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Shotguns Under Glass

By Dave Henderson

Shotguns Under Glass
The slug hunter looking for higher-magnification scopes should use a good-quality variable riflescope.

Binoculars confirm that the wide-racked 8-pointer is big enough to meet White Oak Plantation’s trophy criteria. And the buck, standing broadside but half-hidden by honeysuckle, is 155 yards away.

The slug is zeroed at 100 yards, so hold the crosshairs just below his withers and pressure the trigger evenly . . .

Boom!

At the report, the buck bolts from the brush. He doesn’t know where the shot came from, but he’s convinced that standing there is not in his best interest and is headed somewhere else in a big hurry.

My emotions might be best described as “mixed” at this point. Surprised and more than a little disgusted by the miss, I am nevertheless encouraged by the fact that the buck’s frenzied escape route is bringing him TOWARD my stand.

Jacking out the empty hull and replacing it with a fresh slug, I snap the action closed and bring the gun back to my shoulder. No big hurry now, since every stride brings him closer. At 40 yards, he slows to a walk, the crosshairs find his shoulder and I tighten on the trigger again while swinging the barrel.

Boom!

As I come out of the recoil, the buck is still visible - and still apparently quite healthy - as he hightails it across the Alabama swamp and out of my life.

What the ... ?

Incredulous, I follow his flight through the scope, and the problem suddenly becomes evident. The crosshairs have slumped to form an “X,” and the control spring is dangling from the top adjustment turret.

The scope had literally blown apart from the concussion of the hard-recoiling slug gun. It was a “bargain” 3-9x variable scope from one of the marts. You know the kind, with a lifetime guarantee. If it breaks, the manufacturer will send you another - ostensibly so that you can repeat the mistake. But who would have thought that a scope designed to withstand the concussion of a rifle couldn’t handle shotgun recoil?

Shotguns Under Glass
Illuminated-dot scopes like this one from Redfield are quick to point and offer virtually unlimited eye relief and field of view.

Well, anyone who has ever fired a shotgun from a bench knows that it is much more rude in the recoil department than a conventional centerfire deer rifle. The physical recoil event from a 23/4-inch 12-gauge slug in a 7-pound shotgun approximates that of a 9-pound .375 magnum rifle with a 250-grain load. And shotguns have a much looser construction; they tend to share the concussion rather than confining it like a rifle.

Until recently, scopes simply weren’t designed for shotguns. In fact, given the nature of slugs and barrels up to as late as the 1970s, putting any sighting system more sophisticated than a front bead on a slug gun was viewed as an act of conspicuous consumption.

When I was in my late teens, I had the audacity to afix a Williams peep sight to the receiver of my slug gun, much to the puzzlement of the elders in my hunting clan. Like putting racing tires on a school bus, they said. Waste of money!

But times have changed. Regardless of your sighting system back then, “accuracy” was being able to hit a gallon can three times out of five at 40 paces. Major advances in slug and barrel technology and the cosmic growth in turkey hunting - another form of shotgunning where the firearm is aimed like a rifle rather than pointed - made shotgun optics not only sensible, but also desirable.

Today’s slugs, slug guns, turkey loads and choke systems are a tremendous advance over those of just 20 years ago. So much so that optics are needed to achieve the guns’ and loads’ true accuracy potential. In the turkey woods, optics are a godsend to anyone with failing vision or even a skewed barrel. Barrels or chokes that don’t shoot directly to point of aim are common among today’s turkey guns, a situation that can be righted by adjusting a sighting device to compensate.

Also, the tight patterns thrown by today’s “turkey special” loads and chokes make precise aiming essential.

Specialty Optics

The opening scenario should be sufficient warning against using inexpensive riflescopes on shotguns. A $39.95 Blue Light Special isn’t likely to last long in the deer or turkey woods. My personal rule of thumb is that you should pay as much, if not more, for a scope as you do for the shotgun. That statement generally draws a gasp from the uninitiated, but think about it. Your gun, after all, is only as effective as the sighting system. If it doesn’t work well, the firearm is useless.

Virtually every optics manufacturer has at least one scope designed specifically for shotguns. Most companies are making their shotgun scopes parallax-free at 50-75 yards rather than 100-150 as is standard with riflescopes. The shotgun scopes are also built along much sturdier lines.

One drawback to shotgun-only scopes is that they tend to be of low magnification. After all, slug guns and turkey guns are short-range ordnance. Low magnification and a small-objective lens are common partners, which means you lose precious minutes in low-light conditions. Leupold VX-I, Nikon Monarch UCC and Bushnell Trophy lines, however, offer 2-7x-variable shotgun scopes (Bushnell’s is actually 2-6x) with larger 32-33mm objective lenses. Sightron also has a fixed 4x with a large objective.

If you feel the need for more magnification, most high-end or upper midrange riflescopes ($250 and up) are tested to withstand the recoil of a .375 magnum rifle and therefore should stand up to a shotgun’s punishment. It won’t be parallax-free at close range, but that’s a very minor factor that most shooters wouldn’t even notice. A couple of real bargains for slug shooters are Bushnell’s 4200 Elite series of scopes and the Nikon Monarch UCC series, which are rugged yet inexpensive.

Turkey hunters can choose from the Simmons ProDiamond line, the Bushnell Trophy series and the Pentax Lightseeker line, all of which have special reticles and appealing price tags.

Magnification for either a slug gun or turkey gun is usually a matter of personal preference. For most hunters, 4x is enough magnification for a slug gun. Turkey hunters might want something with little or no magnification, with 2x being practical. More magnification can help failing eyes to identify birds and beard length, but can be confusing when it comes to estimating distance.

Illuminated-Dot Sights

Virtually standard in combat-style pistol competitions, illuminated-dot electronic sighting devices have also found a home with slug and turkey hunters. These sights offer quick target acquisition, a large viewing area and unlimited eye relief and field of view.

The Swedish-made Aimpoint recently celebrated its 25th anniversary at the turn of the century, although it didn’t hit these shores as the first illuminated-dot sighting device until 1981.

It is still the industry leader, even though virually every other major optics manufacturer has a version. Aimpoint’s new 9000SC series is the state of the art with Advanced Circuit Efficiency Technology and 50,000-hour battery life.

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Today!When buying an illuminated-dot sight, check to make sure that it’s parallax-free, an important consideration. That means if the scope and gun are stationary and you move your head, the dot stays on the target regardless of your head position.

Also consider that under some conditions, such as dim light (dusk or dawn) the dot in some scopes, regardless of how low you adjust the illumination, will be so bright that it will darken the screen and keep you from aiming. With a snowy background or in bright conditions, the illuminated-dot sights are terrific.

Bushnell’s HOLOSight is a pioneer in open-tube optics with a “heads up” display projected on the aiming plane. Several other companies have tried versions, but the latest generation of HOLOSights are the industry leaders.

Reprinted from the August 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine

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