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Wayne van Zwoll

How to Use Rifle Bipods, Tripods

Harris Bipod for Rifles
Attached bipods, like this Harris, work best prone; some have extendable legs that work for sitting, too.

Wayne van Zwoll offers an enlightening article on how to use rifle bipods and tripods.

The animals you hunt live amid an abundance of rock, trees, hillocks and other rifle rests. Alas, there’s never a rock or a limb where you need it, when you have little time to fire.

That’s why Cro Magnon man invented a rest for his spear…Well, perhaps the bipod doesn’t go that far back. But it’s been in use a long time. Crossed sticks helped sharpshooters hit at distance before the advent of smokeless powder. Commercial hunters who swept the plains clean of bison used them to deadly effect. By the middle 1880s, the toll was so great that human scavengers would glean three million tons of bones from the prairie.

Gun Sticks
Even with a tripod, add bracing offhand. This rifleman has employed a tripod under his trigger arm.

Military as well as sporting rifles are commonly available with bipods attached. Widely hailed, the Harris bipod has been improved over the years with the addition of extendable legs. New versions also incorporate some latitude for tilt, so you can rotate the rifle slightly to square it up on sloping ground. That’s a useful feature, even if the device has adjustable legs. There may be no time to extend or retract a leg – or you can’t risk doing so for fear of drawing attention. If there’s a bit of “rock” to the bipod base, you can twist the rifle enough to get it reasonably level from the shoulder.

Most bipods for sporting rifles snap into the front QD swivel stud. Some rifles intended for bipod use have two studs, so you can attach a sling to the other. A bipod should be mounted so when flipped to a “carry” position, the legs point forward.

Setting a bipod for a shot, choose a firm but impressionable surface over a hard one. As you pad your rifle on a bench rest, you’ll get better results with bipod legs on soft ground or a jacket, which absorb vibration caused by your pulse and by the shock of firing and bullet travel down the bore. Vibration kicks bullets off course.

At a recent shooting event, I managed consistent hits on pie-plate targets at 500 yards with a Ruger .30-06. The rifle, and Hornady’s M1 Garand load, was partly responsible, as was the Zeiss scope.

But the Harris bipod surely helped. I was careful to plant the legs in gravel, not on nearby concrete or wood. The soft substrate acted like sandbags to suck high-frequency bounce from the rifle.

Gun Tripod
A rifle tripod trumps a bipod, offhand. Grasp the “neck,” finger and thumb alongside the rifle. Lean forward.

While long-legged bipods can be used from the sitting position, most are designed for prone shooting. I keep the legs as low as I can to shoot comfortably. A bipod shouldn’t put you in an uncomfortable position. If it forces your head up, or puts an acute angle in your elbows, it’s too high.

You’re smart, after planting bipod feet, to push into the rifle with your shoulder. Pressure on the bipod legs should seat them more firmly. Some lightweight bipods yield to that pressure. They’re not on my Christmas list.

To assist a bipod, make your left hand into a fist and place it under the stock’s toe, squeezing or relaxing your hand to make slight elevation changes. Another tip: buy or fashion a small sandbag – no larger than a baseball, but brick-shaped, with lightweight filler – to hold under the stock toe. It’s a boon if you must bring the stock a little higher than your fist alone can boost it comfortably.

Bog Pod Rifle Tripod
Bog Pod makes a complete line of bipods and tripods, including hardware-specific, quick-release heads.

The long-legged version of the attached bipod is a pair of shooting sticks. Standard kit for every professional hunter in Africa’s long grass, shooting sticks can be as simple as shaved tree limbs bound by strips of inner tube. More sophisticated versions, with telescoping, quick-locking legs, have proliferated.

Stoney Point has some excellent sticks. I especially like those by Bog Pod, which offer pop-off heads to accommodate rifles, cameras, even binoculars. There’s a squeeze-grip to bring your hardware on target and lock it there with one hand.

As this is written, I’m bound shortly for Africa with a pair of Bog Pod tripods, which offer more stability than bipods and can be – perhaps counter-intuitively – faster to use. The extra leg adds little heft.

If using a bipod offhand or kneeling, keep the legs a bit longer than you think you’ll need. Swing them well forward when you plant them, so they lean toward you. Grasp the juncture, your fingers and thumb up alongside the rifle to steady it. Lean forward into the sticks. You’ll secure the feet in the ground while letting the legs carry your body weight.

Handloads: Will Your Gun Blow Up?

Wayne van Zwoll Springfield Sporter Rifle
Wayne’s Springfield sporter in .30-06 Improved has a 7-digit serial number, higher than the 800,000 that marked the end of low-carbon, case-hardened receivers in 1917.

When it comes to reloading ammunition, Wayne van Zwoll says handloading cartridges requires special attention.

Firearms come apart when gas pressures from burning powder can’t leave soon enough. Time matters. Pressures can’t build to dangerous levels if you don’t give them time.

On the other hand, you must give pressures time to build to useful levels. The bullet is an obstruction. Its resistance (friction and mass), plus barrel length and the relationship of bore to case capacity determine the appropriate powder and charge. A charge of fast-burning Bullseye powder behind a lightweight bullet in a .45 ACP pistol generates a sharp, quick thrust. It must, because that short bullet is easily dislodged.

Cowboy Action Cartridges
Cowboy Action ammo loaded to mild pressure helps safeguard this pristine, valuable Winchester 53.

As it races through the short bore, a huge space opens instantly behind it. The powder has little time to work before its energy dissipates. Think of a ping-pong paddle in action.

A rifle powder such as 4350 in a bottleneck case like a .270 generates pressure more slowly as it burns. The bore is small, relative to case capacity, and the bullet long. An instant burst of energy from Bullseye wouldn’t give the sustained push needed to overcome bore friction and accelerate the long, slim .270 bullet through a long barrel.

Heavier charges of fast powder would lift pressures to dangerous levels. Bore space behind the bullet wouldn’t increase fast enough to relieve it. Think of that ping pong paddle meeting a baseball. The paddle (or your wrist) would yield before the momentum of the incoming ball could be reversed.

Like handgun ammunition, shotshells use faster powders than those in bottleneck rifle hulls. The heavier the shot load, the slower the powder. Short pressure curves don’t mate well with slow acceleration against high resistance. Also, shotgun barrels and/or actions weren’t designed to bottle stiff pressures. Big bores and straight cases flush pressure out fast.

Rifles of modern steel seldom come apart. Acceptable breech pressures of smokeless centerfire rounds as determined by SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute) run from around 42,000 psi for the .30-30 to over 60,000 psi for high-velocity magnums.

Handloading Powder
Powders must match not only cartridges but bullet weights. Choose carefully; handload conservatively.

Several bolt rifles safely digest proof or “blue pill” loads of more than 100,000 psi. Famously, Springfield 1903 receivers to serial number 800,000 (in 1917) were of case-hardened, low-carbon steel, not as strong as subsequent double-heat-treated receivers. These acceded to even stronger nickel-steel receivers at serial number 1,275,767 (in 1927).

Proper charges of proper powders help keep your rifle intact. But careless mixing of cartridges can make even safe loads hazardous. Once a pal inadvertently loaded a .308 round in his .270. The .308 cartridge is shorter, so the bolt closed before the bullet met the smaller neck of the .270 chamber.

When he fired, pressures vaulted as the .308 bullet squirted through the .277 bore. The bolt froze shut. Gas from the ruptured case blew the extractor off and jetted through the magazine well, splitting the stock into three pieces. Fortunately, the Mauser lugs did not fail, and my friend was wearing glasses.

Another way to blow a rifle is to not use any powder at all. Once, having heard only the hammer fall as I triggered a borrowed rifle, I opened the action and ejected a fired case. “Must have forgotten to cycle the lever,” thought I, and chambered another round. But just before I fired, another possibility came to mind. Action open, I looked into the bore. Dark.

The rifle’s owner had failed to add powder to that first case. The primer had driven the bullet inches into the bore. Had I launched another 200-grain softpoint, pressure would have spiked as it collided with the stuck bullet. The Model 71 Winchester would almost certainly have been ruined, with injuries likely.

Smith & Wesson .460 Cartridge
S&W’s powerful .460 generates rifle-like pressures. Don’t stray from recommended charge weights!

Don’t use someone else’s handloads! Pull the bullets; use the components.

You’ve read caveats about firing smokeless loads in Damascus shotgun barrels – those made by wrapping heated bars around a bore mandrel. The rule makes sense, as does the use of black-powder or “smokeless for black” (not full-power smokeless) loads in old double rifles. In truth, some early rifles and Damascus shotguns thrive on modern ammo.

I have it on good report that the actions and barrel thickness of Parker shotguns dating to the early 20th century are such that Parker proofed to higher pressures than generated by modern target loads, even some duck loads!

Still, barrel steels of a century ago don’t match ours today. Breeching that has become loose, or weak cases or oversize or damaged chambers add risk. When in doubt, have the gun examined by people with appropriate equipment and expertise, or stick to mild loads.

Hewing to conservative loads in old guns, and taking care to use the right powders and ammo can keep stock and steel in one functional piece, and you, too.

The Evolution of Marksmanship


Target shooting improves marksmanship
Wayne fired these 50-yard five-shot groups in rimfire prone competition. Consistent form matters with marksmanship.

One shot does not a marksman make. Neither does it demonstrate accuracy. A single hole, in an animal or a paper target, shows only that you fired the rifle. It takes more to achieve true marksmanship.

Tolerance can affect marksmanship
Close tolerances in modern rifles and ammunition add up to better accuracy, more consistent hits.

