Scope Mounting Guide

Making The Perfect Marriage Of Optic To Gun
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Ruger machines M77 receivers to accept Ruger rings directly. A clever design that withstands recoil!

You might as well know up front: My only qualifications for dispensing advice on affixing rifle scopes are longevity and incompetence. I’ve wed optics to rifles for 55 years without lethal consequence and have made every mistake shooters of average intelligence avoid.

The frightful cost of modern scopes argues for care in their handling — no matter their resilience in durability tests pounding them for hours with .375 recoil. Effortlessly, you can ruin any scope with the screwdriver in your kitchen’s junk drawer. Heck, you don’t even need tools. A fellow showing a scope to his pals dropped it on flagstone. He fetched it up, stared for a long silent moment at its shattered lens, then turned to me: “Can you fix this?”

Well, no, I couldn’t. I keep this episode in mind when tempted to hurry through scope chores.


MTM’s vise holds this rifle for a scope switch. Needed underneath:
A white bath towel to snare screws!

This MTM vise holds the rifle securely upright with an easy-to-use clamp that won’t mar the buttstock.

To ensure screws are properly and evenly tightened,
use a torque wrench set to scope-maker specs.

Getting Started

There’s a time and a place for attaching a scope. The time is when you have time. The best place is a well-lit bench or table, where you can sit comfortably, where dogs, children, your cell phone and the Super Bowl won’t distract.

An inexpensive polymer gun vise (or rifle rest) is helpful. I’ve used Tipton, MTM and Real Avid vises. Fire Teck, Hoppes and Birchwood Casey sell them too. Check Midway USA and Brownells. With or without a vise, I work on a white bath towel. A towel keeps escaping screws where they fall, so they don’t bounce to the floor and skitter to the nearest grate or drain.

My habit is to gather tools before starting, Brownells’ magnetic screwdriver set first. Hard hollow-ground bits fit each slot perfectly and won’t chew up screws or slip easily to mar scope or rifle. Add Torx and Allen wrenches, a ½” closed-end wrench for nuts joining heavy-duty rings to Picatinny rails. A rawhide mallet and a punch can help you loosen a seized screw if Liquid Wrench fails.

Grab a tube of gun grease, a silicon cloth and a clean, cotton rag.

I keep an 8″ length of birch dowel to turn dovetail rings into their bases. Using the scope as a lever, you risk a scarred or bent tube, even internal damage. Two sections of drill rod, lathe-turned to flat finish at the ends, can help you refine ring alignment (either standing in for the dowel too). Rings in place, snug a rod in each so they barely touch. Ideally, you won’t feel the seam. CNC-machined scope mounts and precisely drilled receivers limit the need for shims, once routine on infantry rifles and sporters fitted with scopes in garages. Lapping kits by Wheeler and Monstrum correct minor misalignment and remove burrs and surface irregularities. These kits include alignment bars.

Ball-in-socket polymer inserts for Burris Signature rings align scopes perfectly without strain.


A must have! Brownells’ screwdriver set has a hard,
hollow-ground bit for nearly every screw you’ll meet.

Maynard Buehler was Roy Weatherby’s pal. The classy Buehler mount on this 03A3 is from the 1960s.

About Bases

On rifles drilled and tapped for traditional mounts, a one-piece base can help space rings to accept scopes with little free tube, and provide correct eye relief. On long actions, bases on bridge and receiver ring may be too far apart for many new scopes, unless you use an extension ring. A one-piece Weaver or Redfield base can shrink the distance between rings.

Sako, CZ and Ruger dismissed scope bases by machining receivers to accept their brand-specific rings. Blaser rings bite dimples in hard Blaser barrels. Talley offers fine after-market rings for CZ rifles.

A Picatinny rail firmly holds scope rings and affords great latitude in placing the scope. As free tube is ever more limited by big turrets and ocular and objective bells housings, a rail lets you position the optic where you wish. Recoil has no chance against a Pic rail’s deep, square slots and Gibraltar shoulders.

The rail’s liabilities — it’s as comely on a sporting rifle as a luggage rack on a 911 Porsche. And if it extends forward under the scope’s objective bell, it forces use of higher rings than would be needed to keep the bell off the barrel. While AR-15s bring scope and sight-line well above bore, most hunting rifles are better fitted with stocks and scopes keeping sight-line low. Result: fast, instinctive aim with a scope or auxiliary iron sights. Rifle weight low between the hands improves balance and handling too.

Before grabbing a screwdriver, check that bases fit the receiver contour and match its holes, and that they’re of proper height. After removing a previous mount or filler screws, I stone off any burrs on the rims of screw holes. Then I wipe the receiver with a silicone rag so it’s clean with a rust-resistant film.

Base orientation comes next. It can affect ring placement. While base screws must be tight, there’s no joy in snapping one off in the rifle. A torque wrench prevents this. Midway USA and Brownells have them. Kimber has led a sensible trend to beefy 8-40 base screws, replacing traditional 6-48s. To ensure easy switching of scopes and mounts, I don’t use Loc-Tite. A dab of grease in each hole and dovetail slot prevents rust and helps screws seat and dovetails rotate into place smoothly.


Maynard Buehler was Roy Weatherby’s pal. The classy Buehler mount on this 03A3 is from the 1960s.

Wayne used lightweight Talley one-piece alloy rings
on this .300. His group shows they’re stout too!

