(Schmidt & Bender PMII scope with 13 mils elevation, 0.1mil clicks, on a Remington PSS rifle.)
What is Practical Precision / Long Range Rifle Shooting?
Practical precision rifle shooting involves engaging small and/or distant targets at the limit of
weapon, ammunition, and shooter capability under time pressure in field settings.
Applications include but are not limited to: very small targets 1/4"-1" at 100 to 200 yards,
so-called "cold bore" shots, arbitrary unknown distance targets, shooter/spotter communication, and
combinations of all of those under time constraints.
Generally, these include everything a rifleman is likely to find in any "sniper", "tactical", or
"field" rifle match. The typical platform is a bolt action rifle, though an autoloader of
sufficient accuracy and appropriate caliber can do the job with some tradeoffs.
For our purposes, consider "long range" to mean within a few hundreds yards of the load's
trans-sonic boundary (the point at which the bullet slows to the speed of sound, Mach 1). For
example, with typical 308 loads and rifles, we are interested in ranges from 25 yards out to about
Some understanding of bullet trajectory and the physical factors affecting bullet flight is needed
as background before discussing optics.
In the simplest case, take an accurate rifle with sights zeroed at 100 yards shooting one type of
ammunition. In the absence of wind or shooter error, the bullet will impact the point of aim (POA)
when the target distance is 100 yards-- hence its "zero" is at 100 yards.
The "line of aim" is a line straight from the shooter's eye, through the sighting device, to the
target. The bullet starts off below the LOA by the distance between the center of the sighting
device and the center of the bore. This is called the "sight over bore" distance. The axis of the
bore is not parallel to the LOA-- the bore is angled slightly upwards. This causes the bullet to
start off with some "upward" velocity. As it flies down-range, it rises to meet the point of aim
(POA) which is where the LOA intersects with the target.
Depending on the bullet's velocity, the bullet might keep rising above the LOA and again intersect
with it a second time as it falls. Alternatively, it may rise just enough to meet the LOA and then
start to fall again.
In this graph, two loads are displayed. The green trajectory is a 308 load zeroed at 100 yards. It
starts 2" low, rises to the LOA at 100 yards, and then drops off, ending around 11.5" low at 300
The red trajectory is the same load zeroed at 200 yards. It starts 2" low, intersects with the LOA
the first time at about 40 yards. At 120 yards, it's about 1.6" above the LOA, then drops,
intersecting the LOA again at 200 yards. This is the second, or primary, zero. At 300 yards, it's
about 7" low.
Looking at the graph with the 200 yard zero, the point of impact (POI) at 100 yards would be about
1.6" above the point of aim (POA). At 240, the POI will be 2" below the POA. At 300, the POI will
be 7.5" below the POA. Thus, to hit a small target at 300 yards, the shooter would have to hold 7"
above the target. The bullet continues to fall relative to the line of aim as target range is
A table can be constructed which relates the drop distance for every range out to the maximum
engagement range. An abbreviated table might look like this, for a rifle with a 100 yard zero. (An
actual table would have intermediate distances like 120, 140, etc.)
This is helpful, but the shooter is left with the problem of how to aim 47" higher than the target
when the distance is 500 yards. There won't be a 47" yardstick sticking out above the target.
Aiming the cross-hairs at a point imagined to be 47" above the target is difficult and very error
Instead of measuring hold-over in terms of linear distance (inches or cm), it would be helpful to
translate those linear distances into units of angular measure. The concept of angular measure is
that an angle of 1 degree demarcates 1.7 yards at 100 yards, or 3.5 yards at 200 yards. Everyone
with a basic understanding of geometry should understand how angles work.
There are two units of angular measurement commonly used in rifle scopes. The first is the "minute
of angle." Dividing a circle into 360 degrees, then each degree contains 60 minutes. One MOA
demarcates 1.0472" per 100 yards of distance.
The second is the "mil". One mil is one part transverse per 1000 parts distance. In units we
understand, 1 mil is 3.6" per 100 yards (ie, 100 yards is 3600", one thousandth of which is 3.6").
Consequently it's also 1 yard at 1000 yards. Alternatively, in metric, 1 mil is 10cm per 100
meters, or 1m at 1000 meters.
Just like the atmosphere pushes on the bullet as it moves forward, slowing it down, any winds
present in the bullet's path can affect its trajectory. The most common effect is the cross wind. A
10mph cross wind will move a typical 308 bullet about 6" at 300 yards. The following graph
demonstrates the wind deflection as range increases for a left or right 10mph wind.
Just like the drop table, we can generate a wind table, which might look something like this:
For moving targets, the shooter must aim in front of the target a distance which depends on the
target distance and speed. This is called "lead." We'll generate a table for some standard target
speed and add it to our table.
Both the "drift" and "drop" values in the tables can be translated to use angular measurements (MOA
or mils) instead of linear measurements (inches or cm) to aid utility.
Typical Data Card
The shooter might end up with a data card that looks something like this. The first line describes
the load so he can keep straight what the data-card describes. The second line reminds him what
each column means.
4. lead for #1's target distance, in MOA for a target traveling at 4mph (a medium walking pace)
All the trajectory values can be calculated using one of the modern small-arms ballistics calculator
programs, such as Sierra Ballistic Explorer, Exbal, QuickTarget, Agtrans, etc. Several parameters
are critical to their accuracy: (1) bullet ballistic coefficient (BC) values, (2) accurate measured
muzzle velocity from a chronograph, (3) solid zero distance, and (4) accurate environmental
conditions including station pressure, temperature, or density altitude.
Data Confirmation by Shooting
It is important to verify computed data by actually shooting targets at various distances and
looking at the actual hits (or misses) to determine if the elevation values are correct. Shooting
known-distance targets every 100 yards out to the maximum range is a good way to do this.
