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Choosing A Reliable Telescopic Sight For Your Rifle

Optics…or how to get an eye-full -- December 2011 -- Wes W.

During a conversation a while back, one fellow used the term "expert" in reference to me and firearms related topics. I asked him what he meant by that and he said that he used the term to signify a high degree of knowledge. I thanked him for the compliment, but hurried to point out that I didn't see myself as such … and would rather be called "experienced". Since I have lived through much bad judgment, I managed to gain some experience along the way; and this, I am happy to share with anyone who cares to listen to my stories.

As I experienced aging, I discovered that my eyes did not seem to be as sharp as when I was 12 years old. The proof came on a winter's snowy day tracking moose. At my side was my trusty rifle of the time, a Winchester model 70 in .338 Win Mag with iron sights. Many moose had met their maker with the help of this fine rifle, and I hoped to add one more to the tally. The tracks printed off into the gloom of lessening daylight, and I peered ahead into the dense balsam stand in front of me. A dark shape materialized in the distance, partially screened with the boughs. It wasn't a long shot, perhaps 150 yards, but the bead and rear sight seemed less distinct than normal … in fact, the whole moose was hiding behind the front sight.

I exhaled, carefully launched the 250 grain Silvertip, and watched the moose spin away into the forest. I fully expected a blood trail and some happy "wet-work", but instead there was no blood at all … only a line of freshly cut hair on the snow, showing how the bullet passed along the side of the hump and exited without actually touching the moose. This experience began the long search for the perfect scope for my type of hunting. I wanted something to resolve the target clearly, be dependable, and be accurate.

We always look for a bargain, don't we? At that point in my life, bigger was better, and cheaper was better yet. So began the dance with Tasco, and Weaver and Redfield and Simmons, and finally Leupold. There were also some that I have forgotten … but a few learning experiences stood out. Yes, some Tascos held up to the recoil of heavier calibers…but some did not; some took the abuse of Arctic hunts … some could not. Some seemed fine at first, but had horrible parallax problems that became evident if you moved your cheek at all on the stock.

Finally, I unintentionally created the world's worst torture test for scopes. I had a Ruger #1 lightweight in 45-70. I began to try to make this approach a .458 as I reasoned that Ruger used the same action for both calibers … so it should take the merciless loads I came up with. I was able to launch a 350 grain bullet at over 2300 fps with 3/4" accuracy. This was a real sinus clearer!! Shooting from a bench left nice blue patterns on my shoulder … perfect!!

But I wasn't satisfied … "What if I "magna-port" this rifle?" That would help the recoil factor, I reasoned. Well … maybe it did … I could never say for sure … but from the day that it was magna-ported, this rifle and load now destroyed scopes! First, I blew the crosshairs from a Weaver … No problem, I had a great Redfield just waiting to be put in service … just in time, since I was headed to the Northwest Territories to shoot Wood Bison.

The Wood Bison is about 20% larger than the Plains Bison; the girth of one I killed measured 10 1/2 feet! That takes some penetration, and I believed I had the load to do it. We set up camp near Fort Providence on the west shore of Great Slave Lake and I checked the zero of my rifle after the long trip getting there. The first shot created a crack in the ocular lens, but the rifle was right on its original zero. Faced with the possibility that the next shot might shatter the lens completely and thus put glass in my eye, dampened my enthusiasm a bit. But I've survived more foolish actions, so I resolved that I would save the next shot for a Bison.

We trudged through the -40 temps to get close to a large bull; I crawled through snow in white camo to get to less than 100 yards, and put the crosshairs on the small kill zone just behind the shoulder. Thankfully, one shot was enough, because the crack now completely encircled the ocular lens … any more shooting would be more foolhardy than my usual bent. Since that was the completion of that project, I packed the rifle and broken scope home without further shots.

At home, I discovered that my old friend, Jim Todd, (now deceased) had similar problems with his same rifle with the same magna-porting. We surmised that the trapezoidal vents at the upper portion of the barrel were creating an unexpected barrel whip at the passage of the round. This was akin to snapping a wet towel … and just destroyed scopes. In the meantime I sent both of my ruined scopes to the manufacturers; both refused to repair them on warranty, stating that these were subjected to unusual destructive damage. I believe the Redfield rejection suggested that I had run over the scope with a truck.

So, what to do? In resignation, I put a 4x Leupold on the rifle. "What the heck, they have a "lifetime" warranty … so when it blows up, I'll just send it to them", I thought.

It wouldn't blow up … Nope … try as I might … the scope held up perfectly and the zero didn't change. Well what about a variable power …? That is what the other scopes were … maybe that is the weak point. So I put on a Leupold 1.5 to 5 in preparation for an African hunt for Cape Buffalo. I really tested this out … and even tried 450 grain bullets at 2000 fps … no problems!! Perfect!!

In the meantime, my Leupold compact binoculars got smashed on the Arctic ice as I whipped off my parka and the neck cord snagged on the epaulet. I sent these back to Leupold saying that this was my fault, and could they please repair these as I needed them for an up-coming hunt. They came back, beautifully restored and recalibrated with an invoice. The invoice stated: "No charge … Thanks for owning a Leupold."

So what have I learned from these experiences? I learned that cheap is dear. I learned that there is a reason that superior quality costs more. Can other scopes work? Depending on your demands … certainly. But whenever I stray from the Leupold line, sooner or later, I am disappointed and return to what I trust. They work for me.

As I train guides in the Arctic, I'm often asked about what scope I would recommend.

I just say, that in my life experience, I have never been disappointed in a choice of a Leupold … so … choose wisely, grasshopper.

Happiness in shooting …

Wes W.

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