Riflescopes are mechanical contraptions. One of the sad realities about precision shooting is that, sooner or later, you will experience a scope failure. If you’re lucky it won’t happen in the middle of a National-level competition. And hopefully the failure will be dramatic and unmistakable so you won’t spend months trying to isolate the issue. Unfortunately, scope problems can be erratic or hard to diagnose. You may find yourself with unexplained flyers or a slight degradation of accuracy and you won’t know how to diagnose the problem. And when a 1/8th-MOA-click scope starts failing, it may be hard to recognize the fault immediately, because the POI change may be slight.
When An Expensive Scope Goes Bad
Recently, this editor had a major-brand 8-25x50mm scope go bad. How did I know I had a problem? Well the first sign was a wild “drop-down” flyer at a 600-yard match. After shooting a two-target relay, I took a look at my targets. My first 5-shot group had five shots, fairly well centered, in about 2.2″. Pretty good. Everything was operating fine. Then I looked at the second target. My eye was drawn to four shots, all centered in the 10 Ring, measuring about 2.4″. But then I saw the fifth shot. It was a good 18″ low, straight down from the X. And I really mean straight down — if you drew a plumb line down from the center of the X, it would pass almost through the fifth shot.
That was disconcerting, but since I had never had any trouble with this scope before, I assumed it was a load problem (too little powder?), or simple driver error (maybe I flinched or yanked the trigger?). Accordingly, I didn’t do anything about the scope, figuring the problem was me or the load.
But, at the next range session, things went downhill fast. In three shots, I did manage to get on steel at 600, with my normal come-up for that distance. Everything seemed fine. So then I switched to paper. We had a buddy in the pits with a walkie-talkie and he radioed that he couldn’t see any bullet holes in the paper after five shots. My spotter said he thought the bullets were impacting in the dirt, just below the paper. OK, I thought, we’ll add 3 MOA up (12 clicks), and that should raise POI 18″ and I should be on paper, near center. That didn’t work — now the bullets were impacting in the berm ABOVE the target frame. The POI had changed over 48″ (8 MOA). (And no I didn’t click too far — I clicked slowly, counting each click out loud as I adjusted the elevation.) OK, to compensate now I took off 8 clicks which should be 2 MOA or 12″. No joy. The POI dropped about 24″ (4 MOA) and the POI also moved moved 18″ right, to the edge of the target.
For the next 20 shots, we kept “chasing center” trying to get the gun zeroed at 600 yards. We never did. After burning a lot of ammo, we gave up. Before stowing the gun for the trip home, I dialed back to my 100-yard zero, which is my normal practice (it’s 47 clicks down from 600-yard zero). I immediately noticed that the “feel” of the elevation knob didn’t seem right. Even though I was pretty much in the center of my elevation (I have a +20 MOA scope mount), the clicks felt really tight — as they do when you’re at the very limit of travel. There was a lot of resistance in the clicks and they didn’t seem to move the right amount. And it seemed that I’d have four or five clicks that were “bunched up” with a lot of resistance, and then the next click would have almost no resistance and seem to jump. It’s hard to describe, but it was like winding a spring that erratically moved from tight to very loose.
At this point I announced to my shooting buddies: “I think the scope has taken a dump.” I let one buddy work the elevation knob a bit. “That feels weird,” he said: “the clicks aren’t consistent… first it doesn’t want to move, then the clicks jump too easily.”
Convinced that I had a real problem, the scope was packed up and shipped to the manufacturer. So, was I hallucinating? Was my problem really just driver error? I’ve heard plenty of stories about guys who sent scopes in for repair, only to receive their optics back with a terse note saying: “Scope passed inspection and function test 100%. No repairs needed”. So, was my scope really FUBAR? You bet it was. When the scope came back from the factory, the Repair Record stated that nearly all the internal mechanicals had been replaced or fixed: “Replaced Adjustment Elevation; Replaced Adjustment Windage; Reworked Erector System; Reworked Selector; Reworked Parallax Control.”
