How Much Should I Pay for a Scope?

Modern scopes are fog-proof, recoil-proof with brilliant coated lenses, positive adjustments. Enough! (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

By Wayne Van Zwoll

Accuracy follows precise aim. But useless features are a money pit. Maybe you should spend less!

Many of the biggest animals in B&C records fell to rifles with iron sights. Jim Jordan’s whitetail. John Plute’s elk. Zack Elbow’s Quebec-Labrador caribou, Ed Broder’s mule deer. You might say hunters these days have more competition for fewer outstanding animals, that shorter seasons and limited permits reduce the number of chances you’ll get, even at great distance.

Optical sights help you make the most of each shot, and score at long range. But spending more money on a scope doesn’t guarantee you more effective shooting.

This SIG has features now common: illuminated reticle, parallax dial, finger-friendly elevation dial. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

When I began ogling scopes, Weaver cataloged its K4 at $45. Like Bausch & Lombs, Leupolds, Lymans and Redfields then, K4s were fog-proof, with coated lenses – improvements that made post-1948 scopes much better than earlier versions. I still like the 4x sights of that era.

Now scopes have more features. Variable power is up from 3-times magnification (bottom power to top, as in 3-9x) to 4-, 5- and 6-times ranges. You can order range-compensating reticles, illuminated to various levels of brightness with motion-activated shut-off. A turret dial can focus the target and eliminate parallax error. Trajectory-matched elevation dials let you spin to the distance and hold center. Eyepieces on helical threads refine reticle focus instantly.

Complex even in their basic forms, scopes are now packed with features that substantially hike cost. (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Prices have ridden that wave of refinements. Top-end scopes now list for $3,000, even $4,000! OK. Side-stepping the most expensive sights from Germany and Austria, you’ll find plenty at $1,500 to $2,500, like Eotech’s 3-18×50 Vudu ($1,799), Leupold’s 3-18×50 VX-6HD ($2,210) and Meopta’s 3-12×50 RD ($2,530). Bump down to around $1,000, and you can get a Nikon Monarch 7 4-16x50SF or a Vortex Razor HD 3-15×42 for $1,100, a Burris Veracity 3-15×50 for $839.

But wait! Hardly anyone pays MSRP prices for scopes! That $1,100 Vortex Razor HD costs just $900 from one on-line source, the Burris Veracity $700. Figure comparable savings on other models. The biggest bargain may be in 3-9x40s, whose useful magnification range makes them exceedingly popular. Every scope maker I can think of lists a 3-9×40, and price competition is fierce. A Burris Fullfield E1 lists for just $329, and sells for as little as $190 – less than a Leupold 4x. And it gets excellent reviews!

For hunting, stick to essentials in mid-priced scopes. Here Wayne used Leupold’s fine 3-9x Vari-X II. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Before springing for the latest, most sophisticated scopes, think of what you’ll use, also what you can do without. A 30mm tube permits more erector tube movement in the scope, increasing windage and elevation adjustment range. Or, if oversize, yields a slightly sharper, brighter image. But you’ll probably never tap additional W/E range, or detect disparities in images due to erector size. A fast-focus eyepiece is hardly a bonus, because after the reticle is sharp to your eye, you won’t adjust the eyepiece again until age alters your vision! A left-side turret dial serves at high magnification to sharpen the target image. It’s not so useful at 4x. And parallax is a mute issue if you aim through the scope’s center. I’ve occasionally found a lighted reticle useful. But black seldom costs you a shot, even in dim conditions. Broad power ranges leave me cold because all but two of the big game animals I’ve shot could have been handily taken with a 3-9x scope. Arc-matched elevation dials do make a long poke easier. But your .30-06 zeroed with pointed bullets at 200 yards hits at 400 with around 20 inches of holdover – which you should be able to estimate. Ordinarily, marksmanship becomes a limiting factor well before dial changes become necessary.

Heavy, costly, large-diameter scopes require beefy, expensive, tall rings. What will you get in return? (Photo Wayne Van Zwoll)

Powerful glass with a full suite of features not only imposes higher cost; it adds weight and bulk. The K4 and kin scale about 9 ounces. Many variable scopes weigh double that.

Trajectory-matched elevation dials help you hit quickly at very long range. But not inside 400 yards. (Wayne Van Zwoll)

Some exceed 2 pounds, as the 1-inch tube has given way to the 30mm, and now the 34-mm and, yes, 36mm! Heavy scopes demand stout rings to fight inertia on hard-kicking rifles. Tubes with objectives larger than 42mm require medium or high rings. Big sights high above the bore make a rifle top-heavy and impair handling. Ironically, many of these scopes afford you little free tube, limiting options for ring placement.

I prefer scopes that scale no more than 15 percent of the rifle’s weight. A 7-pound rifle will thus bear, at most, a 16-ounce scope.

