How To Adjust A Rifle Scope: What You Need To Do

close up shot of rifle gun

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A rifle scope can appear to be a complicated tool. It can be intimidating. Many hunters opt to have their local gun shop mount their rifle scope professionally. Still, many people make a go at mounting their rifle scope alone. Sometimes hunters or people who enjoy rifles struggle with how to adjust a rifle scope, but with the proper knowhow, the process can prove to be quick and painless.

Always Be Prepared

man fixing his rifle

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If you plan on adjusting or mounting your rifle scope on your own, familiarize yourself with a few helpful techniques. Whether you hunt cape buffalo or whitetail deer, black bear or red stag, prepping your equipment is critical to the success of your hunt.

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Accurately Place Shots


One of the most important preparations hunters are responsible for is verifying that their rifle scope is mounted correctly to place shots at the desired target for a quick and humane kills.

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Applies To All Rifle Scopes


Most hunters enter the wilderness ready to track their game with telescopic sights mounted on their rifles. Need to know how to adjust a rifle scope? You've found the right place. We have compiled useful step-by-step instructions on how to adjust a rifle scope.


Regardless if you're using a high-end rifle scope your granddaddy passed down to you or if you're content with an inexpensive scope you found at your uncle's cousin's yard sale, this article takes you through the process of properly adjusting a rifle scope.

How To Adjust A Rifle Scope

greyscale of man adjusting his rifle

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Not a lot frustrates hunters more than when they fire their rifle and the shot misses the target. Sometimes hunters get so angry that their shot missed the target that they blindly adjust their rifle scope in an attempt to fix the problem; but more often than not, they still struggle to hit their target.

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Never Miss Your Target Again


Again, the rifle scope is adjusted, and again, the hunter misses the mark. Avoiding this scenario is reason enough to need to know how to adjust a rifle scope. Trying to make the correct adjustments to the windage and elevation turrets can be difficult if you are not familiarized with how to adjust a rifle scope.


Properly adjusting the scope can be a simple process for everyone willing to learn, but for many hunters who haven't learned how to adjust their rifle scopes, it can seem like an ivy league education is needed just to get the rifle to shoot straight and hit its target.

Turrets: Up Or Down? Left Or Right?

close up shot of soldier holding a rifle

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A great starting point for learning how to adjust a rifle scope is starting at the very basics and adjusting the rifle scope up or down and left or right. These corrections are made by adjusting the knobs at the top and sides of your scope. These adjustment knobs are referred to as turrets.


Rifle scopes come equipped with two types of turrets. The windage turret adjusts the scope either left or right, and the elevation turret adjusts the rifle scope up or down. Sometimes a rifle scope has a side focus parallax knob for focusing the reticle.

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Elevation And Windage Turrets


Situated on top of your scope sits the elevation turret. The windage turret is located on the scope's right side. Turrets sometimes are designed to be tactical, which means they might be concealed with protective caps. Some turrets don't have the protective cap, which leaves these turrets exposed. To know how to adjust a rifle scope, you've got to familiarize yourself with these turrets.


Exposed turrets are ready to be adjusted with nothing in the way to prevent fingers from fine tuning the rifle scope. The adjustments made on exposed turrets are visible, making it easy to see what your settings are just by looking at them.

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Capped And Exposed Turrets


The turrets with the caps are the more tactical and protected kind. Prior to making adjustments with these, the protective cap must be unscrewed and removed, making this a proper method for how to adjust a rifle scope.


Capped turrets might require a screwdriver or even the side of a penny to make the adjustments; however, some capped turrets come equipped with a little raised dial that you can easily adjust with just your fingers.

You're Not Adjusting The Bullet

illustration of ammos

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Sometimes when people tinker with a rifle scope, they get it in their head that they're adjusting the bullet's path and not the rifle scope. Always remember, you can't adjust the bullet. Every time you pull your rifle's trigger, the bullet shoots out of the barrel the same way, regardless of how much you've adjusted the scope.

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Where Your Bullet Hits


The aiming point through the rifle scope is the reticle, and it doesn't change the path of bullets. While adjusting a rifle scope, you position the reticle to where your bullets hit. The idea is to aim the reticle at the target, knowing this is where fired rounds will go, and taking out the target.

Adjusting Knob Measurements

The form of measurements used in adjusting a rifle scope are either minutes of angle (MOA) or milliradian (MIL). Take a second while you're learning how to adjust a rifle scope and familiarize yourself with the form of measurement on your scope.

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Measure Up: MOA and MIL


More often than not, hunters prefer MOA, as most people believe it's more user-friendly than MIL. If your scope is capable of measuring 1/4 MOA, each adjustment click positions the reticle1/4-inch per 100 yards. A 1/2-inch adjustment


is used for 200 yards, and a 1-inch measurement equals 400 yards.

MIL adjustments differ from MOA measurements; however, MIL is very close. The MIL measures 1/3-inch per 100 yards. MAO is the more precise form of measurement out of the two. Still, when learning how to adjust a rifle scope, MOA and MIL are each efficient and very accurate.

Elevate Your Aim

The elevation turret is located on top of the scope. Most knobs are appropriately labeled U for up and D for down and have arrows pointing which way to turn the knob when adjusting a rifle scope.


For MOA, if you need to move the reticle up 1/2-inch at 200 yards, all you have to do is turn the knob two clicks in the up direction. Still using the MOA adjustment as the form of measurement, to move the reticle down an inch simply turn the knob 4 clicks in the down direction. You'll discover that learning how to adjust a rifle scope comes down to a basic understanding of math.

