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THEY’RE LIGHT, BRIGHT, TIGHT, AND SIM­PLE. IS IT TIME TO RES­CUE FIXED-POWER RIFLESCOPES FROM OBLIV­ION?

Outdoor Life - - NEWS - BY AN­DREW MCKEAN

MY FIRST CENTERFIRE ri­fle was a Sav­age 99 in .243 topped with a 4X Bush­nell Ban­ner.

That fixed-power op­tic is about as sim­ple as riflescopes get, the next step up in evo­lu­tion from peep sights. It has an unil­lu­mi­nated du­plex ret­i­cle and capped tur­rets for windage and el­e­va­tion. Though I’ve re­tired it, I have killed more an­i­mals with that ri­fle-and-scope com­bi­na­tion than with any other I own, for rea­sons of both util­ity and fa­mil­iar­ity (and also be­cause it was the only deer ri­fle I owned for sev­eral years).

Be­cause it has so few mov­ing parts, that old Bush­nell is durable (af­ter three decades, it’s still mounted on that Sav­age and still holds its zero). Be­cause it has only a hand­ful of sight ref­er­ences—ba­si­cally the coarse­ness of the ret­i­cle and the ta­per in the du­plex—mak­ing holdover ad­just­ments is fast, if not par­tic­u­larly pre­cise.

Fa­mil­iar­ity is an­other as­set. Like a shooter who is to be re­spected be­cause he wields only one gun, a hunter who be­comes ac­cus­tomed to the un­chang­ing sight pic­ture through a fixed-power ri­fle­scope tends to get on tar­get faster and with more cer­tainty than a shooter who fid­dles with mag­ni­fi­ca­tion and par­al­lax ad­just­ment in the heat of the mo­ment.

OP­TI­CAL BRIL­LIANCE

Putting aside sub­jec­tive con­sid­er­a­tions of habit and pref­er­ence, there are some strong ob­jec­tive rea­sons to re­con­sider fixed-power scopes. Chief among them is op­ti­cal bright­ness. Be­cause they con­tain fewer lenses, fixed-power scopes tend to be brighter. You’d no­tice the light-trans­mis­sion ben­e­fit if you put a fixed 4X next to a 3X–9X (the lat­ter set at 4X) at twi­light, but I have ac­tu­ally mea­sured the dif­fer­ence. At 4X, the fixed-power scope is about 8 per­cent brighter than the vari­able. At 6X, the ben­e­fit is about 12 per­cent in fa­vor of the fixed-power model. As you move up in mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, the bright­ness ben­e­fit in­creas­ingly fa­vors fixed-power mod­els.

An­other ob­jec­tive ben­e­fit of fixed-mag­ni­fi­ca­tion mod­els is their shorter eye­piece, due to fewer power-chang­ing lenses, which al­lows them to be mounted far­ther for­ward on the ac­tion. For heavy-re­coil­ing ri­fles, this ad­van­tage of even a few cen­time­ters can be mea­sured in fewer “Weatherby eye” gashes caused by a scope’s eye­piece meet­ing a shooter’s brow un­der re­coil.

Like many shoot­ers, I’ve been se­duced by evo­lu­tions in the ri­fle­scope cat­e­gory. In­de­pen­dent fo­cus achieves a par­al­laxfree and tack-sharp im­age at any dis­tance; zoom range has been en­larged from 3X mag­ni­fi­ca­tion all the way up to 6X and even 8X mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ranges. Sim­ple crosshairs have been re­placed with so­phis­ti­cated rang­ing ret­i­cles de­signed to work in concert with tur­ret sys­tems tuned to sub­ten­sions ex­pressed in inches, mil­li­ra­di­ans, and min­utes of an­gle. In many mod­els, the ret­i­cle can be il­lu­mi­nated with var­i­ous de­grees of bat­tery-pow­ered in­ten­sity.

