Long Eye vs Short Eye Relief: A Comprehensive Guide

| Last Updated: March 21, 2021

Confused about what eye relief to choose? Maybe you are looking for a one-size-fits-all solution or a dedicated scope for a specific purpose.

The concept of eye relief can be perplexing to many shooters. Especially if their intended applications change often.

This comprehensive guide will help you understand the concept of eye relief and how to choose one the right way.  

Long Eye Relief

Short Eye Relief

Pros

Pros

  • Better situation awareness

  • Less chances of injury

  • More space for adjustment

  • Quick target acquisition

  • Less complex & lower price
  • Better focus and precision

  • Advanced reticle options

  • Larger field of view

  • Suitable for high magnification

  • Quick and easy adjustments

Cons

Cons

  • Doesn’t offer high magnification

  • Limited reticle options

  • Lower field of view
  • Low situational awareness

  • Dangerous with heavy calibers

  • Not great for quick acquisition

Best For

Best For

These scopes are great for hunting, scouting, home defense, and short-range uses where quick acquisition & low zoom are useful.

These scopes are best for precision shooting, competitions, sniping, and long range setups. Where high zoom and complex reticles are needed.

What is Eye Relief? 

The rear end of a scope or binocular or telescope or any magnifying optic for that matter is where you are supposed to keep your eye is called the eyepiece. 

The distance from the surface of this eyepiece glass between your eye where you can view the image of the target is known as eye relief. This distance can be fixed or variable depending upon factors like magnification, eye alignment, and size of the eyepiece.

Placing your eye at the right eye relief point ensures that you get a bright and clear image of the target.   

Eye relief should not be confused with another similar factor known as the ‘exit pupil’ or colloquially known as the ‘eyebox’ when rifle scopes are concerned. Exit pupil is the virtual aperture and only rays that pass through it can exit the system. 

To experience the best eye relief, your eye should be positioned centrally aligned to the center of the eyepiece. If you move your eye around a bit, you will still have a clear picture of the target but with a slightly reduced field of view. 

Eye relief is inversely related to magnification. So as the magnification increases, the eye relief decreases, and vice versa. 

Also, note that the eye relief mentioned on paper can differ slightly from actual perceptive numbers. Additionally, prescription glasses are worn by the user also affect the total eye relief as some extra distance (between the eye and glass) has to be taken into consideration. 

Advantages of Long Eye Relief 

A scope can either have long or short eye relief. Long eye relief is considered starting from 4.5 inches and beyond. There’s also medium/standard eye relief that falls somewhere in between this and 'short' eye relief. But let’s look at the benefits of long eye relief first. 

Better Situational Awareness and Adjustability

The most ardent advantage of long eye relief is that it can allow you to shoot with both eyes open. Since your head is a good distance away from the eyepiece, your peripheral vision comes into play. Offering you better situational awareness. 

Having a long eye relief scope also means that you have more room to adjust your head and you do not strain your eyes while peeping through the eyepiece. 

Comfortable Placement and Shooting

A benefit rather connected to the previous one is the comfortable placement of your eyes and the scope on the rifle. A long eye relief means you can work with adjustable stocks and change the LOP of your rifle or the cheek weld whenever wanted. 

This can be an advantage when you have to switch stances while shooting. Or different shooters want to use the same rifle. 

One very useful advantage is that you can mount the scope further ahead on the receiver/rail. This prevents the scope from hindering loading and ejection operation in traditional bolt action rifles like the Mosin Nagant or Kar98. 

Quick Target Acquisition

Having long eye relief also helps with quickly acquiring the target without worrying about your stance. This factor is very helpful with scout rifles and combat rifles where caging the targets in your sights is imperative. 

Essential for Magnum Calibers

This is one of the most important advantages you’re here for. A lot of novices and even experienced shooters have received a bloody kiss from the eyepiece ring on their eyebrows. 

That happens when the recoil pushes the rifle backward and your eye is too close to the scope. This is a significant issue when working with heavy recoil calibers like the .338 and above. Long eye relief helps create more space between your eyes and the scope. 

Available for Handguns

Not that you’ll often want one. But for a scope to be used at an arm’s length, like on a handgun. It must offer long eye relief. 

Advantages of Short Eye Relief

Short eye relief scopes have their own vast world of applications and benefits in the shooter’s-sphere. Short eye relief refers to a gap of 3.5 inches or less between the eye and the scope’s eyepiece. 

Better Focus on Target Hence Accuracy

Short eye relief scopes require you to position your eye very close to the eyepiece. Which dips down the situational awareness to almost a zero. But meanwhile also lets you focus more on the target. Clearing any disturbances that may hinder your aim from the eyepiece’s end. 

