Scopes - Part 4
The features you need & the ones you want
by B.B. Pelletier
I have very good news. I was sent some pre-production samples of Leapers' new RWS Diana scope base, and they look beautiful. I know the techs at Pyramyd Air will love this new base, which mounts to the rifle in seconds, solving both the droop problem and the recoil stop problem at the same time. I'll report on them soon. Today, however, we'll look at the features scopes have, in an attempt to sort out what's really important from what's cool or nice to have.
Starting with the scope
You want a scope that is both waterproof and nitrogen-filled. While most models sold by Pyramyd Air have both of those features, don't think that all scopes do. The less-expensive scopes sold in discount stores and the cheap scopes available through some internet retailers and at gun shows may have only one or neither. Unless you shoot indoors exclusively, your scope will eventually get wet. I've seen shooters stop in the middle of a field target match because their scope fogged up on the inside and became unusable. One time, we were in a rainstorm that was on the fringe of a hurricane, and the misty droplets fell relentlessly. Over half the scopes in that match failed from internal fogging.
Another thing you want is a scope with strong erector tube springs. When you adjust very high or far to the right, the spring that pushes against the erector tube relaxes, and in some scopes the erector tube starts moving, causing POI shift. One reason I push Leapers scope so much is because they don't do this. High-end Bushnells are okay, but the cheaper ones aren't. The old Swift scopes had a problem with this, as did some of the Simmons, especially the inexpensive ones. And, as highly as they're touted, certain Leupold scopes were problematic, as well. Especially the Vari-X II, which is a lower-end scope for them. I haven't tested all scopes, so I don't know how to tell you which ones are safe and which aren't; but, if you feel the adjustment knobs going soft toward the high or right ends of the adjustment range, stay away from that part of the range with that scope.
If you hunt, you want a duplex reticle. Nothing stands out so well against an uneven background of woods or grasses. If the hunting is slow-paced, a mil-dot reticle may be as useful as a duplex. Either type gives the benefit of multiple aim points.
Plain crosshairs are not suited to hunting, except in limited situations such as long-range varmint hunting. They're also best for long-range target shooting.
A plain crosshair, while great on a firing range, isn't as helpful in the field.
A duplex reticle stands out in uneven backgrounds such as a field or woods. The center still has the precision of narrow crosshairs.
Mil-dot reticles are very popular today and can be adapted to many kinds of shooting. They can help with aim-off for wind and for holdover for long distance. However, forget determining range with one. The formula is complex and the time it takes you will allow your target to move. The centers of some mil-dot reticles, though not the one shown here, are still a plain crosshair for precise aiming.
The mil-dot reticle is very popular and common today. They're almost as useful for hunting as duplexes.
There are many other reticle types, but none are as useful as these three. Some look like the landing pattern for a commercial airliner and are so confusing that they offer no real benefit, except to the curious.
Illumination is great for hunters and for anyone who loses sight of the reticle against the background. Before you decide, know that there are two different kinds of illumination. The first kind reflects off the reticle and is the brightest. This is the most common type of illuminated reticle, and the whole reticle is illuminated at the same time. A second type is more subtle and not as bright but appeals to the true fringe-time hunter. That's the central illuminated reticle in which only the center crosshairs are lit. There's no loss of night vision with this type, but you have to be in very dark surroundings to see it. The key to this type of illuminated reticle is an etched-glass reticle.
When the illumination isn't turned on, the reticle is black, the same as non-illuminated reticles. So nothing is lost by having the illumination feature. But for general shooting, it is useless. I wouldn't get illumination unless there is a need for it, or the scope you want only comes with it.
AO, as it's known, is for parallax correction, though most shooters think it's for focusing the scope. When you adjust the objective (or the sidewheel that I'll mention next), the target becomes clear at some point. At this point, there's as little parallax as possible, and the shot should not be affected by it as long as your eye is going to the same spotweld every time. AO is extremely valuable and should always be ordered with a scope, if possible. The cost is minimal and only the really cheap scopes or those of very low magnification do not have it today.
Let's get something straight - a sidewheel refers to parallax correction that has been moved from the objective bell to the left side of the scope turret for convenience. Some illuminated reticles have their intensity adjustments in that location, but that does not constitute a sidewheel, regardless of what their advertising may say. The benefit of a sidewheel parallax adjustment is that you don't have to reach as far to make the adjustment. This is a nice-to-have feature when it is offered.
A sidewheel refers to parallax correction, only. Large sidewheels like this make small yardage increments visible for the shooter.
Return-to-zero adjustment knobs
Some scope knobs can be unlocked and their scales slipped to whatever point the shooter desires. The rifle can be sighted-in, then the adjustment knobs can be set to the zero numeral on the adjustment scale. This feature will appeal to careful shooters who document everything about their gun and scope. But for those who do not, nothing is more confusing than a return-to-zero scope adjustment knob if you move it, because you will forget where you came from. The return-to-zero (also called zero locking) function is for shooters who keep careful notes. Most shooters do not need it.
Variable power used to be a bad thing, but today it's good. It's hard to buy a scope without it, and you can rest assured that all the bugs have been worked out. Get it if you can. You can operate at one power most of the time, or you can adjust power to find the target, then zoom in for an accurate shot. If you buy a variable, get one that goes low enough. High power can make your target appear hazy or muddy, but lower power will make it crisper. Scopes that go down to only 8 power are destined for field target or benchrest work. That's too much power for many shots in the field. In my opinion, the best variable is a 4-16x, with a 3-12x coming right behind.