by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Scopes move ALL the time
  • The secret to scope movement
  • Scopes move for other reasons
  • The secret to parallax elimination
  • The secret to parallax elimination
  • Open sights are rarely sighted-in
  • The secret to hitting what you shoot at
  • Magazine feeding problems
  • Making bad triggers good
  • Live with it

Today I’m going to talk about some things that never come up as full topics, but do get discussed peripherally a lot! I’m referring to the little things you encounter at the shooting range — the quirks that all guns, both firearms and airguns, bring to the table.

Scopes move ALL the time

I was at the range a couple weeks ago with Bob, my brother-in-law. We were sighting-in his AR-15 and also shooting a Mauser that Otho had. Bob mentioned once that even though he was shooting from a rest, he could never get Otho’s scope to stop moving.

Hollywood has taught the non-shooting public that images seen through rifle scopes are completely still and in sharp focus. Shooters know different. No matter who you are the image in the scope will always move. Just your heartbeat is enough to make it move, though people don’t appreciate that until they become shooters. It’s one reason some people prefer iron sights. The image still moves with them, but you can’t detect it nearly as easily.

The secret to scope movement

The secret to scope movement is to use it to become a better shot. First, hold the rifle so the movement is as small as possible. When shooting off a bag I can keep the movement down to 1/8 inch at 50 yards on most days and if I really try I can cut that in half. I know because I know the sizes of the rings in the bullseye I’m shooting at and I can see the scope’s reticle moving against them. If you watch the reticle very carfully, you will soon learn how to reduce your scope’s movement by a significant amount.

Scopes move for other reasons

On the same day that Bob was seeing movement in his scope, I was seeing movement of a different kind in mine. My movement was caused by parallax. I was shooting my AR-15, which many of you know will put 10 shots into 1/2-inch at 100 yards under ideal conditions. My rifle has a Tasco Custom Shop 8-40X56 scope that I run on 30X. I can see small ants walking on my targets at 100 yards. But on this day I noticed about a quarter-inch of reticle shift, depending on where I placed my head on the A2 stock. That’s with all the parallax dialed out of the scope by the available adjustments. In other words, regardless of what the ads say, there is still some parallax in all scopes.

Tom with AR
The scope on my AR-15 is large and powerful. I discovered that it has some parallax even when properly adjusted.

Before you ask me what parallax is, I probably need to write a report on it for you. For some people it is a most difficult concept to understand. For now just accept that it is at the root of aiming errors with scope sights.

The secret to parallax elimination

To remove all the parallax you have to place your sighting eye in the same place every time. The way to do this is to place your cheek on the stock at the same place — both front and back and also up and down — every time. An A2 stock has no geography (contours) to key on, so it’s best to place a piece of coarse tape at the spot you want your cheek to rest. With other rifles I find places on the contours where my body parts fit, and they tell me where I am, but the military A2 stock has no such features.

Open sights are rarely sighted-in

I mentioned in my last report on the Gletcher Nagant pellet revolver that the open sights had me shooting to the left. It has fixed sights and it has been my experience that very few guns of any type with fixed sights shoot to their point of aim — ever. I learned that many decades ago and nothing I’ve seen since has changed it.

When I was younger it was very common for people with first generation Colt SAAs to both bend and file down the front sight blade to bring the point of impact to the point of aim. But years later I read a huge article in Gun Digest where a man had made a jig with a hydraulic press to bend his entire barrels at the range. I was fascinated by that article and it was what eventually inspired me to write my report on bending airgun barrels.

The secret to hitting what you shoot at

Of course you don’t have to bend the sights or the barrels of your airguns. As long as you know where your guns shoot you can aim off (Kentucky windage) by the right amount to hit what you are shooting at.

Most revolvers with fixed sights, like this Single Action Army, do not shoot to the aim point as they come from the fsctory.

If you get a gun that has fixed sights, remember what I said. Some of them do shoot to the point of aim, but in my experience it is either a coincidence or else you have a gun that has been specially regulated by the factory to do so. Gun writers talk a lot about the regulation of gun sights to the point of aim, but my experience is it is exceedingly rare to find a regulated gun.

Magazine feeding problems

Have you heard the joke where the guy says to the doctor, “Doc, it hurts when I raise my arm like this. What should I do?” And the doctor replies, “Don’t raise your arm like that.!” Well, the cartridge magazines in repeating guns can be like that. I have a Spanish Destroyer, for example, that likes the bolt to be worked slowly and deliberately. Work it fast and the rifle jams every time. I have a Remington 788 bolt action rifle in 30-30 caliber that is a horrible feeder. The 30-30 case is a rimmed cartridge that is best-suited to single shot actions and lever action repeaters. It doesn’t respond well to a stacked box magazine like the 788 has — although a circular magazine like the Savage model 99 rifle and the Mannlicher Shoenauer rifles have works well.

Spanish Destroyer
Spanish Destroyer shoots a 9MM Largo pistol cartridge. It was used by prison guards and police. Though it is a repeater, the cartridge feeding is very rudimentary.

Next time you complain that your repeating  pellet rifle doesn’t always feed smoothly, know that you are in a long line of firearm predecessors. Your choice is to learn the gun’s preferences and apply them, get rid of the gun or modify it so it works better. All three will work, but sometimes modifying an gun is very impractical. I usually keep the ones that shoot accurately and learn how they prefer to be operated. The inaccurate ones don’t stand a chance with me.

Making bad triggers good

I have shot guns with bad triggers — bad by anyone’s definition. Either they were heavy or they had a lot of creep or, worst of all, they had both. Even then, some of those guns were ones I shot a lot because their triggers were so predictable. It is predictability and not lightness or crispness that makes a trigger good. I know I will take a lot of flack for saying that, but that’s how I feel.

I had a Trapdoor Springfield that had a 5 pound trigger, yet it was glass-crisp and completely repeatable. I knew exactly when they gun was going to fire.

The 1873 Trapdoor Springfield with its characteristic breech block open. The trigger is heavy but completely predictable.

You’ll never win a target match with a Trapdoor, unless you are competing against other Trapdoors, but they do have predictable triggers. They can be very positive, after their own fashion.

Live with it

If today’s report sounds like I’m say you need to live with your problems, I guess I am. So many times people come to me wanting to change things that can’t easily be changed. They do it thinking I must know how to make things better. Sometimes I do, but often I have to tell them that a 5-foot-4-inch basketball player is never going to be a center in the NBA. Nor is it feasible to get a safe 6-ounce trigger pull on a Colt Single Action revolver. Sometimes we have to learn our equipment and adapt to how it works.