The Bolt Trick

soldier aiming on his target

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Sometimes turrets are not labeled with the U and D directional. If this is the case with your rifle scope, the ever-handy bolt trick will help you adjust the rifle scope. The bolt trick relies on you being visual. Most of you know the phrase “righty tighty, lefty loosey” for tightening a bolt or screw.

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Exposed and Capped Turrets


This rule of thumb applies to both exposed and capped turrets. The only differences between the two is that the capped turrets must be uncapped and adjusted with a penny or screwdriver. When you click the bolt to the right, it tightens and the bolt screws down. Turning the bolt left loosens the bolt, elevating it. These directions match the directions for adjusting the scope.

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Ups and Downs


If you need to lower your aim, you tighten the bolt by turning it right. If you must make an upwards adjustment, loosen the bolt by turning it left. When the bolt raises, the adjustment moves the reticle up. When the bolt lowers, the reticle also lowers.

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A Penny For Your Thoughts… Or Your Hunt


For those of you who need to know how to adjust a rifle scope with capped turrets, a good trick is to always keep a penny in your pocket. You can keep a screwdriver handy if you want, but a penny is smaller and can easily fit in the pocket of your favorite blue jeans.

Either way, if your scope has capped turrets and you need to make a quick adjustment, but you left your lucky penny next to your wife's old engagement ring on her dresser, then you probably won't be able to make the appropriate adjustments. You never know when you must know how to adjust a rifle scope, even if it's not a part of your plan.

Zero In On Your Target

With any luck, this guide has made it clear to you how to adjust a rifle scope. Eventually, you'll discover that adjusting your scope has become second nature. You won't need to even think about how to adjust a rifle scope because you'll just automatically do it. Once you learn these techniques, it becomes easier with every effort.


If you plan on always adjusting your rifle scope, it's a good idea to practice as much as possible. Knowing every function of your scope comes in handy and makes it so you'll hardly ever be in a situation where you don't hit your target.

If you use your rifle to hunt or just shoot, and you want expert accuracy when taking aim through a rifle scope, you need to learn your rifle and your scope. Never miss your mark again.


Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which One Is Better?

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Various Ammunition Types

Image from Pixabay

Guns have operated the same way for about the last 600 to 700 years. Using a pipe-like chamber that is sealed on one end, an explosive powder is used to launch a projectile out of an opening on the other end and toward an intended target. Over the years the details of this design has changed, but the overall concept has stayed the same. In the 1850s, different types of primer ignition systems came about that would revolutionize the gun industry. So, what is the difference in rimfire vs centerfire cartridges?

There are more differences between rimfire vs centerfire than one might initially guess. Their purposes have shifted over the year, as have designs. Rimfire are at the easier-to-handle, lighter-power end of the spectrum. Centerfire cartridges are on the heavier, more powerful side of and are used for big game hunting, personal protection, and by the military and police.

What Is Rimfire vs Centerfire?

The most obvious difference rimfire vs centerfire is the location on the cartridge where the gun’s firing pin hits. The firing pin strikes rimfire cartridge on the rim and centerfire cartridge in the center.

Rimfire rounds started out as small size ammunition only (.22 caliber or less), but nowadays you might find larger caliber rimfire ammunition if you look hard enough. Centerfire cartridges are available in sizes bigger than .22 calibers.

Brief History on Rimfire


The first rimfire cartridge was designed as a .22 caliber and used in 1845. However, it didn’t contain any powder and seemed to be intended for play shooting. It was even used indoors. The first powder cartridge wasn’t designed until 1857.

Some larger rimfire rounds were made during its heyday, including for the .52 caliber Spencer rifle. However, shortly after the American Civil War, the larger rimfires lost popularity as the powerful and more reliable centerfire cartridges became popular.

Brief History on Centerfire


The centerfire cartridge as we know it was designed sometime during the 1870s. However, there are several primitive designs that came about before rimfire cartridges; some as early as 1808.

Casings grew more complicated and more reliable. The single-piece, thick, reusable casings developed for centerfire catridges proved more economical over the years, knocking rimfire cartridges down to smaller calibers only.

How They Are Made

Whether they are rimfire or centerfire, the basic components of cartridges are the same; but with a few innovational twists added to the centerfire. Making cartridges (both by-hand or in the factory) is dangerous work. Knowing how rimfire vs centerfire cartridges are made will help you better understand and appreciate the powerful tools we sometimes take for granted, along with knowing what type is right for your next hunting trip or visit to the shooting range.

The Parts of a Cartridge


The basic components of a cartridge (or round) are as follows: the bullet, the propellant, the primer, and finally the casing. Each can be made in many different ways, depending on the manufacturing process.

Manufacturing Rimfire vs Centerfire Cartridges

rifle bullets

Image from Pixabay

A very thin brass (sometimes steel, but usually brass) casing is used for rimfire vs centerfire cartridges. The cartridges also have more of an edge on the bottom rim, where the firing pin will strike. This is where the primer is placed using centrifugal force. Both rimfire and centerfire casings need to be within 0.001 inches of a standard caliber in order to properly function and not jam a gun. Even if it feeds into the magazine properly, it can have problems moving from the magazine into the chamber.

In centerfire cartridges, the casing has to be be a lot thicker for the heavier bullets and greater amount of powder, providing a lot more fire power. In this case, the primer bead is separate from the casing. During the manufacturing process, the bead is placed in the primer hole of the casing, and, at the same time, the top of the casing is slightly expanded to make room for packing in the powder and to make placing the bullet easier.

