You won't find any pictures of guns here, nor any descriptions of building guns or shooting guns. Because, well, guns are, kind of, you know, scary. Especially the black ones like AR15s. We wouldn't want any one to have guns, whether they are pistols, or hunting rifles, or match rifles, or benchrest rifles, or even 22 plinkers. That's because rifles are not wholesome. You should be afraid of rifles and guns and shooting. But it's OK to buy stuff related to guns. It's OK to buy gun safes, gun cases, range bags, spotting scopes, rifle scopes, red dot scopes, and iron sights. It's OK to buy gun stocks, gun accessories, and reloading gear. Even eBay and Google say so.
So we don't want you using guns, but we do want you to familiarize yourself with the shooting gear and gun stuff that shooters and hunters and match shooters like to use. You can look at reloading presses, and dies, and bullets, and brass. You can look, and you can even buy gun accessories--just don't ever use a real gun. Promise? You can reload ammunition for all sorts of calibers like .223 Remington, and .308 Winchester, and 6mm BR, but just don't actually get a gun to use that stuff. Because guns and rifles and hunting and shooting are icky and scary.
But it's fine if you just want to shop for reloading gear, and hunting stuff, and even laser rangefinders. Gadgets are cool--just don't be naughty and use them with a nasty 'ol hunting rifle. It's also OK to buy gun cases and a nice big gun safe. Gun safes are good 'cause they keep the bad guys away and eBay and Google say they're OK.
But if, for some strange reason, after we've told you how icky and bad rifles are, you still want to learn about hunting and shooting gear, other than firearms, here are companies that sell safes, and reloading tools, and laser rangefinders, and holsters, and bipods, and barrels, and cartridge brass, and gun stocks, and even really expensive rifle scopes. Maybe you can attach a $1000 dollar Leupold target scope to your windowsill and look outside with it. Maybe you'll see some fuzzy bunnies out there. That would be better than seeing a target or a deer or something like that.
There are many companies that sell hunting gear, rifle scopes, and reloading tools, but please don't go buying a gun or doing anything scary like hunting or target shooting. OK?
We don't want you to have guns because then you might shoot them.
You might even try to shoot fuzzy bunnies, and that wouldn't be very nice.
Fuzzy Bunny Knows Scopes
Choosing a High-Magnification Scope
Buying the right scope for precision target shooting can be very simple, or you can spend weeks agonizing over the decision. Amazingly, some people spend $850 or more on a high-end scope without ever looking through a sample first. You should carefully inspect focus, clarity, the alignment of the cross-hairs, eye relief and the exit pupil size. Buying a cheap 40-power scope is just going to make you miserable if it isn't sharp or if the exit pupil is too small. If possible, before you buy, examine scopes at a gun store or check out the scopes on your buddies' rifles. Try out the turrets, check the "feel" of the parallax adjustment, and view a variety of different reticles. You may find you have a strong preference for a particular cross-hair thickness, or you may want the ranging capability offered by Mildot and Varminter reticles.
Before purchasing a scope, you need to do your homework. Leupolds are fine scopes, for example, but a few of them have tracking problems or canted reticles that need to be fixed right out of the box, and all of the side-focus models demand that you compensate for lash. Each time you adjust focus/parallax on these scopes, you need to rotate the side knob ALL the way back to the infinity stop and then work back slowly to best target focus. Trust us, this "dial-back" procedure is straight from Leupold's engineers and we can confirm it works.
Confused about Parallax? Here's a complete Analysis of Parallax from the engineers at U.S. Optics.
Resolution: Set up a piece of newspaper at 50 yards and see how well you can read the headlines and text. If you use a weighted plumb line attached to the target frame, it helps to align your sample. Here's also a lens resolution Test Chart you can print.
Image Contrast: Take two scopes with equal optical resolution (sharpness), and give one better image contrast and it will be better for target use. More contrast helps you resolve fine lines and pick out bullet holes better. Some scopes have excellent light transmission, but they would appear much sharper if they were tuned for better contrast. Image quality can also be improved with lens coatings that filter out UV and specific blue wavelengths that degrade perceived image sharpness.
Fuzzy Bunny Knows Spotting Scopes
Choosing a Spotting Scope
Disclaimer: I wish to set the record straight right from the word go. These are my own observations and opinions derived from comparing various spotting scopes in real world conditions. That is to say, at matches viewing bullet holes at various yardages. Please don't fret if we didn't test your new "Jupiter Buster" astronomical telescope that, theoretically, can resolve .22-caliber holes in the black at 2000 yards--at night--in a rainstorm. Maybe it can, I won't argue. If you're happy with what you have, I'm happy for you. For those still searching, hopefully this review will help shed some light, or at least point you in the general direction.
Pursuit of the Ultimate Spotting Scope
The Nikon was much better than the Bushnell. I could now reliably see 6mm bullet holes at 300 meters, most of the time at 400 meters, and sometimes at 500 meters and beyond. The Nikon's 80mm objective gave a much brighter image and was a vast improvement over the Bushnell. For budget-conscious shooters seeking an 80mm scope, the Nikon is attractively priced. The Bogen tripod was stable, except on very windy days when due to wind vibration. Then the image through the scope at 40-60 power was like looking through a shock wave.
