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In the last article we talked about purchasing your first rifle as a new shooter. We theorised that most shooters are looking to hit targets from 100-1000yds. The budget for said rifle was £1500 and the suggested calibre was .308 in a bolt action. My rifle of choice was a Remington 700. Some of you may want to use iron sights. No problem, you may even be able to spec them with the rifle from the factory. Most people want a scoped rifle though. There are multiple comps and disciplines for scoped rifle and it allows the added bonus of seeing what’s going on at the target end without an extra spotting scope/spotter. This article will deal with scope selection and mounting systems.
The first thing to think about is how to mount the scope. Most factory rifles used to come with holes drilled which would mate up with specific mounts. The problem with this is that it limited ones choice of mounts. It also restricts the scope rings to one position. This did not suit all types of scope and so limited scope selection as well. In recent years a lot of factory rifles are offered with a “rail” often referred to as a picatinny rail.
Some rails from UK company, Third Eye Tactical, which I use.
Picatinny or Weaver rails can be bought pre drilled to match your specific rifle or as blanks which require careful measuring and drilling yourself. You can also find them in different levels of forward angle. This forward angle is given in MOA (minutes of angle). What these angles give you is extra elevation. If you are shooting out to 1000+yds you may find your scope runs out of upward clicks.. If you sit the scope on a sloping rail then it will increase the scopes elevation. I selected a 20 moa rail. With a .308 that allows me to dial down to 50yds or up to 1000+yds on most half decent scopes. Increasing the level of angle will eventually mean you lose ability to zero at shorter distances. If you were shooting a 338 Lapua or similar long distance calibre then you will have to increase angle of the rail to get a scope to dial out to 1500-2000yds. Not a problem for today’s post though.
This is where things can get real expensive, real quick. High quality optical glass is not cheap. Neither are precisely engineered moving parts capable of extreme accuracy and consistency. A scope needs both of the above. In fact I will say that a scope without both of those is pretty much useless.
In a nutshell a scope is just a telescope which sits above your barrel. It has a crosshair which moves left/right and up/down when the windage or elevation dials are turned. If you can move the cross hairs directly over your bullets point of impact then you have “zeroed” your rifle. You can then use your windage and elevation to change the direction the barrel is pointing I.e. shooting at longer ranges requires you to dial in a predetermined amount of clicks to increase elevation and thus increase range. After a few outings at different ranges you will have saved the data (click values) and in theory hit the target every time at these ranges by simply dialling it in. All this requires absolute consistency of the scopes internals. Any errors and you will never be able to rely on the scope to be “on target” at different distances.
Turning the elevation knob on my Vortex scope
Cheap optics = inconsistency. Unless you are a 100yd plinker, inconsistency is not acceptable. At 1000yds the small inconsistency will be greatly magnified. A miss of a few inches at 100yds can turn into several feet at extended range. Useless for competition and I would argue to be dangerous. Bullets escaping over the top of the butts represent a significant danger as they will continue to travel for 1-2 miles depending on trajectory. In short we do not want a cheap scope. Buy once, cry once!
So how expensive are we talking? Personally I discount anything below £300. Sounds snobby I know but the fact is you just can’t produce precise reliable optics for much less than that and still turn a decent profit. I have used cheaper scopes and they had a series of problems which all boiled down to cheap materials and poor assembly/quality control.
At the other end of the spectrum are the high end optics. Companies such as Night force, US Optics, March, S&B, Swarovski all offer scopes in the £2000+ price range. They are all fantastic and I would love to be able to afford such things but I can’t and neither can most readers.
The budget I set myself for the Remington’s scope was between £300-£800.
Features and benefits
The scope manufacturers are all competing against one another. They all advertise “new” tech as being the next must have feature. Below I list the features that are often found on popular brands and explore how useful they actually are.
Mil/Moa reticles/turrets Both Mils (Milliradians) and MOA (Minutes of angle) are angular measurements. Think of them as slices of a big roung cake. In the middle of the cake the lines are touching. They extend out growing further away from one another. Angular measurements grow over distance. The small markings in moa or mil reticles represent these measurements. In simple terms you can use the marks to accurately adjust the point of your bullets impact. You can also use them to range targets using some pretty simple calculations. You can use them to accurately gauge margins of error and adjust correctly. For these reasons I would highly recommend them. I don’t have much preference as to which measurement the reticle uses. I do have a preference for a couple of other associated factors though..
