If you don't want to invest in good gear, don't ever borrow it.

Don't even let your grubby little fingers ever touch it.

I've learned this lesson too many times to count over the years, and it's always the hard way.

Many years ago, I won a Shimano V-Rod at an outdoor writers conference. That should have been a good thing, right? Well really, in hindsight, it probably wasn't. I took the rod home, and immediately teamed it with my favorite baitcaster, which was of fairly high quality.

On my first trip with the new rod, I fell in love - the deep, heart-pounding, first-kiss kind of love. The sensitivity and balance of the V-Rod made it feel like a 6-foot, 6-inch piece of heaven in my hand. Within five casts, I realized that the $29, department-store specials I had been fishing with were complete and utter pieces of garbage better suited for marking the edges of oyster reefs than for casting for fish over them.

For a young man with a burning passion for fishing, it was as if my eyes had been opened to a whole new world I had only dreamed about. It was like I had been dating Rosie O'Donnell, and all of a sudden began receiving phone calls from Jessica Alba.

Ever since then, I've bought only the best rods I could afford (or not afford, if you ask my wife).

A similar experience happened last year on a deer hunt near Mansfield.

I thoroughly enjoy deer hunting, and I look forward to making a few hunts every year. But for me, it's a nice diversion, an opportunity to get in the woods during the most beautiful season of the year, and furtively behold the activity of nature. There are those who are passionate about the sport - and I certainly understand why - but my prime allegiance that time of year is to the marshes - and the speckled trout and redfish that make their home in them.

And my deer-hunting equipment reflects that. I shoot an H&R single-shot .270 that I really like. I've shot 15 deer with the rifle, and 13 of them fell within a 20-foot radius of the point of impact. I've also had a few misses, but none that I could reasonably blame on the gun.

Mounted on top of my .270 for the eight or so years that I've owned it has been an off-brand 40-mm scope that I paid almost nothing for.

Sportsman columnist Gordon Hutchinson, the nuttiest of gun nuts, has always chided me for my choice of scopes. There's hardly a rifle made that the man hasn't shot, or a scope that he hasn't peered through, and he's always said that the scope is more important than the rifle.

Yeah, yeah, whatever. My 40-mm dime-store model gets the job done, I always told him.

Then, last year, while sighting in rifles before our deer hunt, I shouldered Hutchinson's 7mm-08, and stared at the target through his Leupold 3.5-10x50. It was like I was seeing for the first time. The clarity was remarkable, and the edges of the crosshairs were as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel.

I put them on the center of the target, took a deep breath and pulled the trigger. Without aid of a spotting scope, I could clearly see that the bullet had struck a half-inch high - just the way Hutchinson likes it.

A few weeks later, I ordered a Nikon 4-12x50, which is now mounted on my rifle awaiting its first shot in anger.

I could have spent a lot more and gotten a much higher-end scope, but remember, deer hunting is a side hobby for me. The Nikon is a vast improvement over my previous scope, and I'm certain I'll be thrilled with its performance.

Hunters who spend every weekend - and even a few weekdays - in the woods may want to dig a little deeper into their wallets to get something they're really going to be pleased with.

To help you sort through the different choices out there, Louisiana Sportsman has assembled info from some of the hottest lines on the market. We hope you'll use this guide to make the best scope selection possible for you and your style of hunting. Though it may be hard to believe, especially if you take a glance at a thermometer, deer season is less than two months away.

And what about my old scope? Well, it's now mounted on my 7-year-old son's pellet gun - a more appropriate place for it.

Bushnell

Bushnell is the technology leader and innovator of illuminated reticles and crosshairs for riflescopes. The company has taken this technology to a new level with its line of Banner rifle scopes. Bushnell now offers three scopes with illuminated crosshairs that use etched glass reticles and let the hunter select between red or green crosshairs depending upon the light conditions.

The new Banner models include a 3-9x40mm, a 3-9x50mm and a 4-14x40mm.

