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Rifle scopes have storied history

| Friday, April 28, 2006

When I began woodchuck hunting in the mid-1930s, the rifle scope was not the favorite aiming device for varmint hunters.

In fact, most hunters of that era literally scorned the use of the optical sight, and they had a variety of reasons.

Some thought it was taking advantage of the animal by using a magnifying sight. Others believed the rifle scope was not reliable and would fail even if bumped. There's no reason to feel the hunter has the advantage when using a scope.

After all, when a hunter shoots at a target, that person expects to hit it. The scope makes aiming easier, gives the hunter a clear view of the target and makes shooting more precise.

A deer hunter expects to kill the deer when the shot is fired, no matter what type of aiming device is being used. There is less chance of wounding an animal when a rifle is equipped with a scope. There is no real argument that a scope gives the hunter an advantage of his quarry. It just makes it possible to be more precise and humane.

During the Great Depression, rifle scopes weren't exactly dependable. They had internal problems that engineers of that era didn't know how to solve. However, technology usually wins out in the end, and today's rifle scope is vastly different from the early models.

The rifle scope is not new. I won't get into the history of the telescopic sight. But sharpshooters on both sides in the Civil War used high magnification scopes, and history tells us the sharpshooter took a deadly toll.

One of the internal problems with the older scope was leakage of the inert air or gas in the scope that was replaced by moist air. Under certain temperature and weather conditions, the moist air became fog and this blocked the vision of the shooter. Fogging usually took place on warm, humid days, but scopes that were subject to a lot of heat (a gun rack behind the heating stove in a camp) often would cause fogging when the scope was subject to an extreme temperature change.

The fogging would not necessarily take place immediately, but the quick change in temperature would break the seals in the scope and allow the "dead" air to leak out and be replaced with moist air.

Fogging literally is a thing of the past. The new seals and cements used today apparently can be subjected to all kinds of temperature changes without breaking the seals. There have been many internal changes in scopes that helps make them dependable under all types of hunting conditions. Today's high-quality scope is a precision instrument.

I have often been asked what is the difference between an inexpensive scope and one that cost two or three times as much. I'm certainly not an authority on scopes, but the construction of a scope is of the utmost importance. And low-priced scopes are not assembled with the precision and care that the more costly scopes receive.

For instance, a Leupold is subjected to many inspections and several rigorous tests. The Schmidt & Bender scope factory hires only 60 people. Schmidt & Bender's brochure says that some scope manufacturers make more scopes in one day that Schmidt & Bender makes in a year. High quality scopes such as Leupold, Schmidt & Bender, Bausch & Lomb, Burris, Sightron, Nightforce, Kahles and others are assembled with one goal in mind -- optical excellence. And optical excellence should be the goal of all optic manufacturers.

Many years ago, two friends purchased scopes for their big game rifles. Both were variable powder scopes. The prices ran from $29.95-$75. Each man was confident his scope was a lifetime investment. The $29.95 variable developed power-changing problems and severe distortion of the target. It was returned and repaired, but it failed almost immediately. The expensive scope is still being used today.

Leupold's brand new VX-L series is unique in the fact that the bottom of the objective lens (front) is concaved to fit down over the barrel. This permits the use of lower rings, and the concaved objective lens still shows a large field of view. These scopes are not inexpensive, but in optics you basically get what you pay for.

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