Shorter relief also lets you utilize the eyebox better and gives you a better view of the reticle. The close distance also ensures that the light transmitted through the scope is utilized to the maximum possible extent.

Eye Relief

Eye Relief Example - Courtesy of Optics-Trade-Static.eu

Offer More Complicated Reticles and Higher Magnification

Due to the closer range of interaction between your eye and the scope. Short relief scopes tend to offer more complex reticles like the BDC, mil-dots, Christmas tree, and other technically advanced illuminated and non-illuminated reticles. 

On top of that, eye relief and magnification are inversely related. Scopes with high magnifying powers offer short eye relief. This is a fruitful trade-off because high magnifying power helps achieve a lot of things. 

Quick to Reach for Adjustments and Gives Better FOV

Short eye relief scopes are positioned close to the head and bring the scope adjustments near to the shooter. Hence most of the time, a shooter doesn’t even have to get eyes off the target to reach the adjustment knobs and tune the settings. 

Another benefit of keeping eyes close to the scope is obtaining a better field of view. Giving the shooter a better chance of hitting moving targets at long range. While also having a better idea of the backdrop. 

Better Positioning of Balance

These scopes are mounted close to the rear end of the receiver. It helps maintain the overall balance of the rifle right above the action. Which is already firmly held by the shooter when shooting without a rest. 

Use-Case Comparison: Short Eye Relief vs Long Eye Relief

Shifting the focus of this discussion towards a more realistic approach. Let’s analyze some real-life situations where scopes are used and how the concept of eye relief impacts them.  

Hunting

Hunting is a widely popular scope across the globe and a hunting rifle will have a scope 99% of the time. The 1% are hunters who prefer iron sights and hunt on a very close range. 

Most hunters will prefer a long over short eye relief any day. Why? There are two very good reasons for that. First, the common hunting distances, and second, the surroundings. 

Even the most experienced and ardent hunter will never take a shot on a game animal standing farther than 400 yards. Even that 400-yard range suits big game animals standing across treacherous terrain like rocky mountains. Hunting ranges don’t require carrying a scope with more than 9 or 10x power. 

The next factor is situational awareness. Since you are out in the woods, you should keep yourself aware of any possible direct or indirect threat. That’s why many hunters used fixed magnification or scout scopes for hunting. 

Considering all the factors, a long eye relief scope is more favorable for applications like hunting. Where you need a basic reticle, limited and fixed range, and a good awareness of your surroundings. Plus, low magnification scopes are often more rugged and inexpensive. 

Competitions

Competition is a fairly broad term as far as scopes are concerned. There are 3-gun competitions where sporting rifles like the AR-15 are used to blast targets in quick succession at 20 yards away.  Then there are T-Class and F-Class competitions that take into account ranges between 500 yards to a mile. 

So in simpler terms, the choice of long or short eye relief is subject to the type of competition you are referring to. But for the sake of discussion, let’s consider competitions where the range is high and precision is imperative. 

For such situations, scopes with short eye relief are more favorable. That’s because you have the time to account for different ballistic factors and you can lie down on a mat or sit comfortably on a bench rest. Pondering over the right moment to pull the trigger. 

For long range competitions, the shooter is not in a jiffy and is allowed to use more complex reticles and high magnifications. Whereas for short range matches, a long eye relief scope with a quick acquisition eyepiece is what works the best. 

Target Shooting

Like competitions, target shooting is also a wide collection of sporting disciplines. That takes into account factors like shooting distance, firearm type, and ammo caliber. Target shooting may involve air rifles, small bore rifles, full bore rifles, and shotguns. 

The first factor to consider is range. Low magnification suits short range and high suits long range. So eye relief will stay relevant to the range here. In the part where full bore rifles and shotguns are involved, precision and quick acquisition play an important part. 

Sighting an overall perspective on the relevance of eye relief for target shooting. The scale tips towards short eye relief. Since handguns won’t be allowed to be mounted with a scope.

Scopes with short eye relief will have a better reticle and allow the shooter to extract more focus on the target. 

Home Defense

The answer to the short vs eye relief debate is crystal clear for this application. If you are mounting a scope on your weapon for home defense, it should be a long eye relief scope. 

Why?

The answer is very simple. Home defense will always occur inside a home or on its premises. A backyard, a garden, or a windowpane. The point here is that the distance between you and your target is rarely going to be more than 10 or 15 yards.

Now if a home defense encounter is underway, your heart is pumping blood fast. The rush of adrenaline makes the entire surroundings go blurry if you are not trained for such situations. What matters most in such a condition is to be able to acquire the target as quickly as possible.