During the iron-sight stage of a smallbore match years ago, I settled into prone and accidentally brushed the trigger. Dismayed, I hardly dared peek into the spotting scope. The best I could hope was that the bullet had missed the paper, leaving no evidence a shot had been fired. A hole in any of the 10 record targets, or between them, would affect my score.

Squinting into the glass, I was astounded to see a hole in the center of the target I was to shoot. A pinwheel. That shot had nothing to do with my marksmanship or the accuracy of the rifle or ammunition.

In its purest form, accuracy is a measure of consistency.

Standards of accuracy can change over time, as they vary with conditions and shooting gear. Marksmen obsessed with accuracy have developed games and equipment that re-define the term. The first official benchrest match, held in Johnstown, New York in 1947, drew international interest. Special rifles and loads, and better optics, have since enabled shooters to print tiny groups.

In the UK not long ago, a sharp-eyed shooter drilled a .135-inch five-shot group at 100 yards and a 6.908 group at 1,000 yards under trying conditions. The world’s record 1,000-yard group measures inside 2 inches, well under a quarter minute of angle.

Hunting rifles and ammunition have improved a great deal since I started shooting. When you could buy one at retail for $89.50, we considered the 94 Winchester a 3-minute rifle.

Now, with Hornady LeverEvolution ammo, the best .30-30 lever guns punch 1-minute groups. When it appeared, the M-16 rifle couldn’t match the accuracy of the M-14 or the Garand. Now, after many refinements, a tuned AR-15 shoots about as well as competitive bolt-actions.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to marksmanship
Improved optics and more uniform ammo help make tuned ARs as accurate as most bolt rifles.

Recently, I fired a Les Baer AR with Federal ammunition launching 77-grain Sierra MatchKings. Sub-minute groups came easily, and one three-shot cluster measured less than half an inch at 200 yards.

In my youth, hunters marveled at rifles that shot into a nickel at 100 yards, but they didn’t despair if the groups were bigger. Many marksmen still relied on iron sights, and big game was shot close. These days, interest in tactical rifles, rangefinding devices, high-power scopes and long-range shooting has nudged the accuracy bar ever upward. While smart hunters get as close as possible for shots at game, long-distance hits on paper targets and steel are confidence-builders.

Marksmanship matters with hunting
Quick, accurate assessments of wind and range, and your ability to hold the rifle still, then execute a shot well – all count for more than the intrinsic accuracy of hardware on a hunt.

Accuracy at distance makes you more successful in competition and afield. When you can hit far away, the close shots seem easier.

To that end, manufacturers of rifles, barrels, scopes and ammunition have poured many thousands of dollars into new products. Darrell Holland (hwww.hollandguns.com), who runs a shooting school in southern Oregon and builds super-accurate rifles, has designed a unique scope reticle for long shots. A series of ballistics cards from Holland help you quickly assess effects of range, wind and shot angle for your favorite load.

In the same way, the fellows at Greybull Precision (greybullprecision.com) manufacture scope dials for specific loads and fit them to Leupold scopes with cleverly designed reticles. I’ve used Greybull scopes to 780 yards, banging minute-of-angle groups on steel with center holds. A Marlin lever-action printed six first-round hits inside a 10-inch circle from 100 to 600 yards, with center aim. All I did between shots was adjust the Greybull dial for distance. Matching of scope dials to specific bullet arcs has since become a service of most scope-makers.

Ballistics software from Sierra, Nikon and other sources has not only fueled interest in long-range shooting but given riflemen tools to do it. Knowing where to aim or how to adjust the sight at distance is a first step to hitting consistently.

Marksmanship comes next. Holding the rifle still and executing the shot properly is a skill independent of equipment. It is also the pivotal factor in the pursuit of accuracy.

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How Handloading Affects Headspace


Bolt head
Britain’s ageless Short Magazine Lee Enfield was given a replaceable bolt head, to adjust headspacing.

Headspace, measured from the bolt face to the cartridge stop in the chamber, is set during barrel chambering and installation.

The barrel nut on Savage 110 rifles is a clever way to make headspacing easier and cheaper. British SMLE rifles have replaceable bolt heads that varied slightly in length, for a quick field fix of improper headspace.

Effects on cartridge of excess headspace
Excess headspace causes hulls to stretch unduly ahead of the web. A split, and spilled gas, can result.

But as a handloader, you control effective headspace, because in sizing cases, you determine the relationship of cartridge to chamber. Even when the barrel is properly reamed and expertly installed, errors in case preparation and loading can introduce headspace problems.

Once I was sizing cases for a wildcat 6mm cartridge, the .240 Hawk. I set the die to full-length size, to ensure the cartridges would easily fit the chamber. My first shot blew gas from all crevices of the stout Remington 700 action.

The case showed a circumferential crack forward of the belt. Because the loads were not stiff, and because the bolt lift did not indicate high pressure, I fired another round. Same result. I compared sized cases with the fired cases. The sized .240 hulls were shorter by nearly .1 inch.

So I unscrewed the sizing die until it hung 1/8 inch shy of contacting the shell-holder. The first case sized at that setting wouldn’t chamber. Lowering the die incrementally and trying the case at each setting, I finally closed the bolt.

At this point, the die and shell-holder were .1 inch apart. Unlike most commercial dies, this one reduced case length excessively when flush with the shell-holder. It made the case .1 shorter than the chamber.

When I fired those first rounds, the striker drove the case forward .1 inch, and the rear of the case backed up .1 inch against the bolt, pulling the brass apart just ahead of the web.

Full-length sizing compresses a cartridge case; firing stretches it. Think about what happens after repeated bending of the tab on a soda can. To prolong case life, neck-size only, so the brass moves little upon firing.

Because a cooling hull shrinks after firing (otherwise it wouldn’t easily extract), there’s no need to further reduce its dimensions unless you plan to use the ammunition in another rifle that has a slightly smaller chamber.

.30-06 improved
“Improved” cartridges are blown-out versions of rimmed or rimless rounds, here the .30-06. The .30-06 Improved (left) has the same headspace measure. Standard ammo can be used in an Improved chamber.

The only other reason to full-length size (or to use small-base dies that squeeze cases down even further) is to feed autoloading or lever- or slide-action rifles with little camming power. Some hunters full-length size the cases they’ll use on a hunt, to ensure easy chambering.

Neck sizing is a particularly good practice with belted cases, because chambers for these hulls are often cut generously up front. The critical dimension, after all, is the distance from bolt face to belt face –  .220 to .224, “go” to “no go.” If you full-length-size belted magnums, you may be shortening the head-to-shoulder span considerably each time—which means the case stretches a lot at each firing. Eventually (sometimes soon), you’ll notice a white ring forming around the case just ahead of the belt.

If you insert a straightened paper clip with a small “L” bend at the end and feel around the inside of the case, you may detect a slight indentation forward of the web. The white ring signals a thinning of the case there and the case will separate if you keep full-length sizing the case.

Rechambering rifles to Improved, or sharp-shouldered, cartridges should not change headspace measurement. The reduced body taper and steeper shoulder angle provide greater case capacity, but the datum point on an altered shoulder should remain the original distance from the bolt face.

That’s why you can fire factory ammunition in an Improved chamber safely. True wildcats that require case forming in dies must sometimes be given a false shoulder to serve as the chamber stop before firing full-power loads.

Headspace is a length measurement. It has nothing to do with diameter. After long use, reamers cut slightly smaller chambers than when new. New reamers or those used aggressively can bore oversize chambers. Headspace can change over time. With each firing of your centerfire rifle, some compression of the locking lugs and lug seats occurs.

The elasticity of the steel keeps headspace essentially the same. But many firings with heavy loads can drain that elasticity and cause a permanent increase in headspace.

A rifle with hard lugs and soft seats and generous headspace can eventually develop so much headspace that a field gauge can be chambered. At this point the rifle is unsafe.

More Great Books by Wayne van Zwoll

Mastering the Art of Long-Range Shooting

Mastering the Art of Long Range Shooting

Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles

Wayne van Zwoll's The Technical Rifleman

Headspace 101: What Happens Inside Your Rifle’s Chamber


Headspace gauges
Headspace gauges for the belted .375/338 are sized for bolt-to-belt measure. Wear of the chambering reamer (right) can diminish the size of chambers over time, affecting headspace.

Headspace is one of the most critical measures in your rifle. A quick definition: the distance from the face of the locked bolt to a datum line or shoulder in the chamber that arrests the forward movement of the cartridge. The term originated when all cartridges had protruding rims, so the measure was initially taken only at the head. Now it includes other spans.

Headspace - rimmed rounds
The Reising submachine gun uses the .45 ACP cartridge, which headspaces on the mouth.

Headspace is measured from the bolt-face to the mouth of a straight rimless hull like the .45 ACP, whose mouth stops against a small, abrupt shoulder at the front of the chamber. In a belted magnum, the stop is the leading edge of the belt, in the back of the chamber. On a .30-30 case it’s the front of the rim. The datum line for rimless or rebated bottleneck rounds like the .270 and .284 lies on the shoulder. Semi-rimmed cartridges theoretically headspace on the rim, but sometimes (as with the .38 Super Automatic) the rim protrusion is insufficient for sure function. The case mouth then serves as a secondary stop. The semi-rimmed .220 Swift has a more substantial lip; but most handloaders prefer to neck-size the Swift, so after a first firing, the case actually headspaces on its shoulder.

If there’s too little headspace, the bolt won’t close on a chambered round. Too much headspace can shorten case life, even cause case ruptures and dangerous gas escape.

