Setting Up Your Long Range Scope
By Jerry Teo
As the title implies, long range shooting requires more than just setting up a scope. You also need the use of a range finder, drop charts and possibly atmospheric measuring devices.In my first article, I showed you how you can put together an accurate long range hunting rifle on a small budget. In this article, we will get it set up so that you can engage game at extended distance with first shot hit probability.
TORTURE TESTING YOUR SCOPE
Taking the box up a notch.The first thing that needs to be done is ensuring your scope is up to the task. 'Dialing up' for elevation and windage is critical to success so you have to know that your scope's adjustments are reliable and repeatable.To test this, I have come up with a brutal procedure. Many scopes do not pass this test, even some very expensive ones. Better to know now than in the field.
SCOPE TEST #1: RETURN TO ZERO
Mount your scope on an accurate rifle you are familiar with. A rifle that can shoot 1/2 MOA or less AVERAGE. You want to use a solid bench and rests. Shoot on a calm day. We want to eliminate any and all shooter error. A bench rest rifle is ideal. At 100 yards, sight in the scope for dead center POI. Zero and record the turrets as you will need to use this setting often.Turn the elevation turret several times through its entire range. Just spin the knob back and forth through several rotations. Return it back to zero. Don't tap the turret or do some two-step polka. Just dial it back to zero.
I just finished my 3rd complete hunting season using Huskemaw scopes. I like the Huskemaw optical quality, the light weight and the ease of "getting on" the game at the right yardage so quickly with the Huskemaw scopes. As you can imagine, I can use any brand of scopes at any price point on my personal hunts. I choose Huskemaw scopes because Huskemaw scopes work!Take a shot. Did the shot fall into the group? Not close by but right into the same group, dead center? Repeat this test pacing to ensure that the barrel does not get hot - the cooler the better. I like doing this at least 5 times.Repeat the test but this time use the windage only.When that is done, repeat but move BOTH turrets at random through their entire range.
-- Len Backus --Publisher of LRH
At this point you either have a group that looks like someone used a shotgun (toss the scope) or one bug hole about 1/2" across.If the mechanicals are going to stick, they will show up right away and it is very obvious. Have the scope serviced or go to a brand and model that repeats.If the scope survives the above, go to test #2.
SCOPE TEST #2: LINEAR TRACKING
[/B] For long range hunting, you need to 'dial up' the needed elevation to ensure dead-center hold. The scope must adjust not only straight but also the amount expected. If a scope is off even a few clicks, it means a huge difference in POI at distance.To test, set up a target board 50 yards in front of the rifle. Put an aiming point near the ground and a plumb line up from it. Shoot and adjust so that you are dead on that bottom aiming point. That is your new zero.Turn the elevation knob one full rotation, shoot. Repeat until you are at the top of the scope?s travel. Try and test the full elevation range of the scope.Shim the scope if necessary. Measure the distance between these holes. They should be equidistant apart.
It doesn't matter if the value is not exactly so many MOA as predicted by the scope. That will be dealt with later in the fine tuning and calibrating. What must happen is that the distance between groups is the same.The error allowed is equal to the accuracy of the rifle which should be pretty much one hole.Now at random, start at the zero setting and dial up to any of the other elevation marks. Shoot. Did the bullet fall into the same POI? Return to zero. You may or may not want to shoot one here to confirm return to zero. Pick another elevation and dial up to it. Shoot. Repeat until you have at least 3 shots at each elevation setting but done at random.
You will have a series of very small groups all in a straight line equal distance apart. If you get flyers, repeat to ensure it wasn't shooter error.If the groups are large, the scope is not repeating and it is giving you different changes. Good bye scope.If the tracking is not linear or straight up, it will cause a canting error in the field. This will likely lead to a miss.
I have seen some scopes that did an ?S? pattern, others that veered off one way or the other. These scopes need fixing or replacement.Do the whole test again but use the windage knob this time. You should end up with a horizontal line with several groups on either side of dead center.The target now looks like the top half of a mil dot reticle.If you feel really ambitious, you can test both at once and track a diagonal line. I don't bother because the need for massive amounts of windage is rarely called for in long range hunting. If it is windy enough to need more then a few minutes of windage, it's too windy for me to shoot at a big game animal.
I sometimes re-test using 1/2 revolutions just to be sure nothing is sticking.If the scope has passed these two tests, CONGRATS. You have a scope that is repeatable, linear and reliable.The big bonus is the confidence you now have for this scope. I do check my scopes periodically as wear does occur.Now to set it up on your long range rifle...
