I was looking for a scope with the following features: 1) Mil-dot reticle, which provides the best and easiest system for the shooter to use for fixed holdover/holdunder points, both for hunting and for rapidly adjusting to target shooting at the range. 2) Variable magnification in the range of about 3X to no more than 12X, in a reasonably compact scope more typical in size to the average 3X-9X variable scope without sacrificing light gathering or optical clarity, as most compact scopes tend to do. 3) Side focus parallax adjustment, a very nice feature made easier and quicker to use than an adjustable objective to compensate for parallax. 4) Objective of no more than 44mm diameter to allow mounting in low to medium height rings. 5) Quality construction at a reasonable price.
As it turns out, I made the right choice the first time, and it met and exceeded all my criteria.
The reticle is indeed a mil-dot, but it goes one better in being what Hawke dubs a "1/2 mil-dot," which still has the standard mil-dots evenly spaced on the fine center strands of the familiar duplex reticle, but also adds tiny dashes exactly between each dot to provide finer holdover/holdunder points to allow instant and precise aiming correction without requiring changing the turret settings. This is a rare case of having your cake and eating it, too. For those of you who use your mil-dots for rangefinding purposes, they can be used directly for that with the scope turned up to its maximum 10X magnification. The reticle is uncluttered, no more confusing than a plain duplex reticle, but improves on the duplex by providing very easily employed instant marks to compensate for both elevation and wind in the field, especially useful while hunting, plus it allows twice as many of these marks as regular mil-dot scopes. Contrast that with the specialized BDC (Ballistic Drop Compensator) and various other proprietary (even Leupold has one called "Boone & Crockett") reticles that all too often are more complex, confusing, and overspecialized than effective.
The magnification is just right there in the "Goldilox" zone for a scope intended for big game hunting, and the clarity and light gathering are surprisingly good for optics in this price range. I was surprised by how favorably it compared to my top of the line Leupold Vari-X III 2.5-8x36mm scope in this regard, even though the Leupold presently costs nearly three times as much, with just a small edge in optical quality to the superb Leupold.
I was particularly pleased with the side parallax adjustment, which is described as allowing adjustment from ten yards to infinity. As it turns out, the adjustment knob is marked "10 yds" at its closest setting, but -- as you can clearly see in the photo I added to the Customer Image Gallery here -- actually turns even lower than that, where my testing showed that it adjusts for parallax down to between five and seven yards, which would make this suitable for the very short ranges at which airguns are typically used. As a side note, for those of you with spring piston airguns wondering if this would be suitable for the devastating double recoil of those guns, notorious for wrecking any scope not rated for spring piston guns, Hawke states clearly on their website that this scope is indeed rated for that purpose. I also like how the parallax adjustment knob turns easily and is easy to grip, but not so much so that it would be prone to getting easily bumped out of place.
As you can clearly see in the photo I provided in the Customer Image Gallery showing the complete scope and mount, the objective just barely clears the rear section of the barrel with the scope caps on using the excellent Game Reaper Marlin 1894,1895 and 336-Medium Mount, exactly what I was hoping for and keeping the scope as low as possible on my Marlin 1894.
I am very impressed with the overall quality of this scope, and am especially impressed with the one-piece tube construction, with even the saddle (the portion that houses the windage/elevation turrets) as a unified part of the main tube. The turrets have large, easily removable caps, with finger adjustable dials and positive, audible 1/4 MOA clicks, with no backlash or mushiness, and the sides of the dials have graduated lines to show with a glance how many turns in or out each turret has been rotated. The eyepiece focus adjustment is of the more easily adjusted European style, which allows instant adjustment of the eyepiece focus, but stays put without requiring the familiar lock ring found on the American style eyepiece focus adjustment system. The overall fit and finish of the scope are very good, with a nice, even matte black hard anodized surface and no sharp edges, burrs, or uneven metal-to-metal fitting.
As a bonus, Hawke also included a set of good see-through flip up scope caps and a lens cleaning cloth. The manual is surprisingly good, with unusual technical detail and tips such as how to mechanically center the turret adjustments and use the mil-dots for rangefinding, and it was written by someone who understands the English language. I shot over fifty rounds at the range today with my very stiff handloads, and the scope and rifle both performed even better than I had hoped, with my first sight in group putting all five inside one ragged hole at 50 yards. I'll be hunting deer this fall with this scope on my new Marlin 1894 .45 Colt, and I know that it'll be my fault alone if I miss with this combination.
***UPDATE*** I took my first ever deer using this scope on the rifle pictured in the customer image I provided on November 19, 2012. The shot was between 65 and 75 yards, and the bullet struck exactly where I aimed. I have the venison in my freezer to prove it.