Selecting the color and intensity of the crosshair is quick and easy with an adjustment knob located on top of the eyepiece. Big-game hunters can choose between the red crosshairs for low-light situations, or select the green crosshairs for brighter conditions.

All Banner scopes have multi-coated optics to provide greater clarity under low-light conditions. The Fast-Focus eyepiece and wide field of view let the hunter focus and follow fast-moving game. One-piece body tube construction provides waterproof, fog proof and shockproof performance. Windage and elevation adjustments are 1/4 M.O.A.

The three new models are available in matte finish.

Retail prices are $134.95 for the 3-9x40mm, $174.95 for the 3-9x50mm and $174.95 for the 4-16x40mm.

All three are available at Bushnell dealers nationwide.

Leupold

Leupold's new VX-L gives hunters an option they've never had: a clear, bright sight picture in low light, delivered by a large-objective rifle scope that mounts low on popular hunting rifles to allow a natural cheek weld on the stock for quick, accurate aiming.

The 50mm objective VX-L sits as low as a typical 36mm rifle scope, yet delivers almost 50 percent more total light throughput (the total amount of light that passes through an optical system). The 56mm VX-L mounts as low as a typical 40mm scope, and lower than standard 42mm and 44mm models, while delivering nearly 100 percent more TLT.

A concave crescent in the bottom of VX-L's objective lens and bell accommodates low mounting by allowing the scope to almost wrap around the barrel of many rifles. However, the sight picture remains perfectly circular with crisp, edge-to-edge sharpness across the entire visual field.

VX-L rifle scopes are available in 3.5-10x50mm, 4.5-14x50mm and 3.5-10x56mm models with 1-inch maintubes; and 4.5-14x56mm Long Range and 6.5-20x56mm Long Range models with 30mm maintubes.

All have a matte black finish.

The 6.5-20x56mm Long Range model is also available in an Extreme Varmint version, which sports red anodized spattering on the exterior surfaces for a custom look.

"The truly unique design of our new VX-L is evident at first glance, and offers the benefits of both maximum light and minimum height," said Mike Slack, Leupold's marketing communications manager. "Large objective rifle scopes are optically great when the light is low, yet often require high mounting, forcing the shooter to lift his or her head off the stock to attain a proper sight picture.

"With the VX-L's low mounting height, a shooter can maintain firm contact between cheek and the stock comb, making for easier and more accurate aiming. The low mount also gives the rifle better balance.

"A hunter using a VX-L can stay afield as long as there is legal daylight, get a clear look at the target and employ a natural, proper shooting position that is conducive to accuracy."

Optronics

Optronics, a respected name in the outdoors, is in the optics business with a line of high-quality scopes. As proof of the company's commitment to the category, its top-of-the-line BuckRidge Horizon scopes are backed by an unconditional warranty for the lifetime of their original owners.

The Horizon scope series consists of eight models, all with high definition, fully-coated optics that are waterproof, fog proof and shockproof. They range in power from 3-9x40mm variable general hunting scopes to specialized varmint/target scopes of 8-32x42mm.

Individual models vary from a stainless steel version to one with an illuminated reticle to wide-angle versions.

The Horizon unconditional lifetime warranty provides scope repair or replacement for the life of original owner, regardless of the cause of the damage. Drop one in a creek, run over it with the truck, step on it - whatever. The Horizon warranty will make it good again for the original owner.

Joining the BuckRidge family are the Sport and Red Dot Series, featuring BR magenta, fully-coated optics that are waterproof, fog proof and shockproof.

Among the different models are five Sport and two Red Dot scopes.

Sport Series models have a 30/30 reticle for wide angle viewing that increases the field view by 10 percent. Powers range from a 1.5-4.5x38mm shotgun/black powder scope to a 3-12x40mm variable general hunting scope.

The two Red Dot models feature a red dot reticle, and are specially suited for shotguns and handguns.

A limited lifetime warranty backs BuckRidge Sport and Red Dot Series scopes.