The con­flu­ence of all that tech­nol­ogy has made riflescopes more ef­fec­tive aim­ing in­stru­ments than ever. And in prac­ticed hands, they are ca­pa­ble of help­ing a shooter place pro­jec­tiles with greater pre­ci­sion and re­peata­bil­ity than older, more ba­sic scopes could. But all that ad­justa­bil­ity cre­ates com­plex­ity. And com­plex­ity can be a liability in snap-shoot­ing sit­u­a­tions, where you need to ac­quire the sight pic­ture, judge the hold, and make the shot in frac­tions of a sec­ond.

Then there’s price. Vari­able-power scopes tend to cost any­where from two to three times as much as fixed-power mod­els of the same brand.

Of course, that as­sumes you can still find a fixed-power scope to buy. Only a few man­u­fac­tur­ers still make them, and those that do tend to of­fer only one or two con­fig­u­ra­tions.

While some man­u­fac­tur­ers have brought out very ef­fec­tive fixed-power op­tics—tri­ji­con’s 4X ACOG weapons sight is one of the best—tra­di­tion­ally con­fig­ured scopes are about as scarce as Mal­ibu es­tates with “Wel­come Hunters” signs. The mod­els here—all of which fea­ture sec­ond-plane ret­i­cles in­side 1-inch tubes—are among the sur­vivors of an un­for­tu­nately ne­glected, but ex­tremely ca­pa­ble, class of riflescopes.

BUSH­NELL ELITE LRS 10X40 SFP The massive ex­posed tur­rets and mil-dot ret­i­cle on this 10X Bush­nell are con­fig­ured for tar­get use. But the lack of par­al­lax con­trol and a first-plane ret­i­cle, and rel­a­tively lim­ited el­e­va­tion ad­just­ment, hand­i­cap it for the range of ad­just­ments re­quired for longer-range pre­ci­sion work. The Elite LRS has a bright exit pupil of 4mm and a wide field of view of just over 10 feet at 100 yards. ($350; bush­nell.com)

WEAVER CLAS­SIC K-SE­RIES 6X38 The K6 hasn’t changed much in half a cen­tury, and frankly it could stand an up­grade. It still has tur­ret knobs that are mad­den­ingly hard to turn with­out a coin or a tool, and in order to fo­cus the ret­i­cle, you must ro­tate the en­tire eye­piece. But the 6X model has a beau­ti­fully wide 18.3-foot field of view at 100 yards, and the tube has am­ple mount­ing di­men­sions. ($260; bush­nell.com)

LEUPOLD FX-II 6X36 Like the Weaver Clas­sic K, the Leupold FX-II line would ben­e­fit from eas­ier-turn­ing tur­rets. But the 6X fea­tures ele­gant lines, a wide du­plex ret­i­cle, a lock­able fast-fo­cus eye­piece, am­ple tube length, and very good op­ti­cal coat­ings. ($300; leupold.com)

HAWKE VAN­TAGE 4X32 AO MIL-DOT Hawke would be bet­ter off with a stan­dard du­plex ret­i­cle in­side this very ca­pa­ble scope. The ref­er­ence dots in this “mil-dot” con­fig­u­ra­tion are not quite to spec. But the rest of the scope is wellex­e­cuted. It sports par­al­lax fo­cus on its ob­jec­tive bell—a rare fea­ture for a fixed-power ri­fle­scope—and it has a whop­ping 28.5-foot field of view at 100 yards. ($80; hawkeop­tics.com)

BUSH­NELL BAN­NER 4X32 This is a won­der­fully ver­sa­tile scope—at home on a deer ri­fle, a slug gun, a rim­fire, or even a turkey shot­gun. The Cir­cle-x ret­i­cle is a fast, ac­cu­rate aim­ing point. The Ban­ner’s wide field of view (31.5 feet at 100 yards) and fast aim­ing point would make it a good choice for a dan­ger­ous-game hunter on a bud­get. ($80; bush­nell.com)

A Mon­tana deer hunter takes aim with a Rem­ing­ton ri­fle topped with a 4X Swarovski scope.

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