The Forgotten Four

Once upon a time, the 4X was all you needed
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Warren Page once wrote: “I had thought the question of scope power for selective shooting of open-country [deer] had been settled … the 4x is just about right, my own personal choice and enough magnification for ranges to 450 …”

With a 100-yard field of 24 feet or more, a 4x gives you quick aim in cover. Light weight is a bonus.

When Gun Writers Were King

Page, long-time shooting editor of Field & Stream, was not alone in his affection for 4x scopes in big places. Jack O’Connor at Outdoor Life had a well-known sheep-hunting itch. He scratched it on trips into the mountains with fine custom rifles, most famously .270 Winchester M70 Featherweights from Al Biesen’s shop. He scoped his favorite with a 4x Stith Kollmorgen in Tilden mounts. In 1954 Jack killed a Wyoming elk with this rifle, later a Dall’s ram in the Yukon. He used it in Africa and India too.

Colonel Townsend Whelen, whose published opinions on rifles brought millions of shooters into the O’Connor era, favored 4x scopes on hunting rifles too. “When I was ordered to duty at Springfield Armory in the fall of 1929, I determined that I would have made the finest possible .30-06 Springfield hunting rifle.” He sent Griffin & Howe an un-numbered action. It came back with a matted receiver ring, turned-down bolt handle, Lyman cocking-piece sight and trigger-guard safety. Alvin Linden fashioned a stock of dark walnut. Whelen added a 2¼x Zeiss scope in double-lever mounts, but later found it wanting at distance. He replaced it with a 4x Lyman Challenger.

Leupold’s M8 4x has a trim 33mm objective, fits neatly in low Leupold rings on a Remington 700.

The Best They Had

Cynics might sniff that Whelen, who began hunting with a .40-72 and whose military service pre-dated the Spanish-American War, had no access to more versatile scopes. They’re wrong.

In 1902, as two Ohio bicycle mechanics built the first of a crude series of powered aircraft, Zeiss developed a rifle-scope with an erector system. A couple of years later, when Wilbur and Orville recorded an 852-foot flight near Kitty Hawk, Zeiss had a short “prism” scope. By 1921 Zeildovier and Zieldosechs scopes featured variable power. In 1926 Zeiss listed four fixed-power sights, two variables. The gap in the center of a #1 “Graticle” spanned 25" at 100 yards — a range-finding reticle! By 1928 Zeiss controlled M. Hensoldt & Sons, founded in Wetzlar by Hensoldt and Kellner in 1849. The Zeilvier 4x listed at $45, a hefty sum when motorists in the U.S. could buy Henry Ford’s Model T for $360!

This early El Paso Weaver 4x has a 3/4" tube. The side mount begs new holes in the Winchester!

A Scope For Every Man

Then 24-year-old Bill Weaver designed a scope for the masses. At its 1930 debut his 3x Model 330 sold for $19, including the mount. A 4x M440 came three years later, when Bill moved from Newport, Kentucky to El Paso, Texas.

Weaver’s 1″, steel-tube K2.5 and K4 appeared in 1947, the K6 a year later. Weaver replaced its 330 and 440 with 3/4″ J2.5 and J4 rimfire scopes, supplanted in 1954 by the B4 and B6. For four decades, Weaver’s fortunes rode on the success of its 4x scopes, especially the hugely popular K4.

Bushnell’s first offerings were 2.5x, 4x and 6x Scopemasters. It was 1953, five years after Dave Bushnell had overcome daunting obstacles to import Japanese-built binoculars. The Scopemaster line became the Scopechief. A 3-9x variable joined the series in 1959. One of my first scopes was a 4x Scopechief. Had I used it exclusively for the next 48 years, I’d no doubt have killed as much game as has fallen in front of other glass. By 1960 Bushnell optics were selling at 18,000 dealerships worldwide.

In 1949 Lyman’s best-selling 2½x Alaskan moved aside for the steel-tube, 26mm 4x Challenger. An alloy Stream-Lite 4x trailed in 1953 and by 1955 all had alloy tubes. Lyman didn’t field a variable (a 3-9x) until 1973.

In 1959 the Redfield Gunsight Co., founded in 1909, began building scopes too. In 1962 Redfield’s first variable, a 3-9x, had the first constantly centered, non-magnifying reticle of any maker.

Don Burris, one of Redfield’s managing partners, started his own company in 1972. Early on, it offered only iron sights and scope mounts. In 1975 a 4x scope appeared, with 2-7x and 3-9x variables.

Bushnell has sold millions of affordable 4x scopes, here in low Weaver rings on a Remington 760.

What I Want

Here’s why I still prefer a 4x scope — it’s less complex than a variable, so there’s less to go wrong. It’s lighter and, courtesy of having fewer lens elements, brighter. Without a power ring, it has more free tube behind the turret so you can mount the scope farther forward. A set magnification gives you a consistent perspective, so at a glance you can estimate distance.

A 4x scope doesn’t need a big objective lens to give you a bright image; in fact, the 24mm glass fronting a 30mm tube yields a 6mm exit pupil, as big as your eye can use in the dimmest of shooting light! Also, a 4x has a field of at least 24 feet at 100 yards — wide enough for a quick, accurate poke when you bump a bull in the lodgepoles.

The argument you need more power at a distance is weak. In 4x glass, an animal appears as big at 300 yards as it does over iron sights at 75 and the scope reticle obscures almost none of the target.

My first pronghorn fell at 420 yards to my .244 Remington 722 and a 4x Lyman Challenger. I didn’t want for magnification. Years later on a Namibian plain, a friend hit a zebra poorly. The wounded beast paused at 500 yards. Too far for clear aim with the 4x on my rifle. I closed 80 yards on my belly and held two hand-widths over the withers. The bullet struck perfectly.

The Downsides

Liabilities of a 4x? Well, you can’t change magnification at a whim. You get to choose just once, as when you pick the color of your refrigerator. You can’t spin up power to fill the field with ribcage as your pulse throws the reticle from one end of it to the other. My rule of thumb: Scope magnification for big game is sufficient to handle the same number in hundreds of yards. So 4x is power enough for sure kills on deer to 400 yards. But it’s a long poke, edgy for other reasons, but you’ll see plenty of rib around the crosswire.

Sadly, you’ll find few 4x scopes on the market now. My repeated pleas to re-introduce the best of the discontinued prompts a collective shrug: “Everyone wants variables now. The bigger the better.”

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