Archive for Optics

How to test the tracking of a rifle scope

I haven’t discussed my new Accuracy International (AI) rifle, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, too much yet.  (Unless you have been listening to our “We Like Shooting” Podcast, you probably haven’t heard anything about it.)  While I have been waiting for my custom 6XC rifle to be built, I came across a deal on a used AI that I could not pass up, and I had to take the deal!  This meant that I needed a scope. This rifle is going to be my fun, tactical, long-range gun that I won’t mind getting beat up when I’m playing hard.  AI rifles are extremely rugged and known for accuracy and reliability, and with a few specialized tools, changing my own barrels has proven to be fun and easy!  (More on that later.)  But it’s not all roses, along with all that rugged reliability comes a bit more weight than I would prefer in a rifle I’ll be lugging around all the time, so when I started picking components for this gun, weight savings were at the top of my list. For starters I chose a Leupold Mark 6 3-18x for my optic, it is lightweight (only 23 ounces) compact, front focal plane (good for the type of shooting I plan to do), and I love the TMR reticle.  I’ve had some dealings with Leupold in the past that always turned out good so this scope seemed like a no brainer based on my needs.

The first time out with my new rifle and scope out, we didn’t have a chronograph with us, so after zeroing at 100yds, we walked out shots on some known distance targets and made notes of the necessary elevation required.  Using this data I was able to extrapolate the velocity of my hand loads and enter the data into my ballistic calculator.  Using the published G1 BC of the 142gn sierra I was shooting and my newly acquired velocity I began running into some inaccuracies as the distances increased which happens from time to time, but normally not to the extent I was experiencing.  I had a few variables that were hard to account for in just one day of shooting;

  1. New rifle
  2. New scope
  3. Hand loads

The rifle wasn’t a big deal as it functioned perfectly the entire day, so I suspected the loads or the scope.

We hadn’t had a chance to check the Leupold scope tracking before the first time I shot it because it had arrived via a rush order from CS Tactical (Thanks Mike!) on one of my trips to Indiana. I was only going to be in town for a few days, and wanted to shoot my AI and use my Leupold while I was in town. I mounted the scope with Nightforce aluminium rings (more weight savings) that evening, and the next morning we were shooting!

Here is a video demonstration of the test:

We normally always take the time to accurately test the tracking of our scopes for several reasons:

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Following is how we set up our test:

  1. Secure the scope to a stable, level surface.
  2. Measure from the objective lens of the scope out 300 feet (100 yards) with a metal tape measure. (Tape measures this long made out of other material can stretch and throw you measurement off).
  3. Mount a of 4’x8‘piece of plywood.  We built a stand to assist in mounting the board. Place this plywood at exactly 300 feet.
  4. Once the board is standing, use a 4 foot level and make a perfectly level horizontal line very close to the top of the board.  This is your zero mil line.
  5. Measure down exactly18” and make another perfectly level horizontal line, this is your 5 mil line. (At 100 yards, one mil is equal to 3.6 inches and 3.6 times 5 equal 18 inches.)
  6. Repeat step 5. to create 10 mil and 15 mil horizontal lines. (Add additional lines as desired, 20 mil, etc.)
  7. Find the center of the board, and then make a perfectly plumb vertical line down the center of the board, crossing all horizontal lines previously made.
  8. Measure exactly 18” to the left of center, and make another perfectly plumb vertical line, this is your left windage marker.
  9. Repeat step 8. 18” to the right of center. This will be your right windage line.
  10.  Place one inch target stickers on each intersection of the horizontal and vertical lines.

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Once you have the test set up, dial your scope to your rifle 100 yard zero. Ensure the center is precisely on the zero mil target dot at the center-top of your board (magnification is your friend here). Adjust and secure the rifle and ratchet straps as required so it will not move for the remainder of the test.

At this point, dial the elevation turret to 5 mil, and verify the center of the reticle is on the 5 mil target dot indicated on the board. If it is not, note the difference.  Continue by:

  • Dialing 10 mil, note discrepancies
  • Dialing 15 mil, note discrepancies
  • (And continue in 5mil increments if desired – just add extra lines on the board.)

Following this test, return to the rifle zero to ensure you are right back where you started. This will ensure the rifle did not move and the scope returns to zero. Do this test several times to ensure the rifle did not move. You are looking for several consistent, repeatable results.

To check the wind, the test is the same as above, only you dial the wind turret to 5 mil (right and left) and back to zero at each elevation. Note any error discovered.

