Most riflemen in the UK have made it a lifetime’s goal to close in on quarry, attain the most stable shooting position available and then execute an accurate shot on unspooked and stationary quarry. Whether it be an audible ‘squeak’ to pause a snooping fox for instantaneous dispatch, or waiting for a deer to turn broadside for what seems like an age, we plan for a motionless moment. So what happens when all that is thrown on its head, and we embark on a driven hunt with the aim of engaging a moving target?
Three critical things occur to me when choosing a sight for driven game. Your gun mount needs to become similar to that of a shotgun, with intuitive pointability and correct eye position. A broad field of view is highly desirable to track movement of the quarry and avoid obstacles, which may make it change course. Finally, you need the ability to take on a more distant follow-up shot with precision if needed. The three main types of optic each have benefits and downsides, so let’s consider them.
With fine reticles and illuminated dots, optical riflescopes are my own preferred system. But, objectively, are they the best? A classic scope certainly offers the most familiar gun mount and zeroing procedure. With a broad exit pupil and versatile eye box, it will allow you to mount, move, shoot and maintain sight picture throughout each encounter. You need to learn to shoot with both eyes open, but practising gun mount on targets with magnification varied between 1x and 2x will give you the opportunity to assure yourself of the best natural balance between both your eyes.
Where a classic scope comes into its own, in my opinion, is the need to take a follow-up shot. High shots in the neck and close to the spine will stun and make boar crash to the floor, appearing dead in its tracks, but it’s not always the case, and if it does rise from the ground you need to shoot again, fast. A boar shot at 30-50 metres, if it takes you by surprise, can become 100 metres away before you can mount and get a second shot away. The ability to zoom in for precise single shot placement can be the difference between one extra pre-meditated ‘boom’ and rushed shots with a 1x red dot covering the whole target. I have been there and done it using a 1x red dot, and wished I had been using a finer reticle to place that bullet when finishing off a runner 90+ metres away.
The top European brands are sublime, of course, but less expensive items like the Hawke Frontier and Endurance lines also do a fine job, with none of the drawbacks of cheap red dot sights. On a stationary boar in difficult cover, a conventional optic might be bulkier than you like, but it does give the best image quality – you can’t guarantee they will be silhouetted against a frosty or snow-covered landscape. Boar can be extremely wary.
The factor of being able to increase to 4 or 6x magnification also adds versatility to the optic – it is far more acceptable for daytime deer stalking at 100-150 metres, though if choosing a 30mm tube, you are likely to max out with a 24mm objective lens that won’t be the brightest in poor light. At 1x (or the even lower 0.75x magnification available now from Swarovski), I actually like the natural feel of seeing the barrel and possibly its foresight in the field of view. I might be odd, but everything just seems to feel more aligned, and gun mounting errors are immediately visible to your own eyes.
Compact reflex sights are lightweight, but can be prone to parallax error, especially as shot range increases. They require a different technique to a classic scope – you need to trust your brain to overlay the red dot your shooting eye sees with the full field of view your non-shooting eye captures. The screens on these are usually little more than 15x1mm, and although yes, you can see through them, I think it’s hard to appreciate that your left eye (in the case of a right-handed shooter) is capturing far more uncluttered information.
These are an ideal secondary sighting system on a rifle with a high mag optic where fast pointability at close quarters is a factor, but for a boar of unknown distance that will be a planned yet split-second encounter, I just feel they are too much of a compromise. Leica now produce larger-screened units, and one thing I will say is that the ‘frames’ on the screens are less intrusive than those of larger ‘tubed’ red-dot sights. Low-cost units can have horrendous sparkling glare from the dot, so watch out for that.
Tubed red dot sights like the Aimpoint Micro H2 or larger H30/34 ranges are superb products for boar and certainly give a viable option for simplicity and small size. They have optional red-dot sizes with parallax-free positioning (thanks to Aimpoint’s patented lens properties) and a true 1x magnification range that will balance well with both eyes open. They are fast, intuitive and pointable, but I don’t like to press my head too low to the gun, as a compact reflex sight requires. Face it: your human binocular vision is most effective with your head upright and eyes level, so why press down too low and stare ‘through your eyebrows’? For this reason, I liked the higher mounting and position of the H34 over the Micro H2, but both have a dot bright enough to cover distant quarry. It’s also a factor that the tube around the lens and accompanying mechanics can obscure field of view in the left eye.
So, with those factors to consider, the inevitable matter of price rears its head. The finest ‘regular’ optics cost well over double that of the Aimpoint red-dot options, but they are a dual-purpose optic for boar and regular hunting, so they may justify the expenditure. For extreme close-in woodland work I would favour the red dot designs and will hopefully get to use the Leica Tempus before too long, but any of these three is a serious contender.