Confessions Of A Scope-Swapper

Choose Wisely, Mount Intelligently, But
Don’t Be Afraid To Mix Things Up A Bit

By Dave Anderson

Back in 1961 when I turned 12 and was old enough for my own deer rifle, choices in a bolt action were Winchester, Savage or Remington. It would be chambered in .270, .30-06, or the then-avant-garde .308.

Yes, there were also rifles from Browning, Weatherby, Steyr-Mannlicher, Sako, but they were for rich people. Not only did I not know any rich people, I didn’t know anyone who knew rich people.

Then came scope selection—Weaver, Leupold, Redfield or Bausch & Lomb. It would be either 2-1/2 or 4X. That’s a total of … 3x3x4x2 = 72 possible combinations—more than enough for many a ferocious campfire debate.

To this day I’m an inveterate scope swapper, indecisive as ever. Sometimes after a few tries my scope/rifle combo seems just right. I do have a few setups I don’t plan on changing. At least not in the near future!

The virtually unlimited choices we have today are a wonderful thing, but can be perplexing. I certainly sympathize with a young shooter who has bought a rifle, and needs a scope. Could I make a recommendation? I could probably list a couple hundred and they would all work. Not helping, I know. About all I can do is suggest a few guidelines, along with a couple of ideas on how to get the most value for your money.

The first consideration is, what are you trying to accomplish? If the scope is for a hunting rifle, what are you planning to hunt? What hunting method do you expect to use most often—from a stand, still hunting, small group drives, spot and stalk? Will you be mostly sitting in a comfortable blind a 1/2-mile off the road, or hiking back into rough, hilly terrain? Do you get out early and stay out late when the light is dim?

Your level of experience is another issue. Novice shooters often seem to hunt around to get a full field of view to pick up the target. The rifle is shaky enough already without magnifying the wobble 8 or 10 times. Such shooters may be better served with a lower-power scope with non-critical eye relief and a large field of view. They’ll shoot better, which means they’ll enjoy shooting more, and pretty soon they won’t be novices.

Some conditions—and some shooters—are hard on scopes. Adjustments may work fine for those who want to sight the rifle in and then leave it alone, yet not prove durable enough for those who like to spin turrets for different distances and wind conditions.

Heavy recoil, especially fast heavy recoil, is tough on scopes. So is constant jiggling, such as in the rack of an off-road vehicle. And as the Corb Lund song goes, some people are just Hard on Equipment.

The scope size should be compatible with the rifle. I like the scope rings to be fairly near the ends of the main tube, but at least 1/4-inch away from the power adjustment ring, the adjustment turrets, and the front bell. A third or half the scope extending out past the front ring looks wrong to me, though I admit to having some such setups and they do work.

What about weather conditions? Do you expect to hunt in extremes of cold, heat, rain, snow, dust? How much shooting will you be doing with this rifle, 100 rounds a month or 50 rounds a year? Last but by no means least, how much are you prepared to spend?


At left, a Sako Finnlight .243 with a Swarovski Z3 3-10×42. At right, a
Savage Lightweight Hunter .260 Rem with a Burris Fullfield II 3-9×40.
Dave would like to see the rings near the ends of the main tube, but
without getting too close to the power ring, adjustment turrets,
or front scope bell.

It took me a long time to learn the wisdom of the old adage, “Only a rich man can afford a cheap scope.” In my penniless youth I begrudged money spent on scopes, when the same money could go towards ammo or even another rifle. I’ve probably broken more scopes than many shooters have owned (happily, never during a hunt). Fixed or variable, it didn’t matter—what they had in common was they were cheap. I’d rather buy a good name-brand used scope than a new $59.95 blister-pack “Big Box” special.

With scopes the old rule “you get what you pay for” applies, though I suppose there are exceptions at both ends of the price spectrum. A couple other economic principles apply. One is diminishing returns. Additional production costs bring progressively smaller returns in quality.

Another is the concept of fixed and variable costs. Property taxes (just one example of a fixed cost) are the same whether the company makes 100 scopes or 10,000. Higher volume means lower cost per unit, and vice versa. Because scopes in the 3-9×40 range are so popular, they tend to be exceptionally good values.

Check what sort of warranty and service the manufacturer offers. Don’t just check what they put in writing; ask around among your shooting buddies and see how customers are really treated. Among consumer products in general, scope manufacturers are exceptionally good in guaranteeing their product and keeping customers happy.

