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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 16:59
John Barsness View Drop Down
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This is the first of a series of monthly columns on hunting optics that John Barsness will be writing for OpticsTalk.com.

 

BIG GAME HUNTING SCOPES

 

            These days many shooters judge rifle scopes almost totally by optical quality. This makes sense with target scopes. Not only do target shooters have to see the target itself clearly, but since they’re looking through the scope for long periods, even slight optical flaws can cause eyestrain. Also a good scope can help pick up subtle wind shifts through the heat waves commonly called “mirage.”

            Optics are also obviously important to the hunter, but in different ways. Optically, the most demanding hunting takes place in near darkness, whether in a dim whitetail forest at the limits of legal shooting hours, or in a European hochsitz (German tree stand) overlooking a midnight field where wild boar might come to feed. Here very bright optics help a lot, along with a large exit pupil, allowing all the light possible to reach the hunter’s eye--and relatively high magnification to increase twilight factor. Either type of hunting places a premium on optics, and less on other factors. I have done both, and a big, bright scope doesn‘t just help, it can make the difference between success and failure.

            The same type of scope, however, can be a handicap in other types of hunting. Big, large-objective scopes are not the best choice, for instance, when going on a horseback trip for elk. A saddle scabbard puts stresses on both ends of a scope. I have actually seen the 50mm end of a big scope bent visibly downward after a day on the trail.  Plus, elk are big targets. While they are often hunted in thick “black” timber, there they’ll usually be quite close, so lots of magnification is not only not necessary, it may restrict field of view so much that an excited “dude” can’t find the elk. I have seen this more than once too.

            The same sorts of things affect scope choice for African hunting. While you won’t be riding horses, a safari car bouncing off and on rough roads can shake a scope out of zero in a few days time. In fact, I have actually seen as many scopes fail in various ways in Africa than in North America, despite the fact that I’ve hunted 100 times as much in North America.

            A Toyota Land Cruiser is not a scope’s friend, and neither is the super-magnum many Americans feel compelled to buy before heading to Africa. In reality, hard-kicking cartridges are only needed for big, dangerous game such as Cape buffalo. A .30-06 will do nicely for the non-dangerous stuff, and shots will normally not be very long. This is because in Africa you pay a “trophy fee” for every animal shot, whether the animal is killed or only wounded. I have seen a lot of shooters who brag about 500+ yard shots in America become much more conservative when a wounded animal means losing $2000.

            The reality is that on both the elk hunt and the kudu hunt, the biggest factor in a rifle scope is not sheer optical quality, but reliability. We want a scope that will stay sighted in for a week or more, under tough conditions, so that when the fleeting chance comes we know the bullet will land in the place the reticle rests. The finest optics in the world won’t help if it doesn’t.

            Also, unlike a target shooter—or even a prairie shooter--we aren’t going to be looking through the scope for hours and maybe days on end. Instead we use binoculars for that chore. Our scope will probably only be looked through for a few seconds on an elk hunt, and maybe a few minutes total on a 10-day safari for several animals. Even then we’ll be looking through the center of the scope. So what if the very edges of the scope’s field are a little blurry? That’s not where the crosshairs are.

            In fact, I have hunted a lot of places, with a lot of money at stake, with highly unfashionable fixed-power scopes—sometimes (gasp!) even a 2.5x or 3x, though more often a 4x or 6x. Why? Despite the reliability of modern scopes, ALL the hunting scopes that I’ve seen fail in the field have been variables. Yeah, you should take along a spare scope (and I always do), but that doesn’t do much good until after the primary scope has already gone belly-up. This is often discovered after shooting at a trophy animal. Then you have to switch scopes, and shoot a few rounds to make sure the backup is still sighted-in. In the meantime you have missed or wounded the animal you traveled so far (and expensively) to hunt, and may have to spend a day looking for it, not always successfully. I much prefer making the first shot count. As the old Idaho hunting writer Elmer Keith said, “I prefer to do my hunting before the shot.”

            Another modern hunting trend is using the adjustment turrets in the field. This can really help for some hunting, such as pronghorns on the high plains, but one of the elk guide’s modern nightmares is the guy who shows up with a 6-20x scope with 2” turrets. For one thing, not many saddle scabbards fit around such a scope, and even if they do, the turrets are just one more thing that can get bent or whacked.