You needn’t give up variable power to get a slender, lightweight scope that helps you shoot faster and more accurately than hunters once did with iron sights. Keep useless features to a minimum, and that optic won’t take your last nickel.

Wayne Van Zwoll
Award Winning Gun Writer
Outdoor Line Blogger
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

MONTANA!

Living in western Washington, you get used to being around people. Lots of people… That’s not a good thing if you’re a rifle hunter,.. bust your butt to get to the ridge top only to find more souls in blaze orange than you do game animals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home state but every now and then, it’s good to get out and experience some elbow room. When you consider that Montana’s 140,000 square miles is over twice the land area of Washington, there’s less people in the entire state than there is in greater Seattle, elbow room and plentiful game is what you can expect and on this trip we were far from dissapointed!

One of the biggest hurdles in planning an out-of-state hunt is getting a grasp of exactly where the public land is located and if private land access is your aim, who owns the land? In both these aspects onX maps is a definite asset.

Available as a chip in your GPS or an ap on your phone or tablet, topo, satellite and ownership information layers allow you to dial in the desired information!

Once we got boots on the ground we spent a bunch of time glassing and the right set of binoculars is nothing short of vital! I’m so much more than impressed with the Vortex Viper XD 10×42’s. Very compact, lightweight quality optics that virtually eliminate eye strain, there were times that I was barely aware that I was looking through binos!

Without the bright, crisp clarity that Vortex provides, I may have glossed right over this buck in the brush!

It’s been a number of years (nevermind HOW MANY) since I took a muley buck of this quality and I’ll never be able to express my gratitude to my partner Rob Endsley for bringing me along on this wonderful hunt!

I’m absolutely blown away with the accuracy, performance and downrange punch of the Hornady Superformance 180gr GMX. The round was simply perfect for the job. Quick and clean.

Jim Heins aka “Bucket” was next to fill his tag and his fine buck was with another…

…and Robbo was on the “other buck’s” track… It wasn’t long before I was behind the camera and we’ve got three tags filled!

Having the bucks loaded up in the Can-Am Defender Max sure beats having to bone them up and pack ’em out! The heater in the cab of this six-seater was a very welcome comfort as well!

Once we tagged out, the next day it was time to chase some pheasants and Robbo was the first to hop off his Can-Am Outlander and swap the rifle for the shotgun!

After a season of stomping around western Washington pheasant release sites this fall, the look and tail length of Kirk Hawley’s wild rooster is simply amazing. 

Montana is not a far as you think and there’s no time like right now to start looking into an out-of-state hunt. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has a very user-friendly site that will get you started on the right foot, providing you with planning tools such as: maps, regulations, seasons and application deadlines.

For the western Washington hunter in particular, Montana is the closest of the seven western states and offers deer and elk opportunities that Washingtonians can only dream about. When you’re ready, Montana awaits!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Tips for Better Accuracy

by Jason Brooks

If you have been hunting for a few years or more then I am sure you have missed a time or two. We all would like to think that under pressure and when it counts that we will make the shot. And when we do miss oftentimes we start guessing at why the shot went awry. Here are a few quick tips to help with accuracy that you can use before hunting season starts so when you are offered that opportunity to fill the tag you don’t miss.

A quality scope with good mounts on your hunting rifle is a must for accurate shooting-Jason Brooks

1. Use Quality Optics

More than once hunters have fallen victim to using a cut-rate scope thinking that it will work since the rifle is only used a few times a year. Either a heavy rain, freezing storm, or a slip that lands you on your rifle, the bargain-basement scopes always fail. Not only are low-quality scopes prone to breaking due to lack of quality controls when made but the low-cost scopes often lack clarity, precision adjustments, or ease of use. There are several scopes on the market that offer exceptional quality and provide better accuracy. Currently I have a Vortex Razor HD LH on my Kimber Mountain Ascent. This is precision scope built for hunting, and is built with tight quality controls. The scope is one of the most important components to shooting. A good scope, such as my Vortex, is clear, multi-coated to keep the rain from fogging up on the outside as well as the inside of the glass, has micro-adjustments of ¼ inch that are easy tuned by turrets, and most of all it stays true under drops, jarring, and extreme difference in temperatures.

Custom Grade and Premium Ammunition is  more accurate than generic and inexpensive ammo-Jason Brooks

2.  Ammunition makes a difference

Ammunition is one of the other areas where hunters need to understand that the better they buy the more accurate it will be. The reason why some ammo cost more than others is because of the manufacturing of these rounds. From precision length cases, primers, exact measurement of powders and quality bullets. All of the components can make a difference in how the ammunition performs. Most companies that offer high-end precision ammo have their own blends of powder and all of them have done extensive testing. A well-built bullet is designed to fly farther, flatter and hit with more energy than a cheap, mass produced one. All of this leads to much better accuracy. If you have ever hit an animal with a “perfect shot” using cheap ammo and somehow the animal got away, it was more than likely due to a bad bullet design that didn’t transfer energy or failed to create a wound channel that was fatal. Several ammunition manufactures even make custom ammunition tailored for your rifle. Nosler makes a commercial round that is extremely accurate in their Trophy Grade as well as a precise round in their Custom Grade.

