David Duffy shares his lessons learnt with hunting riflescopes
It was a warm summer afternoon in the hills of Central West NSW. I had climbed two-thirds up the last rise towards the summit with my long heavy-barrelled Remington 700 chambered in .270 Dakota, hoping to put in some shots at mountain pigs. I was thinking of the previous day, when I had shot two goats on the opposite face of a hill across a wide gully in which a creek flowed through the middle.
Suddenly there was an explosion of pigs just in front of me. They had been resting, well-camouflaged underneath a low tree and I had unknowingly disturbed them, on my way up the incline. My thoughts returned to the present and soon I had a round chambered with the rifle aiming at a fleeing pig and the scope on 12x. I fired. And missed.
A second round was chambered and I made the decision that saving a few seconds at a quickly fleeing pig was more critical than turning the scope magnification to its lowest setting of 6x. I missed again and the pig was gone. Another fleeing pig about 120 yards away was ascending a rise and this time the magnification was hastily turned down to 6x. I sat on the slope and rested my elbows on the inside of my knees and carefully aimed at the snout of the moving brindle-coloured pig with my last round from the magazine in the chamber. This time the shot was good and he succumbed to the 150-grain Berger Hunting VLD.
Now I keep the scope on 6x when walking to and from where I intend to set up. When I have a nice rest in the prone position, I wind the scope up to 18x for distant shots. If using the bipod from the sitting position I usually opt for 12x as this stance isn’t quite as stable with the bipod legs fully extended.
On a subsequent hunt, when I had the excellent Kahles 8x scope on my Sako .222, I missed an offhand shot at a running fox that had seen me first. An 8x scope was again too much magnification for running game. Now the Sako .222 wears a 3-9×42 Kahles and I usually leave it on 4x when walking around and if using a rest, then the magnification is increased. The 42mm objective lens is a little better than a 36mm lens as it becomes dark.
For a heavy-barrelled varmint rifle or for long-range shooting, a large objective lens and main tube and high magnification are desirable. However, for a rifle that you shoot mainly offhand a big, heavy scope is often a disadvantage. Not only do you have to carry that extra weight but the weight is high on the rifle, which affects its handling more so than being low down. A large objective lens sticks out and is more prone to being bumped, especially in a fall or slide. I find a smaller slim scope allows better alignment of the rifle to the game just prior to when I focus through the scope.
My preference for walkaround rifles are small, light scopes with 1” tubes and magnification such as 2-7, 3-9 and for the longer shots 3-10. European hunters often operate from a Hochsitz in poor light conditions or at driven game such as boars or moose. The large scopes they use are ideal for that type of stationery hunting as they perform better in low light and have large fields of view.
It doesn’t seem to bother them that the scopes are often mounted very high. Many Australian hunters like their scopes mounted as close to the barrel as possible so that a consistent rest of the cheek on the stock can be repeated with each shot, minimising parallax aiming problems and also for better handling.
On my Anschutz 1416 .22LR, replacing the Pecar 4x with a Kahles 3-9×42 did not result in any greater success ratio. So ultimately, I put the Pecar 4x back on the rifle. A good 4x on a .22LR I feel is about ideal. When shooting at small vermin with a centrefire at distances way past 100 yards, a variable is an advantage when using a rest for more precise shot placement on a higher magnification.
The scope I have used more than any other for nearly 40 years when pig hunting with various rifles/calibres is the lightweight Swarovski 3-9×36. I wind it down from 4x to 3x when in close-range pig country. Many years ago, a hunting mate who had a Zeiss 3-9×36 and I did a comparison as it became dark as to which of the two scopes was better. We both agreed there was no difference that we could see. However, I think the Kahles 2-7 may be even better for pigs in thick cover because of the ability to wind it down to 2.3 power.
On my heavy-barrelled .220 Swift I used a fixed 12x Schmidt & Bender for a long time with ultra-fine cross-hairs. However, once I started to shoot at rabbits and crows well beyond 400 yards I found that I needed a reticle with stadia lines on the 6 o’clock post as the trajectory of the bullet had too much fall at those distances to easily determine the amount of holdover.
As a secondary consideration, 12x magnification at those distances on a rabbit or crow was marginal. I replaced the S & B with a Zeiss 5-25 with a Rapid Z Varmint reticle. My hit ratio increased due mainly to the reticle which, by using the Zeiss computer program, had distances corresponding to each stadia line calculated. The 25x magnification helped a little over the 12x of the fixed power scope, but not as much as the reticle. In the heat of the day, especially when targeting crows in summer, the heat shimmer may require the scope to be zoomed down to 8 power.
On both the .270 and .338 Win Mag, I find that for big game a 3-9×36 is ideal and I usually keep it on 4x and zoom up to 9x for a long shot from a rest, or 6x for a medium-range shot from a rest. The Swarovski 3-9×36 weighs about 12oz and this helps keep the weight of the rifle down, which is a consideration if carrying long distances or in steep terrain. If the expected distances are beyond 300 yards a lightweight 3-10×42 is slightly better, such as on a .270 WSM mountain rifle.
Dangerous game are a different matter and the wrong scope can land you in trouble. I probably would have been just as happy with a good quality fixed power scope of 2½ times (or slightly less) as with the 1” Zeiss 1.5-4.5 I put on my .450 Rigby. However, none were being made so I didn’t have much choice, unless I tried to pick up one second-hand. I leave the variable on 2.5x except when checking the zero at 100 yards in which case I wind it up to 4.5x or down to 1.5 in thick cover, such as in the pandanus palms in Arnhem Land. I like to sight this rifle in to be zero at 100 yards which also makes it zero at 50 yards.
If you use a variable that has a high top-end magnification, there is always a risk that you might have it on 6 or 8 power when it needs to be on 1 or 2 power. That’s not as ridiculous as it may seem as under stress mistakes such as squeezing the trigger when there is no round in the chamber or the safety is on are occasionally made.
The low powered thin straight-tubed variables which don’t bell out at the objective lens are better at pointing at a close-range animal as you can look down the barrel, and they are more conducive to a quick handling firearm. The low powered variables around 1-4x with a 30mm tube are possibly stronger, have a slightly bigger field of view and slightly better light gathering properties than the smaller 1” scopes I prefer.
The scopes that I have mentioned are the ones I have used extensively, but there are other good brands/models available that have a loyal following. Some old-timers that are still around prefer fixed power scopes of low magnitude such as 2½x for their big game rifle.
Many of these have a lot of experience under their belt, so their views should not be discounted too lightly. Sometimes I wonder whether there will be a trend towards lighter, smaller and more rugged hunting riflescopes.