Desired Sighting System Capabilities
Let's look at the things we want to accomplish with the rifle sighting system:
1. Precisely specify drop hold-over out to our maximum engagement distance.
2. Precisely specify wind drift out to our maximum engagement distance.
3. Precisely specify target lead for moving targets/shooter.
4. Range targets of known size when Laser Range-finders are not appropriate
5. Observe target area
6. Retain #1-5's capabilities in low light conditions
Magnified rifle optics have several salient optical properties which we need to understand before
discussing the capability trade-offs later:
Parallax is the error in apparent POA vs. actual POA due to misalignment of the shooter's eye
vs. the scope's axis. A scope can be set to be parallax error free at one distance. A scope
either has adjustable or fixed parallax. Fixed parallax means the distance at which there is no
error is fixed to something like 100 or 200 yards from the factory. Most tactical scopes have
adjustable parallax, which means the user can adjust the parallax error free distance on the fly
to reduce parallax error whatever the current target's distance.
First Focal Plane vs. Second Focal Plane Definition
Variable-magnification optics can have a first focal plane (FFP) or second focal plane (SFP) reticle
configuration. A first-focal (FFP) reticle's features always demarcate the same angular
measurement regardless of the scope magnification setting. The reticle will appear to "shrink"
and "grow" with the target area as the magnification is adjusted.
A second focal plane (SFP) reticle demarcates angular distance that depends on the scope
magnification setting. The reticle appears to stay constant as the target area shrinks and grows
as the magnification is adjusted.
A fixed power optic is FFP by definition.
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September 1, 2005, 01:54 PM
With the background out of the way, What are the capability trade-offs of the different feature choices?
Elevation Adjustment Methods
Elevation specification can be done by external knobs (or direct mount adjustment, e.g. the
Elcan), via reticle features, or a combination.
Knobs: If the primary method of specifying elevation is by external knob, the knob will have
"click" values. Each time the knob "clicks" to the next setting, the elevation setting will be
changed by the click amount. Typical values of clicks are 1/4 MOA, 1/2 MOA, 1 MOA, or 0.1MIL.
(Leupold 3.5-10x40mm M1 scope with 1/4 MOA-click external knobs, mounted on an Accuracy
International (AI) AWP)
The scope's internal mechanical design and the scope mounts used determine the maximum range for
which elevation can be specified. In the specifications for a scope, the maximum elevation
travel is described as something like 60 MOA, 80 MOA, 100 MOA, etc. This is the total "top to
bottom" travel of the erector assembly inside the tube.
If the rifle and mounts are level, the elevation adjustment should be in the middle of its
total travel when zeroed.
For example, if we start with "0" at the bottom, a scope with 60 total MOA elevation will likely be zeroed at
about 30 MOA up from bottom, and cranking it all the way up, it would stop at 60 MOA. In this
case, the scope is limited to 40 MOA elevation from center/zero. This will limit the maximum
engagement range by limiting the elevation setting that can be dialed. For example, if a certain
308 load needs 31.5 MOA elevation for 1000 yards, the described scope will not be able to dial
enough elevation. When it hits its maximum at 60 (30 above center/zero), it will still be 1.5
The way to get around this is to use an inclined scope base. An inclined scope based has some
downward "slope" built in. An inclined base with 20 MOA angle will shift the zero point in the
scope further away from its top extent. For example, with the 60 MOA scope described before,
instead of being zeroed around +30 MOA (its center), it would be zeroed at about 30 - 20 = 10 MOA
up from bottom, and have about 30 + 20 = 50 MOA "up" elevation left. Now instead of running out
of elevation travel trying to dial 31.5 MOA, the scope will dial freely up another 50 MOA-- when it is
dialed to 31.5, it still has 18.5 MOA left for dialing to longer distances.
Elevation Adjustment "Click" size
The smallest elevation change possible using the scope's mechanism will in part determine the
smallest target for which we can specify hold-over at an arbitrary distance.
For example, if we have a scope with 1 MOA clicks, at 400 yards that will demarcate 4.2", so it
will not be possible to dial the correct elevation to hit a 3" target at 400 yards with this
setup. One adjustment setting might be just under the target, and the next would be 1" high over
the top of the target.
The tradeoff of fine clicks is that more of them are required to achieve the same elevation
adjustment. For example, if 15 MOA are required to get to 600 yards, that would be 60 1/4-MOA
clicks, but only 15 1-MOA clicks. The large, coarse click values can be faster to adjust in the
field, at the expense of fine-grained adjustment ability.
(Nightforce 3.5-15x50mm NPR2 with multi-turn, 10MOA, 0.25MOA click knobs, on an AI-AWM rifle. Photo by Frankie Icenogle used with permission.)
If an external knob has a "zero stop" feature, the knob will physically stop turning at or near
its "zero" setting. When the shooter wants to dial back down to his zero, he can turn it until
A scope without a zero-stop, like the pictured Leupold, has a knob that will keep turning until
the erector assembly bottoms out in the scope body tube. Each revolution the knob turns move the
knob up or down, just like a jar lid. On a scope without a zero-stop, the shooter typically
notes which "hash mark" the zero-revolution corresponds to.
Single Turn, Two-Turn, and Multi-Turn Elevation Knobs
In many scopes, a larger click size means fewer revolutions of the elevation knob are required to
reach its maximum elevation. A good example of this is the Leupold M3 knob, which turns only one
revolution but has 1 MOA clicks. The opposite example would be the Leupold M1 knob, which has
3-5 revolutions depending on scope model and 1/4 MOA clicks.
(Leupold MK4 M3 scope on a Remington 700. Photo by Frankie Icenogle used with permission.)
Some scopes are designed to have very many small clicks in only one revolution. A good example
of this would be the US Optics EREK knob, which has 90 clicks per revolution and can be ordered
with 0.25, 0.5, or 0.1MIL click values, which would yield 22.5MOA, 45MOA, or 9.0MIL travel per
Likewise, some scopes are designed to have just two turns of travel, with some indication to the
user which revolution the knob is on. The best example is the Schmidt & Bender "Two Turn" PMII
scope, which has approximately 27 mils of travel in two revolutions. Even the two-turn scopes have
enough travel in the first revolution to shoot to 1000 yards with 308WIN.
(Schmidt & Bender "Two Turn" PMII mounted on an AR10. Photo by Frankie Icenogle used with permission.)
A single or two-turn scope simplifies elevation adjustment by freeing the shooter from keeping
track of the current revolution of the knob. With a regular M1-style multi-turn knob, the
shooter consults his log-book and reads 17MOA, then has to adjust his scope up one full turn
(15MOA) and then two MOA past. With a single or two turn scope, he merely turns the knob about
1/3 of one revolution until the markings for 17MOA are visible.