 

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 17:27
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  Makes sense to me. And you know it's not only the new hunters (young or old) that are going to the bigger scopes. Had a friend I've hunted with for over 20yrs show up the season before last with a new 6X-18X scope. I warned him but to no avail and it cost him a shot at a decent buck. Deer was too close,moving too fast through a thick cut over area and even though the scope was at its lowest power he just couldn't pull off a shot. For some I guess it's the only way to learn.
   Anyways,per usual from you,GOOD READ and I look forward to more.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 17:35
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Thanks for the column John. I'm looking forward to reading your column every month
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 17:55
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Excellent Thank you. John for writing, this is very good information and good reading as well. I've enjoyed it.

Edited by rifle looney - February/08/2009 at 18:13
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 18:07
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Get Your Popcorn Ready
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 18:11
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Good column and thanks, John.
I find my own experience is pretty close to what you have said. It took me some time, money and missed opportunities to get to this point. I am sure more of the same is yet to come, too.

Doug

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 18:45
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Good article Mr Barsness, as a hunter I enjoy reading other hunters points of view, any thing I can learn or re-evaluate to make my hunt more successfull and enjoyable is always welcome.

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 18:57
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John, good stuff as always. Now that we know the attributes that you look for in a scope, perhaps we could get a list of some of your favorites that have proven themselves in the field.

Roy
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 19:03
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Originally posted by Roy Finn Roy Finn wrote:

John, good stuff as always. Now that we know the attributes that you look for in a scope, perhaps we could get a list of some of your favorites that have proven themselves in the field.

Roy


+1 Thanks for the great article.  Which scopes would you recommend?
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 19:08
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Good post, John!  I look forward to reading more of your monthly columns!
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 20:30
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As always- a great read ...and excellent points made-thanks

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 20:51
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Thanks for the info.  Sounds like a very common sense approach from someone with experience to know.  It couldn't come at a better time for me either.  I've been battling with which scope to buy myself.  I would love to know which ones you do recommend.  The part of holding a zero is the key for me.  I want one that I zero once and check it and it stays there.  I don't know if the Sightrons, Leupolds, Elite 4200's, Burris signature w/ posi lock, Zeiss Conquest, etc. would be the most reliable.  I am starting to see that long time hunters seem to recommend a great pair of binos along with a reliable scope to AIM with.

I'm sure there are a lot of us here that would love to hear your recommendations.

Thanks again,

Tom
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 22:23
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Nothing like experience from the field!  Look forward to next months article.  Thanks John, glad you decided to come over and join the OT.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/08/2009 at 22:23
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Very well put, John.

I would probably add that in the world of modern manufacturing we should be demanding both mechanical and optical excellence from the scopes we buy.

I made this thread a sticky, so it stays at the top of the page.

ILya
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 07:53
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Very interesting, informative and "right on". Thank you Sir.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 08:33
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John thanks for reminding us to keep the issue of “hunting optics” in its proper prospective, BTW, I love reading your stuff!

Sam

Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 13:16
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I like reading John's stuff, too.  I have been a John Barsness fan, I guess, since the mid-eighties. 
 
I like the bright European Wonder Scopes as much as the next fellow, but I have never been able to afford one.  I have always simply used very run-of-the-mill normal-type scopes like Weaver, and Leupold, and Redfield, etc.  I even use old second-hand ones!!  Shocked  For hunting purposes any decent scope that allows you to shoot where you're lookin' will work.   [ try not to fall off any real high cliffs.....]
 
.....but I do appreciate the newer, brighter scopes.   Someday I will get a real FANCY Foreign Model   Naughty   
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 13:37
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Amen, John.  We had a poll here a while back concerning what's most important in a scope.  I voted durability, or whatever it was called, but optical quality was the clear winner, if I remember correctly.  I've always maintained that a scope is an aiming device; if it lets you put the bullet where you want consistently, it's done it's job.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 13:52
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Originally posted by mwyates mwyates wrote:

Amen, John.  We had a poll here a while back concerning what's most important in a scope.  I voted durability, or whatever it was called, but optical quality was the clear winner, if I remember correctly.  I've always maintained that a scope is an aiming device; if it lets you put the bullet where you want consistently, it's done it's job.


Why is it an "either / or" choice? why can't we have scopes that both hold together and have good glass?

ILya


Edited by koshkin - February/10/2009 at 21:00
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 13:59
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At the $500.00 price point I expect both. (durability & optical quality).
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 14:11
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Originally posted by lucytuma lucytuma wrote:

At the $500.00 price point I expect both. (durability & optical quality).


My point exactly.  I EXPECT a scope to hold zero.  If it does not, all else is a moot point.

ILya
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Originally posted by lucytuma lucytuma wrote:

At the $500.00 price point I expect both. (durability & optical quality).
 
I think that the "price point" is an important factor in this discussion.  All of us expect the scope to provide a certain "level of excellence" and to be reliable (hold zero, for example) for normal use and to some level of abuse. 
 
