In last month’s issue we discussed rifle choice. Equally as important as the rifle, is your choice of optics. It’s hard to swallow for most people, but often you will pay more for your optics than some of your rifles. Once you grasp this concept and its importance, you won’t cringe when you purchase a scope for your next rifle.
There are a few things to consider when evaluating this situation: What will the weapons primary application be used for? Is hunting your only need or are you trying to spend a ton of time on the bench pounding long range at steel targets? Luckily, most manufactures have found a way to incorporate both of these options into their scopes. We all know that hunting and shooting is a life-long lesson in progression, so don’t limit your hunting and shooting progression by purchasing the wrong optic. The optic you purchase can immediately limit you and in more ways than one. I believe that most shooters and hunters need a minimum of a 14x (power) variable scope. There are so many now that are not too big, long and heavy. Just because it’s a high power doesn’t mean that you will be hunting with it at that power. However, to really know what your rifle can do in the field, you must first know what it can do on the bench. You need that higher power to really help you tighten your groups.
Quit shooting at the big black circles and use a target that is no larger than 1-inch when shooting out to 200 yards. You need to aim small to hit small. Small targets will greatly tighten up your groups. I will buy the largest white papered target at the store then flip it over and place multiple orange dots on the back of it. This allows me to aim small, shoot multiple groups and see where my shots have hit without going down range. With a .22 caliber bullet hole I can see my shots out to 200 yards with a 14 power scope. This is a great tip which will help you out immediately. Many times at the range, I have had people say, “Hey you just put your target on backwards”. I just laugh and then watch them huff and puff as they walk up and down the range looking at and changing their targets. As they walk up they usually see my shots long before their own and the light bulb turns on. They can see its benefits, but are usually too proud to make a change in front of me.
The higher magnification will allow you to hold your crosshairs tight and small. I usually shoot at a 3-inch dot at 800 yards. You need to try it. A good glass will really magnify the target. I will have my clients shoot at an 18-inch square steel target. They will often tell me they felt like it was a huge sheet of plywood painted white. They are amazed as we go and check the targets and see how small they really are.
Even if your hunting conditions will not allow you to shoot out past 200 yards, do yourself and the animals a favor and optimize you and your weapons ability. Here is an example. I love to shoot muzzleloaders and most states vary in the laws with optics or open sights. Whether I shoot a one power scope for Utah or iron sights in Colorado, I will always first mount a higher power scope on that weapon to see what load it shoots the best. It allows me to quickly find that out. Ammo and time are way too valuable to waste. Once you have found what works best and have built some mental and physical confidence in both, then practice with the sights or scope your state allows. The same principle applies with your rifle at longer distances.
Sight your rifles in at 100 yards. However, to truly know what your rifle is doing, you must shoot it at 200 yards. Some ranges won’t have that option, so try to make an effort to find a way for that to happen. Two and a half inches high at 100 yards is not good enough. Your bullets have not yet taken their true path. Shoot and zero-in at 200 yards, then back down to 100 yards and make reference on your targets. So, when 100 yards is your sight-in limit, either at ranges or in hunting camp, you can have a better reference point to check. We will go into greater depth of this in later articles.
Now, back to how to choose the right scope. Most long range shooters prefer a higher magnification scope. I shoot with both types of scopes depending on the application. A 14 power scope will allow you to shoot pretty darn good on both paper and animals out to 800 yards. Although I prefer higher powered scopes; if this is a rifle that I need to keep the weight down on, then I will stay at 14x. A few ounces for a larger scope isn’t usually a deal breaker. Once size is determined, then clarity and mechanics is next. Optics have come so far with clarity and eye relief it’s hard to make a bad choice. Just remember as you get older, you will have trouble seeing the very thin crosshairs and for this reason, I prefer a medium thickness crosshair. Function and budget are the next hurdles. And again remember, spending a ton doesn’t mean that you made the best choice.
Two major factors must be considered when shooting long distance; long distance defined as anything over 300 yards depending on caliber. In the faster calibers, 400 yards would be considered “Long Distance”. You need one of two tools, either a reticle with hold over bars or circles or a scope with an elevation adjustment turret. Kentucky windage with hold over guessing won’t cut it. Once most understand how to use the turret system, they love it and can be very simple. I prefer it. The hold over bars and circles are good, but are less adaptable out past 500 yards, especially when your loads and bullets change. They take more time and ammo to perfect. However, once perfected shooters can have great success with them.
With the right turret, people can shoot like a pro really fast and seem to have quicker results. I like to take a turret and adapt it to my bullet and load with ballistic charts and some real shooting data. This can be achieved without too much pain or money. I’ve never seen ballistic charts work perfect, but it may get you very close. The longer ranges will take some fine tuning.
If you are on the fence with the decision of which style you want, then you are in luck. You have the ability to choose a scope that will do both. Then you can adapt to the style that becomes more familiar to you. Some quality manufactures have done a great job of this. So how much can one expect to pay for a scope that will work? Most will usually fall into the $700.00 – $1,400.00 price range and for the serious shooters needing more options, they will spend closer to the $2,000.00 range. It can be money well spent. When you see how the optic will benefit you and your shooting ability, it won’t be such a hard pill to swallow. It only becomes painful when you want the same quality of optic on all your weapons. A great optic can help an $800.00 rifle shoot great and is a must to achieve the results you hope for when using a custom rifle.
I know this is a lot of info to digest before you spend your hard earned money, so Ill beak it down once more. Magnification, don’t limit yourself. I prefer at least 14 power. Consider your needs. I promise this will evolve and change once you realize how an optic can help you. Budget. Spend what you can afford.
Function. Look into the different systems and talk with some different people that have had success. This will often make your decision for you. You can excel at either depending on who you go to for info. If your shooting partner likes the turret system it will probably work well for you. A support system of people doing the same thing will really help.
If all of this is too much to take on, then pay for some help. You can usually get it done for less than you can do it yourself for with the ammo used, if your time is an issue. If the journey is what you, desire then have a blast.