There's also a BuckRidge Rimfire series that consists of three riflescopes, each with BR magenta, multi-layered optics. Rimfire powers include two 4X models and one 7X version.

For more information about Optronics scopes and other outdoor products, visit www.optronicsinc.com.

Pentax

Pentax has developed a new line of rugged and full-featured rifle scopes and dot sights all priced under $200.

Featuring 1-inch, one-piece tube construction, these Pentax Gameseeker rifle scopes are extremely durable and fully waterproof for the most extreme hunting situations. Each scope is nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging, and the fully multi-coated optics with PentaBright technology help increase light transmission to deliver sharp, clear images.

Every Gameseeker also includes the new bullet drop compensating Precision Plex reticle.

Gameseeker rifle scopes are available in the following variable powers: 3-9x40, 4-12x40, 3-9x50, 3.5-10x50, 1.5-6x40, 2.5-10x56, 4-16x50, 1.75-5x20. They also come in the following fixed powers: 4x32 and 6x42.

For more information, visit pentaximaging.com.

Redfield

Riflescope construction begins with the main tube. While other optical manufacturers have long boasted of one-piece main tubes, in traditional scopes this means one piece from the eyebell forward.

Redfield engineers employ the first and only true one-piece tube in the construction of all new Redfield scopes. This new, amazingly lightweight tube is precision machined as a one-piece unit, end to end, for unquestioned strength and integrity.

This is a unique method of scope tube construction that makes the new Redfield riflescope more rugged and more durable than any scope in its class.

But the new main tube is just the beginning. Redfield engineers have also incorporated the patented TrueZero Flex Erector design in the construction of the internal erector tube. The traditional gimbal/biasing spring design has been replaced by an erector tube solidly attached to the scope body, with increased flexibility at the normal gimbal point being provided by special grooves in the unique material of the erector.

All Redfield scopes feature a new 3-cam, 5X zooming system that makes them the most versatile hunting scopes ever built. Variable-powered rifle scopes typically feature a 3X or 4X zooming system.

To illustrate, a 3-9X scope has a 3X system, where the lowest magnification multiplied by three gives you the higher magnification. Similarly, a 6-24X scope has a 4X system.

Before now, the limitations of the design have restricted a greater range. Redfield's new scopes deliver an amazing 5X power range from low to high magnification.

This new zoom system achieves its 5-times power range through use of a patent- pending 3-cam zooming system, a unique method of providing the extra magnification range within the scopes' erector systems. As a result, these rifle scopes exhibit ultra-high performance with no point of aim shift across an unprecedented range of magnification.

The versatility and potential applications for these scopes is extensive; everything from hunting dangerous game at close ranges to long-range target or varmint shooting is possible with these new Redfield scopes.

For more information on the new Redfield line, contact Redfield USA, 201 Plantation Oak Dr., Thomasville, GA 31792, phone 800-323-3191, or visit www.redfield.com.

Simmons

The patented design of the internal erector tube of the Simmons Master Series is the secret to the internal construction of this dramatic new scope and the first part of Simmons' TrueZero Adjustment System. The traditional gimbal/biasing spring design has been replaced by an erector tube that is solidly attached to the scope body.

Recoil has always been one of the largest contributors to a shifting point of impact with rifle scopes. This technologically advanced design greatly reduces the effects of recoil by absorbing and dissipating a portion of the recoil energy. For the shooter, this means the effects of recoil are dramatically reduced, if not completely eliminated.

Also, because this dissipation of recoil reduces stress within the scope, and since this design eliminates many of the parts traditionally used in erector-tube construction, there is a greatly decreased probability of system failure anywhere within the scope. Fewer parts means less chance of anything going wrong.

Precise and repeatable windage and elevation adjustments are absolutely critical to shot placement. Simmons has addressed this requirement with the second part of the Master Series' TrueZero Adjustment System - completely redesigned windage and elevation dials.