When packing black powder, a precise, and carefully measured amount must be used or there is a risk of inaccuracy from not enough power. Too much powder in a cartridge can be very dangerous and even cause a firearm to explode. When comparing rimfire vs centerfire cartridges, one detail really stands out. Since rimfire cartridges are limited to smaller calibers, less powder can be used; thus there is less power provided to the bullet when fired.

The next and final step in the manufacturing of cartridges is setting the bullet, which is usually covered in a lubricant to make things easier. Once the bullet is seated, the casing is crimped down to meet the proper length standards as well as reduce the diameter and secure the bullet. Special dies are used to seal the entire circumference of the cartridge so no moisture can affect the powder inside. If it even becomes damp, it won’t fire.

Rimfire vs Centerfire: Which Is Better?

Many would guess that centerfire cartridges are the best since the design is an obvious improvement on the rimfire design. The truth is that rimfire very much still has its place. Many hunters and gun enthusiasts start out with a .22 long rifle: a rimfire.

Ignition Systems

Durability

Recoil

Safety

Reloadable

Conclusion

It’s obvious who wins the rimfire vs centerfire argument: centerfire! With lack of availability, accuracy, and variety of calibers, rimfire has many reasons for losing favorability. Rimfire may still have a place in the hearts of gun history buffs and true gun enthusiasts, and many beginners will be thankful for how little recoil it produces and the cheap cartridges. Most hunters, professionals, and military personnel will continue to use centerfire ammunition for years to come until a new, more efficient technology takes its place.

What Is A PCP Air Rifle? Here’s What You Need To Know

There are always going to be better introductory firearms for those looking to improve their marksmanship. What is a PCP Air Rifle? Well, it's the answer for those gun enthusiasts that may be new to practicing as well as those that prefer a piece that's a little bit easier to operate. The supreme user-friendliness of this gun make it an attractive option for many different expertise levels.

Even though their widespread usage has only occurred recently, historically the technology for these rifles dates back to the mid-1500s. The Austrians had their design standards down to a science. Their armies would frequently utilize this technology, and it was surprisingly advanced for the time. These rifles were some of the only 'repeater' firearms and could crank out 24 shots per minute. And since they had caliber specs at .24, this gave them a huge advantage over Napoleon's French armies.

What Is ​A PCP Air Rifle?


man holding a gun

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PCP in this instance stands for "pre-charged pneumatic." This means that the firing system involves a sequential dance involving air pressure and a controlled release of that pressure. In most cases the air is compressed at 3000 psi (or pounds per square inch). An air reservoir is what provides the air that propels the projectile. This can be filled either using hand pumps, small scuba tanks, or carbon fiber tanks.

Once the pressure is right, the firearm is ready for discharge. You pull the trigger, and then compressed air enters the barrel from the firing valve. This compressed air, having no other means of escape, shoves the projectile down the shaft of the barrel and out toward the target.

The release of this compressed air, having directed the projectile at its given target, slightly depletes the pressure in the reservoir, forcing the user to either re-pump or realize how much pressure they have left in a given tank.

Modern Resurgence


What is a PCP air rifle in the context of the modern firearm landscape? This variant was largely discontinued after World War I. This was because the technology driving what we think of as typical firearms was more powerful. The PCP revival occurred around 1980, when their use became more attractive to hunters and newer gun enthusiasts.

Benefits ​Of Using A PCP Air Rifle


someone holding a gun

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There are a lot of reasons this rifle can be a good option if you're not concerned with handling a high powered firearm. It's great for a casual user to pick up at a range, and its output can be manipulated simply and effectively. What is a PCP Air Rifle and how can you take advantage of its benefits?

Small Recoil

With this particular model, you can get away with not having a very forcefully recoil at all. This is because of how the air pressure functions and how that energy is directed within the workings of the firearm. So if you are constantly annoyed by the recoil of more traditional firearms, this can be a great option for you to work on your aim/accuracy.

It's also an exceptionally quiet kind of rifle, which makes it ideal for beginners or if you're in an area that has any kind of noise restrictions. Though it may be ideally tailored toward newer users, more experienced marksmen can get their own advantages through mastering the use of this gun, as well.

High Accuracy

When it comes to answering the question "what is a PCP Air Rifle," another answer could be that it's the most accurate air rifle there is. This is a lofty statement, but it's also true.

With a more traditional spring piston gun, there will always be a learning curve when it comes to aim. But with a PCP, there's no such learning curve and even the occasional dabbler in riflery can pick up this piece and fire it with high degree of accuracy.

Adjustable Performance: The Air Regulator

Most PCP rifles come with just a standard preset that cannot be adjusted. But if you're lucky enough to encounter one with an air regulator, you'll have much more control over the rifle's precision and handling. Most of the time when you fire, the projectile starts with a low velocity, increases, and then decreases again at the tail end of its range. But with this handy little addition, you'll have help managing the pressure in the firing valve.

Some Disadvantages ​Of ​The PCP Air Rifle


woman with a gun

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The benefits we just mentioned do have their downsides. There are simply some tasks that the PCP will not be able to accomplish. This mostly relates to the limitations of the kinds of caliber you can use and the power threshold; which will just never compare to a more traditional gun. So while knowing how to answer the question "what is a PCP air Rifle and what are its benefits?" can be a good thing, it's also good to consider where this piece falls short.

High Cost ​And Upkeep

Starting out with one of these firearms can cost a pretty penny. It's a good idea to have your vision for its use firmly mapped out before you buy. Remember that you're purchasing many different components, including pumps, tanks, and other hardware meant to keep the gun functioning optimally.