SETTING UP YOUR SCOPE BASE ZERO
I love Burris rings with inserts. These wonders allow me to shim the scope while retaining a low height above the receiver. The 1" rings allow up to 30 mins and the 30 mm rings 20 mins of shim either in elevation, windage or some combination of both. They also hold a scope without ever leaving ring marks (no more ring lapping). Have yet to have a scope go loose when properly installed.In general, I use good old Weaver bases. They have worked on millions of rifles over decades. I have never worn one out or had one fail. Dirt cheap and readily available too.I will use a Farrel MOA base when LOTS of shimming is needed. These are very well made and lighter then the he-man tactical stuff costing several times more.
HOW MUCH SCOPE MOUNT SHIMMING DO I REALLY NEED?
A common question asked. The only way to know is through shooting your rifle with its favorite ammo.With your accurate handloads, sight in your rifle dead on at 100 yards. Now see how much up elevation adjustment you still have. With most flat shooting magnums we use for long range hunting, 25 to 30 mins will get you to 1,000 yards. Far enough away for most hunters.If your scope has enough elevation without crowding the top few clicks, you are done and can go to field testing.If not, then shim the scope the amount you need. For example, you have 15 min of up left but need 35 mins total. You need to shim your scope at least 20 mins. I always do a bit more as the change of scope can affect what it 'sees'.
For really long shooting, I might use a mil-dot reticle and shim so that full down and a few dots more is my 100 yard zero. This way, dead center of the reticle is actually zeroed for some distance down range. This maximizes elevation adjustment range. Keep an eye on leveling the scope. You do not want to induce a cant as this will cause undesired 'windage' at distance.
SYNCHRONIZING YOUR SCOPE
Now that you have a scope you can trust and a usable zero with lots of elevation to reach out, let's set up the entire shooting package so that you can engage targets with one shot hits from a cold barrel.First off, you need to generate a drop chart for your load. I have been using the JBM Ballistics free-ware for years and it works as well as any other program out there. Big thing to keep in mind - rarely will a drop chart agree with real world shooting! Don't just print out a drop chart and feel you can dial in for all distances from a 100 yards zero. There are simply too many variables and failure is likely.
What we want to do now is make up our own real world drop chart using the generated one for reference. It really doesn't matter if your final chart is significantly different as long as it is reliable and repeatable.We are making a drop chart that is calibrated to one rifle, scope, load, range finder, and shooter! If you can get to a range that allows you so shoot long range, awesome. Otherwise, you will need to get out into the field for the next step.
Using YOUR range finder, range a target at distance. Dial up based on the drop chart, shoot. Adjust as needed so that you are dead on POI at that distance. Repeat several times to ensure you are hitting as desired within the expected accuracy of the rifle. This also verifies the accuracy of your load at distance. 100 yard groups tell you nothing about accuracy further out. I make sure to test as far as I intend to hunt. You might be surprised at how inaccurate a load might get as distance increases.Repeat for as many distances as you can. I like to do 300 yards, 500 yards, 700 yards and 1,000 yards, whatever your max distance is, to start.
Tweak the ballistics program numbers until the generated drops agree with your scope adjustments. It will be very close over your four data points.With the 'new' drop chart, repeat shooting, verifying all ranges with YOUR range finder. This time range other distances. Hopefully, you will be hitting dead-on based on your new chart. If not, collect the new drops and adjust the chart again.I have had a couple of rifles where most distances were different from the computer print out. I ended up with my own customized chart that suited my setup. I had come-ups for every 50 yards from 300 yards to 1,000 yards. This is a lot of shooting but that set up was dead on in the field.
At this time, you have shot your rifle, adjusted your scope, and used your range finder enough to get a feeling for how repeatable and reliable your package is. If nothing seems to repeat, look long and hard at changing some if not all of the items. Also, be critical about your ability to shoot long range in the field.
Assuming all is well, this is the final test tha toccurs over as many outings as possible.With a cold barrel, range a target the size of the game's boiler room, dope the conditions, dial up the needed adjustments, shoot - HIT.Repeat always from a cold barrel. ONE SHOT, ONE HIT.When you get to this point, you have a very high degree of confidence in your set up and your ability to put that first bullet on target at many football fields away.
Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. Go out in all weather conditions to test your gear and learn what it and you can do under real world situations. This will define your limits. You will learn a lot, too. It will also identify changes due to ambient conditions. Watch for substantial drop changes going from hot to cold weather. A change in primer and/or powder might be in order. Ensure there is no change in accuracy either. It really should feel as "easy" to do a long range shot as a 200 yd shot. Spot, range, dope, dial up, shoot, go getyour game.
The mechanics of long range hunting should be that simple and straightforward.This is hunting, NOT target shooting. The goal is to harvest game, not launch lead in the hopes of getting something. If you don't have this level of confidence, tweak your gear and get A LOT more trigger time. Either that or get a whole lot closer.
Jerry shoots regularly out to one mile and also competes in F class. His current cartridges are 223, 6.5 Mystic, 7 Mystic, 308, 300RUM and 338 Mystic. He enjoys experimenting with gear and widcatting in order to increase accuracy performance and to debunk accuracy myths.