You needn't scour the world around to find the perfect big-bore rifle optic, only look at what's on the market for AR-15s.
What Do You Need To Look For In A Big-Bore Rifle Optic:
Firearms with big bores have always been an attraction for some shooters. There might be some argument about what constitutes a “big” bore, but we can all agree on the rock ’n’ roll motto, “Some is good, more is better, too much is not enough.”
As much fun as it is to shoot the big boomers, you still have to hit what you’re aiming at. The traditional large-bore rifle sight setup came to us from the British—the “express” sight. This is a front sight, often with a large bead on its face, and the rear sight is a blade shaped in a shallow “V”—again, often with a line up the center to the point of the V.
Yes, it’s wicked fast. But you have to remember one thing: It was developed for use on bespoke rifles—rifles fitted to their owners as if they were shotguns for game shooting. Once fitted (and the shooter properly trained), they could almost shoot and hit simply by shouldering the rifle. The bead was for the last bit of precision in aiming.
How well does such a sight system work if the rifle isn‘t fitted (not bespoke)? As well as any other … and not as well as some. A big bead and a shallow V are great up close, but if you need to take a precise shot out at, say, 100 yards, it starts to be a hindrance. And with the three-leaf sights seen back in the day? “Optimistic” is one word.
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And so, we Americans decided that scopes are more than just long-range or sniping tools.
We find ourselves in a curious situation: The scope for a big-bore rifle is pretty much the same scope as for a lightweight AR-15 or other such defensive carbine. Why? Because we need something that will be as fast as possible at close range, offers precision when it’s needed and won’t be used much past 100 to 150 yards. And, it has to be durable.
Think about it: As Hemingway once commented, “What game is more dangerous than human beings?”
So, for your big-bore scope, you need low magnification, a bold reticle, durability and simplicity of use. We’ll cover those in turn … and leave a very important detail for the end.
You do not need a 3-9x scope for the thickets or for critters than can stomp, claw or bite you. The low end offers a wider field of view, is more forgiving of eye placement and also provides faster target acquisition through the scope when you shoulder your rifle.
A bold reticle will stand out against brush and background clutter better than one with a fine line on it. My favorite is the German three-plex. This comes in various names, but it’s three bars. The lower one comes up from the bottom of the field of view and ends in a pointed tip. The others come out from 3 and 9 o’clock and do not connect to the bottom post. Your brain can easily and quickly find the center of these bars, and you can make a really fast shot. If you need precision: Again, the post is your point of impact.
Durability is a lot more of a given today than it was when I was first lusting after something bigger than a .30-06. The longest-term experience I have had with scope durability is with Leupold: A customer brought in his rifle, which was broken … as in, broken in two. His horse had fallen off the trail. They had recovered the saddle and rifle, but the stock was snapped in two, the barrel was bent, and the scope was broken in two.
The scope was a Leupold, and they fixed it, no charge and no questions asked. By then, the customer had bought a different scope and didn’t want the Leupold, so I mounted it on my 3-gun AR and proceeded to wear out three barrels in competition.
These days, I’m sure Nikon, Burris, Meopta, Weaver and a bunch of other makers are just as up on QC and customer service. But I still have that Leupold—39 years later.
Simplicity of Use
“Simplicity of use” means that the scope has little in the way of extras. You don’t need to have 100 mils of vertical travel in your adjustments or side focus (although it can be nice) or even much in the way of parallax adjustment. A big boomer used for dangerous game is going to be a 100-yards-and-in proposition. You want adjustments that are easy enough to establish a zero and stay that way. Target knobs, external elevation markings—these are extras you don’t need and that might also cause problems.
The last thing we have to consider is eye relief. On a big boomer, recoil is big. “Scope eye” is the term that many use for when the scope isn’t far enough forward, and under recoil, it comes back and busts the shooter right in the eyebrow. At the least, it will bruise. It is entirely possible you will bleed, and it can even leave a scar.
Now, you can “earn” scope eye even when you have enough eye relief. John, a friend of mine, kept a photo of himself— bleeding. The scope mount screws had broken off his .458 Win. Mag. rifle during recoil, and the scope, with rings and base still attached, bounced off his face.
All I can say is, if the rifle still uses 6-48 screws, get them drilled and tapped to 8-40 for more strength.
Which Scope Is for You?
Which scopes fill the bill? To reference just the names I’ve listed so far, Leupold has its VX-R 1.25-4x, which can be had with a Firedot reticle. Burris has the XTR II, a 1-5x. The reticle is more tactical than for Cape buffalo, but the center ring is illuminated, and that makes it very useful. Meopta offers its MeoStar R2, a 1-6x scope that is heck for tough and can be had with Meopta’s 4C/1 reticle—very close to the German plex. Weaver makes the Super Slam riflescopes in a 1-5x model; and, in Super Slam, you get to choose from four different and very useful reticle designs.
One More Thing
Oh—and your scope has to be locked down in a lapped set of rings on a base practically welded to the receiver. If anything is done halfway or “just OK,” recoil will prove it not to be. (Ask John about that.)
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.