How to Diagnose Scope Problems
When you see your groups open up, there’s a very good chance this is due to poor wind-reading, or other “driver error”. But my experience showed me that sometimes scopes do go bad. When your accuracy degrades without any other reasonable explanation, the cause of the problem may well be your optics. Here are some of the “symptoms” of scope troubles:
1. Large shot-to-shot variance in Point of Impact with known accurate loads.
2. Uneven tracking (either vertical or horizontal).
3. Change of Point of Impact does not correspond to click inputs.
4. Inability to zero in reasonable number of shots.
5. Unexpected changes in needed click values (compared to previous come-ups).
6. Visible shift in reticle from center of view.
7. Changed “feel” or resistance when clicking; or uneven click-to-click “feel”.
8. Inability to set parallax to achieve sharpness.
9. Turrets or other controls feel wobbly or loose.
10. Internal scope components rattle when gun is moved.
Source of Problem Unknown, but I Have a Theory
Although my scope came with a slightly canted reticle from the factory, it had otherwise functioned without a hitch for many years. I was able to go back and forth between 100-yard zero and 600-yard zero with perfect repeatability for over five years. I had confidence in that scope. Why did it fail when it did? My theory is side-loading on the turrets. I used to carry the gun in a thick soft case. I recently switched to an aluminum-sided hard case that has pretty dense egg-crate foam inside. I noticed it took some effort to close the case, though it was more than big enough, width-wise, to hold the gun. My thinking is that the foam wasn’t compressing enough, resulting in a side-load on the windage turret when the case was clamped shut. This is just my best guess; it may not be the real source of the problem. Remember, as I explained in the beginning of this story, sometimes scopes — just like any mechanical system — simply stop working for no apparent reason.
Ever wish you could see the image from your riflescope on a large bright screen, and record your shooting experience when shooting targets or hunting? Well, here’s a new product that offers that functionality. The iScope is a handy adapter that connects a smartphone to your rifle scope — virtually any scope. You can see your target and cross-hairs easily without squinting and with your head in a comfortable position. Importantly, the image from the scope can be seen easily from a few feet away, allowing an instructor to provide guidance during the shooting process.
Jeff Foxworthy iScope Promo Video
(Install, App Launch, and Zoom at 1:10)
To use the iScope, you need a $0.99 App that allows you to zoom the image with a slider on your smartphone. This app also operates the Record on/off function, so you can record video clips. These can later be uploaded to YouTube and social media sites. Show the world your great bughole group, or your successful game hunt.
Practical Advantage of Digital Viewing
We think this product (or something like it) will be very valuable during training. The large view-screen allows instructors to “see what the shooter sees”, so the trainer can provide immediate feedback to the trainee. In addition, while practicing at long range, a shooter can record the position of wind-flags, or record mirage for later analysis. During a match, the iScope could be used by match directors to record shot placement, with a “shooter’s eye view”.
The iScope also offers obvious benefits for shooters with physical disabilities. Head positioning is critical with rifle optics — you must align your eye very precisely with a small circle of light (exit pupil) only a few millimeters in diameter. With a large viewscreen, a wheelchair-bound shooter can position himself comfortably and view the magnified scope image.
Shooting sessions can be recorded and reviewed later.
Digital Zoom allows greater magnification with low-power optics.
Shooters with eye problems can see target and cross-hairs more easily.
iScope helps Shooters with physical disabilities.
The iScope retails for about $110.00 ($99.00 on Amazon). All iScopes come prepackaged to fit the iPhone 4/4S or iPhone 5 at this time. However, you can purchase other backplates to fit popular Android OS smartphones from Motorola and Samsung. The iScope is versatile — it fits nearly all rifle scopes and there is an adapter for spotting scopes also.
Since its introduction, the big 12-42 NXS has always been one of the most popular and successful long-range and target scopes, and now you can save big bucks. Eurooptic.com has dropped the price on the 12-42x56mm NXS (various reticles) from $1981 to $1700 — that’s a $281.00 savings*. Both .125-MOA-click and .250-MOA-click turret models are on sale. Likewise Eurooptic.com has just slashed the price on the 3.5-15x56mm NXS from $1862 to $1599 — a $263.00 savings. NOTE: These big discounts apply to in-stock inventory on discontinued models only. When the supply is gone, it’s gone.
To order, visit Eurooptic.com or call (570) 220-3159 and ask for Jason. Available inventory and reticle choices are shown on the website.
*C330 Model with NR-R2 reticle is $1750; C331 Model with NP-R1 reticle is $1800.
If you want a March scope, now’s a good time to buy. Jim Kelbly of Kelbly’s Inc. has announced that, during the month of April, “March Scopes are being reduced by 10% for any March Scope in inventory.”