Which Rings?

Weaver’s Tip-Off ring, a steel strap hooking one side of an alloy cradle with screws on the other, arrived in 1953 and sold well. A pair of Tip-Offs on alloy bases cost much less than machined steel rings on Redfield’s Junior mount, dating to the ’30s. The JR’s front ring dovetails into a slotted base. Opposing screws clasp the rear ring. Leupold has adopted this stout, clever design and added a dual-dovetail option.

Both steel and alloy scope mounts endure. Heavier and stronger, steel is the undisputed choice for finely shaped mounts, like the lovely Tilden of 1953, and those by Roy Weatherby’s pal Maynard Buehler in the ’60s. But steel rings can damage scopes if they aren’t properly aligned.

Softer, lighter alloy such as aluminum, ordinarily anodized black, is no cosmetic match for blued steel. It scars more easily and is hard to patch. But it isn’t as pricey as steel. It’s less likely to scratch or dent scopes.

Weatherby and other companies supplying scope rings with their rifles have turned increasingly to Talley. Started by Dave Talley in Wyoming, the shop has grown in Santee, SC under Gary Turner. I’m sweet on Talley’s classy vertically split steel ring on their trim bases. They complement fine rifles. Talley also offers lightweight one-piece alloy mounts. The base and lower ring half are a sleek unit specific to the rifle model. They’re available for many rifles.

A blizzard of bigger scope tubes, 30mm, now 34, 35, 36, even 40mm in diameter, has buoyed the prices of mounts. Big rings cost more to make and sell in lesser numbers than 1″ rings. Besides, don’t scopes priced higher than Ford’s first Mustangs deserve $200 rings?


A Picatinny rail lets you locate rings where you wish.
You’ll need a ½" wrench to remove these.

leek, petite Tilden mounts date to 1953. They were beautifully
made, as this rear ring and base attest.

Rotating a dovetail ring into its base, apply gun grease to the slot. Use a dowel, not the scope, as a lever.

Sako rings slip directly into tapered grooves on the receivers of Sako rifles. Recoil tightens the union.

Finger-snug, Blaser mounts grip machined barrel dimples. Removal and replacement don’t affect zero!

Assembly Required!

A scope properly joined to a rifle is a union not even Hollywood can tear asunder. A few tips:

1 — Set the scope’s windage and elevation dials to the centers of their ranges.

2 — Examine ring edges. Use a stone or lapping kit to remove burrs.

3 — Switching ring halves in a set may be okay, given CNC machining; but I keep rings paired as packaged.

4 — When snapping a Weaver Tip-Off ring over a scope, pad the lip with a slip of paper to protect scope finish.

5 — Locating rings, leave ⅛” free tube between rings and where free tube ends at turret, objective and ocular bells. Ring pressure at these junctures can damage the tube, even the scope’s internal integrity.

6 — With horizontally split rings, snug the bottom halves to the bases or the rifle. Lay the scope in them to ensure scope and ring axes coincide before adding the top halves.

7 — Snug the front ring and check the scope still centers the rear ring. If one or both are dovetail rings, use a 1″ dowel to align axes, no matter how minor the correction!

8 — Front ring snug, cheek the rifle. If you don’t see a full field, loosen the ring and slide the scope fore and aft until it yields edge-to-edge field. Check from sitting and prone. Cycle the rifle’s bolt to ensure it clears the scope. Mark the tube with a pencil so later you can easily re-establish proper eye relief.

9 — Use a level on bolt races or against a flat-sided receiver, or eyeball the rifle’s butt, to ensure the rifle is top-side up in the vise. A view over the scope from behind should show the muzzle at 12 o’clock.

10 — Before snugging Weaver Tip-Off rings, rotate the scope slightly toward their lip side. Tightening the screws on the other side will rotate it slightly back in their direction.

11 — Instructions provided with vertically split rings can be helpful. These rings should exert equal pressure above and below the scope tube before they’re given a final tightening to the base.

12 — Tighten ring screws, alternating as you would with lug nuts on a truck wheel. They needn’t be as tight as base screws. Over-tightened rings can deform scope tubes.

13 — Fitting the scope, rings installed, to a slotted base or rail or directly to the receiver, tug the scope ahead as you complete the ring-base union to preclude creep during recoil.

Bore-sighting with W&E dials at middle settings, you should find the reticle on a freshly installed scope near target’s center. If a 100- or 200-yard zero begs a big handful of clicks, check ring alignment!

Afield and at the range, check screws periodically. If a screw doesn’t yield to firm pressure from a screwdriver bit, don’t try to get “another quarter turn.” It’s tight enough. Any movement can affect zero. Ring screws that feel snug may not be! Recoil can skew ring halves, maintaining pressure on the screws. Skewing is most easily seen with Tip-Off rings. Also: Check your pencil line for scope slippage.

The big “windage screws” engaging scalloped recesses in the rear rings of Redfield mounts have failed me thrice. When these screws come loose, they allow the scope to pivot on the front dovetail ring, throwing shots to 3 and 9 o’clock. “Those screws are soft,” says a friend who builds rifles for clients who insist on pairing big scopes with fire-breathing loads. “The heavier a scope, the greater its inertia, and the greater the stress on all unions. Soft screws are the first to bend, break or back out.”

A scope that twirled baton-like from a .416 into my noggin reminded me to check screws often.

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