When you factor everything in (including filling equipment), the cost can be anywhere between several hundred dollars to over a thousand. However, once you've made your initial purchase, you won't have to procure additional filling equipment with the next PCP model you buy. So the cost does progressively go down.

Cumbersome Built-In Supports

There's also no way around the fact that it does take more disparate hardware to operate this firearm effectively. Yes, this can be mitigated somewhat if you have a 'hand-pump' model, but this also takes time in between shots or series of shots to get the pressure back to where you need it to be. Also, air filling stations are not always the easiest places to come by. So it's good to know where the nearest ones are to eliminate being caught without air when you need it.

Also if you travel a lot, taking PCP rifles with you is much more difficult than a conventional gun because of the components involved. With a more traditional gun, airport authorities can inspect your luggage and determine that a firearm in your checked bag is not loaded and move on.

But with a PCP rifle, there is no way of easily checking for this. There's also no way to look inside the air reservoir, which could lead to a quick confiscation of something that was already so expensive to acquire in the first place. In fact, airport personnel themselves may be less familiar with what they're looking at, so that the question 'what is a PCP air rifle' could lead to the answer: 'not yours anymore.'

Other Operational Considerations


gun and gun bags

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It's always good to practice with an expert. This, in addition to answering all of your questions about what is a PCP air rifle, will also help you learn more quickly than you could on your own. Just for some background, here are a few more operational aspects to consider when using a PCP for the first time:

Scanning ​The Tank

Just like gas in a car, you'll have different levels of power and performance based on how full your air pressure tank is. Paintball enthusiasts may be slightly more familiar with this concept, but in the case of a PCP air rifle there's also a gauge built in. This gauge will tell you where you're at in terms of air pressure. Most gauges operate on a three color system similar to a traffic light. These green, yellow, and red hues signal similar things, as well.

Green means that it's still ok to keep operating the firearm at will, and there will be no sacrifice in performance. Yellow means that you're starting to run low and that your level of pressure may or may not be adequate to hit the targets you desire. Finally, red means that there is not enough pressure at all and that it's time to either switch out the tank or resume the pumping action required until the tank goes back to full capacity.

Considering Your Target

There are also humane considerations at play when using this rifle. This is especially the case when it comes to hunting game. Yes it is possible to make kills with air rifle pellets. However, it requires that much more accuracy, if this is your goal.

Unless you are an expert marksman, in most cases it is more likely that the animal you're targeting is a pest that needs to be killed quickly and painlessly. This just means that you must take extra care and know your limitations. It is our belief that this firearm is a much better fit for this goal than other firearms; though that decision is ultimately up to you.

​​​​​​Conclusion

We hope this introduction has helped you answer the question: 'what is a PCP air rifle,' and how you'd go about using one once you pick one up. As always, make sure you're practicing proper gun safety in any and all circumstances. So be safe; and happy shooting!

Zooming In On Weapon Scopes And Sights To Help You Achieve A Clear Shot

 a view from a scope

View through the scope of an M-91: Image by Heather S. Gordon

Few things are more powerful than a warrior who knows his equipment inside and out. Knowing your weapon, though, is more than just practicing how to use the gun itself. weapon scopes and sights are essential to getting the perfect shot.

These days, weapon scopes and sights are so ubiquitous that even a halfway decent video game attempts to give players an accurate representation of these essential weapon parts. Yet painfully few weapons enthusiasts actually know in detail how they work.

soldier using scopes and sights

Your weapon itself, and all your training and practice with it, can only get you so far. The human eye limits the range of your weapon more than the weapon itself ever could, and the right weapon scopes and sights are essential to getting the shot you need.

That tiny speck that you can barely make out with your eyes pulls up close to you in perfect clarity through the power of your scope. That guesstimate your eyes make of what your weapon is trained on becomes a certainty in the crosshairs of your sight.

target on sight using scope crosshairs

A target seen through a scout sniper observation telescope as Marines with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Djibouti; Image by Cpl. Michael Petersheim via Flickr

Having the right weapon scopes and sights, the perfect accessories for them, and knowing how to use them, adjust them, and maintain them are essential skills for every warrior, hunter, or weapons enthusiast.

Scopes

bushnell tactical rimfire scope

Bushnell Tactical Rimfire Scope on Ruger 10/22; Image from Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) by Hunting Mark via Flickr

Scopes are mounted to the barrel of a weapon at approximately the midway point. They provide magnification so you can bring a far away target into close focus. They let you see both your gun’s sight and your target in a way that ensures you are lined up for the shot.

Types Of Scopes

There are many types of scopes available, and the right choice will depend on your weapon and your shooting conditions:

  • Variable or adjustable scope: you can change the magnification settings with this type
  • Fixed scope: you cannot change settings with this type of scope
  • Night vision scope: provides infrared illumination for dark conditions

How Do They Work?

parts of a scope

Parts of a scope; Original image adapted from Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic by Steyr Mannlicher via Wikimedia Commons

All weapons scopes use a series of lenses much like those you would find in a telescope or pair of binoculars. In fact, in the field, they make a passable substitute for binoculars when binoculars aren’t available.

These lenses magnify when you see through the scope. Your scope will also provide you some kind of reticle that shows where your shot is likely to go. We say “likely” because long-distance shots are affected by many things other than just your aim.

