Why is My Rifle Scope Blurry?

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There are several reasons as to why a rifle scope might look blurry when you look through it. The solutions to remedy that situation range from fairly simple all the way to having to send the scope in for evaluation and repair.

why is my rifle scope blurry?

So let’s start with the simple reasons why the scope might be blurry:

The Exterior Lenses on the Scope may Need to be Cleaned

Like most any glass, rifle scope lenses do a great job attracting all kinds of foreign substances that adhere to the lenses, with the number one culprit being fingerprints. Over time, that foreign material builds up on the lenses and will eventually impair the clarity of the lens. This can make the scope appear blurry when you look through it.

The solution here is to clean the outside of both lenses on the scope. You can do this with either specially made wipes for glass or with a specially made tool called a scope brush or lens pen.

The scope brush (also called a lens pen) or scope pen is basically a small tool with a fine brush on one end and a felt-tipped flatter brush on the other end. I always turn the scope upside down so that gravity works in my favor and then start by using the fine brush to gently brush around both the ocular end and the eyepiece end to remove any foreign items and dust.

Then I take the felt-tipped end and gently (always gently) run it over both lenses to remove any streaks, fingerprints, or watermarks. You typically don’t even need to use any type of wet cleaner, and this approach will get about 99% of the marks, streaks, or fingerprints off the lenses.

There are several scope cleaning kits and scope cleaning brushes on the market, but my favorite is the Leupold Lens Pen (Model 48807), which can be seen here.

Just a suggestion on the lens pen above, if you decide to grab one, consider grabbing a second for your range bag or hunting bag. To me, there’s nothing worse than having a little bit of rainfall and your scope be obscured by dried rain on the lenses. The lens pens are an absolute lifesaver in those situations.

If for some reason, the dry lens pen isn’t enough to get all the fingerprints or smudges off the lenses, then you may have to resort to using a liquid cleaner. I typically start with just a small drop of plain water placed on a Q-tip and then gently rubbed over the lens. Then I gently wipe the water off with either a tissue or dedicated lens cleaning cloth (depending on what I have available.

The Ocular Focus or Eyepiece Focus is not Set or is Out of Focus

The reticle focus goes by many names, including:

  • Eyepiece focus
  • Eyebox focus
  • Ocular ring focus
  • Ocular focus

All these terms refer to the activity of properly focusing the reticle of the scope to your eye. Typically, this can be done by making changes to the adjustment ring in the ocular part of the scope closest to your eye. Most rifle scope manufacturers offer an ocular focus in either what’s called a standard focus or a fast focus set-up.

Rifle Scope Eye Box Focus

Riflescopes equipped with a standard ocular focus use a focus mechanism where the entire eyebox rotates to focus. In contrast, models with a fast focus feature usually have an ocular ring that is used to adjust the eyebox focus.

So how does one adjust the eyebox focus on a rifle scope?

  1. Start by shouldering the unloaded rifle (or unloaded shotgun) to your shoulder with both eyes closed and point the muzzle up towards the blue part of the sky (not at the sun! Never at the sun!). The idea here is, when you open your dominant shooting eye, you’ll be looking at a light background without any distractions.
  2. Very quickly, focus on the reticle and see if it appears clear and in focus. Do this quickly in less than a second, as if the reticle is out of focus, your eye will try to compensate and improve its focus on the reticle.
  3. If the reticle is out of focus, turn the eyebox (on a standard reticle focus model), or the ocular ring (on a fast focus eyebox) either left or right and repeat the quick shoulder and view test against the blue sky.
  4. Continue repeating until the reticle is as in focus as possible when you first open your eye.
  5. Once this is done, the reticle is now focused for your individual eye.

The Focus or Parallax is Not Set Properly

Modern rifle scopes are typically built with a focus feature that is either fixed or adjustable. Now focus is not the same as parallax, but the two features are somewhat related as they both play a role in either directly or indirectly impacting the clarity of a target.

Let’s talk about each of the different types of focus and how it might play a role in a scope being blurry.

A scope with fixed focus (or a fixed parallax) will have a non-adjustable focus that is preset at a specific distance (usually measured in yards). Most scope manufacturers preset a fixed focus (or parallax) scope at either 50 yards or 100 yards.

Now, why is that relevant to this article? Because if you look at a target or game animal at a distance under the preset focus (or parallax), it may not appear clear even with the scope on the lowest powered setting. For example, if you own a scope with a parallax set at 50 yards, and are looking at a target that is 35 yards away, then the scope image may not be clear or concise.

Rifle Scope - 50 Yard FocusRifle Scope - 100 yard focus
50 Yard Target with a 50 Yard Focus50 Yard Target with a 100 Yard Focus

In the images above, both show the same Sightron SIII 6-24X50 rifle scope on 10 power, looking at a tree that is 50 yards away. In the image on the left, the side focus is set to 50 yards, while the image on the right has the side focus set to 100 yards. Looking at the image on the right, you’ll notice that the tree I’m focusing on is much more out of focus compared to the image on the left.

The reason it’s out of focus is the side focus is set at 100 yards for a target that is 50 yards away.

This is one of the reasons that I’m not a fan of fixed focus (or fixed parallax) rifle scopes, as I much prefer a scope with an adjustable side focus or adjustable parallax.

A scope with an adjustable focus or adjustable parallax is built to adjust the parallax or focus either through an adjustment on the ocular bell or via a side focus feature. These adjustable parallax models are usually designed to the parallax can be measured in yardage.

With these adjustable parallax models, the shooter needs to match the parallax yardage to the yardage to the target. So a target at 50 yards would theoretically need the adjustable parallax set at 50 yards in order to see the clearest image.

If a shooter with an adjustable parallax scope doesn’t match the adjustable parallax yardage to the yardage to the target or game animal, then the image in the scope might appear blurry or unclear.

Sending the Scope in for Service

If you’ve checked the prior three possible solutions to a blurry scope and you still have an issue, then it might be time to send the rifle scope in for inspection and service.

The first place to research for sending the scope in is sending it to the manufacturer who made it. Even if a warranty no longer covers the riflescope, there’s a pretty good chance that the manufacturer will still inspect the scope and possibly be able to repair it.

Most rifle scope brands have a return system where they will inspect the scope, make any needed repairs, test the scope after the repairs were made, and then ship it back to you.

Now, in the event that the scope is out of a warranty period or the repair is not covered by the warranty, you may have to pay for the repair out of pocket.

So, what do you do if the scope manufacturer has gone out of business? In that case, you’ll need to find an independent rifle scope repair facility that is familiar with the specific scope brand that you have and willing to work on it.

For example, for customers who own older Weaver, older Redfield, or older Leatherwood scopes, there’s a place called Iron Sight that specializes in repairing those brands. You can find other facilities like this if needed through the internet.