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The Versatile Scope System

The Versatile Scope System

Pronghorns are generally taken at long ranges, so a big 6-18x scope isn’t out of place on a dual-purpose .243 rifle also used for varmints.

By Ron Spomer

Hunters are rather like bears. There are the polar bear types who specialize in a steady diet of one thing. For the bears, it’s seal. For the hunters, it may be whitetails in heavy woods or across open fields, for which one scope at one magnification will suffice.

At the far end of the spectrum, black bears eat everything from elk calves to honey. Their human counterparts hunt long-range pronghorns to black-timber elk and perhaps even high plains coyotes. Such generalists need something special in telescopic sights: 
versatility.

This is why the old 4x fixed-power gave way to the 3-9x variable more than 30 years ago. It’s also why the 3-9x scope is losing ground to 3.5-10s, 4-12s, 4-16s and even 2-12s today. Scopes, magnifications and zoom ranges just keep expanding. But do you really need them?

Each of us must answer that for ourselves based on how much power and zoom range we like for our kinds of hunting. Our next chore is deciding not just which scope fits our needs, but perhaps which scopes. Switching between two scopes already sighted-in and mounted in quick-change rings may be more versatile than a single, wide-ranging scope.

The One-Scope Option

This may be your route to perfection if you’re the one-rifle kind of hunter. The .30-06 Springfield has long been known as the do-it-all caliber. Chamber it in a 22- or 24-inch barreled bolt-action, tune it for 130-, 150- and 180-grain bullets of varying construction, and you’re ready to tackle everything from coyotes to moose.

Thanks to today’s superior bullets, the same can be done for any caliber from .257 Weatherby through the .300 magnums.

Such a rifle truly can handle any game in North America if it’s mated to a wide-ranging variable scope. But it isn’t as simple as it sounds. You’ll have to compromise somewhere.

If you demand maximum magnification for the occasional extreme-range shot on small varmints or predators, you’ll either have to give up extreme low power for tight shots, or haul around a relatively long, heavy scope. Because exit-pupil diameter (thus brightness) increases as magnification decreases, a close-cover scope at, say, 3x, with a 28mm objective lens will provide a bigger exit pupil (9.3mm) and more light than your pupil can absorb.

But if that 3x zooms to 10x, the exit pupil will shrink to a tiny, dim 2.8mm — unsuitable for twilight sighting. You need a 42mm objective to create a 4.2mm exit pupil at 10x. Step up to a huge 50mm objective and you get just a 5mm exit pupil, good for twilight, but vast overkill at 2x through 6x. You’ll be dragging around a grossly oversized scope for low- to mid-power uses.

The Versatile Scope SystemThis might not seem like a big deal if you’ve never had the pleasure of hunting with something as light, fast and unobtrusive as Nikon’s trim, compact 2-8x32mm Monarch or Leupold’s 
1.5-5x20mm VX-III. Both are fast, convenient and deadly on general-pur-pose rifles.

If you believe you need an even wider zoom range, consider the latest super zooms from Swarovski and Bushnell. Instead of zooming just three times (3-9x, 4-12x, etc.), they rack out 6x and 6.5x respectively. That means a single scope can zoom from a close-range 2x to a long range 12x or 13x. Or start at a reasonable 4x and zoom all the way to 24x or 26x! That is all the versatility anyone should ever need for any shooting with any rifle.

You would think the price for such increases would be additional bulk and weight, but Swarovski’s standard PV 2.5-10x42mm with 30mm main tube weighs 15.2 ounces and measures 13.23 inches. Its Z6 1.7-10x42mm with a 30mm tube weighs 16.6 ounces and stretches 12.76 inches. Bushnell’s 2.5-16x42mm weighs 17.3 ounces and is 13.5 inches long. Its 4.5-30x50mm hits 21 ounces, but keeps the length to 13.5 inches.

While such extreme zoom ranges seem wonderful, do you really need them? Ask yourself when you last used your scope on 1.7x, 2x or even 3x. Do you really need 14x or 24x to target a deer or elk at 400 yards? Over 40 years of hunting, I’ve taken hundreds of big game animals from 10 to 500 yards and never felt the need for less than 3x or more than 10x. Even 9x has proven adequate for prairie dogs at 350 yards, though I appreciate 16x to 24x for this.

Minimal weight, size and good balance are foreign to many of today’s new shooters who’ve grown up with oversized scopes and large objective lenses. The big tubes are indeed wonderful for pinpointing long-range targets in low light, but dragging one through black timber on an elk mountain tarnishes the love affair quickly.

Two-Scope Quick Change

You can enjoy the rewards of both small, light scopes and big, powerful scopes on the same rifle if you employ quick-release or quick-detachable mounts. The best of these hold scopes securely, attach firmly to bases, but can be quickly screwed off and remounted with remarkably accurate return to zero. This means you can mount a light, short-range scope in one set of rings and a heavier, more powerful zoom in another set. Then you simply select the one that seems most appropriate for your upcoming hunt.

This is much like changing bullets/loads based on which species you’re hunting. You probably wouldn’t hunt coyotes with a 175-grain Barnes TSX in 7mm Rem Mag, but you might use it for moose. So sight-in this load with your moose scope, say a 2-8x32mm compact to keep things light and quick in the swamps, yet more than powerful enough to target a 36-inch-deep chest cavity on the far side of a lake.

After the moose is hanging from the meat pole, crank off the 2-8x scope and twist on the 4-12x42 you already sighted-in for Sierra 100-grain varmint loads. In a matter of seconds, you are ready — literally.

Subscribe Today!A prudent shooter will test the newly mounted scope on paper before heading afield, but some of the Talley, Leupold and Warne quick-release mounts I’ve used over the years consistently return within a quarter-inch of zero.

The added benefit of this two-scope system is having a backup scope in case one breaks. You might not prefer targeting coyotes with a 2-8x or a moose with a 4-12x, but either will suffice in a pinch.

Another benefit of this system is that most rifles shoot different loads to different points of impact. Instead of re-sighting a single scope when changing loads and burning up several cartridges in the process, you merely switch to the scope pre-sighted for that particular load. Neat!

Which is right for you — one all-round versatile scope or two quick-change specialty scopes?

You’ve got options.

Reprinted from the July 2008 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

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