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Scope Mount Buying Guide

Scope mounting and sighting in: here's how to do it right the first time

Warped and bent scope bodies, scarred and marred finishes, cracked lens, lost turret caps, at least one scope mounted backwards, and certainly the wrong mounts and rings. Every year prior to hunting season, gun shops and gunsmiths are faced with doctoring the mistakes of incorrectly mounted scopes. Unfortunately, scope mounting faux pas like these are more common than you might imagine.

Degrees in nuclear science, physics, or engineering are not required to successfully mount optics on your hunting rifle. Anyone possessing basic motor skills (I barely fail into this category), and the ability to follow simple instructions can achieve professional results the first time.

All that's needed is a few simple tools, a place to work, and the desire to do it right. Let's examine the steps required to successfully and professionally mount your favorite optics on a hunting rifle. When we've completed this task, we'll visit the range and learn how to properly sight in our rifle.

A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

To start, we need a place to work. If you don't have a corner of the house that belongs to you, boldly commandeer the wife's kitchen table -- just make sure she's not home. Next, we'll require a sturdy platform to work from. Having your brother-in-law hold the rifle steady while you work is asking for trouble, hurt feelings and scratched firearms. Gun vises abound on the market and are relatively inexpensive. Just make sure you choose one that holds the firearm securely and will not scratch your expensive investment.

Most rifles leave the factory with filler screws resting in the scope base holes. Remove them using a properly fitting screwdriver. Next, we'll want to clean any grease or oil that may have accumulated in the holes to insure the base screws thread securely. Aerosol gun scrubbers and blasters, manufactured by Birchwood Casey, Break-Free and others work well for this chore. It's also a wise idea after you've done this, to apply a thin coat of oil onto the receiver where the mount will rest, to prevent possible rust.

Quality Pays

There are many successful designs of scope mounts and bases on the market today. Most are very rugged and durable, sadly, some are not. Insist on nothing less than the best and forget about the cost. A quality set of mounts and rings is much cheaper than a missed shot on a Boone and Crockett whitetail.

By far, the most popular scope bases and rings are those manufactured by Redfield, Burris, Leupold, and Millett. The front scope ring twists into the base mount for a rock solid perch, while two large windage adjustment screws secure the rear scope ring. Due to their popularity and quality, we'll mount a set of these on our rifle.

Step One

Open the package containing the bases for your weapon and wipe them off with a rag. Apply a thin coat of oil to the underside of the mount as well. More than likely, a proper fitting allen wrench was included with your bases. If not, make sure you use the correct size to prevent damaging the screws.

Base screws are rarely the same length, and instructions often neglect to inform us where each one should fit. So how do we determine what goes where? An easy solution is to drop the screws into the base holes, hold them up where you can see the threaded portion of the screws, and make sure there is an equal amount of each screw protruding from the base. They should all be approximately the same length. This method is far from scientific, but actually works well.

Now it's time to secure the bases to the receiver. Scope bases have an uncanny ability to work loose under heavy recoil, which obviously wreaks havoc with accuracy. Murphy's Law dictates we only become aware of this after we've missed the buck of a lifetime, and watch him saunter over the horizon waving his white tail in salute. This malady is entirely preventable.

Place the front and rear base mounts in their proper place on the receiver. Before inserting and tightening the base screws, dab a little Loctite on the threads. This will prevent them from working loose under recoil. If you're out of Loctite, reach for a bottle of your wife's clear nail polish. It will suffice in a pinch.

Step Two: Rings

With our bases securely in place, it's time to mount the scope rings. Using your properly fitting wrench, remove the screws from the rings. Place them along with their corresponding ring halves on your workbench. The forward ring mounts in a rotary dovetail. For a smooth installation, wipe a light coating of any good grease over the "feet" of the forward ring before inserting it into the base hole. You will notice it rests perpendicular to the mount.

Unless you were blessed with the power of Hercules, it's quite obvious you can't turn the ring with your bare hands. So what's the easiest way to perform this task? Brownells offers a 4-Way Scope Ring Wrench (part number 813-100-004) that includes slots for Leupold, Burr, Millett/Redfield, and 30mm Leupold rings.

Slide the correct slot over the ring and gently rotate to the proper position. The large handle provides plenty of comfortable twisting power. I've personally used one to mount well over 1,000 scopes in my shop. They are very durable. If you don't have one of these tools on hand and can't wait, try cutting a one-inch wooden dowel to approximately twelve inches. While not as fancy, this works equally well.

Using an appropriately fitting screwdriver, loosen the large windage screws on the rear scope base enough to slide the rear ring into place. Center it as close as possible. Now, tighten the windage screws enough to hold the ring in place; we'll tighten' them securely in a moment.

