Can A Rifle Scope Go Bad with Age?

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By Dennis Howard •  10 min read

We all have them. Gun safe queens. Those rifles with scopes that sit in the gun safe for years, maybe even decades, without seeing sunlight. You may even have unmounted scopes sitting on the shelf waiting patiently for a rifle. Do these rifle scopes go bad with age?

Riflescopes are precision instruments. In most cases, the quality of the construction, the amount of physical use, and the care that these instruments receive determines their life expectancy. Quality rifles scopes, even when used regularly, if cared for properly, should last many years without problems.

Understanding your riflescopes operation and construction is critical to keeping it operating at peak efficiency over many years. As with most other precision instruments, the better the materials and construction, the longer you can expect a riflescope to last. You should measure a riflescope life span in years or even decades.

Why Riflescopes Fail

In general, riflescopes don’t fail because of age. Riflescopes usually fail mechanically. These failures are often the result of rough treatment or wear associated with normal uses of the riflescope. I will discuss some of the more common failures that riflescopes suffer in this article.

Erector System Failures

The most complicated part of any riflescope is the erector system. The erector is the internal mechanical parts adjusted by the windage and elevation turrets to change the aim. Think about how small and precise these parts are and still fit inside that one-inch aluminum tube and withstand a 300 Win Mag recoil.

Add to these requirements the wear and tear these parts often endure as you make adjustments and corrections to the point of aim over many years of shooting. Each time a scope is adjusted, those small parts of the erector system are stressed and experience metal on metal wear. Like any mechanical device, this type of wear is cumulative and will eventually fail.


Almost every riflescope has seals that protect the delicate internal parts of the riflescope. In general, building a riflescope involves these steps.

If your scope begins to fog or you notice water drops inside the scope, a seal failure is usually the culprit. Many better scope manufacturers will check your scope, replace seals as necessary, and refill your scope with dry nitrogen for a nominal charge. Having your scope serviced by the manufacturer can extend its working life for many years.

Shock and Recoil

We all feel the effect of recoil on our bodies when we fire our rifles. The punishment that a large caliber hunting rifle inflicts on your shoulder is magnified many times on the internal parts of your riflescope. It is no wonder that many riflescopes suffer internal failures in the erector system or the optical glass after the shock of many repeated recoils. 

In general, shock damage occurs from the sudden acceleration forces as the gun recoils back and then stops. These high acceleration forces manifest in several specific areas of the scope.

Like most mechanical damage, these problems occur without warning. Generally, rifle shooters who have suffered this type of damage on a riflescope report no warning signs of imminent failure. You may not easily recognize the failure looking at the scope. Performing some diagnoses is often necessary. When there is any question about your scope’s integrity, a trip back to the manufacturer for service is the best option.

The Oops Factor – Accidental Damage

Even the most careful hunter or competitive shooters can suffer the oops factor. Those unexpected small disasters that can ruin a hunting trip or put an end to a competitive match happen without warning. 

Unfortunately, these accidents are often outside our control. Anyone who travels to a hunt puts their rifle and riflescope in the hands of strangers with a prayer that things go well. You do your best by packing your rifle and scope in the best possible cases, but even then, things happen. When you can’t see or control your rifles and scope, an unforeseen accident can seriously shorten a scope’s lifespan.

How to Ensure a Long Life for your Scope?

In general, to ensure a long life for your riflescope, you should look for the same things that you look for in a quality optical instrument. Among the things that I consider are:

Riflescopes can last for years with a little care. I have a pair of 10 power binoculars with 50mm objective lenses that belonged to my wife’s grandfather. Her grandfather was an avid hunter and shooter. Based on the wear on the body of these binoculars, I am sure that he used them regularly. 

The Test of Time

I recently got these binoculars out of their leather case. The woven neck strap was deteriorated and not to be trusted. The lenses were dusty, and the body of the binoculars was dirty. Looking through this more than 70-year-old optical device, I was astounded at the clarity and sharpness of the images. I quickly adjusted the eyepieces for my vision and was rewarded with beautiful views down a mountain valley in New Mexico.

I carefully cleaned the lenses and the metal body of these binoculars. I found a new leather neck strap that is in keeping with the age of these binoculars and replaced the rotten woven strap. I now have a pair of fine binoculars that ride proudly in our travel trailer. To my eye, there is no deterioration or degradation in the quality of these binoculars in more than 70 years.

A Testament to Quality and Care

Any riflescope of good quality that receives adequate care should experience the same sort of lifespan. I know hunters who are still shooting a rifle and scope combination 20 and 30 years after mating the two. 

These are not hunters who baby their equipment. These rifles and scopes have been on Alaska bear hunts and Montana elk hunts. The conditions these scopes have endured are about as extreme as you can imagine. 

The telling points of these experiences are the quality of the scope and the care that these scopes and rifles get regularly. These hunters and shooters made good choices initially and understood how to maintain a rifle and scope to ensure dependability and longevity.

Our Choices for the Scope Brands with the Longest Life

There are certain manufacturers and brand names that stand out from the crowd. The scope brands that routinely get the best reviews are:

Many other manufacturers build incredibly good scopes that will last for many years with a little care and maintenance. Don’t discount a scope because it is not on this shortlist. Do your research and make your decisions. You may discover the next addition to our list for us.

An Investment in Quality Pays Off

Much like my wife’s grandfather’s binoculars, investments into the future may come without realizing what is happening. I am sure that the thought of someone using his binoculars 70 years into the future was the last consideration he made when buying those binoculars.

I know that when I select a riflescope, passing that scope down to my children or grandchildren is extremely low on my priority list. However, if you choose wisely and make good decisions, there is no reason a riflescope cannot become an investment into the future and a working family heirloom. 

Dennis Howard

A life long hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman, after surviving a devastating tornado in his home town, he saw the effects on people's lives as they struggled to cope. He built his first bugout bag a few weeks later and has been a dedicated prepper/survivalist since that time. After a career as a fireman, Dennis opened a retail store (FFL approved) catering to the military, law enforcement, and like-minded individuals. The store built their own AR platforms. Furthermore, Dennis was also an NRA instructor in both long gun and handgun as well as a certified range safety officer. Read his full interview here.