This is the 7th in a series of monthly articles written by opticstalk.com by John Barsness. (John’s own website is www.riflesandrecipes.com, which also publishes the quarterly on-line magazine Rifle Loony News.)
Most hunters claim to prefer low-mounted scopes, though a great many don’t know why. The big reason, I suspect, is that most factory rifles still aren’t built with buttstocks designed for scope sights.
Instead, when we shoulder a new rifle in the store and press our cheek firmly down on the comb, we’re looking right down the top of the barrel, even if it doesn’t have iron sights. Probably the two most popular factory hunting rifles made are the Remington 700 and Ruger 77, and both feature this stock design. Often the average hunter wants his scope to match this low line-of-sight—which generally isn’t truly possible.
Of course, the average American hunter also mostly hunts white-tailed deer, and most whitetail hunters sit in a tree or blind and wait for a deer to come by. Many whitetails do this in very dim light, mostly because they’ve grown very nervous walking around in daylight due to people shooting at them. In fact, some states have extended legal shooting hours beyond the traditional ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset, just so hunters can (theoretically) help control the numbers of increasingly nocturnal deer that eat crops and rose gardens, or encounter speeding pickup trucks.
As a result, many hunters have conflicting notions about scope height. They want the extra light-gathering ability of a big objective lens, but normally such scopes also require being mounted higher. This is the reason for the Leupold “scoop-scope” (as my wife Eileen calls the Model VX-L) with the bottom of the objective lens missing so the scope can be mounted lower than other scopes with huge objective lenses. But not all hunters want a scoop-scope. This may or may not be because they think it looks weird—and yes, most hunters are bound by the conventions of appearance, just like anybody else.
In reality, during most whitetail hunting the biggest problem with high-mounted scopes is not quick aiming. We’re sitting in a blind, waiting for a deer, so have plenty of time to move our heads around behind the scope in order to find the field of view. Plus, the notion that we must have a perfect “cheek weld” to shoot a whitetail with a modern whitetail rifle is a little far-fetched. After all, Europeans have been shooting in really dim light with high-mounted, big-objective scopes for decades, and don’t worry about their face touching the buttstock. Their rifles typically have downward-sloping stocks (even more sloping than a Remington 700’s or Ruger 77’s) and the hunter holds his head well above the stock to aim and shoot. Europeans do this very well—just as most American stand-hunters do with a scope mounted “too high” for the typical factory buttstock.
In fact, one of my fellow gun writers who’s well-known for his advocacy of low-mounted scopes is perhaps the slowest game shot I’ve ever known. Maybe a low-mounted scope does help him aim quicker, but if so it’s hard to tell, since he often aims for several minutes before getting a shot off. Sometimes he aims so long that the game animal grows bored and wanders away.
Theoretically, a better cheek-weld reduces felt recoil on the cheekbone. This would be true if we shot whitetail with really powerful rifles, but most of us don’t. A .30-06 is considered about maximum for deer by most hunters, just as it is for general big game hunting in
No, the real problem with a high-mounted scope for most hunters isn’t finding the field of view or getting kicked in the cheekbone, but the inaccuracy caused by tilting the rifle. This is something most shooters simply don’t understand, though target shooters generally know all about it.
A good example is my friend Jim, who some years ago bought a 7mm-08 for his deer hunting and a great big scope to go with it. The big scope of course meant really high mounts. Jim had heard that the rifle he bought had an excellent reputation for accuracy, a reputation shared by the 7mm-08 itself, but when sighting the rifle in at 100 yards he couldn’t get consistent groups much under three inches.
Finally he called me, and I suggested a couple of things he’d already done: cleaning the bore thoroughly and trying different loads. Eventually I ended up shooting the rifle myself, while Jim watched. I shot three 3-shot groups at 100 yards, all measuring around an inch, with the same loads Jim used. Then I suggested he shoot while I watched.
The problem turned