April 21, 2008
Bases and Rings, and Other Bad Things
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
Here are two ways to cause trouble: Yell "Incoming" at a Hillary Clinton rally. This will be intensely funny to the people who watch it next day on You Tube, but after you are Tasered by the Secret Service and sentenced to 10 years in prison for being a Public Wiseass, it may not seem like such a good idea.
The other way is order a rifle from one of the top gun makers around the country and offer to mount the scope yourself. Probably he will just hang up. Or he may make a noise like a choking chicken, and you will hear a thump and his wife screaming his name in the background. These guys know that in all the realm of riflery, nothing causes so much sorrow, pain, and woe as the average shooter mounting his own scope.
Mostly this is the fault of the people who make scope mounts. They assume that the people who buy their stuff have a modicum of common sense and mechanical ability and write their directions accordingly. They are wrong on both counts. Often, people don't even read the instructions. I think it was scope-mount maker Maynard Beuhler who said, "When all else fails, read the directions." Beuhler's mounts, by the way, were handsome and very strong, and a real pain in the ass to get on a rifle properly.
Some mounts are perverse. The old Weaver mounts are cheesy and cheap looking, but they're very light, very strong, and put the scope very low over the receiver. The problem is that as you tighten the ring screws, they torque the scope clockwise. So before you tighten them, you have to guess how much out of whack the vertical crosshair is going to move, and position it slightly counterclockwise to compensate. It usually takes six or so tries before you get it right, and you are powerfully motivated not to swap scopes on that rifle.
Putting a heavy scope on a hard-kicking rifle is a prescription for trouble because of Newton's First Law of Motion, which states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. (Newton, in addition to being one of the great geniuses of all time, was an odd duck. He once ran a knife blade around his eye socket to see what would happen. Nothing did.)
The heavy scope wants to sit where it is; the rifle insists on moving. So, if the scope weighs enough and the rifle kicks hard enough, the scope will either edge forward in its rings, or it can yank the rings out of the bases, or it can shear the base screws. (To Be Continued)