A search for the ideal general purpose hunting riflescope might compare to the quest for the Holy Grail. Considering the varied situations in which a hunting rifle can be used, finding an ideal mix of magnification, size, optical brilliance and related features is an equation maybe more complex to solve than determining the ideal general purpose hunting cartridge. Nevertheless, Swarovski might have done it with its Z8i 1X-8X-24mm.
Prepping for a West Texas free-range aoudad and scimitar-horned oryx hunt, I needed a riflescope that would be compatible with the .308 Win. cartridge without destroying the nimbleness of the Remington Custom Shop Model Seven I’d mount it on. Oryx are open-country antelope, and aoudad spend their time in rugged mountains. Long shots are the norm, but experience has shown the exception can be the rule. I needed a versatile sight.
For a half-century the 3X-9X has been the hunting riflescope standard. With 9X magnification hunters can reach out, and at 3X they can quickly deal with moderately close and moving targets. This magnification range was established by the three-times optical zoom limit, but the eight-times optical range of the Z8i means 3X-9X dogma no longer applies.
Though mostly by coincidence rather than established specification, 3X-9X riflescopes are commonly less than a foot long and weigh less than a pound. This balance of size and optical enhancement endeared hunters to the 3X-9X because it did not jeopardize the handling and aesthetics of their rifles. Weighing 18.2 ounces and measuring 11.9 inches, Swarovski’s 1X-8X Z8i nearly fits within this implicit box. (The Z8i line also includes 1.7X-13.3X-42mm, 2X-16X-50mm and 2.3X-18X-56mm versions, but of course the higher magnifications and larger objectives of these scopes add length and weight.)
The 4A-IF reticle, left, quickly draws the eye to the center of the crosshair; the BRT-I offers holds for range and wind.
For that same half-century, riflescope magnification and size were about all anyone considered. Not today. Reticle options, illumination controls and target turrets have become so prevalent they’re expected and almost standard. Terms like focal plane, exit pupil, field of view, twilight factor and light transmission are even discussed around campfires. Modern riflescopes are highly technical devices, and serious hunters have become optics savvy.
Inspired by the optical brilliance of all things Swarovski and intrigued by the 1X-8X Z8i, I requested one for my hunt and mounted it with Talley’s one-piece steel base and rings. While reading the 163-page instruction booklet (printed, by the way, in 10 languages) I began to learn how special this riflescope really is.
The reticle in my Z8i was the 4A-IF, a variation of the German No. 4 style. You can choose to illuminate the reticle’s center dot only, or the dot and a circle surrounding it. The scope is also available with the illuminated BRT-I ballistic reticle. While illumination seems an afterthought in many of today’s scopes, it is clearly an integrated feature in the Z8i. An unobtrusive switch on the ocular housing controls illumination, with positions for low light, daylight and off. Low-light and daylight reticle brightness can be independently pre-adjusted. Perhaps most amazingly, an intelligent sensor turns illumination off when the rifle is tilted more than 70 degrees up or down, or more than 30 degrees left and right. A compartment on the left side of the scope saddle houses the CR2032 battery, and the cap for the elevation-adjustment turret conveniently stores an extra.
The reticle is positioned per the American style in the second focal plane, but adjustments are standard European with click values of .36 inch at 100 yards. Under the windage and elevation caps there are knurled dials, which can be turned with fingers and reset to zero. Unique is the scope’s compatibility with the optional BTF turret. This target-style turret snaps on top of the knurled dial, without sacrificing waterproofness. The turret ring is marked for every five clicks, but what’s really cool are the optional, thin, pre-marked rings for 200 (2), 300 (3), 400 (4) and 500 (5) yards. A zero-stop is integral to the turret, with an arrow indicating 100 yards or zero. You simply adjust elevation so point of impact is dead-on at each distance then set the numbered rings accordingly as a dialing reference in the field.
You can install the BTF turret on the elevation or windage dial. (It comes with a separate ring marked for left and right corrections.) In fact, you can install BTF turrets on both, and they’re removable by pushing down on a center button atop the cap, astonishingly with no zero loss. It’s quite possibly the most user-friendly system for dialing for distance and wind I’ve seen; it took about 30 minutes and a box of ammo to tune the scope to my rifle out to 500 yards. The system was impeccably repeatable, and you can even order custom rings to match your exact ballistics.
Optically, the Z8i is as brilliant as any Swarovski scope I’ve looked through. My son described it best as, “so wonderful I can almost see into the future.” Unfortunately, I was unable to use it to foretell the outcome of my hunt. I shot an aoudad ram on the run at 213 yards. Because the BTF turret was set to 2 (200 yards), I didn’t need to dial. (Hunters should consider keeping target turrets set for a point-blank zero range while in the field to be ready for instances like this.) As exhibited by my quick shooting, the Z8i did not limit the handiness of the svelte Model Seven. After a two-hour stalk, where I thought a shot at 400 yards would be the best I could do, I took an oryx at the extreme distance of 54 steps. I did some “dialing” for that shot: I turned the magnification adjustment to 1X and was glad I had that option.
The 1X-8X-24mm Swarovski Z8i’s performance on the range and during my hunt exemplifies what should be expected from a general purpose hunting riflescope. Ideally, the Z8i would weigh about 2.2 ounces less and retail for half (or less) than what it does. Of course, 2.2 ounces is not that much weight; it’s less than four rounds of .308 Win. ammunition. On the other hand you’ll feel the weight of the $2,899 price tag, and you’ll have to lift another $288 for a BTF turret. Still, one of the best general-purpose hunting riflescopes I’ve seen just might be worth it.