Bullet Drop Compensators (BDC)
Some scopes come with bullet-drop compensator (BDC) knobs. These knobs are calibrated for a
certain load by having markings typically every 100 yards or meters on the knob itself, so the
shooter can look for the distance on the knob instead of the angular elevation amount. If the
shooter is engaging a target between marked distances, for example 450 yards, he will have to
guess or look up in his data which click value between the 400 and 500 yard markings to use.
A BDC knob is nothing more than a regular knob with markings that correspond to the load used.
Tube Diameter and Mechanical Limit of Elevation Travel
When the elevation knob is adjusted, it physically moves an assembly -- some lenses and the
reticle -- inside the main tube body of the scope, just "under" the elevation knobs. This
assembly is called the "erector" assembly because it inverts ("erects") the image coming from the
objective lens. The erector assembly travels up and down as the elevation knob is turned, and
left to right as the windage knob is turned. The movement of the erector assembly moves the
"zero" of the reticle.
The erector's movement within the scope body is limited by the side of the main tube diameter of
the scope. Thus the larger the scope tube diameter, the more elevation travel will be
mechanically possible. (It is also possible that the elevation knob mechanism itself limits
travel before the mechanical limit of the erector. This is most common in "one turn" scopes like
the Leupold M3.)
Scope tube diameters include: 1" (25.4mm), 30mm, 34mm (Schmidt & Bender), 35mm (US Optics), and
40mm. The advantages of the larger tube diameters are more elevation travel available and a
stronger scope. The disadvantage of larger tube diameters is that the selection of scope rings
is few, however, there are several high-quality ring sets available for 34 and 35mm tubes.
(US Optics 3.2-17x44mm SN-3 with 35mm tube has approx 18 mils total elevation in two turns,
ninety 0.1-mil clicks per revolution. Rifle is an AI-AWP.)
The second method for elevation specification is to use reticle features. Many reticle designs
have hash marks or dots down from the main cross hair which can be used for hold-over. In a FFP
scope, the angles demarcated will be the same at any scope magnification. In a SFP scope, the
angles demarcated will change as the scope magnification is changed. Thus, without overly
complex calculations, reticle-based holdover is most useful in a FFP scope.
Just like the "click" sizes, the spacing of the hash marks for reticle holdover in part determine
the smallest engage-able target size. For example, if a reticle has 1 MIL demarcations (ie, in a
mildot reticle) and you need to shoot a 10" square target at 600 yards, you need to hold
approximately 3.4 mils high, so you'd put the target approx 40% of the way from the 3rd to the
4th mark. If the target is small, there is no precise sight picture-- you're holding "in space"
A more sophisticated reticle designed specifically for reticle-based holdover (and windage) is
(View through Horus H25 reticle at approx 12x magnification, targets at 100 yards)
The Horus H25 reticle is mil-based, with small tick marks ever 0.2mil. A 308 shooter with the
H25 reticle can shoot to 1000 yards using the reticle only.
For example, at the TACPRO 2005 sniper match, there was a stage in which 5 targets had to be
ranged and engaged with one shot each under a strict time limit. I ranged the targets with my
laser and wrote their distances on my note-pad. As I moved from target to target, I only needed
to look up the drop for that distance and use hold-over in the Horus H25 reticle. I didn't have
to fiddle with any knobs. This demonstrates the speed advantage of reticle-based holdover. A
shooter should try to memorize his drop values, and it also helps if he can remember the current target
distances or have a spotter to communicate them.
(Engaging multiple targets with the Horus reticle at TACPRO 2005. Photo by Frankie Icenogle used with permission.)
Hybrid Knob & Reticle
The last method for elevation specification is a hybrid, where the shooter might dial to an
intermediate zero like 500 yards from his primary 100 yard zero, and then use reticle-based
hold-under and hold-over for targets closer and further than the intermediate zero distance.
Reticle and hybrid holdover has the advantage of being much faster than dialing elevation changes
between shots at targets of different range. The downside is that sight picture precision is
reduced because of the larger granularity of reticle features vs. typical knob click values.
Again at the 2005 TACPRO sniper match, on a stage where I knew the distances beforehand (325,
375, 500), I dialed to 375, and noted the hold-under for 325 (0.4mil), and the holdover
(1.1mil). While shooting the stage, I merely used the appropriate hold-under/over points in the
First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane
In variable power scopes, a first-focal plane (FFP) reticle configuration means that the angular
measure of the reticle features stays constant. No matter what magnification it is set at, 1 MOA
will be 1 MOA and 1 MIL will demarcate 1 MIL.
The FFP comes into play because with a wide range variable scope (my SN3 is 3.2-17x), dialing
down the power will widen the field of view. Target to target transition times are drastically
improved by widening the field of view. The ability to locate targets is enhanced by a wider
field of view. To use reticle based holdover without the need to adjust to a specific
magnification setting, the scope must have a FFP reticle.
Another advantage of the FFP is that ranging and miss-spotting can be done at any power and yield
direct accurate results.
Exit pupil size numbers increase as the scope magnification is dialed down. That's the math
behind the observation that a scope at a lower power will produce a brighter image than the same
scope dialed up in power. During the day it doesn't make a difference. During the night, it makes
a big difference in target ID and sight picture. For an illuminated reticle to be useful, its
features need to demarcate the same at whatever magnification is needed for low light.
A FFP reticle setup allows reticle-based and hybrid reticle/click holdover to be used at any
There are some disadvantages to a FFP reticle in certain situations. As the magnification
is increased, the width of the lines which comprise the reticle increase in apparent size and
will obscure more of the target than the fine lines in a SFP reticle. Conversely, when the
magnification is set near the bottom, for example at 4x on a 3.2-17x optic, the reticle lines
"shrink" in size along with the target image and may become difficult or impossible to see in
some lighting conditions due to their very fine width.
Windage works just the same as elevation. Knob clicks or reticle features can be used. The big
difference is that the amount of wind hold off is much less than the maximum elevation required
for the cartridge's maximum range. A typical 308 load might have 8 MOA deflection with a 20mph
cross-wind at 800 yards, while it needs about 18 MOA of elevation at that distance. This means that
windage travel is typically not an issue.
