This is the sixth in a series of articles written for Opticstalk.com by John Barsness (www.riflesandrecipes.com).
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know beforehand which individual scopes will take repeated hard recoil. When buying most scopes we essentially place a bet on the manufacturer’s track record. Since very few of us can buy several of every scope made, mount each one on a .375 H&H, and then shoot the .375 long enough to “prove” the scope, we have to rely on the experiences of others.
Even then the process can get tricky. Obviously we can’t just ask shooters at random what scopes have held up for them. We might ask the question on a forum like Opticstalk.com, but even that risks the possibility of bias, because unhappy people tend to respond to such questions more often than happy people. (There’s also the slight possibility that somebody is getting paid to promote a certain scope. This might startle the friendly users of OT, but it’s becoming a widespread practice on Internet chat rooms.)
A couple of other sources might be gunsmiths and sporting goods stores. Unfortunately both can also be biased. I know several custom riflesmiths, some semi-famous, and a few years ago called all of them and asked what scopes they recommend for hard-kicking rifles. The top two brands turned out to be Leupold and Swarovski, with Leupold the front-runner by a little bit. But this didn’t mean nearly as much as it might, because Leupold and Swarovski are by far the most common brands mounted on custom rifles. That in itself might indicate something, though I suspect it’s mostly a result of peer pressure. But the fact remains that very few people who buy a custom rifle use other brands of scope, so my “survey” gathered almost no data on manufacturers such as Burris, Bushnell, Nikon, Schmidt & Bender, etc.
The same principle applies to sporting goods stores. Most only carry a limited number of brands. Sometimes this is because they’ve found these to be reliable, but sometimes it’s because a scope company allows a greater mark-up from wholesale.
A local store in my part of
So the answer to obtaining information on what brands of scope hold up under heavy recoil is get it anywhere you can. Some sort of consensus may emerge.
My own experience is that spending more money won’t necessarily buy ruggedness. The exception is with really expensive scopes, the heavy-duty “super-tactical” type scopes made by companies like Nightforce and Schmidt & Bender. (I make the differentiation of super-tactical because just about every company makes a “tactical” scope these days, some selling in bubble-packs.) But even those scopes are made by humans. One of my riflesmith buddies makes a lot of big rifles for African hunting. His rifles have broken both Schmidt & Bender and Nightforce scopes.
Such scopes are really tough, though, because they are what might be called “over-built,” with heavier tubes and stouter parts than the average hunting scope. Consequently they tend to be pretty heavy, which makes them tougher to keep attached to, say, a .458 Lott.
There are also definite levels of heavy recoil. I tend to define heavy recoil as starting with the various .300 magnums, for a couple of reasons. First, this is where a significant number of shooters start having trouble with flinching. Of course this doesn’t apply to you or me, but still it’s there. My old friend Finn Aagaard, who served as a professional hunter in
Second, .300 magnum recoil is what starts separating tough scopes from average scopes. A lot of scopes will hold up just fine on a 7mm magnum or a .30-06, but .300’s will break a much higher percentage of scopes.
I don’t think the recoil of a .338