Ladies and gents, I have had some positive feedback on this article series thus far. As I alluded to at the end of part 1 my hope was that most readers would gain something from this series. So, please bear with me if I explain what some would consider basic concepts. I don’t want to assume anything here and gloss over small technical details that the new hunter may not understand which misses the opportunity to build his or her knowledge. Optics is a highly technical subject involving physics, maths and material science. I comprehend some of the detail having electrical qualifications and can work my way through understanding others. The question I look at here is how do I filter down on what I think is right the right scope for my purposes?
Rifle scope selection is minimum a contentious issue and the subject of many hunter get-togethers around the world. The choice is indeed a very personal decision as money plays a big part in the final purchase. But let me say that I truly think if a passionate hunter has made an objective assessment of what fits their bill, and money is the hurdle, wait and save.
It is my observation and opinion that many young hunters’ over-scope their rifles. This maybe bias based on my hunting style, a combination of ‘walking them up’ and ‘spot and stalk’ with a bit of extended range shooting coming into the mix. That’s to say I’ll often hunt by slow stalking likely areas as I travel into a glassing spot. Being a mountain hunter this often means heavy ground cover where a scope with low magnification is an absolute requirement. Optimally 1.5X to 2.5X to provide an increased field of view.
Hence, it is the lowest scope power that dictates the scopes that I select. And it goes hand in hand that the highest magnification power is determined by the magnifications range. Nearly all scopes are now either 3X, 5X or 6X, although Swarovski and Nightforce now have 8 times, obviously determining the highest power. That is, the lowest power e.g. 2.5 multiplied by the magnification range e.g. 5, equals a maximum power of 12.5X.
Other scopes exist with higher magnification ranges. These often don’t fall into what I believe is a hunting scope catergory. They tend to be more ‘target’ or ‘tactical’ orientated scopes. The major problem I see with these lines of scopes for a mountain hunting rifle is the bulk and weight.
It is a paradox, to me, to take a sleek, light, mountain rifle and mount a heavy bulky scope on it. Some may disagree and that is fine; Save some weight on the rifle to allow a heavier scope to be mounted. All good? Maybe. This can significantly change the balance of the rifle, and that in turn affects its shootability on offhand shots. Further problems can arise through restricted target acquisition from the narrow field of view and more critical eyebox that many of these tactical scopes possess.
Lens quality and consistency is a must. Get the best you can afford, and as I have mentioned, if that means waiting a little longer, do it. More experienced hunters than I have said you are better off with a $600 rifle and a $1500 scope rather than the other way around. And given hunters, especially those new to the game, often change their rifles as they desire greater accuracy, better fit, higher quality and a better suited cartridge, quality optics last a long time. So can be transferred from your existing rifle to the new one. In short buy once, cry once.
Finally, there is the oft misunderstood issue of light transmission. Many websites quote percentage figures of light transmission related to each scope. These figures are mostly the amount of light that one lens lets through. Well what happens to the rest? It is mainly reflected off the incoming and internal surfaces of the lens. How much light and how that is viewed by the shooter depends on the all-important lens coatings. Suffice to say that the more lenses in a scope, the less light gets to the shooters eye.
I like my hunting rifles sleek and smooth. Poorly designed mounts, rings, or other paraphernalia, only serves to catch on clothing, back packs, bino harnesses and effectively bust-up clumsy ham-fisted knuckles in very cold conditions. Ms Montana, being a magnum length action, could be troublesome to find the right scope given my desire for neat mounts and rings.
Short main tubed scopes often need to be fitted with a picatinny rail on magnum length actions, to one, allow the rings to physically fit on the scope, fore and aft of the turrets, and still bridge the loading port. Two, allow the scope to be appropriately positioned with due consideration to eye relief and shooter posture. On a light, magnum rifle, one does not want to be crawling the stock to obtain the full site picture. That is a very direct path to receiving a Weatherby Eyebrow on a heavy kicking rifle.