When you pull the trigger, many events follow. The blow to the primer crushes shock-sensitive priming mix, which detonates. The explosion shoots flame through the flash-hole in the primer pocket, igniting the gunpowder. The resulting gas expands rapidly, stretching the ductile brass case. The thin case wall up front is ironed against the chamber wall, but the solid rear section around the primer pocket stays close to its original diameter, slightly smaller than the chamber. Gas pressure shoves it back against the bolt face. Still expanding, the gas thrusts the bullet out of the case.

Because cartridges vary slightly in dimensions, and each must chamber easily, the chamber must be a tad bigger than the average case. If there’s too much distance between the bolt face and the point in the chamber that stops the forward motion of a cartridge, however, you have excess headspace.

.45 ACP cartridges
Big-bore rounds are belted (.375, left), rimless (.416 Rigby) or rimmed (.470 and .500 NE, right). The belted and rimless were meant for magazine rifles. Rimmed rounds work best in hinged-breech doubles.

Until the thick case head moves rearward to meet the bolt face, the bolt face isn’t supporting it. The striker has pushed the case to its forward stop. Excess headspace causes excessive stretching. After repeated firings, the “work hardened” case becomes brittle as well as thinner just ahead of the web. It no longer stretches easily and can crack at the web, or even separate.

A cracked case is dangerous because it spills powder gas into the chamber. That gas jets through the tiniest corridors at velocities that can exceed bullet speed.  It may scoot along the bolt race, through the striker hole, into the magazine well. It can find your eye faster than you can blink.

Gunsmiths measure headspace with “go” and “no go” gauges.  The “go” gauge is typically .004 to .006 shorter than the “no go” gauge for rimless and belted cartridges. The bolt should close on a “go” gauge but not on a “no go” gauge. Theoretically, if the bolt closes on a “no go” gauge, the barrel should be set back a thread and rechambered to achieve proper headspace. However, many chambers that accept “no go” gauges are still safe to shoot. The “field” gauge, seldom seen now, has been used to check these (mostly military) chambers. It’s roughly .002 longer than a “no go” gauge.

Ammunition data
Explore more cartridge and ballistics data in the new Cartridges of the World, 13th Edition. Click the cover.

Minimum and maximum headspace measurements are not the same as corresponding minimum and maximum case dimensions. For example, a .30-06 chamber should measure between 1.940 and 1.946, bolt face to shoulder datum line. A .30-06 cartridge usually falls between 1.934 and 1.940. Case gauges perform the same check on cartridges that headspace gauges do in chambers.

An obvious difference: case gauges are female and don’t indicate headspace. They simply show whether a cartridge will chamber in a rifle that’s correctly barreled. Headspace is a steel-to-steel measure. Altering case dimensions changes the relationship of the cartridge to the chamber. Reducing head-to-datum line length of the round can result in a condition of excess headspace, even if the firearm checks out perfectly.

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Tips for Custom Rifle Scopes

Custom rifle scope for O’Connor Tribute Rifle
In black and gold, Leupold’s VX-R enhances this O’Connor Tribute Rifle. CS offers other finishes, too.

Wayne van Zwoll looks at the history of custom rifle scopes. He also offers tips for custom rifle scopes.

Custom rifles have served American shooters since flintlocks were fashioned on home forges. Then each rifle differed from the next.

For the most part, rifle scopes have been mass-produced. While scopes appeared on rifles more than 150 years ago and were even used by Civil War snipers, they didn’t take the hunting field by storm.

That’s partly because they were expensive. In 1926, well after smokeless cartridges like the .30-06 and .270 were sending bullets on flat arcs at over 3,000 fps, a Zeiss 4x Zeilvier cost $45. By pre-Depression standards, that was an enormous sum. Even twenty years later, as scopes inched up in price, you could still buy a Fox Sterlingworth shotgun for $65, a Winchester Model 21 shotgun for $111. A Parker skeet gun would set you back $184.

VX-R custom rifle scope
The VX-R here is among Wayne’s favorite Leupold variables. It’s available in Scout form from the CS.

In 1926, you could buy a good house for a four-figure sum. Automobiles cost hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands.

Then there was the reliability issue. Scopes fogged. Reticles of fine spider web broke. Windage and elevation adjustments were crude and didn’t always move point of impact as expected. Even when a scope functioned as intended, it was plagued by optical limitations of the day. Uncoated lenses lost up to 4 percent of incident light at each surface, producing dim images at dawn and dusk. Eye relief was critical and discouraged shooters who’d teethed on iron sights. Moving the adjustments moved the reticle in the field of view, so after zeroing, the reticle often appeared off-center. Sometimes it was far off center. Rain and snow not only distorted the sight picture by accumulating on outside glass but moisture could leak into the scope.

During the 1950s and 1960s, you could buy very good scopes at very reasonable prices. Coated lenses brightened images. Nitrogen injection prevented fogging. Mechanical advances brought the constantly centered reticle. Scopes became lighter in weight when alloy tubes replaced steel. Adjustments were refined to yield reliable quarter-minute adjustments. In that era, the switch from iron sights to scopes on hunting rifles gathered steam. Within another decade, barrels would appear without iron sights. Since then, as hunters came to consider scopes necessary on all but double guns for big African beasts, scopes have vaulted in price and sophistication.

Custom rifle scope for hunting
Variables like this 1.5-5x on Wayne’s Montana rifle in .375 replace the 3x. Still, the CS 3x has appeal!

There are now so many scope makers and models that you could ask: Why on earth does Leupold offer a custom shop? What could you want that’s not already on the market, sometimes replicated many times over? I asked Alan Ransom, who runs the CS at Leupold’s Beaverton, Oregon headquarters.

“For one thing, you can get a scope that’s no longer made,” grinned Alan. He knew I had draped myself in sackcloth and mourned many days when Leupold discontinued its M8 3x, one of the sleekest and most useful scopes for big game rifles ever made. “Our CS 3x isn’t exactly like the older model. It’s better, optically, and there are slight cosmetic changes….”

I interrupted him to order one.

Leupold custom rifle scope
This Wyoming buck fell to a Leupold scope with a reticle custom-built to match the bullet’s trajectory.

Another CS service is the installation of custom reticles, in new scopes and as retrofits to those already in the field. You’ll see 18 reticle designs on the CS pages of Leupold’s current catalog. “We can also install a long-range reticle matched to your specific load,” Alan said. “You send us the factory load, or the ballistic coefficient and starting velocity of your pet handload, and we’ll build a reticle with marks that indicate dead-on hold to 500 yards, at 100-yard increments.” I’ve used those scopes – by Leupold and by GreyBull, which fits Leupold scopes with its own 1/3-minute elevation dials. For shooting at distant targets, such reticles boost your odds for first-round hits.

Cosmetically, the CS can put benchrest rifles and Indy cars to shame. From 24k gold plating of Leupold’s emblem, to brilliant colors – even multiple-color schemes – and the imprinting of names and illustration, a custom scope affords you the chance to make the tube uniquely yours.

Are there limits as to what’s available? Sure. “Illuminated reticles, for example, can normally be installed only in scopes already configured for illuminated reticles,” said Alan. And optically, Leupold must hew to the constraints already imposed on design teams at every scope company.

Alan pointed out that some scopes and features draw enough interest to keep them on a CS list of recommended items. “Though they’re not so popular as to justify standard production runs. We call them CS exclusive scopes. It does not include distributor specials like those Zombie cosmetics that flooded us with orders at the 2012 SHOT show.”

Here’s that list of exclusives:

1.5-4x Scout
1.25-4x VX-R Scout
3-9×40 AO
3.5-10×40 AO
6×33 Compact
8×40 AO
8×40 Target

Read More on Fine Custom Rifle Stocks

Walnut stock
This slim grip on a Savage lightweight rifle is strong because it has perfect layout. Fiddle figure, too.

Rifle stocks made out of walnut look and perform like nothing else. Here's a look from Wayne van Zwoll at the materials that go into walnut custom rifle stocks.

When I was a lad, you could buy a fancy American walnut stock blank for $25. I paid $7.50 for the plain but semi-inletted blank that went on my first deer rifle. Now even American walnut has become costly.

Black polymer is taking over. The problem with walnut is that you can’t manufacture it. You have to grow it, and growing walnut takes a lot longer than growing tomatoes. We’re inletting wood from trees that may have been around before rubber tires, before metallic cartridges, even before the Declaration of Independence. Don’t figure on cutting gunstocks from trees you’re planting now.

Walnut Stock on Rifle
The color and figure in this Gary Goudy-stocked .350 G&H shows why fine walnut stocks are still popular.

In a cruel twist of circumstance, the people who discovered walnut had no guns to put it on. That was back in the 13th century, when Marco Polo allegedly brought walnuts from their native Persia to Italy.

Nuts and seedlings eventually found their way to England, then to France and other parts of Europe. The scientific name for the species is Juglans regia, or “royal walnut.” Common names denote location, not genetic differences. English walnut is J. regia; so is French. The tree eventually wound up in California, to be adopted as “California English.”

Typically, California English wood grown from nuts has a tawny background with black streaking and less “marblecake” than England’s walnut. Classic French is often red or orange. Circassian walnut – named after a region on the Black sea – seems to run heavy to black.

“These days the best regia walnut comes from Turkey and Morocco,” the late Don Allen told me before his untimely death. Don knew a great deal about walnut. He searched the world over for gunstock blanks to use at his Dakota Arms Company. Those rifles still wear gorgeous walnut.

Claro walnut, J. hindsii, was discovered around 1840, in California. Decidedly red, and with more open grain than English walnut, Claro was crossed with English to produce Bastogne. Nuts from this tree are infertile, but fast growth and dense grain makes Bastogne a favorite of stockmakers. It checkers more cleanly than Claro and withstands heavy recoil.