Because wind changes can be very dynamic, using the reticle for windage hold-off can be more
effective than dialing wind. For example, by the time you notice the wind and dial a correction,
it may have changed already. Using reticle windage hold-off can be immediate.
Again, lead works basically the same as windage.
MIL vs. MOA
In principle, either system can be used. If you're thinking about or communicating elevation
values (for example looking at data and then dialing or holding off), a typical elevation value in
MOA for 308 looks like "11.25" which is four digits, but the same mil-based would be just "3.2" or
two digits. (In fact you can go out to over 1000 yards before needing more than two digits of
elevation in mils.) This is less information to process.
There are two types of parallax adjustment. The first is an adjustable objective, in which the
objective bell itself rotates to adjust parallax. The second is a rotating knob typically on the
left side of the scope, opposite the windage knob.
The adjustable objective is optically simpler, meaning fewer lenses and more clarity and
brightness, but the shooter must reach forward to the objective to adjust it. The rotating knob
adjustment is more convenient since it's located closer, near the rest of the turrets, however,
more lenses are involved which can reduce clarity and brightness.
In either case, some parallax adjustment knobs or objectives are marked for range so the shooter
can dial it based on the target distance. Others are not marked with distances, and it's up to
the shooter to determine visually when the image is in focus and parallax-free.
To determine if parallax exists at a certain distance, the shooter aims at an object at that
distance, then moves his head slightly side to side and up and down without moving the rifle. If
the reticle aiming point stays "on" the object, then it is parallax-free. If the reticle aiming
point moves with regard to the object, then some parallax error is present.
In some low-light conditions, it is difficult or impossible to see a black reticle on a dark
target. Most tactical scopes are available with the option of an illuminated reticle.
Mechanically, this consists of some type of external switch or brightness adjustment control, a
battery, and a light source such as an LED (light emitting diode) inside the scope actually
providing the light to the reticle.
Some reticles are fully illuminated, but some reticles only illuminate their center portion. A
fully lit reticle can be too "busy" visually, while a partially or center lit reticle might not
illuminate all the reticle features. Brightness adjustment is critical. If the reticle is
too dim, it might as well not be illuminated at all. If the reticle is too bright, it will wash
out and obscure the target.
There are several methods to turn on or adjust the brightness. Leupold scopes have an
on/off/brightness turret at the 10:30'o'clock position on the ocular housing, just to the rear of
the power adjustment ring. This is offset from the elevation adjustment knob, but still obscures
it somewhat. Nightforce scopes have a simple on/off switch activated by pulling put the cap of
the parallax adjustment knob. Schmidt & Bender have an auxiliary knob on the side for on/off and
brightness adjustment. US Optics scopes with illumination similarly have a auxiliary knob
somewhere on the turret housing of the scope, location depending on other scope features.
Illuminated reticles, when turned on, are visible from the front of the weapon, through the
objective lens as a red/orange light. The frontal visibility depends on the angle of
observation, the intensity of the reticle, and scope design. If it is critical to not be
observed from the target area, then reticle illumination must not be used.
(During a night shoot, shooters are visible only by their cylume chamber flags.)
September 1, 2005, 01:55 PM
Brightness, Magnification, and Objective Size
Most modern tactical scopes will have similar image brightness during the day, but differences at
twilight and low or no-light can be dramatic. There are three main factors which affect low-light
brightness: lens quality, magnification, and objective lens diameter.
The easiest way to increase brightness is to dial down the magnification on adjustable scopes.
There is an inverse relationship between magnification and image brightness. This is another good
reason to choose an adjustable magnification scope.
The second two factors affecting brightness are characteristics of the scope itself. Given two
scopes with the same lens quality, the one with the larger objective lens will be brighter simply
because it can focus more incoming light from the target area through the scope's lenses.
Finally, lens and lens coating quality is critical to image brightness. Higher quality lenses and
coatings will pass through more light and less brightness will be lost through the scope itself.
There is a trade-off to be made between objective size and mechanical considerations. A scope
with a 80mm objective will gather 4x more light than a 40mm objective, but it will be much heavier
and will require extremely high mounts to clear the objective bell over the barrel. Mechanical
considerations favor the smaller objective, and a lower sight over bore distance is preferable
since it reduces the mechanical offset.
(A US Optics SN-3 with a 58mm objective lens. Photo by Frankie Icenogle used with permission.)
The following is the end-point I've arrived at after going through all of the above. A practical
long-range rifle shooter who wants to shoot MOR, sniper, tactical, and field matches should pick a
scope with the following features:
1. Variable magnification in the 3-18x range. Low power is useful in low light, on close targets,
and on movers. Higher magnification helps for target ID and sight picture at long range. Scope
must have parallax and focus adjustment.
2. Knob "clicks" no more coarse than 0.5 MOA. The standard clicks of 0.25 MOA or 0.1 MIL are great.
0.1MIL is about 1/3 MOA. Clicks in this range are fine enough to allow precise specification of
elevation for small targets.
3. The elevation knob should have a zero-stop set up to allow either no clicks below "0" or up to a
couple MOA "below" 0. The zero stop helps to prevent the shooter from being a full knob-turn
revolution off from where he intends to be, and is easier to check settings in low light
4. The reticle must be of a first focal plane configuration. The FFP reticle allows use of reticle
features at any magnification setting, which is useful for target location, tracking of moving
targets, fast engagements, spotting, and low-light.
5. The reticle should have angular features in units useful for both hold-over/under and windage
hold-off. Typical units would be 1/2 MOA hash marks, or 0.2 or 0.5 MIL hash marks. The Horus H25
reticle appears busy, but is ideal for rapid engagements of multiple targets at different
6. The angular units of the reticle features must match the angular units of the knobs' "click"
values. There is no reason to have two different "systems" in use on the same scope. If the
clicks are in MOA, the reticle features should be in MOA. If the reticle is in mils (e.g. Horus
or Mil-dot), the knob clicks should be in mil units.
7. Field-adjustable illuminated reticle. The illuminated reticle dramatically improves sight
picture in some low light environments. The ability to adjust the brightness in the field is
critical to prevent wash-out with a super bright reticle setting. The downside of an illuminated
reticle is that it can indicate the presence of the shooter.
