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This month’s Featured Column is Shooter’s Bench


As Eyes Age, Scopes’ Appeal Comes Into Clearer Focus

by Col. J.C. Allard

Two fine rifles sat idle here at The Shooter’s Bench for most of 2014. Idled due to a lack of sights. Both arrived here as good bargains in “new in the box” condition, but as is most common with modern bolt-action rifles, neither carried any sort of sighting installation.

In former times, all rifles left the factory ready for use. Not so today. Knowing that many shooters need or want to mount a telescopic sight, manufacturers decided years ago to save the expense of providing factory installed iron sights. They now ship their products with nothing, forcing the consumer to decide on a system and have it mounted before any actual shooting takes place.

A few makers offer package deals of rifle and telescopic sight combinations. Usually at the modest end of both quality and price, these packages account for a small number of overall sales. Most shooters select the rifle they want and then repeat the process to find suitable sights.

Whether selecting a telescopic sight, open metallic sights, or some model of aperture or “peep” sight, this now second step in the process of ownership falls squarely to the buyer. Many prefer it this way. They enjoy installing exactly what they want, and never mind the expense. Others prefer that at least basic, suitable sights be provided by the firearm’s originator.

Not pressed to put either of the two Winchester Model 70 ‘Featherweights’ into service, and content not to spend additional money right away, I let the rifles sit while I mulled over what to do. Months slipped by while I considered various options. And then an, unexpected email put a decision front and center.

Glossy Finish

A friend and hunting partner wrote from the West Coast that he owned two high-quality rifle scopes that he no longer intended to use. He offered them to me for a fraction of their market value.

He knew that I required a rugged, good quality scope compatible with the rifle’s caliber. In particular, he knew I wanted a glossy blue finish on the scopes to compliment the high gloss finish on both rifles. Most scopes today tend toward a matte finish, and new glossy finished scopes seem harder to find. We sealed the deal with a return email message.

Around here, some type of iron sight is usually the sight of choice. Iron sights commonly offer no frills, and are simple, direct and nearly infallible. Maine hunting routinely offers targets at ranges within the limits and capabilities of iron sights, which is just the way I like it.

However, the effects of age on eyesight mean an increased reliance on telescopic sights. Magnification helps get the job done, now that seeing clearly through iron sights requires reading glasses.

The scopes arrived quickly, slipped into the mailbox by our deer-hunting postman. Wrapped in tissue paper like delicate Christmas presents, the scopes made the transcontinental journey without a blemish. They match perfectly with the rich, blue finish on the rifles.

Open Sights vs. Scope

Made in America by Leupold, the respected and successful Beaverton, Oregon optics company founded in 1907, these two scopes are not a matched pair. For the Model 70 in .30-’06, the 3x9x33mm scope does just fine. This combination makes for a general purpose hunting duo, fit for anything in North America.

A smaller 1.5x5x20mm scope now sits atop the Model 70 chambered in 7x57mm Mauser – also an outstanding general-purpose game rifle. The low magnification range of its scope promises rapid target acquisition plus decent low-light gathering characteristics.

Pleasing as these two combinations are, they basically remain a matter of personal taste and preference. They, and any number of other combinations and potential combinations, can serve well the wishes and needs of Maine’s shooters.

Old-school open sights remain effective and useful, especially on lever-action rifles and semi-automatic carbines. Aperture sights from companies such as Williams, Lyman and Redfield also remain viable, even desirable, for hunting situations and conditions found throughout the eastern half of the country. So long as vision allows, anyone preferring iron sights ought to stick with iron sights.

Arguably, telescopic sights with magnification and range-finding reticles, and even illuminated reticles, offer more precise shooting, but not in all cases. Some shots at large game come at too close a distance for a scope to focus properly. A target may present itself inside the focal length of the scope, making a clear sight picture impossible to obtain. Such situations often leave the hunter wishing for some old fashioned open sights. At these times, side mounted scopes or those mounted on raised bases permit the use of iron sights on the same rifle.

Decisions, Decisions

Any rifle that carries two usable and zeroed sighting systems offers the most flexible options in the field. The scope suits for longer range targets or low-light conditions, and iron sights for something closer in or rapidly disappearing into the terrain.

For myriad reasons, this solution may not always be practical or desirable, so a shooter chooses one system or the other. Scope mountings can be tricky. Adding both a scope and iron sights to a naked new gun also runs up considerable additional expense. Some may want modern holographic sights, and others just love Great-Granddad’s tang-mounted peep sight. Some, like me, require the optics to overcome a vision problem.

All shooters ought to mount a rifle’s sighting system based on the answers to two basic questions:

• Which system do I shoot best?

• How do I intend to use this rifle?

Once those answers are determined, choosing becomes a matter of personal preference and the amount of investment the shooter wants to make.

Whether hunting or target shooting, an individual performs best with a rifle he or she is most comfortable with and one that best “fits” their physiology and economic situation. Some of life’s great pleasures come from skillfully shooting a beloved rifle.

Here at the Shooter’s Bench, iron sights remain the favorite. The Lyman receiver sight on a Model 64 Winchester, the bolt-mounted peep sight on a Winchester Model 71, or perhaps the finger adjustable Lyman on the Savage Model 99 will set the pulse racing. However, I’m slowly accepting that optics will add hunting seasons to my life, and I’m choosing to adapt and keep hunting.