Long-Range Shooting, Part 3—Scopes
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In this most uncertain of worlds, I can guarantee you two things: First, whoever we elect as our next president will be a thundering mediocrity who is pathetically unequal to the demands of the office. Second, if you cut corners on a scope for shooting at long range, the value of the ammo you fire in utter futility will soon be greater than what you saved on the scope.
Rather than discussing brands, let’s establish some specs instead.
Power. Everyone uses variables. Everyone. Even the Marines long ago forsook their 10X Unertl for a Schmidt & Bender 3X-12X. The Army uses a Leupold 6.5X-20X. Power is good. For a 300-yard rifle, 10X will do fine, but for twice that distance, shooting at something that is partly or almost completely hidden, power is what you need. If you don’t have 12X available, and 15X is much better, you’re handicapped.
Reticle. There are all sorts of systems that enable you, at least in theory, to calculate range and holdover. The general rule is, if you want to shoot with the greatest possible precision, you do it by adding or subtracting clicks of elevation. This is useful for target shooters to whom a couple of inches one way or another can make the difference between an X or a mere 10, but for a big-game hunter it’s meaningless. If it’s the way you choose to go, you don’t have to worry about range-compensating reticles, but you better know what you’re doing before you go twisting that elevation knob.
(Here, a digression is in order. If you’re going to put in clicks of elevation you’ll find that a 1-inch-diameter scope does not have enough latitude of adjustment for you to get on target at long range. Not only that, but if you jack your crosshair way up, you’ll lose your horizontal latitude of adjustment in the process.
The solution is a 10-, 15-, or 20-MoA Picatinny rail, of which the last is pretty much standard. This angled base tilts your scope downward, and gives you oodles of upward mobility without your ever touching a scope dial. You use it in conjunction with Picatinny rings, and the best of both rails and rings are made by Leupold (Mark 4), Nightforce, and Farrell. You’ll sh*t yourself when you see the prices, but they are required gear, and your laundry is of no concern to me.)
The simplest and most foolproof method consists of mil dots, or MoA stadia wires, on the 6 o’clock crosshair. They don’t move. You don’t mess with them. One click of the adjustment dial on an MoA scope moves the bullet one-quarter of a minute of angle, and a minute of angle is 1.047-inch at 100 yards. A mil, or millradian, equals 3.6 inches at 100 yards, and a typical adjustment click is one tenth of that, or about .36-inch.
Mils are metric, and are what the military uses, as the system was originally developed for artillery. Snipers are fine with it, but snipers practice endlessly, and have the nervous systems of reptiles. I’m strictly an MoA guy, and you should be, too. Minutes of angle, to the non-military mind, is a lot simpler and faster.
A MoA reticle with range-compensating stadia wires will have one of the little fellows positioned every 2 minutes of angle. So, if you aim at the target with the first wire, instead of the crosshair, you’ll raise the point of impact 2 inches at 100 yards, 4 inches at 200 yards, and so on. When you get out into the longer yardages aiming with the first wire becomes impractical because you’ll have the muzzle so high in the air that you’ll knock down low-flying birds. So you use the second wire, which will boost you 4 inches at 100, 8 inches at 200; or the third, which starts you at 6 at 100, 12 at 200, and so on.
Definition. If you can’t make out what’s downrange, you can’t hit it, can you? The difference between superior optics and good optics is obvious at glance.
Clicks. This is where most scope makers fall down. Most clicks, on most scopes, suck, to put it plainly. They’re vague, mushy, impossible to feel in the heat of battle, and their markings are so small that you can’t see them at a glance. In this category, Nightforce is so far ahead of everyone else that I’ve used that I can’t think of who might be second.
What I suggest is that when you look for a scope, stick strictly with the tactical lines from each maker. They tend to be stronger generally and have much better adjustments than the civilian models.
Brands. I haven’t used all the tactical scopes there are, but of the ones I’ve tried or whose reputation is solid where I shoot, the brands to consider are Nightforce, Leupold, Vortex, Bushnell, and Schmidt & Bender.