This test takes a little effort, and a lot of care to set it up properly, but it will give you peace of mind if you take the time to do it.  You will know that your scope is properly aligned, the accuracy of your turrets, validate your ballistic calculator values, and verify your scope returns to zero. I know that most companies probably have an acceptable tolerance of error they factor in, and those values are probably small enough that a human couldn’t shoot the difference. Still, there is a chance that if you do this test, you will find that your scope has a large enough error that it does matter.  This is what happened with my Leupold Mark 6.  When we put it through this test, we discovered that it was off by a little over .2 mil at 10 mil and it was off by .45 mil at 15 mil.  For my 6.5CM, I figured out that I would need to dial 8.3 mil if I were shooting out to 1,000 yards.  The error at this distance could be as much as 7.2”.  Considering there are enough other variables that need to be managed for accuracy, I do not need my scope to add another variable.

We called Leupold and they were really terrific. They listened as we explained the problem, and then agreed that we should send it in.  Leupold does have great customer service. We have already sent it in and Leupold already sent it back (they only kept it for three days!) We will retest it and let you know how it is tracking after the corrections.

Click Here to see all the other scopes we have tested!

View through the Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope

A couple of weeks ago I showed you the new Vortex Razor HD Spotting scope, I have been meaning to get this video of us testing it out at the range posted so you can see the clarity. The glass in this scope is great. This video shows hitting 8″x5″ metal targets at about 540 yards. We recommend getting a good tripod, it make a huge difference. Remarkably finer detail could been seen when the tripod was raised so the spotter could be standing vs. at an 18″ level.  The picture I showed of targets at 1000 yards (see again below) was through a Leupold Golden Ring Mark 4, which is also a great scope, it’s probably better if you are going to be very mobile – other wise, I’d take the Vortex. Read more

Wanna Take a Killer Photo?

I don’t know what to say about this. Is it a good idea, a goofy idea or a bad idea. It is a digital camera for photos or videos, shaped like a replica hunting rifle. The creators of the prototype: Randy and Michael Gregg developed it after they were out on a hunting trip, the day after deer season ended and came upon a deer bedded down. Because it was now out of season, they took a picture of the beautiful animal using their digital camera and the scope of their rifle. They used this successful photo as proof that they had indeed successfully stalked their prey, all without harming one hair on the creatures head. Kill Shot is the current name for this concept. Selling points they use to encourage investors to back the idea include: using it to train novice hunters with no danger to others and the feeling of being on a hunt while harming no wildlife. It seems mostly like a novelty type of item, maybe interesting for a certain group of people. Mostly, I think that those who would be interested in it would be those opposed to hunting – but it seems to me they would just bring an actual camera and maybe do not even own a gun of any kind.  Another group it might appeal to is kids, but it needs an orange safety tip to demonstrate that it is not a real gun. I am not sure about novice hunters. I know some of my readers are hunters, how were you trained?  Most of the people I know who hunt have been doing it all their lives with their dads or grandpas, and as far as I know, learned with actual guns.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope – Oh My!

Lucky? Yes, yes I am. Well – it IS March after all! I have, in my possession, a brand new Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 Spotting Scope. In many of the videos on this site, you will see me as I progress on my long range tactical journey. One thing I realize you have just got to have is a really good spotting scope. If you shoot in pairs, you might think you can get away with using the scope on your rifle to spot for your buddy – but, it just doesn’t quite work. A good quality spotting scope will allow your partner to provide you with detailed tactical corrections – they will see everything including the vapor trails. There are a group of spotting scopes that are THE best, such as Zeiss, Swarovski, and a couple others. Those are very expensive, maybe someday. There are many scopes that are about 1/2 the price, but still very very good quality – prob everything you will ever need. This spotting scope fits in that category.

Granted, I do not have vast experience in this realm, but looking through this scope brings the entire world into focus, heck – the entire solar system. The focus knobs and range rings are solid, firm and smooth. The casing is rugged – although I have been treating my scope kinder than a new born baby. The lens caps fit so snugly, that I almost can’t get them off. The good news is: once they are on, they are on! Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that Vortex has a Lifetime Warranty on their scopes, that is as good as it gets!

A Rifle Above the Rest

Sometimes I cannot believe my good fortune. In this video I am only shooting about 250 yards (with a 223), but the best part of this day was the Rifle I had the privilege of using. It is completely a custom setup and listed below are some attributes:
Caliber = .284 Winchester
Bullet = 7mm 162grain Hornaday A-Max
Krieger 28″ barrel with a 1 in 9″ twist rate
Mcmillian  A5 Stock
Remington action trued by Mark Penrod
Rifle completely built by Mark Penrod
Scope: Leupold Mk4 8.5-25x50mm with M5 Turrets

You can see it in the foreground in the below picture:


Everything about this firearm is perfect, just perfect. No, it is not mine, but belongs to one of the smart guys who take time out of their day to teach me more about guns from time to time. I consider it a work of art. Can a girl fall in love with a Long Range Tactical Rifle?