The reticle may look like crosshairs, various types of dots, a star, or a bullseye. The scope will also have a way for you to adjust the elevation, a mounting rail for putting it on your weapon, and often a cap to protect the adjustment and the end.

reticles vector of scopes

Types of reticles; Image by Jellocube27 via English Wikipedia

The user peers through one end of the scope, resting the reticle on the target. By adjusting the knobs, the user can center their scope on the target and adjust for various factors like wind, distance, and the way the bullet will drop in response to gravity.

A Short History

Scopes for magnifying a shooter’s target came into existence not long after the telescope was invented by Hans Lippershey in 1608.

Prior to this invention, all shooters used iron sights only, and these were so reliable that even a hundred years after the first scopes came out, the famous sniper Simo “White Death” Hayha thought they were inferior to sights.

simo hayha

Simo Hayha; Image from Finland Military Archives via Wikimedia Commons

The first scope, called a “telescopic rifle sight” was made in 1776. Unfortunately, it was an unmitigated failure. The recoil of the rifle shoved the scope back into the user’s eye, and the idea was abandoned for a while. Finally, in the 1830s, Morgan James made the first successful scope.

The First Snipers

Scopes produced a new kind of warrior: the sniper. The first snipers appeared during the Civil War, and their existence was almost based more upon the potential of the scope than actual performance. Everyone could see that the “telescopic sight” could do great things, but it would take a while before the potential became reality.

sharps rifle

United States Sharps rifle Model 1859, .52 caliber; Image by Division of the History of Technology, Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution via Wikimedia Commons

Snipers in the North mostly used Sharps rifle, which gave birth to the term “Sharpshooter.” Southern snipers used the British Whitworth rifle, which, when combined with a scope, was the most accurate rifle in existence and the true first modern sniper rifle.

World Wars

The sniper’s place in modern warfare and the value of the scope were well established by World War I. In that conflict, Germany dominated the sniper war with the finest rifles and scopes.

german sniper

German sniper laying on ground near barbed wire defenses; Image from Library of Congress via Picryl

By World War II, rifle scopes were highly developed and available to regular infantrymen, not just snipers. The two greatest scope improvements came from the United States and Germany. In the US, the Unertl Optical Company provided a scope that every soldier to put on an M40 rifle. It proved excellent 10x magnification.

The Germans, meanwhile, actually invited the world’s first night vision scope: the Zielgerät “Vampir” 1229. They put it on their Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle, but it made no ultimate difference to their fate in the war.

soldier using vampir night scope

Vampir night scope tested by British soldier; Image from British Army via Wikimedia Commons

Today, modern infantries issue weapon scopes and sights to all their personnel, and many scopes have been upgraded to allow for easy target acquisition, standard night vision options, auto-aiming functions, and laser range-finders. Many of these are available for the weapon enthusiast, as well.

Sights

A weapon’s sights typically sit at the end of the barrel. They are designed to help the user visually align their weapon to the target. Some people consider a scope a type of sight: a telescopic sight. This is a legitimate way of thinking, but modern weapons tend to have both scopes and sights, making it essential to differentiate.

Types Of Sights

There are several types of sights available for weapons, even without considering scopes to be a subset of sights. Here are the most common:

  • Iron sights: can be single or located at both ends of the barrel
  • Peep sights: like iron sights, but the front sight stays fuzzy until perfectly aligned on target
  • Dot sights: project a dot or holograph onto the target
  • Laser sights: project a laser beam onto the target

How Do They Work?

Since there are different types of gun sights, each works slightly differently. To use simple iron sights come from the factory on nearly every weapon made. The simplest kinds feature nothing more than a simple bump or notch at the end, but most have “open sights.”

types of sights

A selection of open sights, and one aperture sight suitable for use with long eye relief, all using a 6'oclock hold: A) U-notch and post, B) Patridge, C) V-notch and post, D) express, E) U-notch and bead, F) V-notch and bead, G) trapezoid, H) en:ghost ring. The gray dot represents the target; Image from Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported by Fluzwup via Wikimedia Commons

Open sights offer an aperture at the back end of the barrel and a notch or bump at the front. The user lines these up to make sure the weapon is aimed correctly. Peep sights work similarly, but they help the shooter get alignment more quickly by keeping things fuzzy until they are.

Dot sights are the most common these days, and they make shooting a breeze. The dot, crosshair, or other aiming point displays across the shooter’s view. There is no need to align the sights, and the image always stays on target.

soldier looking  on scope for pop up target

Staff Sergeant Sally McCabe sights on pop-up targets; Image from U.S. Air Force by Tech. Sgt. Justin D. Pyle

A Short History

The first guns were ridiculously inaccurate. These 14th-century nightmares didn’t need sights because there was no reason for them: aiming the gun made hardly any difference. All you could do was point it in the general direction of your enemy and hope for the best.

Bead Sights

By the mid-15th century, firearm accuracy was finally good enough that the first bead sights were added to the muzzles. By the 16th century, people had realized that adding a rear sight made the whole thing more accurate. They had also learned to bring the front sight in just a bit, as leaving it at the extreme edge of the barrel made it vulnerable to being knocked and jolted.

Innovations

The next step was making these sights adjustable and providing markings on rifle barrels so shooters could adjust them quickly. It was the Turks who invented the peep sight, and they had a fascinating innovation. They drilled several holes on top of one another, each one designed to be used at a different distance.

Their system was so good that it remained in use until the 1800s. In that century, fully adjustable sights were invented, allowing a user to have just one peephole and move notches around to adjust for distance.

