by B. B. Pelletier

Wayne asked for this report, but I was happy to write it because the season for field target is approaching. In some parts of the country, they shoot all year, but the season really starts to heat up in March and April. And, yes, this has to be a multi-part report, because I need the room to discuss the various points I will address.

I competed in FT for four seasons, and although I was just an average competitor I got to see all the optics and, better still, to appreciate what’s needed and why. This is not a report on how cheap you can buy a scope for field target and get by–it’s about what a scope must have to be competitive in the sport. It’s up to you to find what works for you.

High magnification
High magnification is important for a couple reasons. First, it helps you determine the range to the target. FT shooters need to know the exact range to a target so their pellets don’t touch the top or bottom of the kill zone as they pass through. The trajectory of a pellet that starts out at 900 f.p.s. is enough of a curve for this to be a problem at all ranges.

FT shooters determine range by using the parallax adjustment to focus the scope on the target. When the target comes into sharp focus, they read the range on the scale of the parallax wheel. They will have set up the scale on their scope by sighting at a range of targets at known distances and will want to differentiate distances in one-yard increments from 10 yards all the way out to 55 yards.

To see the targets well enough to see when they come into sharp focus at the farther distances requires a lot of magnification…and 30x will get you out to about 40 yards if your eyes are very sharp. To get out to 55 yards takes over 40x. I try to focus on the hardware that attaches the reset string when I range to the target. Beyond 40 yards, I have to use the target face, because I can’t see the attaching hardware that clearly. Sometimes there are individual blades of grass or weeds next to the target that can be used for rangefinding, but a shooter can’t always count on that.

Seeing the kill-zone
High magnifying power is also needed because the shooter wants to see and be able to clearly define the kill-zone before taking the shot. A freshly painted target usually presents no problem, but after 40 shots have turned the paddle and the area around the kill-zone to a large gray spot with no definition, you’ll be wondering exactly where to shoot. I’ve had this problem at some point in every match in which I competed. A scope with greater magnification helps you pick out the boundary of the actual kill-zone a little better.

At this point a new shooter usually says, “Okay…I have to buy the most powerful scope I can find.”

That would be dead wrong and a costly mistake to make, because powerful scopes are not always clear at their highest power. They may work well at full power on a sunlit target range, but in the gloom of a field target course they may turn dark and cloudy. My $600 Tasco Custom Shop 8-40x scope is like that. Up to 30x, it’s pretty clear; beyond that, it quickly becomes so dark that you can’t see definition–and in some cases can’t even find the target. In fact, whenever I test a possible FT scope, I try to range on a blade of grass out around 50 yards. If I can do that with accuracy, the scope is a good one. I don’t worry if the scale on the adjustment wheel reads exactly the correct range to the grass blade, because I’ll take care of that with a scale of my own.

So, FT competitors look for powerful scopes that remain clear even at the higher powers. And those scopes cost big bucks. This is where names like Bushnell, Nightforce and Leupold come to the forefront. Maybe Hawke scopes belong in this category, too, but I haven’t seen their higher magnifications and can’t comment with certainty.

What about Leapers scopes? Well, the biggest scope Leapers makes is an 8-32x, so they don’t go as high as FT competitors would like them to. You can certainly use them all the way up to 32 power, but as I pointed out, that isn’t enough magnification to resolve a small target at 50 yards. Yes, I personally do use Leapers scopes in FT competition, but I am not even a nationally ranked competitor, and that’s the difference. If you want to go all the way, you need the finest equipment available.

Very sensitive to head placement
Let me tell you something else about a top-quality scope that’s run at high magnification. The exit pupil becomes extremely narrow! That means if your shooting eye isn’t in the exact right position, the scope will be black! And when your eye moves to the right position, the scope is suddenly bright–like a TV program suddenly appearing on screen. This is a good thing, because it helps eliminate parallax from sloppy eye placement. But if you aren’t used to it, a scope like this can be difficult to use–especially if your rifle doesn’t fit as well as it should. So, the fit of the rifle is somewhat dictated by the quality of the scope!

Sunshades at both ends of the scope
Sunlight falling on the objective lens of a scope renders the image muddy and impossible to see. I kept two sunshades permanently attached to the objective bell of my scope.

The Tasco Custom Shop scope on my Daystate Harrier sports two sunshades all the time.

When I competed, the range where I shot most often was filled with patches of deep shade and bright sunlight that changed as the sun moved across the sky. Sometimes, in the morning, I’d stand to the right of the shooter on line, just to shade him from the strong sunlight falling on him. But that was just a friendly gesture that I would never repeat in a serious match. Competitors don’t help each other when the match is on. You have to run with the equipment you brought to the match, and that should include a long sunshade for the objective lens and a shade for the eyepiece. The eyepiece shade has to also work with the exit pupil of your scope, which takes some adjusting.

Large ocular sunshade was cut to fit the shooter and left on the ocular (eye) bell all the time. It helped locate the shooter’s head and kept stray sunlight out of the image.

Guys, I’ve addressed this stuff possibly many times in the past, but it’s probably harder for you to find it than it is for me to address Wayne’s question directly. Also, when someone asks in the future, we will have this series to refer to.

I’ll talk about big parallax wheels, reticles and the effects of temperature in the next report.