8. Objective size. A good compromise point is a 44-50mm objective provided that the scope has very
high quality lenses, such as those from Schmidt & Bender or US Optics. A larger objective size in
a scope with lower quality lenses may be less bright than a smaller objective with high quality
A Note About Cost
Many people balk at spending $1000 or more on optics. This is misguided. High quality optics are
one of the best places to spend money in a precision rifle system. Along with the rifle
action, stock, and mounts, these costs are fixed over the life of the rifle. The cost of training,
ammunition, and barrels dramatically eclipses those fixed costs.
To illustrate the point, let's analyze the cost of training with a high-end factory precision rifle
(AI-AE) using a top of the line S&B or US Optics scope for 5 years. A rifleman with a moderate but
regular training schedule might shoot 3000 per year. If he is shooting 308, a realistic barrel life
might be 5000 rounds until the groups increase beyond his spec. Over the 5 years, that will be
15,000 rounds and 3 barrels. For ammunition cost, we will use a conservative cost from what
reloaded ammunition might cost.
Rifle cost $2500 (AI-AE minus the first barrel)
Scope cost $2100
FIXED COSTS -----> $4600
This comparison doesn't even include the cost of formal training, match fees and travel costs. If
you plan on shooting regularly to achieve a superior level of proficiency, it makes sense
to buy the best rifle and scope you possibly can.
Based on the above list, there are basically three choices that meet all of them:
1. US Optics SN-3 3.2-17mm
2. Schmidt & Bender PMII
3. (Caveat) Leupold Mark 4 "FF". The M1 version of this scope has no zero stop. The M3 version of
this scope has a zero stop, but coarse 1 MOA clicks.
That's a very extensive write-up. Good photos, too.
I don't know why Leupold hasn't made an 'M2' scope. Something between the M1 and M3 with .5 MOA per click knobs, as opposed to the 1/4 and 1 MOA clicks of the M1 and M3, respectively.
September 1, 2005, 02:03 PM
The new Mark 4 1.5-5x20mm MR/T M2 has "M2" knobs. :neener:
September 1, 2005, 02:26 PM
Ah, I think I went cross-eyed!
Just kidding, that was a very informative and helpful review, especially for someone like me who doesn't know squat about long range riflery.
The last picture was really cool, nice endcap.
September 1, 2005, 03:59 PM
Great article! Thanks!
September 1, 2005, 08:32 PM
Excellent. That was the best article on this subject that i have ever read.
September 1, 2005, 10:17 PM
Very impressive article.
September 2, 2005, 06:02 AM
Very informative, great write up & pics.
October 28, 2005, 07:16 PM
Gonna give this a bump...
October 28, 2005, 08:08 PM
Holy cow ! What a difference 20 years makes! When I was shooting Practical rifle from 83-88 in California, it was much different under IPSC auspices. Here we ran to various positions and fired from various mandated positions. When I started I, along with many others, used an HK-91. The M-1a shooters were there too in ever increasing numbers. Just a few bolt guns in 'deer rifle' configuration.The AR-15 shooters had a problem as 55 grain bullets (no heavy ones yet!) didn't do well at 300 and past.
Anyway I believe it was 85 or so when I got the brilliant idea to switch over to my Brown Precision Urban Sniper rifle, newly out. I have one in .308 and later in .223 1-9" . The .308 Model 700 Rem one was modified for m-14 mags, and printed SUB MOA with Lake City Ball with it's 8x56 Kahles Super S Helia on Buehler Mounts (26mm). This with a long Harris bipod allowed quick rested kneeling shots and every body yelled CHEAT:fire: - to NO avail!:neener:
The next year , after I WON the western regional everybody seemed to switch to a bolt gun and I was 'over the hill' not wishing to get into the 'race' , I just wanted to develop "skills":cool:
October 28, 2005, 08:18 PM
There are still the "IPSC-style" action-shooting rifle matches. For example, we have a local match which has 3 or 4 3Gun-style stages, but it's all rifle and we shoot out to 400 yards, run-n-gun, on the clock. Then most of the larger 3Gun matches have rifle stages out to about 350. I consider this to be basically "medium range."
This optics paper really is more for the sniper-style precision / long-range stuff.
October 28, 2005, 09:41 PM
I thought this thread should have been tacked the first time around, or at least put somewhere where we can find it.
Big Hint to any moderators reading this...;)
Oh, and Zak, I appreciate you taking the time to make this post.
October 29, 2005, 02:15 AM
Zak, great post! I know that you are writing more to the sniper/ tactical etc. crowd but I was wondering what you make of the Shepherd scopes? They seem to fall into your listed specifications quite well. As a plus for a newbie, they appear to be more instinctive to use.
Here's the link
October 29, 2005, 05:47 PM
Used to be First Focal Plane reticles were considered a Bad Thing®, because the reticle grew in size as one increased magnification in their variable power scopes, making for a very busy field of view at higher magnification. I didn't think it was that much of a problem to remember that a given magnification, say 10x on one of my mil-dot scopes, was the correct one for accurate ranging and holdover. There are many high-quality scopes that were eliminated from Zak's considerations simply because of the First Focal Plane thing.
Likewise, many quality optics were eliminated from his consideration because they didn't have zero-stops on their turrets. I consider that to be a not-issue, because many long-range shooters, including myself, do exactly like Zak stated:
On a scope without a zero-stop, the shooter typically
notes which "hash mark" the zero-revolution corresponds to.
Every new scope I get gets checked out, and the elevation and windage traverses get checked click by click against the turret markings for mechanical zero. I then either mark or reindex the turret handle for baseline zero, depending on the cartridge ballistics and scope. I find that important, especially when using bases with 20MOA of elevation cant.
October 29, 2005, 10:50 PM
Used to be First Focal Plane reticles were considered a Bad Thing®, because the reticle grew in size as one increased magnification in their variable power scopes, making for a very busy field of view at higher magnification.
I can't speak to why/if they used to be considered "Bad", but I can address the point made here. A FFP reticle always demarcates, by its line width and features, the same angular measure. It doesn't exactly become "more busy" as the magnification is increased, it's just that the features don't shrink in angular demarcation like they do on a SFP reticle setup. One could argue that a FFP reticle actually becomes less busy as power is increased since parts of the reticle will disappear from view. I don't think a reticle as simple as a mildot is really "busy" in either case.