Modern Sights

heckler and koch mp5 pdw galaxy with eotech 551

Heckler & Koch MP5 PDW Galaxy w/ Eotech 551; Image from Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic, and 1.0 Generic by Neevsky via Wikimedia Commons

These came into use during the early 20th century and were used extensively in World War II. These sights use a small reflecting glass to project the aiming point for the shooter. In the late 1990s, holographic sights used the reflective idea and improved upon it by using photography rather than reflection: which did away with any distortion.

Laser sights are highly accurate but are the least-used of all the weapon scopes and sights available. That is because they are really more show than substance. They tend to fool the unwary shooter into assuming aim is true because they can see a dot. Unfortunately, the laser cannot factor in distance, wind changes, or movement by the target.

Terms You Need To Know

An article like this cannot cover every single term related to weapon scopes and sights; however, there are some that every weapons enthusiast should be aware of.

Adjustable Objective

On a scope, this is the dial at the end or knob on the left side. Use it adjust the scope’s parallax to the approximate distance of your target.

Bullet Drop Compensation

Gravity is a thing, and bullet drop compensation is the act of accounting for it. The instant your bullet leaves the barrel, it will begin its inevitable descent towards the ground. The farther away the target is, the more the bullet will drop as it travels. This means an accurate shooter needs to raise their weapon a certain amount to compensate for varying distances. Good weapon scopes and sights help you compensate.

Click

One click refers to one notch of adjustment in a scope’s elevation. Typically, once click will change the scope’s impact point by 100 yards.

Eye Relief

This is the distance your eye needs to be from the end of a scope in order to still see it completely.

Magnification (or Power)

target on sight through the scope

Image by U.S. Marine Corps via Wikimedia Commons

This tells you how powerful your scope is. Magnification is expressed with a number and the letter “x.” A 10x scope shows you things ten times closer than looking with your naked eye.

Parallax

This term refers to the apparent position of your scope’s reticle on the target. Most scopes allow you to adjust this by 100 or 150 yards at a time. If the target and your reticle are not on the same focal plane, the reticle will not fix on the target.

Parallax Compensation

Not necessary for shooting at ranges under about 250 yards, parallax compensation becomes increasingly important the longer distance you shoot. Use the adjustable objective to move the reticle around until the target becomes clear. You’ve adjusted correctly when you can move your eye around, and the reticle does not move off the target.

Twilight Factor

Refers to how accurate a rifle scope is when there is little light. The higher the twilight factor, the more light the scope allows in and the more accurate it will be in low light conditions.

Weapon Scopes And Sights Accessories

There’s almost nothing you can’t get online these days, and that includes an array of accessories to improve your experience with weapon scopes and sights. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the most useful for the average shooter.

Scope Cover

A scope cover is the perfect way to protect your scope from moisture, dirt, or knicks and knocks. The ideal cover goes on and off easily and is made of a stretchy material.

Scope Mounting Kit

If you use more than one scope on your weapon, you will want your own mounting kit to make it easy to take off one scope and put on another. Look for a kit that comes with a leveling tool, a lapping bar handle, a thread lock, gunsmithing screwdriver bits, and a torque screwdriver.

Sight Magnifier

sight scope magnifier

If you have a dot sight, you may want a bit of magnification without the bulk and inconvenience of fitting a whole scope. A sight magnifier gives you around 3x magnification in a small attachment that locks into place quickly and easily.

Lens Pen

This is a handy little tool that allows you to wipe off debris or fingerprints from your scope or lenses without having to fiddle with cleaning compound or worry about scratches. It carries a cleaning compound within it and is shaped like a pen.

Lens Cap

Most scopes will come with a cap on the end to protect it, but if yours doesn’t, or if you’ve lost or damaged the one you have, get another. A lens cap is essential to keep your scope in good working order.

Wind Meter

There are several types of wind meters, and they all do basically the same job. They give you an accurate estimate of the strength of any crosswind so you can shoot more accurately over long distances.

Clip-On Night Vision Adaptor

night vision scope

Night vision; Image from CC BY 3.0 by David Kitson via Wikipedia

If you don’t want to buy a separate night vision scope, you can use a night vision adaptor. These will go on your weapon’s rail and transform your existing scope into one that can see in the dark.

How To Mount Your Scope

Your rifle scope is one of the most expensive items you’ll buy for your weapon. No matter how much money you spend on your scope, it will be useless if it hasn’t been properly mounted. You can get a gunsmith to do this for you, but there’s no reason you can’t learn to do it yourself.

Tools

  • Gunsmithing screwdriver
  • Gunsmithing screw bits
  • Gun cradle
  • Rosin
  • Electrical tape
  • Scope level
  • Gun-safe cleaner
  • Dowel rods

Important Prep

Fortunately, the vast majority of modern rifles are already drilled and tapped to hold scopes, or they come with mountain attachments. This means it’s increasingly possible for the average gun owners to install weapon scopes and sights on their own. It also means it’s crucial to make sure your mounting system fits your rifle.

The next preparatory step is to clean everything carefully. Wipe it all down and make sure it’s dry. Apply a little oil or a rust preventative to the mounting rail.

Where to Mount

Most professionals recommend that you put the scope as low as possible without touching the barrel. Make sure there’s enough clearance at the eyepiece for the bolt to move freely.

The scope bases and rings usually attach with socket heads. Secure just the lower half of the rings for now. As you secure them, make sure your fit is even and stable by tightening the screws alternately.

If the socket system rotates, don’t use the scope to pivot the ring around. Use the dowel rods to do the pivoting. If you want to make sure things never move, you can even add a drop or two of Loctite.