Matching reticle/turrets A lot of scopes on the market feature mil reticles and moa turrets (the windage and elevation knobs adjust in moa increments). This is a rather daft concept as it involves the shooter having to convert angular measurements back and forth. I would strongly suggest you select a scope with matching reticle and turrets, often referred to as mil/mil or moa/moa. If they match and you miss a target by 2 mils in the reticle you can simply dial in 2 mils and your on.
First focal plane, second focal plane If you opt for a fixed power scope then you can ignore this. If you buy a variable power (discussed next) it will be either in 1st or 2nd focal plane. In first focal plane the reticle size will increase or decrease as you zoom in and out. The reticle will be correct at all magnification settings. This allows you to adjust shots accurately and range with the reticle without worrying about being at the right magnification. Personally I like it but mainly because I have concerns over the accuracy in terms of reticle/magnification setting. Most 2nd focal plane scopes give you a magnification level in the manual (and normally the value written in red on the scope) at which the reticles value will be correct. Remember the marks in the reticle are actually measurements of angle. If the image grows and shrinks and the reticle size doesn’t (2nd focal plane) then you end up with a very small window in which the markings represent the actual values. A tiny error either way will throw maths way off and thus shots will be way off at long range. These issues may not bother you if you shoot at fixed and known distances. You may never need to use the reticle markings. I do use them so I select scopes in the 1st focal plane.
You will find scopes listed like this 4-14×50 or like this 10×44. The first set of numbers denote a variable power scope which can zoom from 4x to 14x. The last number tells us the size of the lens at the front end in mm. The second set of numbers denote a fixed power (10x) with a 44mm lens. Fixed power scopes are cheaper than the same quality of scope in variable power. Variable power scopes have more working parts which require precise engineering including more glass which is expensive. If you are on a lower budget then a fixed magnification scope would be the better option. Do not be tempted to buy one of the budget (sub £300) variable mag scopes. I have used quite a few and found none of them were accurately machined to cope with long range work. Some were not even sturdy enough to be used on a fullbore rifle as the recoil caused them to lose point of aim which is unacceptable. The down side is that a fixed 8 or 10x mag will not be powerful enough to double for spotting shots at long range. It may also be too powerful for some stages/comps in your chosen discipline. An example would be service rifle which has some CQB types stages. Very difficult with a 10x and your fellow competitors would no doubt be using variable power scopes or a separate short range optic/red dot set up. For these reasons I would suggest a good quality variable power scope for your first long range capable rifle because it gives you options.
Most companies offer “coated” optics. The glass has been infused or coated with substances which alter the way light passes through it. Coatings are mooted to give benefits such as “anti glare” or reduction of reflections ect. I have no reason to disbelieve they work neither do I select scopes because of it. I would say most medium to high end brands have adequate glass and I have never had any issues caused by coatings or a lack of them. The size of the front lens is more important to me. The bigger the lens the more light can enter. However you must also bear in mind that you would need to mount the scope higher to accommodate the larger front end. I like to aim for a lens around 50mm. This allows me to mount it to medium rings and maintain good head position and cheek weld. It really is a personal thing that is based upon your body and preferred shooting position. The issue of head/scope alignment can be negated with an adjustable cheek piece. Not everyone has that luxury though.
Tube diameter The main tube is the part which will have rings attached to it to mount the scope. You will find rings and scopes for sale advertised in various sizes.. 1inch, 25mm, 30mm and 34mm seem to be pretty common right now. The scope manufacturers will tell you that bigger is better due to improved light transmission. If that is true then I have never been able to perceive it when using different sized tubes. I go with 30mm as it is common and allows a good choice in scopes and rings.
illuminated reticle Great if you shoot in very low light. If you don’t then save some cash and do without it.
Nitrogen filled If you are likely to shoot in varied weather this is a good idea and it works well. The nitrogen prevents fogging when it gets chilly. If you shoot year round in the sun then you don’t need to worry.