Sadly, this walnut is in short supply and diminishing fast under unrelenting demand. As with J. regia, the best Bastogne comes from trees at least 150 years old.

Cooper rifle stocks
Cooper rifle stocks wear some fine walnut, selected from its ample store of carefully selected blanks.

American or black walnut, J. nigra, has been the mainstay of our firearms industry since the first “Kentucky” rifles were forged in Pennsylvania. Typically, it’s an open-pored wood, warm brown in color, with just enough black to justify the name. It can be as plain as a power pole or richly patterned.

Quarter-sawn walnut has the “striping” common to many gunstocks; the saw runs across growth rings. Plane-sawed walnut shows wide color bands because the saw runs tangent to growth rings. Either cut can yield a sturdy, handsome stock, but quarter-sawn walnut is most in demand.

Winchester’s M70 O’Connor Tribute Rifle with Walnut Rifle Stock
The warm glow of Claro walnut makes Winchester’s M70 O’Connor Tribute Rifle fetching indeed.

Walnut must be dried before it is worked. But if the water leaves too fast, the wood surface can crack and check and eventually crust, inhibiting movement of “bound” water from the core. Structural harm may result. A kiln helps throttle the release of free water.

According to Don Allen, drying damage occurs most often in the first weeks after cutting. Moisture content will then stabilize at about 20 percent, after which time the blank can be air-dried or kiln-dried without damage. When the stock no longer loses weight, it’s dry enough to work. Stockmakers may turn the blank to profile then – and let it dry another six months before inletting.

Proper layout imparts strength to a rifle-stock. The grain on a quarter-sawn walnut blank should run roughly parallel with the top of the grip, when viewed from the side. The grip will then best withstand recoil, and the forend won’t easily bend. Seen from the top, forend grain should parallel the bore.

Figure in the buttstock won’t affect accuracy, but knots and crotches that produce interesting patterns up front can twist the forend. Though wood can shift with changes in moisture, modern finishes can make it almost impervious. Both wood and polymer stocks react to changes in temperature.

* Click to see a photo gallery of custom rifles sporting incredible stocks.

Wayne van Zwoll Explains: Minute of Angle and Milliradian (Mil)

1/4-minute clicks on scope
Most scope dials have 1/4-minute “clicks.” Now popular: graduations to match bullet arcs to distance.

Wayne van Zwoll explores scope reticles by defining the terms mil, milliradian and minute of angle.

Though shooters carry the terms as common coin, not everyone can define “minute of angle” and “mil” (milliradian).

Mil Dot and Minute-of-Angle Diagram
Taken from an actual reticle, this diagram shows both mil dot and minute-of-angle graduations. (Click the image for a larger view.)

Minute of Angle

A minute of angle, usually used as a measure of group size or shot dispersion, spans 1.047 inch at 100 yards. Call it an inch. But as it is an angular measurement, its value increases with distance.

At 200 yards, that 1-minute group spans 2.094 inches. OK, round it to 2.

At 50 yards, a 2-inch group is 4 minutes big. You can get away with approximations out to half a mile or so.

At 1,000 yards, a minute of angle is not 10 inches but about 10 1/2.

The derivation is thus: A circle of 100 yards radius has 360 degrees of roughly 60 inches per degree on its perimeter (total: 21,600 minutes).

While a hunting rifle that prints into 2 inches at 100 yards will keep all its bullets in deer vitals to 400 or beyond, most shooters these days want better. Some rifles are guaranteed to drill minute-of-angle groups; a few have a half-minute standard.

That’s very hard to ensure, even with the best of ammunition. Mainly that’s because ordinary shooters with very accurate rifles still punch ordinary groups. Benchrest competitors commonly shoot “in the twos,” meaning 2 to 3 tenths of an inch, or a quarter minute of angle.

Milliradian dots improve accuracy
Mil dots can help you estimate distance, and compensate for drop and wind drift at extreme range.

Milliradians (Mils)

The mil dot reticle gets a lot of attention these days. “Mil” has nothing to do with “military.” It is an abbreviation for milliradian, 1/6400 of a degree in angular measure. That’s 3.6 inches at 100 yards, or 3 feet at l,000 yards.

In a scope reticle, a mil is the space between (typically) 3/4-minute dots strung on a crosswire. To use this reticle as a rangefinder, you divide target height in mils at 100 yards by the number of vertical spaces subtending it. The result is range in hundreds of yards.

Example: A deer standing 3 feet at the shoulder (10 mils at 100 yards) appears in your scope to stand two dots high. Divide 2 into 10, and you come up with 5; the deer is 500 yards away.

You can also divide target size in yards (1, in this case) by the number of mils subtended (2) and multiply by 1,000 to get range in yards.

A mil dot reticle must be calibrated for a single magnification in a scope. For variable scopes, that’s typically the top magnification; some high-power sights are calibrated at other settings.

With a little practice, mil dots become easy to use. A mil dot reticle gives you a rangefinder and a way to compensate for holdover and wind drift, all in one image. For short shots, you can ignore the dots and use the reticle as a crosswire.

Why Some Guns Have Soul and Others Do Not

A Cooper rifle
Cooper centerfire rifles combine modern design with the soul of fine walnut and clean, traditional lines.

Wayne van Zwoll explains why some guns have soul and others do not. It may be subjective, but it's still important to gun collecting.

Opinions are like shopping bags: cheap and ubiquitous. Mine get about as much notice. Most recently, I’ve held forth on Chihuahuas, subsidized soybeans and motorists who drive 55 in the left lane. The soybean has kept its record reasonably clean, so I’ve managed one positive review.

Firearms have tripped me up. To report on them as tools is to ignore their soul. To admit that they have soul takes Darwinism to a new level. It also leaves some current guns with poor marks. It’s no trick to make firearms that work. Brilliant 19th-century inventors did that. CAD drawings, CNC machines and better steel can improve hardware, but they don’t add or maintain soul – or even elemental “gunniness.”

Target practice with an E.R. Shaw rifle.
The author drilled this knot with a wood-stocked E.R. Shaw rifle. Barrels that float ignore shifting walnut.

Before John Browning tired of sending designs to Winchester, he came up with some of the most fetching rifles ever, from the 1886 to the 1894. For decades after the Civil War, lever-actions proved as popular as the Homestead Act. Then came the Model 1895, a lever rifle for the government’s powerful .30-40, .30-03 and .30-06 cartridges.

I’m not a fan of the 1895. It does show the wonderful machining and finish common to firearms of its day. It does function reliably, and permits use of pointed bullets. But the 1895 is a cruel rifle. The stock comb is sharp and has lots of drop. It jabs you viciously in the chops. The sights don’t line up for me. When I cycle the action, the lever pinches my fingers. All that shuffling steel smacks of machinery by International Harvester. In the 95 you can also sense an incipient loss of soul.

Lest you think I’m heaping dung on a grave, I’d buy a minty 95 in a heartbeat, were it affordable.

A comparison of Kimber tactical rifles.
Kimber’s Tactical rifle (top) has a wood stock painted black. Its Montana is synthetic-stocked. Elegant in profile, both look exactly like every other rifle of their type.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have suggested that certain elements of the 95 (and its forebears) be carried forward. Soul resides in design, fit and walnut. Surely, the best hand-laid carbon-fiber stocks are clean to the point of elegance in profile, besides being strong, lightweight and waterproof. Still, the most attractive guns wear walnut. Claims of wood bending to the whims of weather have over-stepped. Most hunters can’t shoot well enough afield to tell if a stock is nudging the barrel or not. And wood is durable. That’s why trees worth cutting for gun-stocks live longer than we will. Even straight-grained walnut has character to plumb, like the plain girl no one thought would become a CEO, or the “square” who later earned a PhD and a Guggenheim. Polymer has the eye appeal of tractor tires. Every black polymer stock is the same, as soul-less as it is colorless.

The Winchester 94 lever-action
Even rusted, battered and taped, an early Winchester 94 has pick-me-up appeal. Original fit of wood to metal was tighter than on many more costly rifles now.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have suggested that synthetic stocks dress in color. Henry Ford had to buy lots of paint, and sticking to black gave him the leverage of volume. It also absolved him of having to decide which color the next customer would want. Eventually, even Henry conceded there were other profitable colors. Many gunmakers remain hung up on black. While hand-laid stocks do come in a variety of shades, and McMillan offers a giddy selection, the rule is still black. I’m tired of it.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have insisted that metal never “stand proud” of the stock; that rifle and shotgun stocks, fit more neatly than the doors on a tool shed. While CNC tooling has reduced variation in dimensions, tolerances in mating parts seem to have increased. Close fit shows care in manufacture. Once you could get it in a Winchester 94, millions of which traded for under $100.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have required any firm contemplating a commemorative floorplate to install a boxcar-size façade with said plating on the lawn of company headquarters. If it looks good there, it will probably pass muster on a floorplate. Otherwise, plain blued steel works fine. Triggers of bright pot metal might also accede to steel. Ditto plastic grip caps. Steel too costly? Omit floorplate and grip cap. If they’ve been stamped with decoration borrowed from lawn ornaments, it’s best they leave anyway.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have scotched superfluous parts, starting with automatic and redundant safeties. A firearm’s function is to fire. Multiple impediments make it as useless as a boat with holes.

Had anyone asked me, I’d have declared fixed throttles more useful than non-adjustable triggers. Pulls as heavy as a rifle’s weight almost ensure the rifle will move as the trigger breaks – just as double-action handgun pulls with the resistance of a bumper jack ruin accuracy.