Jim adds: “We have a number of March scopes in inventory and many of the most popular models are [in-stock now]. So give us a call here at Kelbly’s at 330-683-4674 if you would like to purchase a March Scope or check inventory.”
Remember — if you snooze, you lose. The folks at Kelbly’s expect the in-stock inventory of the most popular March scopes to sell out fast. NOTE: This 10% savings offer is limited to March scopes currently in-stock at Kelbly’s. Backordered items or units to be delivered in the future are not discounted.
At Media Day, we had a chance to try out a new Smith & Wesson Pro Series C.O.R.E. pistol in 9mm. Despite the wicked cold weather, we enjoyed shooting this pistol. It is accurate, comfortable, and has a decent trigger.
This M&P variant features a slide that has been milled to fit modern, compact red-dot optics. Six optic types will fit: Trijicon RMR, Leupold Delta Point, Jpoint, Doctor, C-More STS, Insight MRDS The slide cut positions the red dot optic (a Trijicon on our test gun) so that the conventional iron sites are still usable below the red-dot. That’s smart, because the front blade sight can still be used to steer the gun towards the target, and then, as you bring the muzzle down on target, the red dot appears. This is a very fast, efficient system.
This C.O.R.E. model, like other M&P series pistols, has a comfortable, ergonomic grip-shape that is far superior to the grip on Glock handguns in this reporter’s opinion. I also like the grip better than the blocky grip on my older H&K polymer .45 ACP. Grip angle feels “just right” (unlike the Glock), and the corners are rounded (an improvement on the blocky HK). Plus the M&P has three (3) optional backstraps, so the user can “fine-tune” the grip to his or her hand. For 2013 the stipling on the backstraps has been modified for better grip and comfort.
This is a nice, intelligent upgrade on a gun which was already very good. And even with the special “optics ready” slide, the gun remains affordable with a $729.00 MSRP (not counting optics).
Nightforce Optics has created quite a stir in the tactical shooting community with the announcement of its new 5-25x56mm First Focal Plane scope, which it calls the “B.E.A.S.T.”. The news is in the numbers — this new scope offers a whopping 120 MOA of elevation travel, and you get a full 60 MOA travel with each rotation of the turret. That’s right — 60 MOA with one turn. With many modern cartridges you can get to 1200 yards (and maybe farther*) with a single revolution — that eliminates all sorts of user-error issues when dialing back-and-forth between yardages.
This is a first-focal-plane design, so the reticle stays constant relative to the target, allowing ranging at any magnification. The scope is offered with four (4) click-value choices: 1/4 MOA, 1/2 MOA, 0.1 Mil, and 0.2 Mil. Whether you chose MOA clicks or Mil-based clicks, you can get an appropriate reticle because Nightforce offers both the MOAR ranging reticle and the Mil-R ranging reticle. The three other reticle options are: MD2.0, TReMoR, and H59.
The new B.E.A.S.T. 5-25x56mm Nightforce has a mounting length of 5.92″ and weighs just 39 ounces. If you need illumination for low-light work, you’ll like the new B.E.A.S.T. scope. It offers external-control digital illumination with Unique i4F™ four-function brightness control. Other features are listed below.
Nice Scope with a Beastly Price
Nightforce says that “B.E.A.S.T.” stands for “Best Example of Advance Scope Technology” — some marketing guy’s bright idea we suppose. Perhaps “B.E.A.S.T.” better signifies “BEAST of a price”. This scope, with either MIL-R or MOAR reticles, costs an astounding $3,298.00! You can build a pretty darn good custom rifle, all premium components, for less than that!
*We used JBM Ballistics to plot the trajectory of a .308-caliber 168gr Berger Match Target BT launched with a 2800 fps muzzle velocity (sea level with 59° temp). Starting with a 100-yard zero, JBM calculates 52.5 MOA drop at 1200 yards and 62.6 MOA drop at 1300 yards.
In our articles collection, you’ll find a story of interest to varminters and game hunters. Choosing And Using Modern Reticles, by author John Barsness, reviews the many “hold-over” reticle options currently available for hunting scopes. The latest “hunting hold-over” reticles, such as Leupold’s Varmint Hunter Reticle, offer both vertical marks (for hold-over) and horizontal bars or dots (for wind compensation). The idea is to allow the shooter to move quickly from one target distance to another, without having to dial elevation changes with his scope turrets. Likewise, the horizontal wind-hold markings give the shooter reference points for winds of specific velocities. That makes the process of “holding-off” for wind much more predictable.
