Hold the Phone!

Someday your scope might even start bragging for you!

The march to higher power in bigger scopes is inexorable, but sophistication isn’t for Neanderthals.

Had the buck been peeking from behind a rock, or screened by aspens, my grip on the binocular wouldn’t have dented its jacket. “Shoot!” I hissed, through teeth tight enough to sever a crescent wrench.

“I can’t see him,” said my client, eye to his scope. The rifle’s barrel looped crazily, as if pulling taffy from the clouds — as if the buck might be up there instead of trotting through open sage before us.

“Look!” I pointed, arm beside his ear. The rifle bobbed about; the deer chugged along, spooling out more ground, quartering off. “Where I’m pointing!” Apoplexy slurred my words.

This prompted the hunter to grab the scope dial with his trigger hand and twist it back and forth as he swept the sage with the gyrating muzzle. The deer jogged out of sight.

SIG’s BDX system brings data from your smart phone to a Kilo laser rangefinder
then the BDX scope. The protocol is simple for shooters who post-date Microsoft.

Too Much Magnification

I too have failed to see game almost begging for a bullet. The eye may seek a bigger or smaller image than the animal presents, or a different color or shape. Then there’s the helpful guide or partner, screeching “right by that tree!” — hand jabbing toward a slope with enough timber to build a fleet of Spanish galleons and four Seattle sub-divisions. Urgency seems to drop a veil.

When there’s no time for the bino, you should find the beast in your scope as quickly as you see it with your naked eye. Too much magnification makes the task hopeless. A 4-16x scope set at the low end has a field of about 30 feet at 100 yards. At 16x, figure 7 or 8 feet, which is a small sliver of Colorado indeed! The client who savaged his scope dial trying to find the deer loafing through sage would have upped his odds by carrying the sight at 4x.

High magnification, if you must indulge, makes sense only after you’re in position, ready to fire.

Modern scopes are much like smart phones — increasingly sophisticated and costly, with enough functions to control the earth’s rotation, if only you keep dialing, scrolling and punching buttons. Hunters would see more game if they paid more attention to the cover than to their hardware. They’d shoot faster with more primitive sights.

Early hunting scopes were simple tubes whose lenses magnified images two or three times. After coatings boosted brightness (1930s), tubes were fog-proofed (1940s) and reticles stayed centered during W/E adjustment (1950s), scopes offered hunters all they needed in a sight at attractive prices. In 1957 you could buy a 4x Lyman All American for $49.50. The Bear Cub series later snared by Redfield had a 4x at $59.50. Leupold’s Mountaineer cost $79.50, while the $45 Weaver K4’s sold to the walls.

Swarovski’s incomparable new 5-25x52 dS (top) dwarfs their 3-9x36,
one of Wayne’s favorite hunting sights.

Lasers, Bluetooth And Barn Rats

Variable power, range-finding reticles, parallax correction, illumination, laser ranging, trajectory-matched dials and Bluetooth chat with wireless phones were distractions unimagined when I was peering through a 3/4″ Weaver B4 to upend barn rats with .22 Shorts. My first hunting scope scaled 8 oz. As tube diameters grew from 7/8″ to 1″ to 26mm, then 30mm, weight increases were mitigated somewhat by a switch from steel to alloy. Now 34, 35 and 36mm tubes, and pie-plate front glass dishing more light into powerful lenses, push scopes over 40 oz.!

Swarovski managed to keep weight of its X5/X5i “Long Range Expert” to an even 2 lbs. The star of this 30mm series is a 5-25×56 illuminated optic with 1/8-minute clicks. Shooters who can hold into half an inch at 400 yards will savor the feature. The 3.5-18×50 version for the rest of us is still a champ, with 122 minutes of elevation adjustment and nearly 4″ of eye relief. All X5/X5i scopes have a window to show rotation steps, so you won’t make full-rotation errors spinning the trajectory-matched dial. Short months ago Swarovski upstaged its Z6i family with the Z8i — top power eight times the bottom. A span this broad seems pointless to me, but it’s chic now. Swarovski also added a “switchable reticle.”

As if the Austrian firm needed to prove its innovative chops, it brought to the 2019 SHOT show a 5-25×52 scope with 40mm tube! The 38-oz. Swarovski dS is a feature-laden sight with superb optics and “digital intelligence.” A heads-up display shows ballistic data relevant to each shot, while an aiming point on the reticle lights up for dead-on hold, no matter the range. You must first program the dS with your smart-phone, using a Bluetooth interface. You can even add wind speed.

A superb sight, Swarovski’s X5i is also complex, with features many shooters can’t use to advantage.

Easy To Use — Perhaps

SIG Optics brought similar technology to market a year earlier with its BDX scopes, assembled at a spanking new facility in Wilsonville, Oregon. “BDX is as easy to use as a smart phone,” Joe Fruechtel from SIG told me. My eyes must have glazed instantly. “Or easier,” he added. The BDX app works in “Android or iOS. Download it in your phone, with ballistic data. Then pair — synchronize — your phone with a BDX Kilo laser rangefinder. Follow simple protocols to synch the rangefinder with your BDX scope.”

If the OLED (organic light-emitting diode) winks back, you needn’t start over. The scope now obeys the Kilo. Range a target, and a dot glows on the reticle. BDX figures bullet drop and other variables to 800 yards. Plug in a wind read and a dot off the reticle stem appears to compensate for drift. A Kilo rangefinder bonds to just one scope at a time but the libidinous scope can bond to several rangefinders.

Of course, you can use a SIG BDX scope without help from phone or laser, the way hunters born during the Truman administration learned to shoot. Mind you, we don’t have anything against OLED dots. Unlike beefy laser-ranging sights, SIG’s 30mm, rear-plane BDXs sport traditional profiles. Four initial models — 3.5-10×42 to 6.5-20×52 — list at $600 to $960. As there’s no laser inside, BDX sights are legal for hunting in all 50 states.

Complexity has yet to rein in scope sales, even among hunters too dim to use it. The other day I cinched a scope tight on a rifle before noticing the windage dial was on the left side — clear evidence a bluetooth interface might be beyond my capabilities!

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