While my opinions are mostly dismissed, gunmakers still sell serviceable products. Shooters still buy them, as 100 years ago they made peace with the mulish kick and finger-chomping lever of the 95.

Big Game Rifles: What Happens Between Shot and Down

The author killed this gemsbok with a rifle during a
Gemsbok (or gemsbuck) rank among the toughest of plains game. The hide is elastic, and blood trails are often sparse.

Big game that drops instantly to a shot is cause for concern.

Bullets don’t hurl animals to earth; an immediate collapse usually mean you’ve struck the spine. A severed spinal cord anchors the beast. If your bullet has also sent fragments through the chest or so shattered the forward spine as to deliver fatal shock, you won’t have to fire again.

The author and a black bear
An offhand shot up close destroyed this bear’s heart. It ran as if untouched – but only for 30 steps.

Without knowing that, you’d best cycle the bolt and ready yourself for another shot. Bullets that strike spinal processes – those short appendages on vertebrae – also deliver a hammer-like blow. But the animal can recover, sometimes within seconds. Once it regains its feet, you’ll likely not bag it unless another hit follows, pronto.

You can expect reaction to both bullet strikes and near misses. If the buck doesn’t react instantly, you probably missed. A bullet arrives faster than you can get your scope back on target, and the reaction is involuntary. If you see the deer duck, and it runs with tail up, it is likely unscathed. A deer that stands as if puzzled by the blast and sonic crack is almost surely untouched. Sudden noise can be hard to place; animals often pause, to determine a safe exit.

Up close you’ll seldom see the eruption of hair, dust or water, the flinch, the caving to the blow when your bullet lands. The violence of recoil will obscure all.

At distance, depending on light conditions, bullet velocity and your recovery time, you will. The sound of a strike follows reaction to the hit. A .270 bullet leaving at 3,000 fps averages about 2,700 fps over its first 300 yards. It reaches a deer 300 yards away in a third of a second. The thud of impact takes a second ambling back. You’ll hear the hit about 1 1/3 seconds after you fire.

South Dakota mule deer hunting
This South Dakota mule deer ran off after the hit. But the hunter persevered, delivered a killing shot after trailing.

The solid “thwuck” of a bullet through front ribs is welcome music. A sharp “whock” means you struck big bone; a sodden, splashy, hollow landing means a paunch hit.

Always assume a hit. Always reload quickly. Excepting offhand shots up close in timber, I stay in shooting position for at least 10 seconds after a shot. If game appears after the shot, I make sure it is the same animal before firing again.

Wayne van Zwoll and whitetail deer
The author called the hit too far back and circled the cover. The deer ran and fell to a careful second shot.

Always check if you suspect a miss. First, flag your shooting spot and the place where the animal was when you fired (I carry ribbon for this purpose). Many deer are lost because hunters don’t follow up intelligently after the shot. Blood may not appear on the trail for many yards, even if the damage is lethal. I’ve found dead deer and elk many yards from where they were hit and had to back-trail to see any blood. A bullet that doesn’t pass through may cause lots of internal hemorrhage, only to have elastic hide slip over the entry hole during escape, impeding leaks.

Once, after calling a good shot at a deer in open woodland, I watched it gallop off at an even and deliberate pace. I followed the hoofprints but found no blood. Returning to the site of the hit, I got down on hands and knees, searching in circles. A tiny pink pellet with a single deer hair caught my eye. Lung.

Carefully, I worked my way along the trail again. This time I found a drop of blood. At a turn in the trail, I spied a track I’d missed before. The buck lay a few steps farther on.

Game commonly makes an abrupt turn just before collapsing. A buck I hit too far back slipped into dense willows. I followed on hands and knees as the vegetation pressed in. There was no blood; it seemed as if the earth had swallowed this deer. Then I spotted a small gap to the side of what was now just a rabbit’s path. I crawled through it – and onto the carcass of the buck.

Perseverance is an asset. You might also call it a requisite. When you fire at big game, you have the responsibility to follow up. Some years ago, guiding a mule deer hunter, I spied a buck across a draw.

My client decided to shoot. The deer ran immediately. “Aw, I probably missed,” said the man, obviously not keen to cross the rugged draw and spend time on the deer’s trail. I insisted, though, and presently we stood where the animal had. “See, no blood.”

My companion wanted to start hunting again. I left him at the site and tracked the deer into timber, where I found it dead.

Lethal hits don’t always put game down immediately. In fact, most of the animals I’ve shot have moved before dropping. Regardless of the reaction, I always check and follow. As do all sportsmen.

Classics by Wayne van Zwoll

Mastering the Art of Long-Range Shooting

Mastering the Art of Long Range Shooting

Wayne van Zwoll's The Technical Rifleman

Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to Rifles

Wayne van Zwoll: Get the Right Scope for the Right Rifle

The 2 3/4x Redfield on this M70 is Wayne’s idea of a fine all-around big game sight. Note low mount.
The 2 3/4x Redfield on this M70 is Wayne’s idea of a fine all-around big game sight. Note low mount.

Wayne van Zwoll explains differences between rifle scopes. Matching the scope to the rifle is important.

A lever-action carbine is as lithe under a scope as a sports car under a roof rack. On a double rifle, optics make no sense at all. While my aging eyes need glass for sharp aim, not all rifles need glass to be useful. Many animals are shot very close to the muzzle.

In Africa, firing at dangerous game farther than you can toss a stone is bad form. In typical whitetail cover, and probing the lodgepoles in elk country, you shouldn’t need a scope.

Still, a low-power scope properly mounted is as fast as irons. Actually, it’s faster, because reticle and target appear in the same focal plane.

A 2-8x, this Zeiss Duralyt has great versatility. Its 42mm objective admits all the light you can use.
A 2-8x, this Zeiss Duralyt has great versatility. Its 42mm objective admits all the light you can use.

Your eye sees both in sharp detail. And modest magnification helps when you must thread a bullet between branches. Up to 3x or even 4x, magnification won’t slow a practiced shooter. Field of view shrinks as you boost power – but a rifle sight is not a picture window.

The first scopes for big game were tidy, though steel tubes made them relatively heavy. Hunting rifles in those days weighed 7 ½ to 8 ½ pounds without a scope, so the extra heft (12 to 18 ounces for a 4x or 6x steel sight) remained a modest proportion of finished weight.

Also, objective diameters of less than 40mm kept bulk to a minimum while permitting use of low rings.

Surely, there were big scopes back then, from Lyman’s limousine-length Super TargetSpot to the enormous Unertl, with a recoil spring the diameter of a rolling pin. But these fine and costly sights made sense only on heavy-barreled rifles with thick walnut stocks – rifles for dusting distant woodchucks with the likes of the 2R Lovell and .219 Donaldson Wasp.

Besides jacking a rifle’s center of gravity up from between your hands, a heavy, bulky scope in high rings pulls your cheek from the stock. Losing comb contact, you compromise rifle support and leave your head bobbing about in space.

The problem is especially acute when you affix a big scope to a rifle designed for iron-sight use. This arrangement turns the comb into a baton that swats your chops on recoil.

Stocks on early rifles fitted with iron sights suited scopes like the popular 2 1/2x Lyman Alaskan and 4x Noske, whose 7/8-inch tubes and straight front ends permitted very low mounting.

Such slender tubes have now gone the way of bias-ply tires, but 1-inch scopes with tube-diameter objectives have hung on. Some of these are fixed-power models, like the Weaver K2.5. Many are variables, commonly 1-4x or 1.5-5x, like the Leupold VX3 on my Montana .375. All have much better optics than their steel forebears.

Weaver 6x38
The Weaver 6×38 on Wayne’s Ruger No. 1is bright and lightweight, with plenty of field – and power.

Many shooters think compact sights can’t offer bright images. Wrong. Image quality – sharpness as well as brightness – depends mainly on the lenses and their coatings. In normal light, your eye’s pupil contracts.

If a scope’s exit pupil (objective diameter / magnification) is larger than your eye’s pupil, you can’t use all the light coming through the sight. Only in dim conditions does big front glass help at all.

For most big game hunting I favor 4x magnification. The 32- to 40mm objectives common to the 4x provide 8 to 10mm of exit pupil – more than your eye can use even in total darkness. A 6×36 scope delivers a shaft of light big enough for any shooting conditions.

Want more power? Well, probably you don’t, at least for deer and elk. If you’re shooting small animals at distance, you may benefit from higher magnification. But you needn’t endure scopes with maws the size of motorcycle mufflers. A 3mm exit pupil suffices for Dogtown – as in a 14x scope with a 42mm objective.

For big game, the long-popular 3-9×40 is still a top choice. And as competition in this slot is brisk indeed, you’ll find bargains at every price point. My latest rifle, a .25-06 by talented gunmaker Patrick Holehan, wears a 3-10×42 Swarovski, about as big a scope as seems appropriate. I’d have been as pleased with a 3-9×36, or Leupold’s 2.5-8×36.

No glass needed. This Webley & Scott in .500 NE is for fast shooting up close on dangerous game.
No glass needed. This Webley & Scott in .500 NE is for fast shooting up close on dangerous game.

Another concern when choosing a scope is free tube – space available for rings. In days of yore this was no issue at all, because scopes were of fixed magnification and had tubes as long as a swimsuit model’s legs.

Now scopes are short-coupled, with big turrets and power-selector rings that take up lots of tube. You’re wise to consider where the scope must sit on the rifle to give you proper eye relief.

Some scopes now are AR-specific, following the market to rifles with a mean look and no soul. The high line of sight mandated by the high comb of ARs, and the full-length Picatinny rail standard on models intended for scope use give you more options that do bolt- or lever-action rifles. Rails give even short-coupled scopes plenty of latitude fore and aft.