Alignment Is Important

How can we tell if we've aligned the two rings correctly? Once again, the gunsmith's friend, Brownells, helps us out. They offer Scope Ring Alignment Rods (part number 800-730-000) which takes the guesswork out of alignment. Simply place the two aluminum rods, sharpened ends directed towards one another, onto the rings. Mount the upper ring halves on top and secure them with the screws. Adjust as needed until the two pinpoint ends touch. When you mount your scope it will be aligned perfectly.

What if you choose not to invest in this tool, is there a way to be fairly certain your scope is aligned correctly? Absolutely, and I'll bet more folks use this method for mounting a hunting scope than any other. Simply place the scope into the rings. Slowly rotate the scope. Did it turn freely? Could you feel any binding? If so, remove the scope, adjust the rings and try again. Perform this operation until the scope rotates freely in the rings. Once this is accomplished, your scope should be aligned correctly.

Now we're ready to begin mounting the scope. Place the scope into the rings, and lightly screw the upper halves to the lower rings. Not too tight, first we need to make sure our crosshairs are straight, and determine proper eye relief. To obtain the correct eye relief, shoulder the rifle and look through the lens. Adjust the scope back and forth until you're rewarded with a full field of view. If the scope appears out of focus, simply loosen the focus ring and adjust until you see everything clearly, then secure it there.

How do we determine if the crosshairs are straight? That's a darn good question, but I don't have a darn good answer to provide. If ten people look through the same scope, more than likely, all ten will see the crosshairs differently. Men and women, boys and girls, are not built the same. Each of us is different. Adjust the scope until you are satisfied the crosshairs are straight. You're the one shooting the rifle. Once this has been accomplished, tighten the screws firmly.

Bore Sighting

The only task left is to bore-sight, and head for the range to sight in. Many shooters still prefer the old-fashioned way of bore-sighting -- remove the bolt, arrange the rifle in a steady rest, then aim through the bore at a target. Now adjust the scope's reticle to coincide with the target. This method is very simple and fairly accurate.

Serious shooters generally opt for something a little easier as well as more accurate, enabling them to save a few cartridges while 'getting on paper." This method consists of using an "honest to goodness" bore-sighter or collimator. These units come in an assorted variety of shapes and sizes.

These are very simple to use. Choose the correct caliber arbor for your rifle, attach it to the bore-sighter, which has a grid located in the lens, then slide it into the bore of your rifle. Remove the adjustment caps from your scope. Glance through the lens and you will notice the grid. Our objective is to center the crosshairs in this grid.

Saving A Little Windage

Using a properly fitting screwdriver, or a plain old nickel if that's all you have, turn the elevation screw until it aligns with the center line on the grid. If you will remember, we haven't yet secured the windage screws on our base. We'll do this now, and also save a few windage turns, or clicks, in the process. Insert the correct screwdriver into the base windage screw, and look through the scope. Using this coarse windage adjustment, move the crosshair as close as possible to the center of the grid.

We want the rear scope base to remain as close to center as possible, so don't over-do it. We're just trying to save a few clicks in case we need them while sighting in. Using your screwdriver, turn the windage screw, and move the crosshair as close as you can to the center. Tighten the windage screws firmly. Complete the process using the scope's adjustment. Replace the scope caps and you're done. You have successfully mounted and bore-sighted the scope on your rifle. Let's go to the range and sight it in.

If you're not a reloader, go to your favorite gun shop and purchase at least two boxes of the ammo you intend to hunt with. Insist all ammunition is from the same lot to insure consistency. Lot numbers are usually found on the inside flap of the box. Handloaders should also make sure their components are from the same lot, especially powders and primers.

On The Range

We've got a good supply of cartridges on hand so what next? Most ranges provide some type of stable. platform, or bench, from which to shoot, so all we need is a quality set of earmuffs, shooting glasses, targets, staple gun plus plenty of staples, screwdriver for scope adjustment, and a bag type rest. It wouldn't be a bad idea to include a few screwdrivers to fit the rifle's action screws should they work loose under recoil.

Get comfortable and settle in at the bench. Carefully and slowly fire one cartridge from one hundred yards. Where did the round hit the paper, high and right, left and low? Move the scopes adjustment screws accordingly. Wrap yourself around the rifle and fire a three round group. Were these rounds closer to the bullseye? If not, let your barrel cool down a bit, adjust your scope and try again. Perform this ritual until your rifle is grouping where you want it.

For general big game hunting in most of the country, a 200 yard zero is sufficient for the majority of our needs. Sighted approximately two inches high at 100 yards, this zero will allow you to hold "dead on" from point blank range clear out to 250 yards.

If your particular hunting interests demand a different zero, or your cartridge and rifle combo are not suited to this zero, sight your rifle in according to your needs. Remington, Federal and Winchester offer ballistic tables in their ammunition catalogs that are invaluable in determining suitable zeros for different cartridges.

MDS Optics offers brand name optics such as Leupold, Bushnell, Redfield, Simmons and other fine brands.

Rifle Scope Mount Keywords: rifle scope rings, rifle scope bases, rifle scope extension rings