With so many scopes offering long range compensation devices, Byron Pace takes a look at Swarovski’s 4A-300 reticle and the accompanying ballistic app.
Scopes have come on leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, with optical quality and features previously contained only in top end scopes now available to the masses. There has also been a marked shift in the type of rifle optics finding favour among hunters. It wasn’t all that long ago that fixed power scopes were seen as the only way to go, with 6×42 the golden standard for stalking. The first two scopes I ever purchased were 6×42, and to this day they find themselves on rifles in my cupboard. Times have moved on though, and there are few manufacturers that still produce fixed power scopes, with demand falling to virtually nothing. Hunters want zoom and lots of it, along with BDC and parallax adjustment.
One could be forgiven for thinking that this move is an improvement. With all this fancy new technology, surely hunters will shoot better, faster and more efficiently? However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The problem is not necessarily the optics, but in the inability of the person behind the rifle to make use of the vast array of options they now have. Twist this and turn that, click here and adjust there, and that’s before the rifle is even pointing at the roe that will shortly be lost over the boundary. For many – especially those who only tackle a handful of deer a year, and make one or two visits to the range to check zero – there is simply no need for tactical turrets and a 22 power zoom. It will lose you more deer than it will win. There is definitely something to be said for the old fixed powers: point, aim, and pull the trigger if it’s in an acceptable shooting range. Most deer in this country are shot at distances less than 200 yards in any case, so for what reason could you possibly need a BDC and parallax adjustment? If you have your rifle zeroed correctly, it should be in the kill zone from 0-200 yards anyway.
More than that, buddies of mine who have overcome the urge to dial in for every yard of difference basically use their scopes on fixed settings, barely even adjusting zoom and making no use of the ungainly tactical turrets.
The reticles are invariably littered with dots and graduations as well, and only a tiny number of people I know ever go to the bother of working out how these correspond to their rifle.
Now, with all this said, we are going to look at making the best use of the ballistic reticle offered by Swarovski. Hold the phone – was I not just lambasting anything other than a straightforward cross hair and fixed power optics? Well, kind of. There are some scopes on the market that offer the best of both worlds: not overly complicated, yet still offering extended shooting possibilities. First up is the Swarovski Z4i 2.5-10×56.
First of all, the spec of this scope is spot on. Even out at 400 yards, in a stalking scenario it’s all the power you need – or, I should say, all the power you can really use. Start cranking up beyond 16x and keeping the rifle still enough is all but impossible in the field. This scope also comes down low enough to be fit for woodland stalking, where distances are more likely to be around the 60-70 yard mark.
There are no intrusive tactical turrets here, and the illumination control is, in my mind, the best that Swarovski offers. No chance of it being inadvertently activated, and brightness level adjustment is a simple twist.
Internally, however, the scope offers extended range capabilities with its ballistics reticle. Until now I had always detested these. There was too much clutter, and for 99 per cent of shots taken they were completely useless, doing nothing but providing a distraction from the task at hand. What I always wanted was a simple compensating reticle with only a couple of unobtrusive graduations. This would allow an extension of shootable ranges should the need arise. This is just what the Swarovski 4A-300 reticle offers and, if used in conjunction with the Swaro app, the results are surprisingly accurate.
This is one of those cases where modern technology saves a tremendous amount of time, not to mention money spent on bullets on the range. Simply plugging in either your hand load or factory info into the free phone app will spit out the data you need without even firing a shot. There are a few important things to consider however.
Firstly, for this to work accurately, you need to make sure your muzzle velocity is correct. This is variable even on the library statistics provided for factory loads. From there, the next most important aspect for making best use of the three extra graduations is the zero range. This takes a bit of trial and error depending on the calibre, bullet and velocity appropriate to your rifle.
This is important to ensure you end up with a relatively even bullet drop for each of the graduations. For example, if I set up my 100gr Sako Game Heads .243 Win at a 190 yard zero, this will equate to a 1.4in high grouping at 100 yards. With that set, the remaining graduations follow a convenient pattern:
■ First graduation: 302 yards
■ Second graduation: 351 yards
■ Third graduations: 407 yards
If, for example, you had set the zero to be just under an inch high at 100 yards, the corresponding drop that related to each graduation would be a little less easy to remember:
■ First graduation: 274 yards
■ Second graduation: 326 yards
■ Third graduation: 385 yards
That is not to say you can’t use that however, or that a 1.4in high zero would be the only answer. A 100 yard zero also provides a convenient output:
■ First graduation: 248 yards
■ Second graduation: 302 yards
■ Third graduation: 364 yards
Of course, the issue here is that at 200 yards the bullet is going to strike 3.3in low, which is quite a margin, and easily enough for a miss if not accounted for. So you do need to experiment to see what suits you.
Assuming the data is correct, and the zero range has been adjusted accordingly, you should now be in a position to test the results. After sighting in with Sako 100-grain for the first time, my 1.4in high group certainly delivered more than I could have hoped for. It was so tight with five shots that I wondered why I ever bothered to reload my ammo. That aside, it was a little off to the right, and given the noticeable breeze I ran the wind gauge and inputted the 5mph cross wind into the app. This gave me an outputted drift at 100 yards of 0.4in, leading me almost exactly to where my bullets had landed. I was content with that.
Given that I was to be shooting at extended ranges, the wind was going to be important, and was checked and accounted for at every distance. The first steel plate was out at 300 yards exactly, measuring 4in x 6in, and my initial shot missed, striking to the right. Of course it was wind, and I had stupidly not compensated for this correctly. The next three shots found their mark nicely, dropping about 2in apart using the first graduation.
Rotating the rifle around to the 350-yard target I repeated the exercise with the second graduation. Even with the light 5mph breeze we would be talking a full six inches of drift, and having accounted for this my first bullet struck the very edge of the plate (about the size of a sitting fox). Not quite enough! The next three shots landed much more centrally.
Finally, moving back to shoot the same target at 400 yards, the app read 7.5in of wind aiming on the last graduation. Four shots landing central at 3.5in apart completed a very satisfying result.
I was more than content with that. Given correct wind compensation, I was now able to shoot out to 400 yards with no guesswork – and all without fiddling with parallax or the need to dial in and out.
There are, however, compromises. Although the system works well, there are two major points for consideration. The first, as I’ve mentioned, is wind, and with this method there is no accurate way to hold over for it. The second is the fact that you are held to these distances only, even though the distances in between may require a considerable difference in compensation. For example, 350 yards = -14.5in and 400 yards = -23in, but a shot required at 375 yards = -18.6in. Quite a big gap!
This system is great because it’s simple, and really does work, but has limiting factors. Further to that, I am not suggesting that just because you can shoot at 400 yards it means that you should. It does, however, build confidence in your own ability and the ability of your kit, and on a range it is tremendous fun shooting at extended ranges.