Leupold catalogs several sights specifically for the AR, from the CQ/T 1-3×14 scope to a 1×14 Prismatic sight to the new DeltaPoint reflex red-dot sight with magnesium housing. I have a Mark AR 3-9×40 on an AR in 6.8 SPC.

No, I’m not categorically opposed to big scopes. Or to liberal politicians or people who drive 55 in the left-hand lane. But sights should not over-burden rifles. And if your rifle’s sight accounts for more than 15 percent of its overall weight, you might ask yourself: Do I really need all that glass?

Wayne van Zwoll: What You Didn’t Know About the .22

Among svelte .22 rimfire rifles is Browning’s T-Bolt, here in .22 WMR. A 40-grain bullet at 2,000 fps.
Among svelte .22 rimfire rifles is Browning’s T-Bolt, here in .22 WMR. A 40-grain bullet at 2,000 fps.

Gun Digest contributor Wayne van Zwoll explains why the .22 rifle deserves its place in gun history.

Far from the most powerful, the .22 Long Rifle is arguably the most useful cartridge of all time.

It dates to 1857, when Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson came up with a rimfire round while working on a lever-action rifle. That primitive Volcanic rifle would evolve into the Henry, the foundation of Winchester’s 19th century dynasty.

Meanwhile, Smith and Wesson would turn to another firearms venture. Their rimfire cartridge endured 30 years of development. Its progeny, the .22 Long Rifle, arrived in 1887, courtesy the J. Stevens Arms & Tool Company. A black-powder cartridge with 5 grains driving a 40-grain bullet, it evolved later to take smokeless powder in a case with a crimp clutching the heeled bullet.

Wayne fired this 10-shot 100-yard knot in competition with a Remington 37, Ely .22 LR Match ammo.
Wayne fired this 10-shot 100-yard knot in competition with a Remington 37, Ely .22 LR Match ammo.

Remington claimed the first modern high-speed load in l930. Current .22 ammo includes friskier offerings, but they’re all sinfully pleasant to shoot. Feeding a .22 costs so much less than stoking a centerfire; you can almost keep Junior in college with the difference.

My love affair with .22 started on a fence rail, where I shot barn rats with a Remington 121 and .22 Shorts. Squinting into that J4 Weaver was like looking through dishwater.

I trained with iron sights on a Remington 40X .22 match rifle, then sold my soul for an Anschutz 1413 to join a University smallbore team. Eley Match ammunition nipped one hole at 50 meters. I won a state prone title, and then foolishly sold that rifle.

The scope, a Redfield 3200, sat next on a McMillan-barreled Remington 37. It snared a second state title. By the time targets got too fuzzy in iron-sight stages, hunting-weight .22s had filled a gun rack in my office.

Cooper, Kimber and Weatherby bolt guns joined the Marlin 39s, an autoloading T/C and a Remington 121 that’s as fetching as the rat rifle of my youth. A Ruger and a Savage in .22WMR, and a Cooper in .17 HMR offer more reach. The Cooper is obscenely accurate.

I should have kept the Browning BLR and Winchester 9422 that left for more responsible owners – and the 52 Winchester with 10x Fecker my wife used to thin ground squirrels near an Oregon farmstead.

I’m obliged to keep the Winchester 75 Sporter, an inheritance on Alice’s side. “It’s mine,” she says.

It’s fashionable in some circles to scoff at the .22 Long Rifle, as if it were OK for kids but not for real riflemen. Well, some real accomplished shooters have used .22s.

From left: .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, .17 HMR, .17 Mach 2. The popular .22 Long Rifle dates to 1887.
From left: .22 Long Rifle, .22 WMR, .17 HMR, .17 Mach 2. The popular .22 Long Rifle dates to 1887.

Phoebe Ann Moses was one. Born in a log cabin in Darke County, Ohio, she showed early talent with rifles when she started killing quail on the wing with a .22.

At a local turkey shoot she beat not just the local boys, but visiting sharpshooter Frank Butler. She was 15. Frank married her within the year.

She joined his traveling show under the stage name Annie Oakley, shooting tossed glass balls. Petite at 100 pounds, Annie had the endurance to hit 943 of 1,000. She’d cut one ragged hole in a playing card with 25 shots from a .22 rifle – in 25 seconds.

Rimfire drills help you hit with deer rifles. Here Wayne pesters sodpoodles with Browning’s BL-22.
Rimfire drills help you hit with deer rifles. Here Wayne pesters sodpoodles with Browning’s BL-22.

Once she shot a cigarette from the lips of a German crown prince. After he became Kaiser Wilhelm II and Europe entered the Great War, Annie allowed that with a flinch she might have altered world history.

Not long thereafter, a lanky Texan named Ad Topperwein began entertaining. He left audiences agape by shooting aerial targets as small as a steel washer. When the washer showed no reaction to a shot, Ad would turn to the crowd and deadpan that the bullet went through the hole.

Hecklers jeered – until Ad stuck a postage stamp over the washer, tossed it again and perforated the stamp with a .22 bullet. In 1894 he shattered 955 of 1,000 air-borne 2 ¼-inch disks.

Dissatisfied, he repeated, busting 987 and 989. It was said Ad could hit the bullet of a tossed .32-20 cartridge without tearing the case. In 1907 at San Antonio’s fairgrounds, he uncrated 10 Winchester 1903 self-loading .22s, tens of thousands of rounds of ammo and as many wooden blocks.

He endured 120 hours of firing before calling a halt. He’d fired at 72,500 blocks and missed nine. His longest run of hits: 14,500 straight!

The .22 Short once common at booths on the “midways” of state fairs is about gone. Winchester’s 1890 pump rifle, then a staple in shooting galleries, has become collectible. The mild BB and CB (Bullet Breech and Conical Bullet) Cap cartridges peddled as pest ammo in those days have faded away, too.

The .22 Long, with a 29-grain Short bullet in a Long Rifle case, never caught on. But the Long Rifle steams ahead, as popular as ever. The best target loads can deliver half-minute accuracy. High-velocity hunting bullets give you 90-yard point-blank range with a 75-yard zero. Bullets strike about an inch high at 50 and 3 inches low at 100.

I once shot a crow at a paced 145 yards. It must have been the bird’s day to die, as I was shooting a lightweight lever rifle with iron sights.

Sometimes a .22 is just shy of magic.

Wayne van Zwoll: Why Bullet Trajectory Doesn’t Go Straight

Bullet trajectory
Long, heavy, sleek bullets at 2,950 fps make the .338 Lapua the choice of many long-range snipers.

Bullets travel in arcs. You knew that. Actually, they’re parabolic arcs. A bullet drops faster as it goes farther.

Well, not really. Gravity determines how fast a bullet drops, and its force doesn’t change over the course of a bullet’s flight. But the arc does get steeper at distance. Why?

Gravity's Effect on Bullet Trajectory

Consider the bullet not as a rocket but as a fragment driven by an explosion. This spinning shard exiting the muzzle at, say, 3,000 feet per second (fps) hurtles headlong into a dam of air that resists penetration. When you swim, you feel resistance. It’s more palpable when you cannonball off the high-dive or take a spill behind the ski-boat.

Elevation dial for bullet trajectory
Target knobs calibrated to specific bullet trajectories let you “click” to known distance and hold center.

Air isn’t as thick as water, but you’ll feel it when you reach outside an automobile window. At 60 miles per hour, that car is traveling 88 fps. A bullet at 3,000 fps is moving 34 times as fast. The headwind it meets is 34 times stronger than what you feel against your hand at highway speed.

Because a bullet has no rocket, it begins to decelerate as soon as the powder’s thrust loses out to air resistance on its nose and air friction on its sides. At the same time, gravity starts hauling the bullet to earth. Clearing the muzzle, that bullet starts to drop immediately, at an accelerating rate of 32.16 feet per second.

But few bullets stay aloft for a full second. A 7mm magnum bullet started at 3,150 fps reaches a deer 250 yards off in a quarter-second; given deceleration that brings average velocity to 3,000 fps. During that quarter-second, the bullet drops three feet (not eight feet, as gravity pulls it faster and farther the last quarter-second than the first).

If your line of sight were parallel to line of bore, the bullet would strike three feet low. A slower bullet drops the same distance in the same interval. It just doesn’t go as far. Say your .308 bullet clocks an average 2,400 fps over its first 200 yards. Instead of landing three feet low at 250 yards, it prints three feet low at 200.

The slower a bullet goes the less ground it covers per unit of time. Because a bullet decelerates, it gives gravity more time per unit of distance at the far end of its arc. That’s why the arc is steeper there. If you dropped a bullet from your fingers next to a rifle just as a bullet was fired horizontally from that rifle, the two bullets would come to earth at very nearly the same time.

Seeing a bullet’s arc is a distinct advantage in learning about trajectory. That’s why machine guns and anti-aircraft cannons are fed tracer bullets. Drift and deceleration show up in tracer paths. Air gunners trained during World War II were often started with BB guns that made trajectory visible.

Distance's Effect on Bullet Trajectory

Adjusting for bullet trajectory
The author allowed a minute of wind to nail this gong at 480 yards with a GreyBull rifle, .243 VLD bullets.

Distance lays a heavy hand on bullets. A .30-06 zeroed at 200 with 180-grain Partitions at 2,700 fps puts them 50 inches low at 500 yards, 400 inches low at 1,000 (double the range, but eight times the drop).