Hitting at 1,000 Yards (Video)

Long Range Tactical Shooting

1000 yards viewed with naked eye

I have found my true love – long range tactical shooting. I am just getting my feet wet, but it is a great challenge! I have a couple of great guys teaching me what they know and the more I do it, the more I want to learn. This weekend, we went to a location where we could practice on 1,000 yard targets. It is hard to see, but in this picture you can see the naked eye distance from our position to the target. (The target was about the size of a human torso, painted white – located just in front of the red arrow in the photo.)

I have been learning to dial in my elevation and windage as well as range my target.  Because we knew the size of the target, we could use simple math and our reticle to range, but we do have an “app” for that as well.  I will talk about some of the iPhone apps we use in a different post.  We also had the luxury of a range finder. At 1,000 yards you have to be very steady to make it work. (And I learned that invisible twigs and small branches “get in the way” of range finders!)

1000 Yard Target through Spotting Scope

In this photo, you can see what the target looks like through a spotting scope. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to shoot such a long distance, the picture through the scope makes it start to seem very possible.  On this very cold day, we checked our wind, ranged our targets, and then took turns spotting for each other.  I saw a vapor trail for the first time through the spotting scope – very cool to see!

I have read that military snipers and their spotters must be equally qualified in tactical shooting. I bring this up, because I thought it was harder to spot for someone than it was to shoot.  My eyes became extremely fatigued, and I could not always tell where the round went (if it missed) so I could help them make the needed adjustments. This made me think of some of the books I have read about snipers in Iraq or Afghanistan and how they held their positions with their spotters for hours or days with extremely little movement, watching – always watching. To be still and watch a target for so long takes a very special type of strength, and I am in awe of the men who do this for a living.


Researching Optics for Long Range Rifles

Optics for long range rifles have been the main topic on my mind the last month.  I was helping a friend, who just got a new Accuracy International, find the perfect scope for him.  (On a side note, this means I get the .308 he used to use!! We can talk about THAT later!) He is very experienced, and competes in long range competitions frequently, and he knew exactly what attributes he wanted in a scope.  There is a lot of information out there about each scope individually, but not too many direct comparisons of the scopes.  (I think this is because they are so expensive and it is rare for a person to have opportunity to use them in a setting where that type of comparison is possible.)

Much like a car, the type of scope a person buys is a very personal decision.  Because I am rather green on the topic, I might be happy initially with just about anything.  Once a person begins to actually spend time at the range and maybe even in competitions, it is inevitable that you may find some things you wish your scope did better, faster, with less chance of error, etc.  No matter how expensive, the scope that is perfect for one person may not be the best option for another, and that is ok.  Some people like trucks and some people like sport cars.  They both get you where you are going.

Some of the scopes we were considering:

The process of narrowing the choices down to the “one” was very educational for me. We were leaning toward the Nightforce, but that decision was made for us by the company.  They sent out e-mails informing their customers that the exact model we were looking at was in such high demand by the military, that it would be eight months or more until it would be available.

Ok – Nightforce, off the list.

The Hensoldt and the Premier are actually quite expensive, and because of that – I would expect that they would have all the bells and whistles.  I fell in love with the Hensoldt from reading about it, and since it was not my money, I could love it a lot!  (I will still get to use it!)  What??  It costs over $3000 and it does not have a zero stop?  Isn’t that like a new BMW without bluetooth technology?  (Yes, you do not technically need it – but, it defiantly makes life easier.)

Goodbye sweet Hensoldt.

So – we narrowed it down to the last two, the Premier and the Leupold.  Through Promotive, Leupold actually has an amazing military discount, and because of this, the Leupold was almost $1,000 cheaper.  Since we could not find a really good reason to lean either way, I said lets base it on price.  (Anyway, since the Leupold is so cheap, we should be able to sell it and get our money out of it if we don’t like it, so it is a safe plan.)

**click**  The purchase has been made – the Leupold.  I really like the TMR Reticle.  So, the waiting begins, it will take about a month before it is in our hands.  Do we get buyers remorse?  Nope – good things happen to good people.  Two days after we make the purchase of the Leupold, we started to hear rumors that Premier Reticles might be going out of business.  This seems to be just a rumor right now, but I am a little leery of spending so much money just to risk the possibility of a lack of customer service. It is almost as if a ray of light came from the sky and told us we made the right decision.  Now – if that Leupold would just get here!!!


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