In the Barsness article, which originally appeared in Varmint Hunter Magazine, the author traces the history of ranging/hold-over reticles starting with the Mildot reticle. Barsness explains how to use the mildot reticle, noting how it is best used with a First Focal Plane scope design.
First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane Designs
If nothing else, you’ll want to read this article just to improve your understanding of First Focal Plane (FFP) vs. Second Focal Plane (SFP) optics operation. If you want to use the markings on a reticle to range at various magnification levels, then you want the FFP design, preferred by the military. If, on the other hand, you prefer the viewed appearance of your reticle to stay constant at all power levels, then you’ll probably prefer the SFP design.
Barsness explains how the modern “Christmas Tree” design reticles, such as the Zeiss Rapid Z, evolved, and he explains how to use these reticles to adjust your point of aim for different target distances. These hold-over reticles can be very handy, but you must remember that the yardages which correspond to the stepped vertical markings are determined by the ballistics of your cartridge. Thus, if you change your cartridge, or even change your load significantly, your hold-over yardage values will change. You will then need to field-test to find the actual value of the reticle’s hold-over points.
Even if you are not a hunter, you can benefit from reading the Barsness article. For anyone shopping for a varmint scope, the article is a “must-read”. And Barness clears up some common misconceptions about FFP vs. SFP optics. Barsness also offers good, common-sense advice. We agree with Barsness when he says that some reticle designs have become too complicated. Barsness writes:
These days there are reticles with everything from a few extra dots along the vertical cross hair to reticles that cover the bottom third of the scope’s field of view, providing an aiming point for every blade of grass in North Dakota. Here we run into the basic fact that simpler reticles are easier to use, if not quite so versatile.
Personally, I particularly like simple reticles in shorter-range varmint rifles, whether rimfires or small centerfires such as the 22 Hornet. These aren’t likely to be used at extended ranges, or in any significant amount of wind. Hence, something like the Burris Ballistic Plex reticle provides about all the information we can realistically use — the reason there are Burris Ballistic Plex scopes on most of my rimfire or small centerfire varmint rifles.
Based on its external appearance, a modern riflescope may seem simple. It’s just a tube with two or three knobs on the outside right? Well, looks can be deceiving. Modern variable focal-length optics are complex systems with lots of internal parts. Modern scopes, even ‘budget’ optics, use multiple lens elements to allow variable magnification levels and parallax adjustment. We had a chance to look inside a riflescope thanks to a product display from ATK, parent of Alliant Powder, CCI, Federal, RCBS, Speer, Weaver Optics. ATK sliced open a Weaver Super Slam scope so you can see the internal lens elements plus the elevation and windage controls. We thought readers would like to see the “inner workings” of a typical modern rifle scope, so we snapped some pictures. The sectioned Super Slam scope was mounted inside a Plexiglas case, making it a bit hard to get super-sharp images, but you can still see the multiple lenses and the complex windage and elevation controls.
Forum member Jacob spotted this simple, but effective set of scope ring inserts on the Brownells Website. With these inserts, you can use a scope with 1″-diameter main tube in 30mm rings. Non-marring, matte black Delrin sleeves surround the scope tube so it can fit larger-diameter rings. Each sleeve comes in two parts for easy installation around your scope tube. This way you can use the same 30mm rings for all your scopes.
Ring Reducers are sold as front/rear kits. Cost is just $19.99 for the 1″ to 30mm converters, item 084-000-091. There are also sets that reduce 30mm rings to 25mm, and 1″ rings to 3/4″ or 7/8″.
Note: These Brownells units simply function as plastic bushings. Unlike Burris Signature Ring inserts, they do not allow you to “pre-load” windage or elevation. If your rings are misaligned, the Brownells Ring Reducers won’t correct that problem.
Now through September 2, 2012, you can save big bucks on “factory blemished” Leupold VX-3, VX-L, VX-7, and Rifleman series scopes at MidwayUSA. Prices are slashed by as much as $260.00, and MidwayUSA is offering free shipping as well. These scopes may have minor cosmetic blemishes (small scratches, dents or ring marks) which do not impair function or reliability. All these “blem” scopes still carry Leupold’s full lifetime transferrable warranty.