You may be leaning, squatting, lying prone or heaven knows what stance you’ll be in when you take that shot. So your scope must have long eye relief and a very prompt reticle like a red dot or duplex. Or any other combat-ready reticle. Magnification should be low like 1x, 2x, or maximum 4x. 

Red dot reflex sights and holographic sights fit this application very well. 

Heavy Calibers

Remember that ‘bloody eyebrow kiss’ we talked about earlier in this article? That’s what you get when mounting a short eye relief scope on a heavy-caliber rifle. The term ‘heavy-caliber’ simply refers to the variety of rifle ammunition that kicks hard. So hard that the rifle jolts one or maybe two inches back due to the recoil. 

The most notorious calibers in terms of recoil are magnum versions of .30 caliber and up bullets. The calibers most famous for their recoil are .577 Nitro Express, .50 BMG, .475, .375, and .338 Lapua. 

Talking a bit about ‘common sense’ here. It is already evident that if your rifle is chambered in a heavy caliber, it isn’t going to blast squirrels at 50 or 100 yards. But it is rather a long range machine that requires a high magnification scope with a tactical reticle that can help make calibrations. 

Now that’s where the wires get tangled. Since you have to protect your eyebrows and also utilize the effective range of the caliber. So rather than going the short or the long eye relief routes, it is better to stick to standard eye relief. Something that lies between 3.5/4 to 6 inches. 

Handguns

Pretty much nothing to compare about here. Since there’s no way you are going to position a handgun near your face, as you would with a rifle. If yes, then forget about the eyepiece punch, as the rebounding slide will pulp the eyeball into the socket. 

A handgun, whether it is a pistol or a rifle. Will always be kept at an arm's distance when fired. This means that handgun scopes are an entirely different line of rifle optics. Rather than tubular scopes, handguns are typically paired with open or closed reflex sights. Which offers unlimited eye relief and a bright, illumination adjustable dot as the reticle. 

Handguns require long eye relief. But since an optic scope eyepiece has its limitations, red dot sights came into play and remain dominant.

Shotguns

Here comes the reliable ‘ol grandpappy of firearms. The most common firearm owned across North America and possibly in the rest of the world too. As most people already know, shotguns are used in a close to short range. 

Shotgun’s have variants that are known for their nasty recoil. Plus, due to their limited range, shotgun scopes often offer fixed or low variable magnification. Shotguns can be paired with long eye relief scopes. 

That's because the maximum distance you’ll be aiming at with a shotgun is 50-75 yards. Maybe 100-125 yards with rifled slugs and the right shotgun.

It is always better to get at least 3.5 inches of eye relief with a shotgun. Of course, you can also mount sights that offer unlimited eye relief. 

Bottom Line

Eye relief is the distance between your eye and the eyepiece of the scope between which you can see the target’s image. The higher the magnification setting the lower will be the eye relief and vice versa.

Long eye relief is great when you want to maintain good situational awareness while shooting at close to medium range requiring low magnification. It is also suitable when working with heavy recoil calibers and also weapons like handguns. 

Short eye relief on the other hand offers more complex reticle designs and the ability to work at higher magnifications. It is suitable when shooting at long range targets requiring immense precision.

People Also Ask

Check out some great info about the concepts of eye relief and how it can help you with making the right decisions when using or choosing a rifle scope. 

What Is Considered Good Eye Relief?

An eye relief of 3.5 to 5 inches is considered good for most rifles and applications. Anything less and you’ll have to consider recoil issues. Anything more, and you will be limited in terms of magnification. 

Does Eye Relief Change With Magnification?

Yes. The eye relief changes with magnification. It is inversely related to magnification. The higher the zoom the lesser the relief and vice versa. 

How To Measure Eye Relief For A Scope

Calculation of the exact eye relief involves a complex mathematical formula. But for an average estimation, position the rifle in your shooting stance, set the magnification, and move your head to and fro behind the eyepiece. The distance where the image looks clear is the eye relief. 

How Can I Relax My Eye Muscles?

Close your eyes as tightly as you can for five seconds. Repeat this four to five times. Alternatively, take your focus off the scope and look at something else or close your eyes. Placing warm hands on your closed eyes is also a good technique. 

What is Scope Eye?

Scope eye is a term used to describe a condition where your eye or eyebrow gets hit by the recoiling eyepiece of the scope. This happens if you are using an improper eye relief scope or hunching too close to the eyepiece while shooting.

Ankit has been a writer for almost a decade now and has developed a diverse portfolio. His love for writing led him to turn down his lavish and lucrative career as a software engineer, twisting the reins of his life towards being a full-time writer. He only does what he loves. His hobbies include gardening, reading, shooting, and most of all - learning new things in every context (hence why he chose to be a writer). His whimsical nature and love for writing fosters creativity in all of his work