Harsh Reality

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Not all that’s new is popular. The Tracking Point sight flopped.
Perhaps it’s the weight, profile, images.

Counter-intuitive truths abound in optics. Years ago I was surprised to find, in a riflescope at a gun show, a broken crosshair. It was stout. In the day before glass-etched reticles, I had yet to see a fine crosshair so breached. Wouldn’t a strand of spider web, hailed in target scopes, separate more readily? Uh, no. For its weight the web strand is stronger. Weight matters because in recoil it translates to inertia: resistance to change. A very lightweight reticle moves instantly with the scope as bullet launch slams the rifle back. A heavy reticle hesitates, testing its tensile strength against the implacable tug.

What about current reticles? They’re mostly lightweight metal or foil. Dick Thomas of Premier Reticle recalled, “by the late 1970s we had tungsten wire that could be drawn down to .0001, about 1/30 as thick as human hair.” Leupold has made its Duplex of .0012 platinum wire flattened to .0004 so the outer “posts” appear thick. Burris has used .0035 wire, flattening, then twisting it to make the middle appear thin. Premier Reticle, a Virginia company that has supplied reticles to every major scope-maker except Zeiss, has twisted ribbon wire to form the plex profile.

Another way to fashion a plex is by photo-etching metal foil. Chemicals strip all the material around the etched pattern. While wire reticles can be soldered to their mount, the foil is only .0007 thick so must be cemented. Proper tension matters. Too little, and recoil will whip the foil; too much, and it will yield to temperature extremes. Foil reticles can burn apart if the scope is pointed for a time toward bright sun.

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Can they possibly hold? Blaser’s compact QD clamps on the R8 rifle’s hard
barrel steel secure scopes during violent recoil. Replaced, they return to zero. Amazing?

Bob And Weave

Denied working mischief on lightweight scope reticles, inertia now has its way with big scopes, freeing them from the grip of the rings during recoil. Observed a pal who builds fine custom rifles: “It’s an affliction visited upon me by clients who have lots of money and are accustomed to paying to get the best. They order heavy, powerful scopes because they cost a lot. No matter, the rifle will see service on beasts the size of Volkswagens inside 50 yards. Trying to secure a 2-lb. optic with a bell the size of a coffee mug against the bounce of a .458 Lott dents my supplies of ammo and aspirin.”

High magnification makes scopes heavy and bulky, as it calls for big front glass to ensure bright images in dim light. Pie-eyed objectives also raise the sight-line, pulling your cheek off the comb. A 4x scope is bright despite modest glass up front, and has a generous field of view. Hunters with piles of game to their credit — notably Jack O’Connor, Warren Page, Bob Hagel — recommended it even after the debut of classy, lightweight variables like Leupold’s Vari-X series. A 4x suits me. In 55 years hunting, I recall just twice needing more powerful glass. To sum — more is not better, as regards scope magnification for big game hunting.

Variable power offers choice. But it is also, well, variable! Fundamental to improving accuracy, consistency and predictability is the elimination of variables! While variable scopes are now sealed and sturdy, and any point-of-impact shift across the power range is negligible (non-existent with front-plane reticles), fixed magnification has other advantages. It holds you to a single perspective, which helps you quickly gauge distance. It makes for a lighter, simpler, less costly optic. And you’ve nothing to fret about or adjust on the trail. I’ve found hunters prone to fussing with scopes don’t shoot as well as those who just aim through them. The hard truth is, with any variable scope, you can use just one power setting at a time!

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Swarovski’s dS scope is state-of-the-art, with electronic controls.
Optically superb, it’s complex, heavy.

Crisp, audible clicks are helpful only when you zero. You’ll want bright,
sharp, fog-free images always!

A Reasonable Zero

The prospect of long shots at game has many hunters adopting long zeros, or turrets whose knobs index quickly for dead-on hold far away. Laser rangefinders and bullets of high ballistic coefficient make hits possible at very long range. But the long zero is a trap; bullet paths arc highest above sight line at the ranges most game is shot. The longer the zero, the higher that mid-range gap. A 130-grain .270 bullet at 3,100 fps strikes only 1.4″ above sight line at 100 yards when zeroed at 200. A 300-yard zero puts it 3.5″ high at 100, and 4.3″ high at 200! It compels you to adjust aim for most shots. A 200-yard zero lets you hold center to 250 yards. No thinking required.

Hand-in-glove with the trend to long shooting and powerful scopes is an intuitive shift to smaller targets. “Aim small, miss small.” But in truth, you needn’t see the intended strike-point to hit it! After all, your target is not a target face or an animal but a spot in the middle of the X-ring or on the beast’s front rib. Shooting an iron-sight match, each rifleman sees only “the black,” which comprises several scoring rings. A center hit comes when the black is in the middle of the front sight, the front sight in the middle of the rear aperture. With a scope’s crosswire, you need only quarter the black to hit the X-ring, a whitetail’s chest to center its melon-size vitals. No need to see behind the crosswire. (An illuminated dot reticle will hide more of the target than necessary if it’s too bright: reduce the brightness in dim light or dark cover!) Fluorescent “sticky dots” sold as targets are too small to see behind many reticles in low-power scopes at even 100 yards. Better — a half- or quarter-sheet of unmarked typing paper on a brown box. It’s easy to divide evenly with a reticle. Using low-power scopes, I’ve shot one-hole groups on these targets.

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Accurate bullets and quarter-minute Magnum rifles beg optics for “quarter-minute aim.”
Targets this small require magnification impractical for hunting.

Tough Lesson

My first poke with a centerfire rifle was hardly so pleasing. When the Krag’s steel butt hammered my clavicle, I expected the oil can atop the plowed furrow to cartwheel. It didn’t even quiver. In this duel, Sunoco non-detergent emerged the victor. “Maybe it isn’t sighted in,” I muttered. Rifles, I’d heard, must be sighted in, or even the best marksmen will miss.

“Maybe,” nodded the farmer. He scratched his chin and pocketed the cartridge in his hand. “How did it look in the sights?” I scuffed my toe in the dirt. The Krag’s long Navy barrel had bobbed as if riding breakers. I had mashed the trigger. Truly, unless a rifle is zeroed, even perfectly executed shots will miss. But it was also clear my wobbly aim had given that oil can its reprieve. “We’ll try again. Before you can hit, you must know why you miss.”

Choosing naivete over hard truth has a price. That day it was a second cartridge.

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