The new dials on Master Series scopes employ a ball bearing and spring system that significantly reduces wear while maintaining dial reliability and accuracy over time. Their precise, tactile clicks eliminate any deviation in click value throughout the full adjustment range, giving the shooter confidence that any adjustments are accurate and repeatable.

Also, TrueZero dials are completely sealed against water intrusion, even with the windage and elevation caps off.

For more information on Simmons' new Master Series products, contact Simmons Outdoor Corp., 201 Plantation Oak Dr., Thomasville, GA 31792, 800-285-0689, or visit www.simmonsoptics.com.

Swarovski

Swarovski's new Habicht PVI-2 High Grid is a series of innovative rifle scopes with the reticle in the second image plane, where only the observed target is magnified - the size of the reticle remains the same.

The new scopes are available in the following models: 1.25-4x24, 1.5-6x42, 2.5-10x56, 3-12x50, 4-16x50 and 6-24x50. Each has a wide range of highly innovative, centered reticles for the second image plane.

Altogether, there are three different reticles available for the PVI-2 High Grid rifle scope.

All PVI-2 High Grid rifle scopes are equipped with the new and innovative BE 4 Digital illumination unit. This has a higher light intensity than all other illumination units. In addition, it also covers a wider brightness range, thereby meeting all potential day and twilight requirements.

The BE 4 also offers a whole host of other advantages that provide even greater functionality for the hunter, such as a memory function so that the set brightness level is automatically retained the next time the instrument is switched on. There is no need for any re-adjustment the next time it is used.

The flashing reticle indicates low battery level and an automatic switch-off function.

The manufacturer's suggested retail price for the PVI-2 line of scopes ranges from $1,776 to $2,589.

For more information, visit www.swarovskioptik.com.

Trijicon

Trijicon's advanced, self-luminous aiming systems feature optical excellence and uncompromising quality, including the Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 rifle scope.

All experienced shooters know that no matter how well the target can be seen, effective aiming requires that crosshair or reticle be clearly visible. With Trijicon's exclusive battery-free, dual-illumination technology, the AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 scope has a precise, tritium-illuminated red or amber reticle to help ensure optimum clarity, regardless of the available light. With advanced fiber optic/tritium aiming points, the scope speeds target acquisition and extends available shooting hours.

The result is lightning-fast precision targeting without having to rely on failure-prone batteries - or the perfect lighting situation.

Trijicon's AccuPoint 2.5-10x56 features multi-layer coated lenses for excellent light transmission with no distortion. It also has a long eye relief of 2.8 to 4.1 inches, a manual brightness adjustment override and precise 1/4-inch minute of angle (MOA) windage and elevation adjustments.

The weather-resistant, nitrogen-filled housing is crafted from aircraft quality, hard anodized aluminum for maximum durability, and its black matte finish eliminates glare, helping to conceal the shooter's presence.

For more information, call Trijicon at 800-338-1563, or visit www.trijicon.com.

Weaver

Weaver Grand Slam Scopes excel in performance, reliability, value and premium features shooters would expect from only the most-expensive scopes on the market. With a full complement of configurations, there's one to accommodate the needs and preferences of even the most discriminating shooter.

The Grand Slam scope family was engineered from the ground up to be rugged, unequalled in sharpness and contrast, and loaded with details that put them ahead of the competition in performance. Among the advanced features are a "sure-grip" power ring and AO adjustment that let you easily adjust the variable scopes, even while wearing heavy gloves, and an offset parallax indicator that allows the shooter to remain in a shooting position while adjusting the scope.

Grand Slam scopes feature camera-quality, fully multi-coated lenses that ensure sharp, bright viewing.

For quick focusing, the eyepiece has a fast-focus adjustment ring. Simply rotate the ring until the reticle appears sharp.

Windage and elevation knobs have target-type finger adjustments so ¼-MOA adjustments can be made by gripping the rim of the knob between the thumb and index finger.