The other issue with FFP reticles is that at maximum magnification, their line widths are generally thicker than the line widths of a SFP reticle at the same power. For example, compare a USO or S&B mil-dot at 15x to a Nightforce NPR2 reticle and NPR2 will appear to have thinner lines. This does set a limit on the minimum size target (ie, a red dot on a white background) on which one can get a sight picture.
I can obtain a sight picture with a FFP Horus H25 reticle on 1/2" dots (just), and easily on 1" dots. So in the absence of any other larger target-ID features (ie, a single black dot on a white background), a FFP is sufficient for 1/2 MOA (limit) and easily 1 MOA targets. I have done the same shooting 7" plates at approx 675 yards (0.99 MOA). So I guess I don't see that as a big problem with FFP scopes.
I didn't think it was that much of a problem to remember that a given magnification, say 10x on one of my mil-dot scopes, was the correct one for accurate ranging and holdover. There are many high-quality scopes that were eliminated from Zak's considerations simply because of the First Focal Plane thing.
The article is primarily about Practical precision / long range rifle shooting. IMO, this is distinguished from regular long range target shooting by: having to locate and ID targets, shooting multiple targets at different headings/distances, shooting single and multiple moving targets, shooting from improvised or sub-ideal positions, and then doing it all communicating with a partner/spotter, at night, and under time pressure.
Variable magnification scopes help in basically two ways over fixed power scopes:
1. Larger field of view at lower magnification. This helps dramatically when trying to locate targets (on your own, or when your spotter is saying "5 mils left and 1 down from the green bush"), when you will be engaging multiple targets in series (can keep more of them in view) or need to observe multiple things spaced apart, or when engaging moving targets. It's pretty common to see guys with their scopes set at maximum power, or fixed 20x+ scopes, have a hard time "finding" a target, because they get so little context in the scope's field of view.
2. Larger exit pupil and a brighter image. If shooting in low light, turning down the magnification will provide a brighter image and usually makes the difference between being able to make out the target and just seeing vague shapes in the dark.
(Also, mirage is often less apparent at lower magnifications. Sometimes you want to see it to judge wind, but at other times there is enough to obscure the target sight picture-- e.g. shooting 1 mile over burning debris.)
Given these, if you are going to use reticle features for spotting (and commicating) or in aiming, it makes sense to have a FFP reticle. If you are going to do so, but use a SFP reticle, you'll have to train for a second method of doing all those things when you cannot dial to the max power.
The FFP comes into play because with a wide range variable scope (my SN3 is 3.2-17x), dialing down the power will widen the field of view. Target to target transition times are drastically improved by widening the field of view. The ability to locate targets is enhanced by a wider field of view. To use reticle based holdover without the need to adjust to a specific magnification setting, the scope must have a FFP reticle. Another advantage of the FFP is that ranging and miss-spotting can be done at any power and yield direct accurate results.
Exit pupil size numbers increase as the scope magnification is dialed down. That's the math behind the observation that a scope at a lower power will produce a brighter image than the same scope dialed up in power. During the day it doesn't make a difference. During the night, it makes a big difference in target ID and sight picture. For an illuminated reticle to be useful, its features need to demarcate the same at whatever magnification is needed for low light.
A FFP reticle setup allows reticle-based and hybrid reticle/click holdover to be used at any magnification setting.
There are some disadvantages to a FFP reticle in certain situations. As the magnification is increased, the width of the lines which comprise the reticle increase in apparent size and will obscure more of the target than the fine lines in a SFP reticle. Conversely, when the magnification is set near the bottom, for example at 4x on a 3.2-17x optic, the reticle lines "shrink" in size along with the target image and may become difficult or impossible to see in some lighting conditions due to their very fine width.
Likewise, many quality optics were eliminated from his consideration because they didn't have zero-stops on their turrets. I consider that to be a not-issue, because many long-range shooters, including myself, do exactly like Zak stated
Everyone without a zero stop trying to verify their zero setting at night I've seen, has had to resort to breaking out their Surefire to visually check. With a zero-stop, you can tactilely determine the elevation is zeroed. Furthermore, I have seen enough people make the mistake in the field, when NOT under time pressure, and in daylight, that I believe it's important.
Given the state of practical long range / precision shooting, I tried to look at the capabilities which provide the best tool-set to solve the problems. A skilled shooter can "get by" with a SFP duplex reticle, but that doesn't mean it's the best choice.
I am not trying to say that a scope which doesn't meet my "criteria" is junk. There are many quality scopes out there which are great for some uses, but not for others. If someone shoots a different "game" with different problems to solve, they will likely come to different conclusions. For exmaple, if I were shooting primarily K.D. for groups, I would get a fixed power or variable SFP with the finest reticle I could get.
I haven't played with a Shepherd scope, and I couldn't really get a lot of info from their web-site. Just from the pictures there, one concern I have is that I couldn't see any regular, calibrated windage references in the reticle. I believe the best "budget" choice for someone getting into the practical rifle stuff is the Leupold 3.5-10x40mm "FF" M1, mildot. Hunting is a whole different topic...
I appreciate the comments and discussion! This is good.
October 30, 2005, 05:24 PM
Nice write-up. Good to know in case I mysteriously stumble across $8,000 sitting in the bushes.
'Til then, I'll stick with my AK.
October 30, 2005, 06:17 PM
Let's not forget, "the difference between men and boys". :D
December 13, 2005, 08:42 AM
Damn! I forgot & sent my permission by first class instead of express. I'm sorry.
December 23, 2005, 03:21 PM
'Til then, I'll stick with my AK.
or until you want to start hitting targets... and then the targets get smaller and farther... ak's are fun to blast away at 25 or 50 yards, but for real fun, send a bullet whistling over the landscape to a target the size of a 20 ounce pepsi bottle at 800 yards and beyond... that's fun!
December 24, 2005, 12:18 AM
Haha amen :evil:
December 30, 2005, 04:10 AM
Very nice writeup Zak.
It is appreciated.
January 2, 2006, 02:21 PM
One thing you may consider looking at in the future is kinetic energy effect on scope tube - big tube/mirage shades, large optics hanging out there, etc., bring a multitude of Newton's bugaboos out.