The scopes on sale are mostly mid-power hunting scopes (2.5-10X, 3-9X, 3.5-10X, 4-12X etc.) with 1/4-MOA clicks. Savings can be substantial. For example, the 3.5-10x50mm VX-3L Rifle Scope was marked down to $519.99 from the regular $699.00 price — a $180.00 savings. If you want to take advantage of this special “factory blemished” Leupold scope sale, act soon — these are selling out quickly. The sale expires September 2, 2012.
Sale tip from EdLongrange. We welcome reader submissions.
Do you have a nice scope mounted to a “safe queen” rifle that never gets used? Or maybe you have a set of premium binoculars you bought for that Alaskan hunting trip you never got to take?
Now you can convert those valuable optics into cash with the SWFA Trade-In Program. You can either sell your gear outright to SWFA, or trade your items in on new products. Just fill out an online appraisal form, upload a photo, and SWFA will evaluate your submitted product. You can designate whether you want to sell your item outright, or trade it in on new gear.
Trade Your Pre-Owned Optics or Firearms
While SWFA specializes in optics, you can also trade-in firearms, or even barter hunting holidays. SWFA says: “We gladly accept trades on just about anything of value (firearms of any type, scopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, hunts). You never know unless you ask!”
Note, you must submit an Online Appraisal Form for all items submitted for trade-in. In addition, SWFA needs a digital JPEG photo of each item, 400 pixels wide and 300 pixels high.
Unlike benchrest shooters, hunters need to be able to make shots with significant up-angles or down-angles. That whitetail buck may be poised on a ridgetop above you, or in a valley below. When making an angled shot, the hunter faces a complex ballistic solution. This is because the angle of the shot alters the effective ballistic distance to the target. Whether you shoot up-angle or down-angle, you must adjust your elevation “clicks” as if you are shooting a shorter distance. See the diagram below. The drop of your bullet is a function of gravity, which remains constant. When you shoot at a steep angle, the actual bullet travel over the ground will be less than the sloped distance to your target.
But how do you determine the flat-line or “gravity-corrected distance”? There’s a simple tool that will do the job: the patented Angle Cosine Indicator (ACI®) invented by U.S. Army Veteran Ward Brien.
When you aim your rifle at an angle, the ACI shows the cosine value of your intended shot by means of a highly visible index mark. You simply multiply the true, sloped distance to your target by the cosine value (as a percentage), to get the corrected, flat line distance to target, i.e. the bottom leg of the triangle. Then set your scope’s elevation accordingly. For example, if you range the line of sight distance to your target at 400 yards, and the ACI shows a cosine value of 0.87 (for 30 degrees), then your flat-line “gravity-corrected distance” is 400 x 0.87 = 348 yards. Now Dial your elevation for 350 yards (from your come-up table).
This simple multiplication method works well for typical 100-300 yard hunting distances, but it’s not perfect. For longer-range shots, out to 1000 yards, some other factors come into play. The most accurate method for long ranges is to input the cosine number into ballistic software, such as Exbal Ballistic Targeting Software, that runs on a PDA or smart phone. The software takes into account the fact that, during an angled shot, the bullet must still travel the full distance to target, and will have a longer time of flight than when covering the flat line distance. At very long ranges there can be as much as eight (8) MOA difference between the simple multiplication method and the solution generated by the ballistic software. NOTE: ACI Inventor Ward Brien has posted a Comment to this article which explains in greater detail why inputting the ACI value into a ballistics program is the “preferred method”.
The Angle Cosine Indicator costs $145.95 from Sniper Tools. The ACI is made from aircraft grade aluminum, anodized flat black. Angles are laser-engraved onto the body in five (5) degree increments. The lens is water-resistant, shatter-proof, and shock-proof. Completely mechanical, there are no batteries or electronics to fail. For more info, visit SniperTools.com, or call (818) 359-0512.
SniperTools.com also offers an Angle Degree Indicator (ADI) for $114.95 (Civilian model). This shows the actual angle from horizontal. If you have a mobile ballistics solver, you can simply input the angle and the ranged yardage and the solver will provide the flatline “gravity-corrected Distance”. Some shooters find it easier to think in terms of the actual angle deflection from horizontal.
There are several ways to mount an ADI or ACI. We prefer a 90° slotted mount attached to a Picatinny rail. SniperTools.com sells a Badger Ordnance ACI/ADI Rail Mount for $60.00.