Align Your Reticle

The bottom half of the scope mounting rings should be secured at this point. Put in your scope and then put on the top half of the rings and tighten just enough that you can rotate the scope and move it around.

With your gun cradle holding the scope perfectly level, move the scope around until the reticle is perfectly aligned both horizontally and vertically. Make sure that the scope is far enough forward that your eye is safe, but that you still have good eye relief.

Tighten It Down

marine holding a gun with a scope

Once you’re sure everything is level (use the scope level to double check), tighten down the screws on the top half of the rings. As before, alternate tightening the screws, so everything sits evenly.

Now you’re ready to do some test fires at the range to site-in your rifle.

How To Replace Your Rifle Sights

Replacing iron rifle sights is a bit trickier than mounting a scope. There’s no shame in getting a gunsmith to do this for you if you want to put on different sights. If you’re determined to do it yourself, check out this helpful video to get tips for doing it right.

If you want to add a red dot or reflective sight to your rifle, you’re in luck: these are relatively easy to install. Once again, seeing how to do it is the best way to do it right when it comes to sights.

What To Consider When Buying Scopes

Buying a rifle scope can be a difficult and complicated proposition. There are literally hundreds of choices for nearly any modern rifle, and plenty even for older models. Knowing the terminology and what to look for will help you choose the right scope for your needs.

Scope Number Reading

scope number reading

Scopes come labeled with numbers separated by an “x.” The first number tells you the magnification factor of the scope. If you see two numbers to the left of the “x” separated by a dash, this means you can adjust the magnification.

The number to the right of the “x” tells you the diameter of the scope lens that is farther forward. The measurement is in millimeters.

Choosing Magnification

The magnification of your scope matters. Let’s say you use your rifle for deer hunting in the forest. If you have a scope that gives you 32x magnification, you’re going to find it impossible to see through all the undergrowth and brush to make out anything.

But, let’s say your favorite activity with your rifle is long-distance target shooting. If you’ve only got a 3x rifle, you’re never going to do very well. Scope magnification has to match your intended activity.

looking through the scope with soldier target on sight

Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan (May 21, 2004) - A Special Reaction Team (SRT) member looks through the scope of a sniper rifle to help enlarge targets; Image by Cpl. Ryan Walker via Wikimedia Commons

Basically, scope magnifications between 3x and 9x will make it easy for you to track a moving target and shoot quickly and intuitively. Anything over 16x is going to be large, heavy, and perfect for target shooting. If you want to have options, you can get a variable power scope.

The only problem with variable scopes is that they are significantly more expensive than scopes without this feature. They also tend to be a bit more susceptible to breakage due to the delicate moving parts that allow them to change magnification.

Choosing Scope Diameter

The important thing about the diameter of the scope’s lens boils down to light. The larger the lens, the more light the lens allows in. The scope needs ambient light to transmit the image to your eye, but the scope’s reflective lenses lose some of the light as the image makes the journey.

This means that the image you see through the scope will always be dimmer than it really is. In bright, blazing sunlight this doesn’t matter in the slightest; in fact, in really bright conditions it can be helpful. But at twilight, in the rain, or in other low light conditions, this can seriously compromise your view.

man holding a rifle hunting at sunset

The larger the lens diameter, the brighter and clearer the image will be. In most cases, the more magnification a scope has, the larger the lens diameter will be.

So, do you want to just get the biggest possible lens? Not necessarily. The larger the lens, the heavier it is. The larger the lens diameter, the higher above the barrel it has to be mounted. If the scope is mounted too high, it may make it difficult for you to put your cheek in the right place, compromising your shots.

You can always buy a cheek-riser to compensate, but in many cases, your best bet may be to get a slightly smaller one scope and either add a night vision attachment or switch over to a night vision scope when you know you’ll be shooting in low light.

Choosing a Reticle Pattern

There are a lot of possible reticle patterns to choose from. In most situations, the final choice is just up to your personal preference. However, there are two things worth knowing.

First, mildot reticles have small dots in the center of the crosshairs, and you can use these to tell how far away a target is, so long as you know the target’s size. The dots also make it easier to adjust for wind changes or elevation rises or drops. This is the standard for more snipers.

Second, a BDC reticle is very useful if you need to shoot at targets over a variety of ranges quickly. The “BDC” stands for “bullet drop compensator.” These work well, but once you start shooting over 500 yards, they become less accurate.

Parallax Adjustment

Cheaper scopes usually can’t adjust to compensate for parallax. They are typically designed to offer no parallax at 100 yards. Anything significantly more or less than this and the scope won’t perform very well.

If the scope magnifies at 12x or beyond, you’ll want to make sure it comes with parallax correction.

Focal Plane Positions

Scopes come in either First Focal Plane (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP) designs. Most modern scopes use the SFP reticle arrangement. Basically, this means the reticle you see through the scope will stay the same size no matter how you change the magnification. This is really useful if you will be changing magnification a lot and need the same consistent view no matter what power you’re using.

FFP designs make the reticle scale up and down as you adjust the magnification. The upside of this is that you can be sure your markings are accurate at varying distances. The downside is that the reticle can get a bit hard to see at lower magnifications. FFP designs are best when you know you’ll always be using high magnification.

Scope Prices

Scopes can be very pricey. Budget scopes will cost $200 or less, while the most expensive models can easily run over $3,000. The more money you pay, the more range you get, the more choices you’ll have in terms of reticles, and the better parallax adjustment will be.

price versus value

If you have the chance to test out some scopes on some buddies’ rifles or at your favorite range, go for it. In most cases, and as with most things, you do get what you pay for. However, it’s definitely not necessary to drop thousands of dollars just to get a serviceable, durable, useful scope.