Also, the reliability of the mechanism needs to be triple-checked. Some benchrest shooters are leaning back toward fixed scopes with external adjustments (i.e., like John Unertliy's stuff, only updated). Some crosshairs, even on $8-900 scopes, can move as much as a quarter MOA under recoil. Not a good thing. Charlie Hood makes a dealie that can be used to mount two scopes in a stout recoil rifle to make sure that both are saying the same thing... If one's different, then you get to figure out which one it is... But that's generally fairly easy.
January 2, 2006, 02:46 PM
'Til then, I'll stick with my AK.
Accuracy costs money. This is the equivalent of a top-fuel dragster. The AK is the equivalent of a 1960s Volkswagen. They'll both get you somewhere, but they've got vastly different uses.
Engaging a whole buncha targets inside 100 yards? AK's a good choice (but a better choice might be shotguns with 00 Buck...). One shot at 500 or more yards? I'll go for either my 6BR custom or my Savage .308... At a thousand yards? Sorry, but with my existing rifles, I don't really feel confident in that direction. My Savage .308 _might_ make it.
I would disagree with one thing in the original manuscript.
3 barrels for 15,000 rounds? Are you serious? I'd figure at least a dozen. Go through 'em, see which are good shooters, and which are passable, and use the good ones for matches/other accuracy concerns, and use the passable ones for practice. The barrel wrench and vise will only cost $100 or so, and will rapidly become an indispensible part of your toolbox.
January 2, 2006, 06:17 PM
Have you seen the video of the USO SN3 being used to hammer a nail into a 2x4" (with its objective bell)? It's impressive.
But you make a good point. With all that stuff hanging out there, it increases the force the scope mechanics and mounting system have to handle. You also make a good point about absolute repeatability of click values. The way I see it, I am going to send back any scope which has a moving reticle (eg, visible during dry firing), fails a box test, drifts, or does not repeat. I've seen a handful of $800-1300 scopes sent back because their reticles moved.
I wrote the article with "what do you need" and "what features provide those functions" in mind.. An entire article could (and ought to) be written about what mechanically makes a good scope, and how to test.
3 barrels for 15,000 rounds? Are you serious? I'd figure at least a dozen
The example was for a practical rifle shooter / tactical marksman shooting an AI in 308. Those barrels will be good to go from the box, and will easily last 5000 rounds, probably closer to 10. Somebody shooting a game with higher accuracy requirements with a 6XC is going to go through a lot more barrels than the 308 shooter. The economic argument was meant for those guys who don't think about recurring costs over time, whereas the 6XC guys already know about barrel life, etc.
January 15, 2006, 05:11 AM
I wanted to thank you for taking the time to educate the shooters. I have a .308 Steyr SBS heavy barrel that I want to try out at long range. I will have to start with a Sightron 4X16X44 mildot. I know this scope isn't perfect for the job but it should give me some idea about the practicality of the outfit. The rifle came with the 20 mil base.
January 15, 2006, 07:43 PM
The most important attributes for a scope to have:
1. solid zero that does not drift, shift, or get loose
2. repeatable, regular, and calibrated elevation adjustments.
February 13, 2006, 10:09 PM
Any word on adjustable rings? I've needed a set for a while, and just recently found out about the Barrett adjustable rings - but can't find details short of ordering a set.
February 28, 2006, 08:21 AM
I learned a lot thanks. I want to take a precision rifle course just have not had the time yet.
February 28, 2006, 12:37 PM
Adjustable rings are generally not needed, except if the mounting rail is not in-line with the barrel in some gross way, or if you need a HUGE amount of built-in elevation. For most appropriate scopes for applications out to 2000 yards, the commonly available bases with 20-40 MOA built in are sufficient.
If I can solve the mounting "problem" with non-adjustable rings, I'd prefer to. Fewer parts and "adjustments" mean less things that can shift and change my zero down the line.
March 5, 2006, 04:38 AM
Thin Black Line
March 11, 2006, 11:26 AM
"Accuracy costs money. This is the equivalent of a top-fuel dragster. The AK is the equivalent of a 1960s Volkswagen. They'll both get you somewhere, but they've got vastly different uses."
+1. A sniper rifle would be of little use while on convoy when you need to
keep moving out of the kill zone. But they're great on top of tall
buildings in Iraq for removing a bad guy who's about to launch an RPG
These are very nice pics, and I, too, would like to find the $8K for one
as well. Alas, I had to settle for a Ruger 77V that shot hole in hole groups
(handloads) with a Redfield and a Rem700VS with an underpowered 14.5X
scope that can't seem to break 3/4 moa no matter how hard I try to tune
We've come a long way from the days when mosins with their little
scopes and wood-stocked winchesters used by snipers in past wars to
make amazing shots that are still legends to this day.
I always felt the Israeli sniper philosophy was most on target with the
statement of "if it hits between the 1st and third button, you've done
March 11, 2006, 10:43 PM
Zag Smith - you should get the THR award of the year for this excellent post.
March 12, 2006, 05:00 AM
excellent article, i would have liked to have seen some pro/con about fixed power scopes, and also exernal/ringmount elevation windage adjustment, which I personally think is far superior.
March 12, 2006, 01:35 PM
Historically, fixed power scopes enjoyed a real advantage in durability compared to variable power scopes. This is not true any longer; every new daytime sniper system scope adopted by the U.S. is a variable power, the most recent being the S&B 3-12 PMII adopted by the USMC. Variable power scopes have real advantages over fixed power for: field of view (for observation, or tracking of movers), target location, close targets, and low light. There is no reason to get a fixed power scope nowadays, if you can afford a Leupold, USO, or S&B.
With regard to external adjustments, I am not aware of any modern sniper setups that use external adjustments. If you are, could you please post a reference to it? I know that the ELCAN optic used on the Canadian M16's has external adjustments, and one of their complaints is that it gets jammed up because it's exposed. Again, I would just repeat that there are no problems with durability or repeatability of the internal adjustments, so I would question the alleged advantages of the external ones.
Good arguments welcomed on either account..
March 13, 2006, 12:54 AM
Adjustable rings are generally not neededI need 'em. It's either: get 'em or spend 10x as much on a new rifle. Much as I'd like the latter, it's not economically feasable - and the platform I have works perfectly except for the lack of a 20MOA slope on the scope mount, which a GOOD set of adjustable rings would solve nicely.