After perusal of many optics websites I prioritised what was important to me in the selecting the scope for Ms Montana.
1. The magnification should not be higher than 3.5X at the low end (for in-close stalking) and of between 12x to 15X at the high end. Over time I have found that many scopes become very critical in the eyebox at their maximum powers. For those relatively new to scopes, what this means is the degree of correct alignment between the shooter’s pupil and the optical axis of the scope required to give the shooter a full image on the retina. Some scopes are more forgiving than others. That is allowing full and focussed sight picture and hence not affecting the point of impact with the viewed point of aim with a degree of misalignment. With other scopes a small amount of misalignment and the degree of bullet impact shift from the point of aim is increased with the experienced misalignment.
This effect generally becomes more pronounced in the same brand and line of scopes as you move to high magnifications scope models in that line. E.g. from a Brand T XZ 2-10X42 to a Brand T XZ 4-20X50
2. Given this is a big game rifle and I would like to shoot it out to 700 to 800 metres on steel, I wanted at least 12X magnification, 15 being better as I could stay on twelve power and lessen any eyebox criticality can become more pronounced at max power.
3. I want the scope to have a BDC (Ballistic Dial Compensation) Turret for dialling up when shooting at extended range. There are many different types/systems of BDC, each having advantages and disadvantages. I’ll talk about that later.
4. Good sharp optics are a must. Long ago, I learnt, when looking through a fixed 6X Hensoldt Rifle Scope, lens quality is better than magnification. When I looked through the Hensoldt I could see 6mm holes in a target at 100 yards. Yet, I could not see those same holes at 10X in my scope of lesser quality.
5. The scope needed to be of a brand that was well supported in Australia for practicality if a problem arose with the scope. This is somewhat of vexed issue for me as you will see.
6. The scope should not be overly heavy. Some increase in mass would settle down the felt recoil from a seven pound 300 Winchester Magnum.
The scopes that came into consideration were as follows;
Reticles are, in my opinion, a lot like the overall features of the whole scope. Keep it simple. For hunting, one of the best I have seen is the Swarovski 4W. A simple German 4A based reticle with a few small 2 MOA vertical hash marks across the horizontal bar of the reticle to allow easy wind hold offs.
When I talk ‘simple’ I should explain where I am coming from in terms of my requirements. Long Range Hunting is becoming more popular. There is a lot of discussion around the 'ethics’ of this method. Suffice to say on this topic, I believe each hunter needs to be fair dinkum in the assessment of what they think is realistic. That decision includes consideration of the gear they are using, their abilities, their current state of proficiency and practice, the possible hazards to life and property that may exist between them, the target and beyond, and paramountly the animal’s welfare. This goes for every hunter whether they use a bow or a rifle. And I state this knowing full well that under some scenarios there are misplaced shots at 40 metres, let alone 200. Something for those that vehemently argue against “Long Range Hunting” to consider.
Back to simple and me. I consider my hunting max to be 400 metres, but as I stated above I want this rifle scope combo to be capable to about 750 metres for practice on steel. If I can hit steel at 700 then a 400-metre shot becomes a much more assured shot after considering if all conditions are optimal. Which leads to Parallax adjustment and Ballistic dials. Talking with several people in the optics industry Parallax is not required till a scope gets to about 12X and higher, 12 being the approximate boundary of requirement.
Simply put, a scope with a good reticle, no Parallax, a straightforward and a effective ballistic dial means less to think about on a long shot when the shooters' mind needs to be on form and function of position, trigger control, breathing and wind.
Ballistic Dials and BDC. There is a variety of factory systems out there including third party options from companies such as Kenton Industries. The key to the right choice, in my mind, comes down to two factors. One, simplicity and two flexibility. Right here there are two basic schools of practice. There are dials like the Leupold CDS, likely the best known, where the dial is configured for a specific load and set of environmental conditions and the dial engraved with the different distances.