What To Consider When Buying Sights

Iron Sights

rear iron sight

Rear iron sight; Image from Kinkify via Wikimedia Commons

The most common type of sight, iron sights, are the typical factory default for guns. This isn’t a very precise type of sight, especially if you only have one sight at the end of the barrel; but in some cases, they work really well. Shotguns are a great example of a weapon that really doesn’t need a lot of fancy sites.

hand holding a pistol

Pistols also work well with double iron sights, one in the front and one in the rear, though in most cases their effective range is only about 50m. Simple iron and peep sights will also be problematic for you if you have poor eyesight or don’t have time to put in a lot of practice.

Laser Sights

Laser Sights are cool, and they can be very useful for a new gun owner. They can help you get a sense of what you’re doing; however laser sights can actually be bad for experienced users. As mentioned above, it is tempting to rely so much on the laser that you neglect important steps in your development a weapons expert.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that laser sights give away your position when you’re in the dark. This is something to consider if you have a gun for home defense or for hunting.

Reflector Sights

soldier looking through the sights on his m16a4

Lance Corporal Jeromy S. Pilon looks through the sights on his M16A4 in Fallujah, Iraq; Image by Lance Corporal Miguel A. Carrasco Jr. via Wikimedia Commons

Reflector sights are most often used by the military and law enforcement in weapons designed for short range fights. They allow the user to shoot quickly and accurately and can be adjusted for daytime and nighttime use.

You can put reflector sights on a hunting weapon, but in most cases, it won’t be your best tool. Additionally, you need to be aware that moving the sight lever—either on purpose or by accident—means you have to re-sight the weapon.

Maintenance

Weapon scopes and sights require basic cleaning to keep them in good shape. For iron sights, cleaning is a snap. Simply wipe them down with a gun-safe cleaner on occasion.

For scopes, the situation is a bit more complex. Fortunately, modern scopes usually come with coatings that protect the lenses from scratches, but eventually, even the fanciest and most expensively coated lens will need to be cleaned.

What Not to Do

Whatever you do, please don’t use the tail of your shirt, some scratchy old napkin you found in your truck glove compartment, or any kind of ordinary spray cleaner on your scope. Even shirts and cloth that feel very soft to you are going to scratch the coating of your lenses.

As for those spray cleaners, unless they’re purpose-made for the job, they are liable to actually degrade the coating. Never ever use Windex, we’re begging you!

Preventing Problems

The best way to keep your lenses clean is to use lens caps and covers. Whether your gun is being stored or you have it with you but aren’t actively using it, keep the scope protected.

gun cleaners

When you clean the rest of the rifle, keep the cap and cover on your scope: the powerful cleaners that are suitable for the rest of the weapon will destroy your scope lenses over time.

How to Clean Effectively

Here are the steps to properly cleaning your scope:

  1. Get a special lens brush designed for the job
  2. Make sure that lens brush is totally clean
  3. Get a polishing tool: either a lens brush with polish or a polishing microfiber cloth
  4. Get a special liquid scope lens cleaner
  5. With the lens to be cleaned facing down, blow on it to get rid of most of the dust
  6. Lightly brush the lens with the lens brush
  7. For stubborn spots, slightly retract the brush bristles to make them tighter
  8. Polish the lens using a circular motion
  9. Apply lens cleaner if necessary to get rid of stubborn stains

Tips And Tricks

rifle in the field

You want to get the most out of your weapon scopes and sights, so here are some tips to help you make the right choice for your needs.

Match Your Scope to Your Rifle

If you’ve paid a lot of money for your rifle, don’t compromise your ability to use it by saving money on the scope. An amazing rifle demands an amazing and precise aiming device to allow you to get the most out of it.

Use the Right Reticle

A fancy reticle that lest you adjust for elevation and wind could be awesome: but if you don’t really need it you’re just paying money for nothing. If you just want to aim at shorter distances, don’t splash out for a tactical reticle you’ll never get around to using.

Don’t Skimp on the Mount

If you’ve paid a lot of money for a quality scope, the last thing you want to do is mount it to your rifle with a cheap bit of plastic. A strong mount doesn’t have to cost a lot: it just needs to be made of quality material.

fn fal rifle stanag scope mount

FN FAL rifle STANAG scope mount; Image from Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported by WoozleSPB (Sedov K.B.) via Wikimedia Commons

Always Be Level

It is impossible to overstate how important it is that your scope be perfectly level. Even if your reticle is a bit off, that won’t matter terribly if the scope is level. All you have to do is slightly adjust. It’s worth investing in a level device if you do a lot of shooting.

Troubleshooting

When you feel like you should be making your shots but the bullets never hit the target, it’s really frustrating. Here are some troubleshooting tips to consider:

scopes and sights troubleshooting

Bottom Line

In many ways, your rifle is only as good as the sights you use; especially if you’re shooting over distance. A great scope, meanwhile, can improve the accuracy of even an average rifle. Choosing the right weapon scopes and sights means knowing yourself, knowing your weapon, and knowing what your typical shooting conditions will be.

rifles with scopes attached lined up on the ground

Tactical Operations Command, Federal Police Department; Image from Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) by André Gustavo Stumpf via Flickr

If you’re a beginner, however, remember that practice is the most important thing. Even the most expensive scope on the market can’t make up for a lack of skill; and in the end, having a weapon is no good if you don’t know how to use it effectively.

keep calm and carry on post it

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