The Grand Slam scopes are also equipped with Micro-Trac, Weaver's patented four-point adjustment system that is rugged, reliable and accurate.

Grand Slam scopes' solid construction with a one-piece tube from the eyebell forward makes them not only rugged and reliable but resistant to moisture and humidity.

Configurations include:

• 1.5-5x32mm, the ideal scope for short-range rifles and fast target acquisition in brushy country;

• 4.75x40mm, a fixed-power scope with sufficient magnification for longer shots, a wide field of view for finding running game close in and a good choice for dangerous game;

• 3-10x40mm, the traditional choice of big-game hunters for short- to long-range shooting;

• 3.5-10x50mm, which provides the brightest view in low-light situations;

• 4.5-14x40mm AO, possibly the most versatile Grand Slam scope, with a low range suitable for stand hunting and high enough magnification for target shooting or varmint hunting;

• 6-20x40mm AO, designed for long-range target or varmint shooting.

Suggested retail prices range from $299.99 to $419.99.

For more information, contact Weaver, 201 Plantation Oak Dr., Thomasville, GA 31792, phone 229-227-9053, or visit www.weaveroptics.com.

Zeiss

Zeiss has extended its popular Conquest line to include three new high-performance rifle scopes designed for shotguns, muzzleloaders, rimfire and ultra-light centerfire and heavy magnum rifles.

The Conquest 1.8-5.5x38, Conquest 2.5-8x32 and Conquest 4x32 all have a generous 4-inch eye relief that allows faster target acquisition, a 1-inch center tube and 1/4 MOA click adjustments for quick, precision tuning.

These rugged scopes are waterproof, nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging and are available in a variety of non-magnifying reticles to ensure that the image remains constant throughout the entire power range, thus hiding as little of the target as possible.

The Conquest 1.8-5.5x38 is the perfect scope for hunters who prefer shotguns and muzzleloaders. This scope achieves amazing results in low-light situations while maintaining a remarkably low profile.

Like all Conquest riflescopes, the lenses in this new model are fully multi-coated to produce maximum light transmission, color fidelity and brilliance, providing the contrast needed to see game, even in thick cover. This allows for accurate shot placement in the most challenging conditions.

Shotgun hunters will also be impressed with the fast target acquisition capability of this scope that makes for ideal handling on a deer drive, and yet is still brilliant enough to use from a tree stand at dawn and dusk.

And for shooting enthusiasts who enjoy a variety of firearms, this is also a fine scope for rimfire rifles and some centerfire rifles as well.

The Conquest 1.8-5.5x38 is available in five reticles, and manufacturer's suggested retail price is $647.

The Conquest 2.5-8x32 is the ideal choice for serious rimfire shooters who favor the popular .17 HMR and .17 MACH2 in addition to the traditional .22 rimfire calibers. It is also a great scope for recreational shooters who like plinking at targets, and also for hunters of varmints and other small game. The lightweight design is also especially appealing to mobile varmint and predator hunters who often walk for miles.

Among the other features that set this scope apart is its compatibility with lightweight rifles in centerfire and heavy magnum calibers. The lightweight and low-profile design of the Conquest 2.5-8x32 has astonishing ability to withstand heavy recoil, making it an ideal choice for those who want to mount it on the popular new short magnum calibers or the venerable 7mm REM Mag, .300 WIN Mag, .338 WIN Mag or .375 H&H. This is a perfect combination on long safaris or for the sheep hunter in rough terrain.

The Conquest 2.5-8x32 is available in four reticles, and manufacturer's suggested retail price is $567.

The Conquest 4x32 is Zeiss' first fixed-power rifle scope in the Conquest line. This is an ideal all-purpose scope for hunters and shooters who favor the reliability and performance of a quality fixed power scope. The optical excellence of this model is what the discerning shooter would expect from a legendary name like Zeiss - crisp, clear images and accurate performance, even in low light.

The Conquest 4x32 is available in four reticles, and the manufacturer's suggested retail price is $647.