To get the most value for your money, be realistic about how rifle and scope will be used. Most big game rifles get shot a lot less than people think. The average casual hunter who owns one big game rifle probably shoots no more than 20 to 50 rounds annually. The rifle enthusiasts who read gun magazines usually shoot a lot more, but they generally own several rifles to share the workload.

I promised a couple tips on getting the most value for your money. Remember the law of diminishing returns? Well, it works in reverse as well. You can save a lot of money while not giving up much.

Realistically, if your rifle will be fired maybe 50 to 100 times a year, you don’t plan to spin turrets, you’re pretty good about not dropping your rifle in a creek or out of a tree stand, and you’re not shooting an 8-pound .416 Rem, you have lots of options. A $200–$300 3-9×40 from any reputable manufacturer will provide a lifetime of satisfactory service.


In the foreground a combo from the 1970s—a BSA Royal .222 Rem on a short Brno action
with a Weaver T10 Microtrac scope, one of the first with reliable, repeatable and
durable turret adjustments. The reason it doesn’t get out much anymore is in the
background: a Kimber Montana .223 Rem with Bushnell Elite Tactical 5-15×40 in Leupold
Dual Dovetail bases/rings. Although the scopes extend past the front ring farther than
Dave likes to see, he can’t say it’s caused him a problem.

Now let’s say some of those conditions do apply. If you shoot a lot, spin turrets, hunt rain or shine, snow or sleet, shoot long range with powerful cartridges, the best you can afford is none too good. Or maybe you just want a top-of-the-line scope. You’re a free American and wanting it is reason enough.

Most of us who like rifles probably have more than one, probably a half-dozen or more. Instead of buying six $300 scopes, consider buying the high-end $1,800 scope you’ve always wanted, and moving it from rifle to rifle. Yes, I know the arguments against such a philosophy, but I also know it can work because I practice it.

What got me thinking along these lines is a truly remarkable scope, the 2.5-10×42 Nightforce NXS. It is the most versatile scope I’ve ever used. If I owned just one scope, this would be it. I’ve used it with .22 LR rimfires, bolt-action and semi-auto .223/5.56, a Weatherby Vanguard 6.5 Creedmoor, and a heavy-barrel Tikka .308.

I don’t yet have a rail on my .375 H&H but when I do it’ll work fine on it as well. I’ve used this scope for target shooting at 1,000 yards and for hunting whitetails in the last few minutes of daylight.

Adjustments are accurate, reliable, and durable, the glass is excellent, and for low light I can press a button and illuminate the reticle (either green or red).

Changing scopes can be a pain if it means changing or moving rings, and burning up a dozen rounds to resight. What makes it practical is the use of Picatinny rails. With a rail on each rifle, the changeover takes about a minute. Loosen the bolts and lift scope and rings off Rifle A, set them on Rifle B, and use the Brownells torque wrench to tighten the crossbolts to 65 in-lb.

It won’t be sighted in, of course, due to differences in cartridge trajectory and minor differences in rifles. But in my experience it will be close enough to hit a 2×2-foot target at 100 yards. Then use the accurate adjustments to dial in the required correction.

If you’re the trusting sort you could get by with just one shot, theoretically. But I’m not, and anyway I like shooting so I’ll fire a few more rounds. Then reset the turrets to zero and refer to the appropriate range card for come-ups and windage adjustments.

Rails cost a bit more than regular scope bases, but you only need one set of rings. I won’t argue it is a perfect system, but a little inconvenience in return for the use of a top-end optic is not a bad tradeoff.

Evolution Gun Works, Inc.,
52 Belmont Ave.
Quakertown PA 18951
(215) 538-1012

Near Manufacturing
P.O. Box 1677, Camrose, AB
T4V 1X6 Canada
(866) 608-2441

Nightforce Optics, Inc.
336 Hazen Ln.
Orofino, ID 83544
(208) 476-9814

Talley Mfg.
9183 Old No. 6 Hwy.
P.O. Box 369
Santee, SC 29142
(803) 854-5700

Warne Scope Mounts
9500 SW Tualatin Rd.
Tualatin, OR 97062

Weaver Optics
1 Vista Way, Anoka
MN 55303
(800) 379-1732

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