In the last two columns I addressed scope selection and inexpensive accessories for your optics. Now lets talk about the biggest accessory for your riflescope – the rifle - and how they work together to make a useful tool for you.
In the last six months at Safari Shooting School, we had over 100 rifles come through the school. At least one third of them were not ready to go hunting! Problems ranged from optics issues to trigger and safety problems to feeding and function problems. Other areas of concern that needed attention, but were not as critical, involved gun fit and accessories such as floor plates opening under recoil or faulty sling swivels. Most of these problems occurred in field testing the rig and would not have been as apparent in simply firing the rifle from the bench. You won’t discover most feeding problem by loading one cartridge at a time. Most extraction/ejection malfunctions surface under rapid fire – like when your life may depend on your rifle. Don’t discover a problem when it’s too late to fix it, and there are no work benches on mountaintops or in the veld. Field prove your rifle and sights!
Make sure all the screws on the rings and bases are tight (as well as your action screws). Calibers from .300 mags up through the biggest really rock and subject the rifles and scopes to lots of tooth-rattling recoil. These guns can, and will, shake even the best scopes and mounts loose. Use blue Loc-tite and check them each season – before you field prove you rig. Last year, I sold a scope to a DSC Board member to mount on a .458 Lott and he called me a few months ago saying “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is the scope failed after 104 shots. The good news is that is longer than any other scope I’ve had on that gun.”
Several rifles came in with quick detachable scope mounts and no iron sights or backup scopes. So why do you need to take your scope off in such a hurry with nothing to replace it? It’s a great idea to have a backup scope already mounted in rings and sighted in whenever you travel to remote hunting locations. Even standard rings and mounts will usually re-mount pretty close to where they were sighted and need just a little tweeking to be ready to go. Be sure to have your Leatherman tool along. Rarely do we see “see through” mounts, but if you have them, be sure you actually have sights to “see through” to, and they are sighted in. I run into users of these mainly at hunting shows and interestingly, when I ask them how often they use the iron sights rather than the scope mounted over them, no one can actually remember ever using them…
The rifles that come to the school are invariably quality weapons – Remington, Ruger, Winchester, CZ up through Kimber, Dakota, Christianson, Jarrett to the custom rifles, and these are the ones that we see these problems with (no doubt we would see the same with all guns if they came through the door). Same thing with scopes. We’ve seen the best fail. And they all build quality products, but they don’t field prove them to the degree that will uncover problems that only arise with hard use. Even though “Jaegerspyer” scopes have only a one in one thousand failure rate, if you’re that one, you’re in trouble if you don’t detect it before you leave on your next hunt. If your gun/scope combination lasts through 100 rounds of action shooting, it’s probably going to stay together well for quite some time. Only you can put your rig through its paces to uncover glitches, and get them fixed before that next big adventure.
A spare scope mounted in compatible rings (to your bases) and presighted is cheap insurance especially when a trip of several thousand dollars is coming up, but the best insurance is a complete backup rig if practical. Make sure you’re sighted in with the ammo you will use on the hunt.
One aspect of optics that I have truly loved over the years is their simplicity of use – you put them to your eyes and things are closer – but wait – now some of them need batteries! You better have spares. An illuminated reticle or a rangefinding binocular that eats up its battery doesn’t do you much good without a spare.
Even though most rifles and scopes are made by fine companies with quality as a keystone, there may be a spring or something somewhere in there, made by some fellow in some far off corner of the world that really doesn’t care – he just has to make 500 more before the day is over. That may be the part that brings your hunting rig to its knees! Field prove your rig, then you know.