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.
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.