A .300 Winchester launching the same bullet at 2,960 gives up 43 inches at 500 and 352 at 1,000. While speed flattens arc, the rate of deceleration matters, too. A heavy bullet started slower than a lightweight bullet of the same shape and diameter drops more steeply at modest ranges. Farther out, a heavy bullet can actually pass its lighter counterpart. Its momentum is greater. It has a higher ballistic coefficient and a lower rate of deceleration. So drop at very long range is less with the heavy bullet.

Many shooters have been bamboozled into thinking a bullet rises above line of bore during flight. Nope. The misunderstanding results from trajectory illustrations that aren’t carefully drawn. Sight-line is not parallel to bore-line, but at a slight converging angle. Sight-line dips below bore-line and the bullet’s arc. Sight-line never meets bore-line again, as both are straight. They cross once and forever diverge. A bullet travels above sight-line at midrange because the sight-line tilts down through the trajectory. Later, the bullet drops below sight-line.

Temperature's Effect on Bullet Trajectory

Bullet trajectory at high altitudes
Shooting at game, closer is always better. But long-range practice makes all shots afield easier.

Temperature affects trajectory. Warm air is thinner than cold, so your bullet meets less resistance on a warm day, just as an airplane gets less lift on a warm day. But the effect of extreme heat or cold on bullet placement has little to do with the influence of air temperature on flight. Figure no more than half a minute of elevation for every 100-degree change in temperature.

A bigger change caused by temperature results from its influence on breech pressure. Pre-heated powder generates higher pressure. A chilly day can make the cartridge perform sluggishly. Tests run by Art Alphin (A-Square) with a .30-06 showed that at 40 degrees a charge of 51 grains RL-15 generated 54,600 psi to push 180-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips at 2,675 fps.

That rifle and load registered 59,900 psi and 2,739 fps with the air temperature at 120 degrees. Cartridges left on a hot dashboard in a safari vehicle can get much warmer than the rifle and cause higher pressures than the thermometer suggests. Rule of thumb: three fps for every degree of temperature change.

Altitude's Effect on Bullets

Altitude also influences bullet flight. The higher you go, the thinner the air and the less resistance it offers. But as you climb to thinner air, temperatures usually drop. So elevation and temperature changes can cancel each other. In the mountains, air resistance can be greater because of the cold and less because of the elevation.

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Wayne van Zwoll: Thinking Inside The Boxlock

Sidelock by Holland & Holland
This best-quality sidelock by Holland & Holland boasts finely-engraved plates. The sidelock is still considered the most elegant of double-rifle mechanisms.

Wayne Van Zwoll examines the double-barrel boxlock and sidelock antique rifles in “The Technical Rifleman.”

Heym double
A modern boxlock, this well-built Heym double is chambered in .470 Nitro Express.

About the time George Armstrong Custer made ready to round up wayward Sioux on the flanks of the Little Bighorn, a couple of gunmakers working at Westley Richards of Birmingham, England fashioned a new rifle mechanism. Like the dropping-block rifle John Moses Browning would build just a few years later (marketed by Winchester as its Model 1885), the hinged-breech action of William Anson and John Deeley was stout and reliable. It housed the sears, hammers and hammer springs of a double-barrel rifle or shotgun in a compact frame without sideplates. It would come to be called a boxlock. And it shifted the tectonic plates of British gunmaking.

Earlier doubles held the firing mechanism on plates that extended behind the hammers, the first of which were external. On a back-action sidelock, the springs lay behind the hammers; bar-action sidelocks carried the springs in front. Makers had to choose between removing wood from the grip or from the standing breech. In both cases, they introduced some weakness to that part of the firearm. The Anson & Deeley boxlock not only retained more material in this critical section, it made internal hammers practical. While sidelocks remained (and are still) popular, the boxlock was quickly adopted around the world. It was much less expensive to produce in quantity and easily adapted to cartridges of any size.

This boxlock sold for much less than sidelocks of its day. Now both are costly.

These days, sidelocks deliver a generous canvas for engravers. They also invite the hand of uncommonly gifted craftsmen; hand-detachable sidelocks are a hallmark of fine gunmaking. But best-quality boxlocks now command utmost respect, and prices rivaling those of sidelocks. A boxlock double rifle from a maker with deep British roots can cost more than a sports car.

I used one recently to hunt Australian buffalo. A Webley and Scott chambered in .500 Nitro Express, it dated to 1910. But despite a century of service in the bush, and the terrific pounding delivered by those cartridges (570-grain bullets at 2100 fps) the rifle was still tight. It opened and closed sure and silent as a hydraulic press. Quite a tribute to William Anson and John Deeley.

Double rifles have long been favored by hunters of dangerous game, for several reasons. First, they have two separate firing mechanisms. If one (or a cartridge) fails, the other is instantly available.

Webley & Scott boxlock in .500 Nitro Express
Wayne van Zwoll fires a Webley & Scott boxlock in .500 Nitro Express, a rifle built in 1910.

Secondly, there’s no feeding mechanism to jam, and doubles can be reloaded quickly. Also, the double rifle has no receiver, so overall length is a hand’s breadth shorter than that of magazine rifles with same-length barrels. The shallow profile of a double, and its low iron sights, put your sight-line tight to the barrel and nearly as snug to your forward hand. Fast, natural pointing results – assisted by low-between-the-hands balance.

The mediocre accuracy of double rifles matters not to their many fans. A double is meant for close, urgent shooting with iron sights. Minute-of angle groups are irrelevant. Alas, getting right and left barrels regulated to plant bullets to the sights can try the patience of a friar, and is as much art as science. It’s also a reason few loads exist for rimmed, big-bore “Express” cartridges. Rifles regulated for one load seldom shoot accurately if either bullet weight or speed is changed.

The Science of Recoil

The Science of Recoil
When your body is firmly anchored, in prone or at the bench, it can’t yield to recoil.

Launching a bullet sends a surge of energy in the opposite direction. We feel it as recoil. Boost bullet speed or weight, and recoil increases. Adding weight to a rifle reduces felt recoil because the mass absorbs the thrust.

But shooting position also affects what you feel. If your body is free to “give” under recoil, it will hurt less. Stock dimensions matter too. A low, sharp comb can bang you mercilessly. A short length of pull gives the rifle a running start. A grip and forend that afford your hands little purchase let the rifle come back fast. A small, hard buttplate focuses and accentuates the thrust.

Shooting offhand
Offhand isn’t a steady position, but your body can flex with recoil, so it hurts less.

Uncomfortable recoil makes you flinch. Flinching makes you miss. No matter how big and tough you are, lively recoil gets your attention. If you’re thinking about recoil or anticipating the rifle’s kick, how can you focus on smooth execution of a shot? You can’t.

Muzzle brakes mitigate recoil by bleeding gas through ports to the side as the bullet exits. But the noise and blast of a braked rifle can affect you as severely as the recoil. Without adequate ear protection, you’ll sacrifice your hearing to muzzle brakes. At the range, ear-plugs and muffs (I use both) make brakes practical. In the field, you’ll want to pick up slight noises. Solution: install a brake for routine practice, then replace it with a cap to cover the muzzle threads when you hunt. You’ll probably not notice recoil when firing one shot at game.

Because felt recoil varies from rifle to rifle, and load to load, ranking cartridges by recoil energy is pointless. But you can easily determine the recoil thrust of your pet loads in your rifle:

KE=MV2/GC, where M is the rifle’s mass and V is its velocity. GC is a gravitational constant for earth: 64.32. V= bullet weight (grs.)/7000 x bullet velocity (fps) + powder weight (grs.)/7000 x gas velocity (fps)/M.

.450-400 & .470 & .500
Like high velocity, big bullets boost kick. From left: .450-400, .470 N.E., .500 N.E.

Powder and gas figure in because as “ejecta” they contribute to recoil. Gas speed varies, but Art Alphin, in his A-Square loading manual, suggests 5200 fps as an average. The “7000” denominators convert grains to pounds so units make sense in the end.

For a 180-grain bullet fired with a 70-grain powder charge at 3000 fps from an 8 ½-pound .300 Magnum, the numbers line up like this:

180/7000 x 3000 + 70/7000 x 5200 = 8.5 x V. Simplified: (77.143 + 52)/8.5 = V = 15.19 fps.

The final formula: 8.5(15.19)2/64.32 = 30.49 ft.-lbs. of recoil.

If math either bores you or triggers high-school nightmares, you can scrounge recoil figures from tables, available from a variety of sources for common rifles and cartridges.

Some loads are unconscionably brutal. The .378 Weatherby hammers you with 90 ft.-lbs. that feel like a whack from a splitting maul. Lightweight rifles can be vicious, even with proper stocking. My 7 ½-pound .458 leaves cheek and clavicle begging for mercy. A 9-pound .30-06 delivers a civil 19 ft.-lbs. of recoil with a 180-grain bullet. A 7-pound ’06 hits you with 25 – about as much as a 150-grain load in a 9-pound .300 Winchester.

To shoot well, use a rifle that doesn’t beat you up. There’s no glory in fighting recoil, or missing because you flinch.

Report from the Field: Optics

Bright glass (here in a Leupold) can salvage a hunt when your only shot comes in dim light!
Bright glass (here in a Leupold) can salvage a hunt when your only shot comes in dim light!


Since its start in 1974, Aimpoint has worked to offer the best red dot sights. Early on, that was easy, because red dot sights were then new. In fact, Gunnar Sandberg’s first “single-point sight” had no optical tunnel. You couldn’t look through this sight; you looked into the tube with one eye while your other registered a dot superimposed on the target. Sandberg refined the device and founded Aimpoint to produce it.