The second is where the dial is just marked in graduations of mils or MOA and the shooter ranges and consults either a drop chart or a Ballistic App and dials up the required amount.
Then there is the Swarovski BT system which is user configurable and is in essence a clone of the above two systems and can be used in either manner described above. Swarovski now do a custom dial similar to the Leupold CDS.
In deciding which is right for you, I think, a shooter needs to consider how she or he thinks about complex problems and resolves them. Do they want to work quick and dirty back-of the beer coaster result? Or do they want to strive towards a more accurate, consistent and concise result?
I am more towards the later, but I have to be realistic in that more often than not, time is of the essence. Yet, it pays to remember that it is likely you will have more time than you think is available, when wrapped up in the moment of a hunting scenario.
Efficiency in the process is the key here. I mention this as there are basically three schools of procedure.
1. Use of electronic devices connected via Bluetooth, i.e. Kestrels, Range Finders and Apps on Smart Phones. These all sound great in theory. But my experience is that Murphy can often play his best hand when you least want his involvement. That is flat batteries, pressure to hit the right keys on touch screens, rain, sweat and gloved hands on touch screens and then dial-up. Plenty of room for for pressure driven errors.
2. Range and Dial-up to the corresponding distance on your Elevation Dial. This is all good if the user is aware that there are variations in trajectory with changes in altitude, angle and environmental conditions. Inside 600 metres variations tend to be less pronounced but I’d suggest that the user run their ballistics through a variety of temperatures and altitudes to endeavour to find a sweet spot and be aware of the variations in drop. And remember that the production of that dial relies on solid and accurate information being provided to the manufacturer.
3. Range and refer to a Drop Chart. In this system the dial is graduated in MOA or Mil. The shooter ranges then consults a Drop Chart and Dials up the required amount. The advantage here is that the drop chart can contain a few columns that are adjusted for different altitudes and or environmental conditions. Your system is also not “locked in” needing a new dial or adjusting your system if you change load, rifle or cartridge. You merely re-run the ballistics and type up a new drop chart.
None of these methods are perfect, and as always, the user needs to make the correct ranging, adjustments and or data entry. If not, then there is only one person to blame.
In relation to ALL of these methods I think it pays to mention an experience that I was involved in. Another hunter and I had the opportunity to try for a shot on some wild pigs at around the 600-metre mark. We had stable shooting position in an elevated point above the pigs, which we had been observing for over an hour. We decided that I would range, call the wind and observe shot fall whilst the other hunter would take the shot. We had two range finders, a Leica 1000 and a Leupold RX1000. We both ranged and both got within two metres of each other. Now here is the rub. With a mil adjustable scope, I range and work in Metres. The other shooter had a MOA CDS scope and worked in yards. Neither of us discussed this prior to the hunt. What resulted was the shooter dialling the scope for 600. Which was actually dialling for 600 yards when the actual range was 600 metres, converting to 656 yards. You guessed it, the shot fell short and a second opportunity never presented.
After the fact we think what happened was that shooter's range finder, which had its batteries changed just before the trip, defaulted back to its factory settings of metres, being a Australian purchased model. Originally the owner had been set it to Yards after purchase, to match the his CDS turret.
The important lesson here is that both shooter and observer, need to come to agreement on how they operate together when this scenario arises. I would strongly suggest that the observer use the shooter's Range Finder to range the distance.
And this raises anonther interesting issue that is often the point of discussion when choosing binoculars; 'Should I, or would you recommend to buy Rangefinding Binos?'
What would I do?
My answer is NO. Keep them separate devices. Sure, it is a little more weight. But the way I see it, if I ever have an issue with my Rangefinder and it goes for repair, then I don’t loose use of my binos.
It is also far easier to hand my Rangefinder to a buddy to range for me whilst I settle in behind the rifle. If I have RF Binos, he or she may have to adjust the diopter focus and I no longer have the convenient use of them if the scenario plays out over an extended period of time.