Sight-in your rifle in the same conditions that you hunt in-Jason Brooks

3. Sight-in your rifle under hunting conditions

Range time is the most important part of accurate shooting. Before shooting from various hunting positions the rifle must be sighted in. In early Spring I like to take my rifle out and re-check that it is ready to go for the fall. There is a big difference in sighting in your rifle and shooting your rifle. I have yet to find a perfect bench-rest in the high country while elk hunting. Yet, I always spend a few sessions shooting from a good rest, such as a Caldwell Lead-Sled, on a table with a chair. The reason is that I need to make sure my rifle is accurate before I simulate a hunting scenario. I also don’t go to my local gun range to do this as the range near my home is around 500 feet above sea-level, with a covered bench that often heats up in the summertime. I prefer to go to a spot on public land that is at 5,000 feet as I tend to do most of my hunting around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in elevation. I want my conditions to be as close to my hunting altitude, barometric pressure, and temperature as I can. This way when I sight in my rifle I know it is accurate under the same conditions that I will be hunting under.

As hunting season nears my rifle is accurate with good optics, quality controlled ammunition and sighted in for the elevations and temperatures I will be hunting. I am confident that I can make the shot. Well, at least I am confident my rifle is accurate enough to make the shot. A big mature muley buck for some reason always magically evades my bullet. Maybe it’s some supernatural force knowing my rifle shoots straight, as it can’t be my fault…

Jason Brooks
Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle
www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Hunters Convene at Sportco for Spring Seminars

Close to a hundred avid hunters gathered at Sportco Sporting Goods in Fife, Washington yesterday for a day of spring hunting seminars sponsored by Sportco and the Outdoor Line on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Julie Cyr from Sitka Gear (hey…that rhymes) was on hand all day and even took a ride in Ryan Lampers new EXO Mountain Gear 5500 pack. She’s a spark plug for sure and spends every waking second of her free time hunting and fishing.  

Travis Smith led off the day with an outstanding turkey seminar and followed it up with some personal calling instruction afterwards. Travis is a pro-staffer for Zink calls and Avian X decoys and he’s a wealth of info when it comes to turkey and waterfowl hunting in Washington.

Jason Brooks is a regular guest on the Outdoor Line and has a column in Northwest Sportsman Magazine. He’s an encyclopedia of mule deer hunting intel and gave an info-packed seminar on hunting mule deer in Washington state. He also brought in his new Kimber Mountain Ascent rifle chambered in .280 Ackley Improved with the new Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter scope. The whole package weighs in at just 6 pounds. Wow!

Ryan Lampers, a.k.a. Sthealthy Hunter, and his hunting partner Joe Pyburn shared their experiences hunting mule deer and elk in the Washington backcountry. These guys showcased their philosophy, gear, and the training that’s necessary to take trophy game here in Washington. They are living proof that it can be done!

Lampers and Pyburn talking about their extended stays in the backcountry and the preparation it takes to tag out in Washington on a trophy animal every year.

There were great giveaways from Vortex optics, Avian X calls, Shotlock, and Phelps Game Calls. Here’s Brian with his new set of Vortex 10 x 42 binoculars that he won at the raffle. I can’t thank Vortex enough for all their help with this seminar. They are fantastic to work with and manufacturer exceptional products!

Jason Phelps from Phelps Game Calls wrapped it all up with an exceptional seminar on elk calling. Here’s a brief snippet of just one of the many sounds that Jason demonstrated to bring in that trophy bull elk next fall.

Phelps raffled off some of his elk calls at the end of his seminar. We were excited to see this young man so pumped about hunting and there were several other kids in the crowd, as well. Big thanks to the proud parents that brought their kids to the event yesterday!

Carl will be putting this Phelps bugle tube to work next fall.

…and another Phelps bugle tube heading for the elk woods next fall.

This gentleman can now lock up his home-defense pistol in this Shot Lock that he won at the raffle.

This lucky hunter brought home a brand new Avian X turkey decoy that he won at the raffle. Big thanks to Avian X for the great dekes and swag they sent for the seminars. The detail on these turkey decoys is incredible!

Jason Brook’s new Kimber Mountain Ascent and Vortex Razor HD Lightweight Hunter combo was on display after his seminar. You wouldn’t believe how light this setup is.

I even took a little time to get measured up for a bow at Sportco’s bow shop. Looks like I’ll need a bow set up for a 31 inch draw length.

Once again, a huge thanks to everyone that attended the hunting seminars at Sportco yesterday and we should have news of some more fun hunting events coming soon. Best of luck to you all on the turkey opener on April 15th and in the woods next fall!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

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