Think before you squint

An intimate knowledge of your scope is needed if Charlie isn’t to slip out of your sights

A question often asked is: ‘Which scope is best?’ The general answer given is: ‘Spend as much as you can afford.’ A good quality scope can cost more than the rifle itself depending on make and model. But when choosing a scope, take into consideration what you intend to use the scope for.

I prefer simplicity in a scope. A few years ago I made the mistake of buying a benchrest scope, which had more knobs and dials on it than cockpit on a jumbo jet. After mounting it on a foxing rifle I took it down to the range and zeroed the rifle easily. The fine reticle and 20-plus maximum magnification made cloverleaf bullet holes at 300 yards a reality. Parallax adjustment was nothing short of impressive. But having to adjust the focus dial at 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards and so on would prove to be a nightmare in the field.

I didn’t recognise a problem until I was out lamping. I just could not get to grips with focusing during night-time manoeuvres. During daylight hours it wasn’t a problem but when that fox ran out to 250 yards in the lamp before stopping for a look back, the last thing I wanted to be doing was adjusting the focus on the scope.

This is just my personal opinion – a gamekeeper friend of mine swears by Nightforce benchrest scopes, and uses them to the efficiency of the design by ranging his target with the latest Swarovski EL rangefinding binoculars. By knowing the ballistics of his bullet intimately he is able to dial in his scope, and consistently takes quarry to 500 yards.

I realise these ranges are beyond most folk – me included – and even frowned upon. Long-range varminting is much more accepted in the USA than it is here. That said, if a professional has intimate knowledge of his ground, has clear sight and the necessary equipment to do the job both safely and ethically, I really don’t have a problem with it. Remember, there is a big difference between sport shooting and professional pest control.

Mark’s TOP TIP: Don’t be tempted to buy bottom-end scopes for serious night shooting

At the other end of the spectrum are the lesser-known scopes that look good on paper – say, 6-24×50 AOE illuminated with range focus at the objective lens end – and all for less than half of your planned budget. Don’t be tempted to buy bottom-end scopes for serious night shooting. The field of view is far less than in quality optics, and a poorer sight picture of your target when you are looking down the beam of the lamp will be your undoing. Another problem with most of the illuminated versions is that the centre cross of the reticle illuminates, rather than using a dot, and often the dimmer setting is inadequate, creating glare back, which can obscure your target completely in low light conditions.

I’m not saying that what won’t work for one won’t work for another. But practically speaking, if you intend to buy a scope for dusk, dawn or lamping, a quality non-illuminated fixed or variable power scope with 50mm or 56mm objective lens and a clear reticle would be a better buy than an all-singing, all-dancing illuminated scope of lesser quality that looks like a lit up Christmas tree when in use.

There can be too much going on with some scopes, especially when lamping foxes. The last thing you need to be doing is focusing the scope on the fox or having trouble finding it in a narrow field of vision. This is time you should be using for positive identification of quarry, setting up a steady shot, and a clean kill. Poorer scopes will mean missing opportunities, or worse still, educating a fox after rushing the process and missing.

Next up the scale is the quality illuminated variable powers with a standard cross reticle and an illuminated dot at the point of aim. On most, the size or brightness can be reduced or increased depending on the situation. My personal choice is the Zeiss Duralyt 3-12×50 illuminated, retailing for less than £900. For a mid-range scope, it has proved its worth on numerous occasions.

This was never more evident than on a recent evening on fox patrol. I set out to sit in a box seat I had situated along side a belt of trees towards the corner of a rape field. Having made a mental note of deer movement and deer paths or runs, I positioned the box at a focal point where deer approached from four different directions. It is also a good vantage point for shooting foxes travelling in from beyond my boundary. My Duralyt is mounted on the Zoli .243 and zeroed one inch high at 100 yards. Fuelled with Sako 90-grain soft points, this efficient foxing tool is finished off with a T8 moderator.

It was a typical early summer evening with a warm south-west breeze blowing. The forecast was a chance of thunderstorms later in the evening. I didn’t give this a second thought as I soaked up the surroundings watching wildlife go about its business – not until the sun was beginning to set and the clouds began to thicken. Up to this point I had not seen a deer, it was getting darker by the minute and looking as if the evening was going to be cut short by the light. Plus I had forgotten my binoculars, which wasn’t helping matters.

I heard the rumble of thunder in the distance and was just considering packing up when I spotted a deer walking through the yellow carpet of rape towards the belt of trees to my left. Just the top of its neck and head were showing above the rape crop. I raised the rifle to determine if it was a buck or doe. The Duralyt scope was essential with the ever-decreasing light.

I focused in on the deer, quickly realising it was a buck. I activated the illumination and decreased the magnification down to 6x, but as the buck stepped out of the rape into the shadows of the trees I lost sight of the deer with my naked eye.

Mark knows his scope… and it gets him results

It was only when I re-mounted the rifle and looked back through the Zeiss scope that I could see the buck heading towards me. He turned broadside at about 60 yards, at which point I placed the red dot on his vitals and squeezed off the shot to guarantee him a place in the larder. With a lesser scope I have no doubt I would have had to let him pass by to live another day as the optic would have proved inadequate in those light conditions.

Out lamping on another occasion, I came across the reflection of the eyes of a fox on a muck hill well over 250 yards away. Through the Duralyt scope, the fox tended to blend into the background under the red filter off the lamp. It wasn’t until I increased the magnification of the scope to 12x power that I could clearly see the outline of the fox. On higher power, its outline was much clearer defined, and using the illuminated dot on a low setting, I was able to take a safe, confident and successful shot. Mark Nicholson

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