups for Different Hunting Situations

Hunting is a pretty broad topic—what works for a deer hunter is going to be vastly different from what works for a turkey hunter. Below we’ll take a look at a few optimal prism setups for different applications. 

Boar Hunting

Wild pig or boar hunting is often the polar opposite of deer hunting. They tend to be more skittish than many other animals, and will run—or charge—at the first sign of danger. Shots frequently have to be taken quickly, before the target moves and the opportunity is lost. It’s also not uncommon to need to take shots at multiple targets. 

For this type of hunting, speed is paramount. You’ll want something with forgiving eye relief and an easily acquired reticle. If you live in a forest environment with a lot of thick brush and few long sightlines, a 1x microprism is a strong contender; it’s every bit as fast to acquire as a red dot, but offers a much more capable reticle. 

Hunters in more open areas, on the other hand, would be better served by a 3x prism. The increased magnification will allow for precise shots at longer ranges. 

For the most versatile setup, users can pair a medium-power prism like our SLx 3x microprism with an offset red dot for the best of all worlds. This configuration offers magnification for longer shots or more detailed observation but also provides the speed of a red dot in case your target suddenly emerges from the brush closer than expected. 

Unlike a red dot and magnifier or a traditional scope and offset dot, combining a prism and a lightweight red dot is neither slow to transition nor prohibitively heavy. There’s no flipping of a magnifier or messing with switches to change optics—you simply rotate your wrists and acquire your secondary sight. With training, the transition can be done in a fraction of a second. 

Best of all, the combined weight of a microprism and offset mini red dot such as our SLx RS-10 is less than most traditional scopes on the market and even less than some red dots. This delivers a ton of versatility without adding excess weight to your rifle. 

Turkey Hunting

Turkey hunting is nearly always done with a shotgun. Typically, most users prefer the simplicity of iron sights with shotguns—usually just a simple brass bead—but as modern optics become smaller, lighter, and higher performing, they are becoming more popular on shotguns, too. Many jurisdictions still prohibit the use of optics for turkey hunting, though, so be sure to check the regulations in your area before using one. 

This type of hunting is nearly entirely about speed. Precision and accuracy count too, of course, but when your quarry can fly out of range in only a few seconds, speed is a top priority. That, combined with the limited range of shotguns, rules out essentially any magnified optic; but, it doesn’t rule out prisms entirely. 

Our SLx 1x MicroPrism is exceptionally popular with shotgun users for many reasons, but the speed and ease of acquiring a sight picture are doubtlessly chief among them. The unsurpassed eye relief allows you to acquire a picture as fast as you can swing up your firearm, even matching the speed of a red dot. 

The chevron and ring reticle lends itself well to shotgun use, too—with just a little bit of practice patterning your shotgun, you can use the exterior ring as a reference for the spread of your shot pattern at a given distance, or use the chevron tip as a precision aiming point for slugs. 

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Prism optics may not be the orthodox choice for hunting, but that doesn’t mean that aren’t an option worth considering—after all, it wasn’t so long ago that old-school hunters turned their noses up at the idea of using an optic at all, and before that, bow hunters looked down on those using a firearm at all. 

As technology advances and new tools become available to us, there’s nothing wrong with exploring new options and setting a new standard. With modern rifles, a modern optic like a microprism sight may be the perfect choice for a broad spectrum of hunting applications. 

Still not sure what optic to choose for your next hunting rifle? Check out our guide to the best rifle scope for deer hunting for more options.