Zero stop I love this feature. Zero stop turrets allow you to zero your rifle and then slip your windage and elevation knobs back round to zero. In theory this means that whenever you wind the knobs back to 0 the rifle will hit the bull at your chosen zero distance. We will deal with zeroing the rifle soon so don’t worry if you feel confused! Some scopes also offer a physical zero stop which prevents you dialling down past your zero. I fully subscribe to both options. I find it invaluable when engaging targets at varied distance to be able to quickly wind down to my 100yd zero and then dial in the next distance. It saves me a lot of mental arithmetic.
Fancy reticles personal choice here. I am always wary of reticles which offer aiming marks to certain ranges. These marks are usually based upon one type of ammunition only. Next to useless if you reload or you prefer a different brand… I don’t like cluttered reticles. They tend to get in the way of targets and prevent wind reading from trees, foliage ect.
Now I am fairly sure there are loads more features available. I have listed the ones I believe are the most common.
Based on the info so far I would recommend a variable power scope in the £500+ category featuring: matching reticle/turrets, first focal plane, nitrogen filled with zero stops. I would also add that I prefer exposed turrets as opposed to the type enclosed with threaded caps. I tend to leave the caps off to enable quick changes and then I leave the caps in the dirt somewhere or kneel on them. I would look for a magnification of around 4-24 power. This gives you ample options in terms of range and allows you to spot shots at 100yds when load testing. 24 power also allows you to see marked long distance targets (the markers place bright orange cards in the bullet holes).
The scope I ended up with after much consideration and field testing was the Vortex Viper PST FFP 4-24×50. I opted for Mil turrets and Mil reticle. I must say after 3 months of use I love it. The scopes come with a lifetime warrantee. The build quality is superb. The turrets track accurately and return to zero every time. The prices are phenomenal considering quality and the price of similar spec scopes (I paid about £690). I really can’t find fault with it at all and I will be buying a 4-14 version shortly to mount on my AR15. I will be doing a full review after 6 months of ownership.
The Remington 700 complete with Third Eye Tactical Rail and Rings seating a Vortex Viper PST FFP 4-24X50.
Last but not least.. Rings
So we have a rifle and we have a scope. The rifle has a 20moa canted rail. Now we need to buy some rings. Make sure that you buy rings that will fit your rail (picatinny or weaver) and ensure your rings are the same diameter as your scopes central tube. Rings tend to come in pairs or as a single elongated mount. The single or unimount is sturdy but obviously weighs more than the two separate rings.
A unimount from Third Eye Tactical. The red things are for levelling your scope, more on that in later articles
You might also find you have clearance issues with a unimount as some scopes have a bulbous midsection which can ground out on the base. With both seperate rings or unimount your aim will be to provide clearance between the scope and rifle itself without being so high that it makes for an uncomfortable head position. Obviously the scope must be held in place securely as well. The best thing you can do here is take a look what others are using. You certainly want to avoid blindly ordering rings on eBay in the hope they are high enough for your scope. They are generally available in low, medium and high. However these sizes are specific to each company producing them. You might find a high from one company is equivalent to another’s medium. Beware buying rings which have cant (moa) built in to them. We already have 20moa of cant in our rail. Any more would likely confuse things for the new shooter. I always buy rings which are split horizontally. This allows you to fix the lower half of the rings on finger tight and then lay the scope on there. Final adjustments to scope position can be made easily before tightening the tops of the rings on. I will be doing an article on scope mounting in the next few days which will explain this in detail with pictures.. The last thing I would say is do not scrimp when buying rings. Its mighty tempting to buy cheap ones as they aren’t particularly exciting. You must consider that the engineering of these rings must be extremely precise. Any tiny error in alignment would be multiplied at longer distances and would be noticeable. I spent £100 on a pair of Medium rings from UK based Third Eye Tactical. They do a fine job of holding the Vortex Viper in place and I have no problems with them at all. The quality of their machining is superb.
The rings I use
Hopefully you have found some useful info here. I am not suggesting you copy my brand choices. They suited my situation at the time in terms of price and features. Your situation will be different one way or another. What I will keep saying is talk to other shooters. They love to talk kit and will generally be honest about it. If it fails them they let everyone know about it. Selecting a good combination of rail, rings and scope needs a fair bit of thought. Much better to hear the mistakes others made so that you don’t make them yourself.
Next article will be on setting up your new rifle and mounting the scope.
If you like the sound of any of the products I mentioned then check out the sites below..