Gun Digest

A Look at the Precision Rifle – Part 4 Optics

Today’s optics have come a long way from the earlier versions, letting shooters identify targets and put the sight on smaller aiming points.

The barrel, action and stock all play an important part in building a precision rifle. But once everything is said and done, you'll need something that will get you on target. Whether you shoot sights or optics, these tips will keep you on target.

I was at a 1000-yard shoot a few weeks ago and the guys with open sights were keeping up with the optics shooters. The BPCR (Black Powder Cartridge Rifle) shooters guide their pill with incredible accuracy using tang type sights. The two things they have in common are plenty of practice and quality equipment. The same rule applies for optical equipment.

Just putting optics on a rifle doesn’t automatically make us better shooters. For me it just lets me see the thing I am going to miss much better. Optics started coming into play earlier than one might think and they were long and cumbersome and lacked the clarity that we enjoy today in optics. I guess their eyes started going bad, too. The optics made things closer and the shooter was able to identify targets and put the sight on more precise spots, or smaller aiming points, on the target or critter. This provides more consistency in aiming points and allows an accurate rifle to do its job.

The shooter must do his job also. This is where the practice thing comes in. The rifle must be shouldered so the scope has the proper eye relief and gives a full clear picture. The vertical crosshair must be perpendicular to the rifle and held consistently in that position shot to shot. Higher magnification exaggerates jitters, also making it harder to keep the cross on the mark the instant the gun discharges. These and a host of other things must be mastered to get the most out of accurate rifles and the precision optics we are blessed with these days.

The highest quality optic will be wasted if it is mounted improperly. The scope works best when it is perfectly centered on the rifle. Most of my rifles have the twist lock type mounts from either Leupold or Millet because they are rock solid mounts and the windage can be adjusted in the base with screws without touching the windage turret. The elevation can be corrected with shims in the bottom half of the rings or at the base. By centering and bore sighting this way, the elevation and windage turrets can be used extensively for shooting corrections without taking up valuable clicks just to sight it at 100 yards. I will also do as many mechanical adjustments that I can at the range for fine tuning only using the turret for minor adjustments.

The Shepherd scope, with its dual reticle system, is metered out to represent known sizes for estimating range. The lines correspong to 18 inches, the width of a man’s shoulders and the width of the chest cavity in hoofed mammals.

The easiest way to accomplish this is to buy mounts that have adjustments for windage and elevation that can be easily adjusted at the range. Shims can also be used to adjust elevation without using the turret. One such mount is Holland’s Perfect Picatinny Rail Mount. It is machined from a near perfect Remington receiver with 20 minute of angle (MOA) forward slope. It has mechanical windage adjustment and should be machined perfectly for elevation. If not, it can be fitted to individual receivers with a little machining. It comes with complete instructions but does require drilling and tapping a hole for a lock-down screw. It is rock solid and perfectly centered when complete.

When I mount the scope, I check the elevation with a bore-sighting device. Windage can usually only be adjusted with some sort of screw base or the shooter will have to use the turret. If the holes on the receiver are off by much, it cannot be shimmed and the adjustable base will have to be used. If it is way off up or down I will bring it in with shims. Brass is a good shim material and Brownells sells a variety of sizes. A .014-inch shim will change the MOA quite a bit, about 10 MOA.

I have several rifles that have scopes mounted with Weaver based mounts and they are good ¾ minute shooters. The only problem I have with them is not being able to adjust the windage mechanically from the base screw. If the mount holes are not perfect on the rifle, they will be tougher to mount perfectly. They are solid mounts, though, and I have never had one loosen that was mounted correctly. Also, I prefer mounts and rings made from steel for precision rifles.

Planning and mounting the proper scope on the rifle is also important. Thought must be put into what the rifle’s primary intended use will be to match it with the most useful optical device. A predator or varmint rifle might require higher power optics as would a precision or tactical rifle. Weight might be a factor if it is going to be packed far on a sheep hunt. Also thought must be put into the necessary magnification for longer shots.

The length and diameter of the tube will cause mounting problems as will the larger 50-mm objective that will have to be addressed so it will not contact the barrel even slightly when mounted. Some of the new power adjustment rings are larger than others and may contact the bolt area and require higher rings. 30-mm tubes require larger rings but allow more light to pass through.

Leupold offers a scope for just about any mission. The quality and huge price range will offer the best scope you can afford. Their scopes come with a wide range of reticles also, and it seems that with ranges being longer these days drop compensation is a welcome feature. For a hunting scope, I can get by with covered turrets because once the scope is adjusted I will most likely not touch them again, making any compensation for wind and elevation by corrective aiming. This is why I like the compensation reticles. They give me more precise aiming points right in the scope so I can quickly pick a corrected aiming point as the game is nervously getting ready to bolt.

The Varminter reticle from Leupold was a perfect choice for my light hunting rifle. The 3.5-14 power variable VX3 scope gives plenty of magnification for distant or small targets and the 3.5 makes it quick for closer shots. The Varminter reticle has lines for elevation out to 500 yards and windage compensation to 20 mph direct value. These scopes will compensate for a wide variety of cartridges and with a little fieldwork they are extremely precise for the hunting rifle.

Shepherd scopes are another good choice for both hunting and tactical as their reticles also are designed for compensation of drop. The lines and circles are metered out to represent known sizes for estimating range and picking the correct hold for those distances. Lines in between the aiming circles represent 18 inches at that range and that is the approximate width of a man’s shoulders. The circle diameter represents a certain size, depending on the model, which could be matched with a chest cavity of an ungulate of the edible variety. It is a quick point and shoot system that works well in the field.

On my tactical rifle I prefer a MilDot reticle with target type turrets that are well marked for elevation and windage. Usually it is a long range gun, 1000 yards, and I prefer to set the elevation and windage according to conditions and hold the cross hair right on target. For military purposes or long-range target shooting, which is what I use it for, it is a great system when there is time to make adjustments. I believe there is more versatility and precision once you get to know your load and rifle. I have had a Leupold Vari-X III (4.5-14x50mm) on this rifle for many years now and it has performed well for me. I also like the side focus knobs over the objective parallax because it is easier for me to adjust while observing through the scope. The scope also has covers to keep settings protected during movement to a better hide.

I have always liked to have turrets that are exposed but would be protected from being knocked off, saving time not having to remove the screw-on covers. In a critical situation it seems like there is about 100 more threads than needed to remove the caps and then there is the possibility of losing them. BSA’s line of tactical scopes (STS Stealth Tactical Scopes) has solved this problem. The numbers are exposed on the turret, but cannot be changed unless the turret is lifted slightly. Once the adjustment is made it is pushed back down to lock it. It is readily available and readable and cannot be bumped off.

If improperly zeroed, even the best optics will just let you see what you are about to miss. Well marked turrets, like those on this Leupold Gold Ring scope, make small corrections easy and precise.

These scopes also feature side parallax focusing with a detachable enlarged wheel for easier access to adjustment. The 50-mm objective allows maximum light in but will require a higher mount to clear the barrel. I am really impressed with BSA’s optics. The glass is clear and sharp and comes with the multi-purpose twist cap technology. They offer four-inch eye relief and the variable 4-16 power should give a wide range of uses. They come with illuminated and non-illuminated reticles. They are a well thought out system.

There is a vast variety of optics available to the rifleman and at the price that most anyone can afford. With a little thought on utility, mounting, and price range the aspiring rifleman can select the right scope for their intended use. Once a quality optic is correctly mounted on the accurate rifle, the only thing left to do is shoot.

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3

This article appeared in the August 31, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. 

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