March 19, 2006, 08:20 PM
I have to agree with you.
April 11, 2006, 07:32 AM
Zak et. al.,
I thought it might be a good idea to post this inquiry here: What would you put on a heavy .338 Lapua Magnum - a prone gun that will overwhelmingly be shot at ranges from 1000 to 1500 yards - if the choice were between a Schmidt & Bender PM II 4-16x50mm and a USO SN-3 3.8-22x58mm?
The rifle is going to be built around a Nesika Bay Precision single shot, round class receiver and into a McMillan A-2 stock with full length, solid glass fill. The barrel will be a heavy, SS, straight taper, 28" Krieger.
The reason I ask is because I've never owned either of the above two scopes. I've only seen them at Shot Shows. I currently own 2 Mark IVs in 16x and a Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x56mm. I won't purchase another of either of these scopes for this rifle, however, seein' as how the quality of Nightforce scopes has deteriorated so much and the Mark IV doesn't have the low light capability that premium scopes with 50mm+ objectives have.
April 11, 2006, 11:55 AM
I have no experience with the 58mm USO's.. Both my SN3s have 44mm objectives. That said, a more appropriate comparison would be the 3.8-22 SN3 with the 5-25x56mm S&B PMII.
Besides the objective size difference, I have used both of these scopes on my 338LM. I find the S&B to have a little more brightness (its objective is 12mm larger); clarity is comparable. I leave the 5-25 S&B on the rifle because I find that I can retain the sight picture more consistently during recoil with the S&B, due to I think a combination of exit pupil size and eye relief. Presumably the 58mm SN3 would have a larger exit pupil than my 44mm, and I am not sure how much effect this would have.
One thing to take into account is that both the S&B and the USO have first focal plane reticles, which means the crosshairs will appear much thicker than the Mark IV or Nightforce. In low-contrast target situations this can start to be an issue with even an IPSC silhouette @ 1500 yards. It's just 1.5 MOA wide at that distance.
S&B has a "Fine P4" reticle, which has line thickness about half the width of their regular P4. I am not sure if scopes with these reticles are "in stores" yet.
April 11, 2006, 05:00 PM
That's all I need to hear. Admittedly, I was leaning slightly toward the S&B anyway, but continued to deliberate due to that fact that I've been hearing great things about the USO scopes from friends who have used them in Iraq. Interestingly, I heard almost nothing good about US Optics and their products from people 'in the know' prior to the death of J. Williams, Sr. (God rest his soul), but his son has apparently 'cleaned house' since then and the quality of USO products had reportedly improved greatly.
I was aware of the 5-25x56mm S&B, but thought it too new (and therefore unproven) to take a chance on it. After all, the little bastards are $2500+!
PS - What propellants do you use in your .338 LM ammo? I got extraordinary results with VV N560, but stopped using because barrel life is so damn short with it (i.e. < 600 rounds, believe it or not). Other powders I've used include VV N165 and Norma MRP2 (the latter powder has been discontinued).
May 8, 2006, 01:05 AM
We have had good luck with H4831SC, RL25, Retumbo.
May 19, 2006, 04:05 PM
can anyone tell the advantages of fitting a weaver rail or tactical rail
to my 700p
May 19, 2006, 04:12 PM
You just need some way to connect the rings to the receiver. A one-piece rail will be mor stable than a two-piece base.
June 15, 2006, 05:13 PM
I wanted to retain the use of my 'Iron Sights' on my Remington 700, so I installed a Bushnell V 4-12 X 40 scope using the Weaver See-Thru mounts. I have zeroed my rifle to where I can put three rounds down range, cover them w/ a penny. :) I can put three round grps into a bulls-eye the size of a fifty-cent piece consistantly in 7-10 seconds, (remember this is a bolt action rifle). I have concentrated on making that first shot my best shot. :scrutiny: That being said, I think it's ready for Deer Season. :D
I have wanted a Remington 700 ADL in .270 for a long time. ;) It is a beautiful Laminated stock which has been hand rubbed w/ several coats of 'Natchez Solution'. The additional rubbing has brought out the real beauty of the stock. $700.00 would not buy it away from me. It has become one of my favorite rifles in my working collection. (Only one of my rifles is a non-shooter, a Mosin-Nagant dated 1896 captured by the Finnish) All others were bought to shoot, & they all get equal trigger time. :)
June 23, 2006, 04:16 AM
How da hell does this Zak Smith guy know so much about this crap anyway?:evil:
June 23, 2006, 12:03 PM
Because he is one with his gun:)
July 2, 2006, 04:09 AM
Great writeup Zak, as i mentioned on Sniper's Hide. Only one change tho i would've made. I think i would've sold it 1st. Your writing/vocabulary skills r topnotch, and your knowledge-base is far and above many successful gun writers. Shame Tactical Shooter isn't still up and running. Would've looked good in there, and had some $ attached too. Some nice little kudos for writing too.
My handgun shooting partner Ernie Bishop just got his APS 7mm Dakota XP-100 built for intermediate-long-range hunting. He's got the 200 gr. Wildcat blasting out the 18" muzzle @ 2700+/-. We just got finished doing the Bower Long-Range Handgun Shooting Seminar in NE this past May. While there, after he sighted in the rig for 200 yds. i challenged him to hit the 36" 1000 yd. disc on the 1st shot. He punches the figures into Exbal on his Pocket PC (figuring .8 BC for that big bullet), and runs the dope into the 8.5-25X Mk 4, sets up on the bench, and nails the sucker @ 4 o'clock 8" off center. We about fell off our spotting chairs when we saw it.
Loved the reticle-ranging feature of the TMR in those Leupold's. .02 mil accuracy was giving us +/- 1-3% out to 1000 yds. on 15, 17, 24, and 36" silhouettes. We used the Varmint Hunter and Ballistic Plex reticles also by adapting the mil-ranging formula, and were real close out to 600 yds. on the same silhouettes.
Hope to meet u in person when we get to Raton's Practical Riflery Comp. one day with our handguns. As an aside, are there any practical riflery comps. that require reticle-ranging besides the Allegheny Match that anybody here knows of??
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