Hunters liked the illuminated dot, suspended in a wide field they could see from almost any place behind the sight. The front lens of a modern Aimpoint is a compound glass that corrects for parallax – unlike most red dot sights, whose reflective paths shift with eye position. Aimpoint’s doublet brings the dot to your eye in a line parallel with the sight’s optical axis, so you hit where you see the dot, even when your eye is off-axis. A 1x Aimpoint gives you unlimited eye relief too. Advanced circuitry on the newest models reduces power demand. Batteries last up to 50,000 hours with a mid-level brightness setting.

This Weaver Grand Slam scope, one in a big stable of fine variables, tops a Tikka T3 rifle.
This Weaver Grand Slam scope, one in a big stable of fine variables, tops a Tikka T3 rifle.

The lightest of Aimpoint’s 9000 series weighs just 6.5 ounces. Each windage and elevation click moves point of impact 13mm at 100 meters. The newest Hunter series comprises four models: long and short tubes, 34mm and 30mm in diameter. They all feature 1x images, 2-minute dots, half-minute clicks. A 12-position dial lets you fine-tune dot intensity – low for dim light, high under sunny skies. One CR-2032 battery lasts five years if you never turn the sight off! Hunter sights are waterproof. Fully multi-coated lenses (43mm up front on the 30mm sight, 47mm on the 34mm tube) deliver a sharp image, and as with all Aimpoints, the internal design gives you unlimited eye relief with zero parallax.

Sturdy enough for military use, Aimpoints have been adopted by armed forces in the U.S. and France. They serve sportsmen in forty countries. One of every ten moose hunters using optical sights in Sweden carries an Aimpoint. I’ve killed moose with these optics in dark timber, then shot golf-ball-size groups on paper at 100 yards. The company’s line includes a Micro H1, ideal for bows and handguns. (Aimpoint.com.)


A young optics company, Alpen has surprised everyone over the last few years with “great buy” credits from such venerable sources as Outdoor Life. While 2010 brings only a few new products to the catalog, many established optics in the Alpen line deserve another look. In short-summary fashion, then:

The Rainier 20-60×80 spotting scope accommodates a camera adapter for photography at long range. AR riflescopes for air guns were designed to endure double-shuffle recoil. Carriage-class Rainier binoculars now come in 8×32 and 10×32 versions that are 20 percent lighter than the 42mm originals but still wear BAK4 lenses, phase-corrected coatings, a locking diopter dial and twist-out eyecups. The AlpenPro Porro series includes an 8×30 that’s ideal for the woods. Alpen’s energetic Vickie Gardner is busy “scrambling to fill back-orders from 2009!” Why? “Alpen offers great value; the riflescopes and binoculars truly are great buys.”

Also, some 2009 introductions were premature; stock didn’t arrive until late in the year. Wings binoculars, for example. Choose 8×42 or 10×42, with ED glass as an option. The 8×42 has impressed me in the field; so has a new Apex rifle-scope on a bolt-gun in the rack. The four Apex sights just cataloged include three with turret-mounted parallax dial and new bullet-drop-compensating reticle. “We’ve also upgraded our 20-60×80 spotting scope with a fine-focus knob,” says Vickie. Shift focus quickly with the standard dial, then refine the image with this new adjustment. (Alpenoutdoors.com.)


While Barrett is known for its 50-caliber rifles, it also markets an optic that helps shooters hit at long range. The Barrett Optical Ranging System – BORS – is a sight attachment, a 13-ounce device you pair with a scope. It incorporates a small ranging computer powered by a CR-123 lithium battery. There’s a liquid crystal display with a four-button keypad. Factory-installed cartridge tables tailored to your loads enable the computer to deliver precise holds for long-distance shooting. The BORS includes an elevation knob and a knob adapter. A set of steel rings mounts the unit to any M1913 rail and are secured with hex nuts that endure the beating from Barrett rifles in .50 BMG. Press the 6-o’clock power button, and you’re ready to engineer a shot. The screen shows your zero or sight-in range and indicates any cant (tipping of the rifle), which at long range can cause you to miss.

To determine range, you specify target size, then move the horizontal wire of your reticle from top to bottom on the target. The range appears in yards or meters. Now you can use the elevation knob to dial the range. The BORS unit must know your load, of course. You provided that data earlier; the unit stores it as a ballistics table. It can hold up to 100 tables for instant access. At the end of this process – which takes longer to explain than to do – you can hold dead-on at any range. The BORS automatically compensates for vertical shot angles. You can adjust the scope for up to 90 degrees of inclination and declination, in increments of 2 degrees. Temperature and barometric pressure come on-screen when you press the 9-o’clock button. If the battery dies, you can use the scope as if the electronics were not there. Paired with a Leupold Mark 4 LR/Tactical 4.5-14×50 scope, the BORS unit on my Barrett rifle shrugs off the .50’s blast and recoil. (Barrettrifles.com.)


When variables started to gain traction with hunters, the 3-9x became the logical leader. Not only did 3x afford fast sighting; 9x was all you needed for any big game – and even coyotes at long range. The three-times power range seemed adequate. As shooters chased power, though, four-times magnification appeared, in 3-12x and 4-16x 30mm scopes. Burris was among the first with six-times magnification. Its 2-12x scope is surely versatile! Like the Euro Diamond and Black Diamond lines, both Six Series sights (40mm and 50mm up front) feature 30mm tubes and 4 inches of eye relief. Signature Select and Fullfield II models have 1-inch tubes.

The Fullfield II 6×40 and 3-9×40 have impressed me as fine values – also the 2-7×35. Burris Ballisic Plex and Ballistic Mil-Dot reticles are available in the Euro Diamond and Black Diamond scopes, and the Signature Select and Fullfield II lines. Illuminated reticles define the Fullfield II LRS scopes, which have flat battery housings on the turret. Fullfield 30s (3-9×40 and 3.5-10×50) feature 30mm tubes at affordable prices. The biggest news at Burris in 2010 is the Eliminator, a programmable laser range-finding scope. You enter the ballistic path of your cartridge (drop figures at 500 yards, with a 100- or 200-yard zero) to get instant reads for correct hold when you see game. The sight (at its core a 4-12×42 LaserScope) tells you the exact distance. You get accurate data to 800 yards on reflective objects, 550 on deer and elk. At 26 ounces, the Eliminator is heavy, but not burdensome.

If long shooting isn’t a priority, compact scopes should be. Burris’ 1-inch Timberline series, from 4×20 to 4.5-14×32 AO, fills this slot. The firm recently improved its 1.6-ounce reflex-style red dot sight: FastFire II is now waterproof. Battery-saver mode extends the life of the lithium CR2032 battery to five years. FastFire mounts fit popular lever rifles; a mounting plate slipped between receiver and buttstock on repeating shotguns gives you SpeedBead. I tried this sight on a Remington 1100; the clay targets suffered that day! The company also lists a 1x, 5-ounce tube-style red dot sight, the 135. Like many optics firms, Burris has grown its tactical line. Fullfield II Tactical scopes and Fullfield TAC30 variables (3-9×40, 3.5-10×50 and 4.5-14×42) have been joined by a 3x AR-332 prism sight, and an AR-Tripler, which you place on a pivot mount behind a red dot sight for extra magnification. Binoculars and spotting scopes complete the extensive Burris line. (Burrisoptics.com.)


AR-style rifles have become the rage. AR-specific scopes like this Bushnell have followed.
AR-style rifles have become the rage. AR-specific scopes like this Bushnell have followed.

Last year the Elite 6500-series rifle-scopes – 2.5-16×42, 2.5-16×50 and 4.5-30×50 – introduced Bushnell fans to nearly-seven-times magnification, the broadest range in the industry. (I’ve since seen a scope with 10-times magnification. It wasn’t a Bushnell, and at the top third of its range the image was noticeably soft.) The 6500 Elite still impresses me, now with the DOA (Dead On Accurate) reticle. It has the spaced bars common to many reticles. Minute-of-angle dots mark intersections with the bottom wire. DOA can also be ordered on Elite 3200 and Trophy sights.

The Elite 4200 employs standard and lighted reticles. In this series, the 3-9×40, 2.5-10×40 and 4-16×40 appeal to me. I’ve found the images sharp and bright; you can also mount these scopes low. Target knobs and side-focus dials appear on selected Elite scopes, like the 6-24×40. For hunters on a budget, Bushnell has up-graded the Trophy series. Trophy XLT scopes feature fully multi-coated lenses, fast-focus eyepiece, even flip-up lens caps. I like the 2-6×32, but there are alternatives, up to 6-18×50. Bushnell’s 4-12x laser range-finding rifle-scope complements a long line of hand-held laser instruments.

For 2010, ED Prime glass and RainGuard HD coatings improve Bushnell’s top-end Elite 8×42 and 10×42 binoculars. A step down in price, you’ll find new Legend 8×36 and 10×36 binoculars. At 21 ounces, these roof-prism glasses are an ideal size for the trail. My pick: the 8×36, with its 4 1/2mm exit pupil. It has many Elite features, including ED glass and RainGuard. An Excursion spotting scope, with folded light path, comes in 15-45×60 and 20-60×80 versions.

And there’s a new15-45x spotting scope compact enough to slip into a backpack. Dual-speed focus on this Legend HD allows for coarse and fine focusing, quickly. Bushnell’s most field-worthy laser range-finder may be the Scout 1000 with ARC, technology that takes shot angle into account so you get corrected distance for accurate shooting at steep vertical angles. Single-button control makes this 6 1/2-ounce range-finder easy to use with one hand. In bow mode, it reads between 5 and 100 yards. Rifle mode sets it for 100 to 800 yards. (Bushnell.com.)

This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2011. Click here to get your full copy!