The level of excellence and degree of reliablility for non-normal circumstances will be related to the scope's price point. 
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 15:14
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Originally posted by mwyates mwyates wrote:

Amen, John.  We had a poll here a while back concerning what's most important in a scope.  I voted durability, or whatever it was called, but optical quality was the clear winner, if I remember correctly.  I've always maintained that a scope is an aiming device; if it lets you put the bullet where you want consistently, it's done it's job.


Hello! I'm new to the forum and this was the first thread I read upon browsing. I'd like to comment that I think the durability is an understood expectation. Any scope outside of the blister packs should and I believe do have durability considered in the manufacturing process. This has allowed optical quality and other features to come to the fore-front when buying a scope. Without the durability of holding zero, there's no point of having the scope. It really comes down to how much the buyer wants to spend for the intended use. For instance: If I can buy a scope with edge to edge clarity, a easy to see reticle, and fits well on my gun for $100.00 dollars more than the other brand that doesn't share the same features, it's up to me. The durability is not a factor because I have no reason to doubt it from a quality, modern day manufacturer.
Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)     Back to Top Direct Link To This Post Posted: February/09/2009 at 18:41
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Thanks for the welcomes!
 
I'd like to comment some more on reliability. First, I haven't found that paying more for a scope guarantees reliability. In fact I have had THREE 3-9x scopes of a certain brand that cost close to $1000 go bad in the field. All three times I was the guest of the optics company in question, and yes they were embarrassed, but evidently they never were embarrassed enough to fix the problem.
 
On the third occasion the scope was on a very accurate Remington 700 rifle, and it suddenly started grouping around 4 inches at 100 yards. When I got home I switched scopes, to a very reliable Bushnell 4200, and the rifle went back to grouping inside 3/4". When I sent the defective scope back to the company, one of their guys told me they had found nothing wrong with it. Now, he no longer works for the company, which is a good thing, but I will NOT use that particular brand of 3-9x scope ever again.
 
On the other hand I have never had a Burris Fullfield II go bad on me, and I have used them a LOT more than that $1000 brand.
 
Two, just about any scope will work on rifles up to the .30-06 level of recoil. Sometimes individual scopes will go bad on a .30-06  (or even on a .223) but in general even the cheaper scopes will do OK on such rifles, at least for a reasonable period of time.
 
But up the level of recoil to .300 magnum and bad things can happen, and each level of recoil above that makes bad things happen quicker and more often. This is why I usually mount scopes intended for such rifles on a light .338 I own, or maybe on my .375 H&H, and shoot at least a box of heavy-bullet loads. Those two rifles have broken a bunch of scopes, some of them quite expensive. In fact one of the scopes my .375 broke had been on a .30-06 for more than a year and never had any problems. It went bad within 5 rounds on the .375.
 
Also, I have found that if a scope has something wrong with it (and scopes are not all exactly alike, even those of the same model made in the same week) usually it will break within the first 20 rounds on such a rifle. If it doesn't break in those 20 rounds, then it will last quite a while.
 
Another thing learned the hard way is that just because a particular brand of scope has been reliable in the past doesn't mean that will always be the case. One particular brand I used to use a lot switched to a different factory, and I have seen at least 5 of the "new" scopes lose their zero after very minor use, sometimes when just riding around in a vehicle, and sometimes when mounted on rifles of relatively light recoil. I quit using them too.
 
Finally, I have had hunts screwed up FAR more often by scopes going bad than by any lack of optical quality. In fact I can only remember one occasion when I had difficulty seeing the animal in question--and that was on an older scope, made before many scope were mutli-coated. Which is exactly why I value reliability above minor differences in optics.
 
The scopes I have had very good luck with are Burrises, Bushnell Elites, Leupolds, Swarovski PH's and Zeiss Conquests. The Conquests got tougher very early in their production because I broke one of the first production run of 3-9's on my .375, within 20 rounds. The Zeiss people slightly redesigned the insides of the scope after taking mine apart to see what went wrong, and now they are pretty tough.
 
If I really, truly want a scope to stay together, either because the hunt itself is going to be rough, or the rifle has significant recoil, I tend to use Leupold fixed-powers, because they have never failed me.
 
JB
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mwyates View Drop Down
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The question wasn't multiple choice, but what is your priority.  I want it all, too.  Price doesn't seem to have much to do with it.  I appreciated John's comments on the Burris FF II.  I have a 3-9 on my son's .260.  It's held zero for 5 years, and I know he's hard on it.  Not great to look through, but it's never cost him a shot.
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