Ah, but now I became obsessed with the urge to find a scope / tripod combination that would let me see bullet holes reliably at 500 meters and beyond. Why 500 meters? At the groundhog matches in which I compete, targets are set at three distances, such as 200, 300, and 500 meters. These matches are usually won or lost at 500 meters. If you can't see hits you can't make sight corrections to improve your scores. It can be like a crapshoot, throw five shots down range and hope you're in the bull. To the Nikon's credit, there were times when the conditions were so perfect that I could see impacts at 500 and beyond, but these were few and far between.
I looked through various spotting scopes at every match I attended in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff. I left the sub-$600 price range behind, venturing into the rarified atmosphere of the "Super Scopes". Higher prices delivered ED or Fluorite glass, superior construction, plus vast improvements in eyepiece technology. ("ED" or "LD" stands for low dispersion glass--this lessens chromatic aberration, which can cause an image to look fuzzy. All things being equal, low-dispersion lenses transmit a sharper image because different colors [wavelengths] don't separate as they pass through the glass). The downside of all this research resulted in “sticker shock”. Wow, those babies were expensive!
I began to compile a list of what I considered the top scopes for shooting sports, with the ability to see 6mm bullet holes at extreme ranges as my primary criteria. I judged them in real world situations, side by side, over the course of a season. I tried out as many as I could, at every match I attended. I tried both high-end scopes such as the Leica Televid 80mm, as well as modestly-priced optics. I looked through a lot of Kowas at matches, even two rigged together in the "Big Eyes" configuration favored by some 1000-yard shooters. Ultimately, I selected three top performers:
#1 Zeiss 85mm Diascope with 20-60 zoom. The Zeiss, with its large 85mm objective (front lens), edged out the others in clarity and resolution. Its dual-focus system, employing a course adjustment wheel plus a fine adjustment knob, allowed the best resolution of bullet holes at 500 and beyond.
#2 Swarovski 80mm with 20-60 zoom. The 80mm Swaro was not quite as bright as the Zeiss because it has a slightly smaller objective. Otherwise, it was an outstanding performer, coming in a very close second to the Zeiss.
#3 The Pentax PF 80ED-A with 20-60 zoom. For the money the Pentax is an excellent scope, fully waterproof, with ED glass, and the ability to adjust the angle of the eyepiece--very handy when sitting at the bench or shooting from the ground. This combination was not quite as good as the other two. But, at half the cost, the PF 80ED was definitely a contender. I noted that Better View Desired (BVD), a respected optics review, has chosen the Pentax PF-80ED as its "Reference Standard" among 80mm-class spotting scopes. BVD declared that Pentax offers "simply the finest eyepieces currently available for any scope on the market."
At this point, I must say that none of the three could resolve 6mm bullet holes at 500 and beyond 100% of the time, especially when the mirage was running at its worst.
I chose the Pentax 80ED as my next scope purely on the basis of pricing. Both the Zeiss and the Swarovski nearly twice as much as the Pentax. The Pentax, mounted on my 3221WN tripod with the 3047 head, proved to be a good performer that allowed me to see bullet holes about 50% of the time at 500 and beyond when conditions were bad, and 100% of the time when conditions were good.
The Never-Ending Quest for Better Optics
During this time I accidentally stumbled onto what I consider to be the ultimate tripod / head combo as far as stability goes for our intended use, although some will argue in favor of the massive surveyor tripods that many 1000-yard shooters favor. That would be a Bogen model 3251 with a model 3039 head. Later in the article I'll explain what makes these units so good.
Word to the wise: You can have the most expensive scope in the world but it won't do you much good if you scrimp on the tripod and head. You've got to consider the whole package. Another important thing to remember when choosing tripods is to buy one tall enough so that you do not need to extend the center column. The setup will be most stable, and less susceptible to wind and vibration, with the center column at its lowest setting.
Now, back to the elusive “Bigfoot” 100mm Pentax. As winter ended and spring arrived I still hadn't found any place where I could actually handle one. Some of the New York camera shops claimed they could furnish one, but at $1600+ I balked at buying one sight-unseen. I contacted Pentax USA and they didn’t have any either! They told me that it wasn't a popular model due to the price and size. Their main sales were of the 65mm and 80mm versions to birders and wildlife observers. In fact, the Pentax Rep confided in me that the 100ED might be discontinued due to low sales volume. So, I put the idea on a back burner until I received a call from Pentax in mid June. The extremely helpful lady at Pentax arranged for me, through a great effort on her part, to get my hands on one of the elusive PF 100EDs.
When the brown truck finally delivered the box, I tore into it like a kid at Christmas. My first impression was that it was much larger and heavier than the PF-80ED. Yes, a sturdy tripod was in order for this one. Here's how the two Pentaxs compare: