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Barrel Twist and Other Wizardry

Everybody knows about barrel-twist right? The most basic feature that makes a rifle a rifle is often a very overlooked subject, and one that today we will dive into a bit more. But first, are you one of the many shooters out there who is under-twisted?

What is a Twist?

For those following the conversation that may not have a perfect understanding of the concept, lets state it clearly. Lands and grooves are the interior features of a rifle barrel, they are like threads to a screw but they run the length of the barrel. If you’ve ever looked down the bore of a rifle, you’ve seen the long twisted lines that force a bullet to rotate as it accelerates. Barrel twist is specified to dictate a bullets rate of rotation (or spinning). Much like the threads on a screw, the rifling in a barrel are cut to a specific rotational value to stabilize the bullets that will be fired down the bore. For every inch down the bore traveled by a bullet, it is rotated along its axis a certain degree, just how much depends on how aggressive the twist rate is. The twist rate is universally referred to as ONE rotation in every XX.X (numerical denomination), such as one rotation every ten inches (1-10). So if your barrel is a 1-10 (common parlance: “one-in-ten”) twist, and twenty inches long, it will have completed (in theory) two complete rotations by the time it leaves the muzzle.

So Why Are There Different Twist Rates?

The whole reason rifles are better than their ancestral muskets, is because they spin the projectile, which stabilizes It. The centrifugal spinning of the projectile gives it more stable flight, and keeps it more inline with the course it started on. Much like spinning a child’s top to keep it standing on its point, the spinning bullet keeps its point in the same direction from when it was released.

Spinning an egg to get it to stand on point is much easier than spinning a pencil, or a bottle. Mainly because of its short round shape. The longer an object is, the faster it needs to be turned in order to get it to stand on point using only its centrifugal force. The same forces are at play with airborne projectiles.

Two bullets of identical weights (115 gr), but one is obviously much longer. Take a stab at which one is the better performer…

A typical bullet fired from a 5.56 cartridge weighs 55 grains, and since the diameter of the bore cannot change, most 55 grain 5.56 bullets are similar in length. When a larger (heavier) bullet is used, it typically is longer. The diameter cant change, so the only way to make a bullet heavier is to make it longer (or use heavier materials but lets stay on topic). And longer bullets are harder to stabilize without spinning them faster. Whereas a 55 grain bullet will stabilize in an 11 or 12 twist barrel, a 77 grain bullet will not. The longer 77 grain bullet if fired from the too slow a twist barrel will tumble upon leaving the muzzle, which makes for terrible downrange predictability.

When we say fast twist, we refer to the shorter distance traveled to complete a rotation. A 1-8 twist barrel completes a rotation in 8 inches vs. a 1-12 twist takes four more inches to complete a rotation (Fast twist=Lower number and Slow twist=higher number).

The same goes for bullets of every size and weight, they must be spun at the proper rate in order to maintain stable flight.

Why Does it matter?
You might be thinking Why does this matter to me? Gun manufacturers have been making guns for long enough to know the right twist rates right? I buy ammo, load it, and pull the trigger over and over and bullets frequently hit targets if I’m lucky.

The last decade has seen great advances in bullet design and technology, vastly superior to the previous 40-50 years before it. Bullets have grown in performance, and length in many cases. Longer and pointy-er bullets have increased efficiency, making them superior performers in almost every way. These ballistically superior bullets are better at wind deflection, drop over distances, and energy retention. Additional weight and length is generally one element that these bullets share. And as we’ve already discussed, longer and heavier bullets required faster twist rates to stabilize them.

So we find ourselves in the midst of a dilemma; there are both bullets and ammunition available on the market today that require the use of faster twist barrels, and yet many firearm manufacturers still use the same barrel twists they have since the sixties and seventies.

A typical loading for the common 300WM thirty years ago would have featured a 165-180 grain bullet, either of which would be properly stabilized in the common 11-12 inch twist rate. But if you could find a box of ammunition in a store today, it could feature bullets as large as 230 grains, which require a much faster twist like a 1-8 or 1-9. If you were to shoot that ammo in your Dad’s old 300WM with a 12 twist, it would shoot like a wet pool noodle in a hurricane. Heavy loads like that will only do well with a proper twisted barrel.
Tipped bullets are another advancement in bullet technology, read more about them here

In addition to the longer and heavier bullets, there are also some bullets that aren’t heavier, but still require a faster twist than historical bullets of the same weight. For example; sticking with the 300WM, you could shoot a heavy round nosed 180-190 grain bullet from the slower 11-12 inch twist barrels, but today you can find bullets that weigh-in at the same class, but still require a faster twist barrel because they are longer by design. Monolithic copper solid bullets like the PVA Cayuga are much longer than lead cored bullets of the same weight.
The reason it matters to you as the shooter is that you must use the right combination of barrel twist and bullet if you want to do well.


Plan of Attack

To improve your performance you can approach this from two different methods depending on your plans. But before doing so, you should define your purposes (ie hunting, target shooting, long-range, etc.). If you plan to hit steel targets at a mile, then select a bullet in the caliber of your choice that will do the job adequately. If hunting moose at 500 yards is your purpose, then again choose a bullet in the caliber of your choice that will do the job adequately.

Barrel twist should be determined well before a rifle is built, click here for more tips on building your own custom rifle.

If you are building or purchasing a rifle, you can either select a model with the appropriate caliber and twist rate for your planned purpose, or you can specify that caliber and twist on your build sheet. Either way ensures that you have the proper barrel twist rate to suitably stabilize your bullet of choice.
The second method is if you already have your rifle in hand. Changing twist rates requires changing the whole barrel, so the only way to adapt is to select a bullet that best performs in the twist rate you already have. There are a surprising amount of new and better bullets that can increase your rifles performance, just make sure that you choose a bullet that fits the twist rate of your rifle.

Conclusion
Armed with the proper knowledge about bullets and twist rates, you can increase your range and performance when shooting. Some manufacturers are ahead of the curve, and already produce rifles with more aggressive twist rates. Using these barrels with appropriate twist rates to shoot the most advanced and high performing bullets available will take your shooting to the next level, and make sure you aren’t under-twisted.

-CBM

Optics: First Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane

I may certainly be biased in my thinking, but I think that first focal plane riflescopes are perhaps the best development of the last couple decades. Sure they existed before then, but they have only become prevalent to the general shooting public over the last ten or fifteen years. Before we get too deep into the subject, lets make sure we both understand what this subject is about. So we are on the same plane so to speak.

Focal Planes
No I’m not talking about an aluminum lifting body flying through the atmosphere, I’m talking about a point of focus used in your shooting. When you look through a scope and see the magnified image of the target, you are looking through several lenses inside the scope. A first focal plane scope (often called a front focal plane) has the reticle placed effectively before the magnification. A second focal plane riflescope as you might imagine has the reticle placed after the magnification feature of the scope. These two different construction techniques allow for two differing functions. Most of us have likely used the more traditional second focal plane scope. When the magnification ring is turned and the scope zooms in or out, the reticle remains unchanged. For most of the past, with simple duplex or crosshair reticles this wasn’t a big deal as the only relevant point on the reticle was the tiny intersecting point at the middle.


As reticle technology has grown over the years, additional points (subtensions) of hold have been added to our reticles. These additional reticle markings are for measuring hits and misses as well as holding wind corrections and holdovers. This is only relevant to the discussion in that the values of these additional points can change when used in a second focal plane optic. In a first focal plane scope, the reticle is magnified with the image. As the scope zooms in, both the target and the reticle increase in perceived size. The advantage to this lens configuration is that the reticle values stay the same regardless of what magnification the scope is set to. Second focal plane reticles typically register full value when they are at their maximum magnification.

Which is Better?
Despite a revolutionary change towards front focal plane scopes, one is not necessarily better than the other. Its simply based on the user’s preference or purpose. Both types of riflescopes have their pros and cons, so better is not the way to look at it. For example, if you are shooting extreme long range (ELR) competitions then you likely would prefer the finer size of a second focal plane reticle on a target that is three-thousand yards away. And on the other hand, if you are shooting a PRS Match where you have to quickly call your own shots and make corrections at varying ranges it helps to have your subtensions uniform regardless of magnification setting. So while some folks will try to convince you that one is better, keep in mind what you plan to do with the scope.


Pros and Cons
To help you better make a choice between these two scope configurations, I’ll discuss a few of the pros and cons of either selection. First focal plane scopes as I mentioned keep the reticle values intact regardless of what magnification setting you use, this comes at an additional expense. Many manufacturers offer near identical scopes in both FFP and SFP, with the latter being the more affordable option. If reticle usage isn’t part of your routine then this may not be a justified expense. Whereas if you use reticles frequently, it is well worth the added cost.

As I mentioned above, reticle thickness can be a downside to FFP scopes depending on the reticle design. As the reticle increases in size with magnification it can obscure the target or aiming point. Second focal plane scopes don’t have this issue as the reticle is always the same size. They also don’t become so fine as to become illegible at lower power. If you have poor eyesight or other issues related to reticle size, you may be better off with a SFP scope.

If you are looking for a very high magnification optic like a 5-50X, you will find that nearly all of them are SFP, their reticles would otherwise disappear at low power, or cover up a truck at maximum power.
If you do use your reticle for measuring hits, misses, and range features with a second focal plane reticle, you may need to refresh your math skills. Using a SFP reticle to measure things at any magnification besides its calibrated setting will require you to calculate the actual value based off the magnification setting and the measurement with the reticle. Some people like math but they should not be trusted.

Conclusion
There is no wrong or right answer when it comes to focal planes, there is only an evaluation of their applications. Things such as engagement distances and moving targets should surely be considered when deciding which way to go. I have fully embraced the FFP revolution that has occurred these past years, and I think the huge increase in FFP market share tells that I am not alone. The rapid expansion of long-range shooting and related competition has likely driven the trend.

Whether you are a competitive shooter, a military or law enforcement sniper, or just a redneck hunter with serious intentions, the FFP scopes of today can give you an edge that shooters of the past would lust after. But that’s not to say SFP scopes are inferior, as the brilliant shooters of the past have shown us.

-CBM

First Round Pop – Why The First Shot Is The Loudest Using A Suppressor

The whole reason you bought a suppressor was to get rid of the noise involved with shooting right? Today we are going to discuss one of the phenomenon that comes with suppressors, and one not everybody is familiar with. First Round pop (FRP) as it is most commonly known, is the additional sound that comes when the first shot of a string is fired from a suppressed firearm. But is it something you need to worry about?

What Causes FRP?

FRP is caused by the presence of unburned oxygen in the suppressor when a shot is fired. The available oxygen inside the suppressor is ignited by the burning gasses and pressure from the muzzle. Subsequent shots are typically less volatile due to the combustion of the oxygen during the first shot. As you continue to fire cartridges, the suppressor body is filled with burnt gas from previous shots, eliminating secondary combustion inside the suppressor. Obviously, if your shots are spaced out enough, the gasses can leave the suppressor and be replaced by fresh air, allowing the cycle to start anew.

What Effects FRP?

FRP varies between suppressor type, cartridges, velocity and other variables. A larger suppressor can house more oxygen, and higher pressure cartridges can cause additional pop volume. You could also experience additional pop from using a suppressor of a larger bore than necessary, as it allows faster ventilation of the suppressor body. The size of the cartridge and the powder charge inside it can also effect the significance of FRP.

Sub-sonic vs. Supersonic

Subsonic shooting is the apex of suppressed shooting, movie-quiet suppression is the goal with sub-sonic suppressed weapons. So as you might imagine, FRP is the adversary of sub-sonic shooters. Some folks even go as far as purging their suppressor with inert gasses prior to shooting to avoid it. Other things such as suppressor wipes can also help keep oxygen from entering the suppressor body and causing FRP.

Supersonic cartridges are already quite noisy, so it is less likely as big a concern for those shooters. Personally I don’t worry too much about it, and for the most part I rarely even notice.

Living with FRP

If your like me, you probably don’t worry much about a few extra decibels when you start a shot string. But if you are one of those who like to play sniper in the back 40 with raccoons or hogs, then you may go to extremes to avoid this pesky pop. Make sure you have the best suppressor for the host you intend to shoot with, some are much better matched to your host than others. The right suppressor can produce less FRP, and if you use some of the other practices to reduce it you can get some very unsuspicious results. There are suppressor gels that you can squirt into the suppressor prior to your first shot that will aid in suppressing FRP. You could also purge your can with inert gas before heading out, and cover the muzzle to keep it inert. You could also do something as simple as adding a touch of water to the inside of your suppressor prior to shooting to help keep down the FRP. Just make sure that whatever practice you use is approved by the suppressor manufacturer, this will help you avoid costly repairs and additional wasteful NFA taxes.

Final Pop

First round pop is simply a biproduct of suppressor design, it can be a problem if you are a CIA spook or suburban hunter. But in the end it is mostly a manageable problem for some, and very minor inconvenience for others. Fuss with it if you must, and enjoy the pleasant sound of silence when it seems least likely.

-CBM

6.5 Creedmoor Against the World

Few things can be more divisive than deeply-held differences of opinion, particularly when these differences are constantly manifest and even poked at like a festering wound. You might think that I’m about to discuss Evangelicals and Satanists, but instead, as you may gathered from the title that today’s subject is the famous six-point-five Creedmoor. But how can something so simple as a slightly different and new cartridge drive such gnashing and bitterness between marksmen? Is the Creedmoor so despicable?

Big H
When Hornady released the Creedmoor over a decade ago, it showed great promise with claims of flat trajectory, superior wind deflection, low recoil and many other positive attributes. All this as compared to the extremely common and widely used 308 Winchester. I wont spend much time comparing the Creedmoor or evaluating its virtues other than how it relates to our topic. But before we move on I will say that the mighty machine of the Hornady marketing department is likely responsible for a great deal of the Creedmoor’s popularity and adoption.

The Crux of the Argument
I think I might be able to pin down the finer points of this argument after spending a great deal of time immersed in it. On any given day, in any random forum or facebook group, there are people fiercely defending the virtue of the little Creedmoor. And pounding out their often angry or insulting responses is the opposing group in this discussion. The Creedmoor seems to be both the object of adoration and despise, at the beginning I myself felt some similar distaste for the venerable red-tipped cartridge. The reason myself and others were likely soured against it, was due to the constant and unrelenting talk about it. You couldn’t open a magazine without seeing an ad or article about it, you couldn’t sit down on a bench without some guy offering you information about how great his Creedmoor shoots. It often felt like that meme about the guy who chooses the urinal next to you just to chat.
Obviously however, no amount of marketing dollars from Hornady could prop up a product that doesn’t at minimum, closely match its desired performance. The shooting public can quickly sift through bullshit when it stinks, unless you’re one of those who bought one of those cat-skins at the Boy Scout trading post believing it was a “rabbit pelt”.
The Creedmoor’s excellent performance was hard to deny, and as it continued to flourish, its qualities became more and more desirable. Even creating much of the movement that drove competitors to the faster and flatter little cartridges used in precision rifle matches today. And undoubtedly its popularity was bound to spill over into the hunting market, where it continued to spread like wildfire. And typically that is where so much of the controversy seems to be seen.

Pure Fuddery
The hunting community is a traditional one for the most part. Hunters are very methodical and some reach near superstition when it comes to their practices. So it should come as no surprise that something new would take some serious consideration to be esteemed good enough to replace or stand next to gran-dad’s ol’ 06 Springfield hunting rifle.
Perhaps the defining feature of “a Fudd” is the inability to recognize technological advances, and a willing indifference to learn why such advances were made. Way back in the eighteenth century there was probably a similar rejection when some ol’ boy showed up with smokeless powder, and the eyebrow-less crowd laughed at him.
Math and science are empirical (unless it doesn’t suit your leftist ideology), and even if you show him on paper and again on the range, a true Fudd will dismiss it and say; well my [enter traditional cartridge] has more ass behind it and hits harder. Sometimes they aren’t wrong, but they often are. The possibility that a smaller bullet could somehow carry the same or more energy downrange seems like crazy talk until you understand the math.

Apples to Apples
The tediousness of ballistic comparisons can get extremely long-winded and boring, so I’ll spare you that. But these arguments often stem from exaggerated generalizations.
Somebody made a good shot once upon a time with a Creedmoor so now everybody that was there believes it to be the right hand of God. And at the exact same time on the other side of the mountain, somebody yanked the trigger sending a 143 into the guts of a distant animal that went unrecovered. And everybody there swore off the Creedmoor forever because Yankee McTriggerton was their hero.
There is surely no shortage of shooters who love their Creedmoor so much, that they can hit anything; they once got a first round hit at a mile on a ten inch steel plate in a 17 mile crosswind. And everybody clapped…
But the anti-Creedmoor crowd seems just as silly at times, happily swilling memes about manbuns and making general insults to the Creedmoor and their owners skinny jeans. Some of whom even pretend their 6.5X55 Swede is somehow superior to the Creedmoor despite being nearly ballistic twins.
A proper comparison is only fair, the Creed is neither the hand of God nor is it a weakling. It’s not hard to do a proper comparison if you’re unafraid of the results, depending on bullets and velocity your Creedmoor might be ballisticly superior to O’Connors .270 or it might not. All that matters is you understand and become proficient with whatever you choose to shoot.

These two elk each fell to a single 6.5 bullet at 520 Yards

You cant kill an Elk…
“You’d be better off with a 300WM” comes the completely anticipated answer when someone mentions hunting with a 6.5 Creedmoor. Maybe you would be, maybe not. Depends on if you are a better shot with the 6.5 or with the 300.
People have been killing moose in their thousands for over a hundred years in Scandinavia using the 6.5X55 Swedish Mauser cartridge, which as I mentioned already is nearly a ballistic twin to the Creedmoor. All those moose steaks stand in direct opposition to the idea that 6.5’s are inadequate for killing large members of the deer family. And yet here in North America there seems to be a disconnect, the majority of the general hunting public seem to be convinced that larger magnums and thirty-caliber cartridges are the only ideal ones for deer and larger animals.
I could speculate but I believe it may have been years of advertising efforts trying to sell bigger and better magnums (28 Nosler anyone?) that continues today, trying to convince hunters they were under-gunned without the latest super-cartridge.

Another 6.5 victim taken at 500 yards

It may come as a surprise to some, but you can easily and confidently take down a Rocky Mountain Elk with a 6.5 Creedmoor. I know because I have done it over and over for several years, as a matter of fact the last five or six elk we’ve dropped were shot with a 6.5 or an even smaller cartridge like the 25 Creedmoor. What’s more, many of these elk were four and five-hundred yards out when they dropped to the ground.
Just like most cartridges and bullets, the 6.5 Creedmoor will take a deer or elk right off its feet. The problems usually start when perhaps an inexperienced or over-zealous hunter takes a shot he shouldn’t have, perhaps having drank too much of Hornady’s red Kool-Aid.
Good shot placement with sufficient impact velocity is a must regardless of the cartridge you are shooting. The “magic” of the Creedmoor wont save you from loosing animals if you don’t make a good shot, the same thing can and does happen with any other cartridge. Read this article if you’d like to go deeper into that subject.


Built better?

The incredibly popular Creedmoor has a couple legs up on older cartridges like the swede and my old favorite 260 Remington. Perhaps the best one of them is brass, there are so many great options from all the very best manufacturers such as Lapua and Alpha Munitions. Both large and small rifle primer brass can be had, allowing shooters to run higher pressure loads and using different and more modern components. Everything from handloading tools to your favorite rifle can be had in 6.5 Creedmoor, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If anything the Creedmoor has helped drive innovation and mainstreaming many practices that were once very niche.

The 6.5 Creedmoor is the result of applying good designs in cartridge cases and bullet construction, whatever negative reputation precedes the Creedmoor is likely a result of overconfident or negligent hunters who believed the hype. The Creedmoor is a great performer in various applications, and to dismiss it as “a fine target round” or only a “paper puncher” would be ignorant. The sophomoric hatred for the Creedmoor is downright embarrassing, and a quick way to show your ignorance among anyone with objectivity. It is a fine cartridge like hundreds of others, and when used properly it can be very useful for both hunting and any other shooting enterprise. If pride prevents you from joining the Creedmoor cult, you do you, there are plenty of other great options out there as well. But don’t let your pride make you look a fool.

-CBM

Venison Butternut Curry

I recently shared one of my favorite recipes with the good folks at Carnivore Magazine. If you haven’t tried it yet, this video will probably have you salivating on your way to the kitchen. This recipe is particularly useful for old and perhaps neglected meats left over in the freezer. Give this a try!

Ingredients:

2-3 lbs of red meat (Deer, elk, antelope)
Two onions (one red one white)
four tomatoes or a can of stewed tomatoes
four garlic cloves
two celery sticks (whole)
Fresh Cilantro
One Butternut Squash (or equivalent)
One can of Beef or Chicken broth
A handful of barley or oatmeal

About 1/4 cup of:
Red Wine
Soy sauce
Bacon grease or oil

About a tablespoon of the following:
Curry Powder (red or yellow)
Salt
Pepper
coriander
oregano flakes

About half a Tablespoon of the following:
Paprika
Cumin

Mashed potatoes or rice makes an excellent base for this meal.

Blessings in Disguise: A deer hunting story

This was originally written in October 2011

As some of you may or may not recall, after a lot of health problems and a Kidney transplant, I took my Dad hunting with us this year. He drew a cow elk tag, and a Buck tag, myself and my brothers had similar tags to go along.
Well, this year things were a bit off. Everything that has ever worked for me in the past didn’t work, we were always in the wrong place or something else happened to screw it up. My elk hunting honey hole seemed to have plenty of elk, but never any close enough for Dad to feel comfortable with. We usually get a bull or two, and always the cows. But this year we didn’t get a thing, I felt horrible because Dad was so excited to go, and there was simply nothing that could be done. We still had as good a time as we could, and enjoyed the time out.

After a dismal elk hunt, the deer hunt started. I had high hopes, but I was worried after the elk hunt turned out to be a bust.
The deer hunt turned out to be quite the same, the first four days we didn’t even see a buck. I gave up on that spot and we left and headed home, I asked Dad if he wanted to try another spot a little closer to home. The next day we went to another of my old standby hunting spots, that was a bad move. Not only did we not see a single deer but on our way out, we were climbing up an ugly hill on the 4wheelers and Dad hit a rock just right and knocked his machine over. His pride and joy Grizzly rolled over the top of him and end over end for a hundred yards or so until it luckily stopped in a tree. Had it not it would have been gone forever. I stopped to see what was keeping him, and I thought for sure he was dead when I heard his bike rolling down the mountain behind me. He wasn’t hurt too bad, just scratched up and a bit bloody. I was working in a panic to get his bike out, gather his stuff that was scattered all over the hillside, including his broken rifle, just in case he needed medical attention, but by the time we got out it was pretty clear that he was gonna be ok. After that mess, Dad was pretty much out of excitement for hunting, and I had pretty much given up as well.
My brother in law called me Friday night and asked me if I wanted to go out with him Saturday morning, I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I’d never get a deer sitting home doing honey do’s.

So I went out with him, we saw a lot of this kinda stuff:

But we kept after it, and went on looking. After a couple hours and a good nap, we found a bunch of does out on a brushy flat. Several more kept appearing in the distance. I kept watching, and at the end of the flat I saw a deer that was too heavy to be a doe, I looked hard and quickly put antlers on him. I couldn’t tell how big he was, only that he was a buck, and that was good enough for me at this point in the game.
I hit him with my rangefinder, and he was around six-hundred and fifty yards moving just fast enough in the wrong direction. I watched him go into some deep and tall sagebrush, my brother in law sat and watched, while I sprinted towards the brush patch. On my way there, four more doe’s jumped out and started running towards the buck’s last known position. I knew they would tattle on me as soon as they got there so I kept running. The fleeing does seemed perplexed that I continued running but not after them. As I moved, I scanned the terrain ahead for a good shooting position. I found one, a clear spot in the grass slightly elevated with a good view of the patch where the buck was still hidden. I laid down and ranged the doe’s as they began emerging on the far side of the brush patch, just shy of four-hundred yards, one after another they came out, I figured he would be last. He came out of the brush like a ghost, he just appeared, I had already dialed my elevation, I was doping the wind which was left to right. I held my wind correction and pressed the trigger, the buck reared up on his hind legs as though I’d hit him, I listened for the familiar smack sound to return to me, but it never did. I settled back upon him and to my surprise he was still there, I ran the bolt fast and sent a second shot. I watched through the recoil and saw only his shape settle in the tall grass, his feet up in the air. My brother in law was still four-hundred yards or so behind me, and didn’t even know I had taken a shot. I had to do a victory dance with my hat in the air for him to start making his way down.

I made my way to the buck, still unsure of how big or small he was. I was quite surprised when I saw this:

He was definitely past his prime, his teeth were about to fall out. I was nonetheless happy to have found him, and we took him home happy as we’d been in weeks. It was a rough hunting season, and he is perhaps the ugliest buck I’ve ever seen, but he was a blessing in a very ugly disguise.

-CBM

Rifle Scope testing: does it track?

If you were to ask a group of rifle-scope fanatics, what are the most important features of a perfect rifle scope, you would probably get a few different answers. Among them though, you would for sure hear things like; optical quality, repeatability, and of course accurate tracking. This may come as a surprise to some, but many times the values you see on the turrets of your beloved riflescope are more like a suggestion than an accurate measuring tool.

Tracking
Tracking is one way to describe the movement of the erector inside a riflescope. When you adjust the elevation or windage turret, the erector than encases the reticle moves on either or both axes. The consistency and quality of the erector construction greatly effect the way it moves, and like nearly everything in the precision rifle game, consistency is what allows us to shoot accurately.
There are several ways a scope can track poorly, but they all result in inconsistent movement of the reticle. Erectors usually have a spring tensioner opposite the two turrets, its job is to push back against the elevation and windage turrets. but if it fails to do it job, you will see problems. Your reticle can be out of place in a variety of ways, if the spring is weakened, the reticle can be impaired in its movement. This could result in jumping after adjustment, some may remember the old practice of tapping on the scope after adjusting the turret, which was to avoid this very issue. Luckily for us today, scopes have improved greatly, and unless your buying some fifty-dollar 要沐考 scope you probably don’t need to worry about it.

Shamelessly borrowed from Precision Rifle Blog

Another problem that typically follows low budget scopes is a varying change in values across the turrets travel. A good quality MRAD scope will move the reticle one MRAD for every ten clicks the turret is turned. Some scopes are not exact, but they are at least consistent. For example, instead of moving the reticle one MRAD for ten clicks, it might move the reticle .982 MRAD for ten clicks. While this is less than perfect, it is much better than the worst option, which I’ll explain shortly.
A good scope will move one MRAD per ten clicks on the very first MRAD of rotation, and it will also move one MRAD per ten clicks on the last rotation whether that be two MRAD later or twenty. Even the less desirable scope that doesn’t quite move the whole MRAD, but .982 MRAD hopefully maintains it’s .982 MRAD at both extremes of the turret travel. The worst option I mentioned above is a scope that cant make up its mind; one that moves one MRAD for the first ten clicks, and then maybe .982 for the second ten clicks, and then some other basturd amount as it continues its travel. This may be caused by bad springs, poorly machined turrets, or other issues inside the scope.

In addition to inconsistent movement, there is also reticle cant to watch for. Reticle cant is just what it sounds like, the reticle is not perfectly vertical and horizontal inside the scope. We level our scopes properly to avoid this very issue; if we crank elevation into the turret with the scope not perfectly leveled, the center of the reticle begins to wander left or right to the acute side of your unlevel mounting job. And the further up you dial, the farther out its going to get.

External leveling issues can at least be corrected once discovered, but if your reticle is canted inside the scope you are probably going to be sending it in for repair as it’s not serviceable unless you are exceptionally brave or stupid. A perpendicular reticle can be cross-checked using the old plumb-bob method, hanging a weight from a string that is hung in front of the leveled rifle to ensure the reticle matches the straight line pulled taught by gravity. Often times the reticle cant is induced by rotation caused using the power ring. You can see a change in the reticle angle when adjusting the magnification power.

So Let’s Test Already!

Hopefully your not completely terrified that your scope is garbage now after all these possible issues. So let’s get down to finding out if your scope is perfect or flawed, or perhaps more accurately just how flawed it is. Because even the best scopes can be off a little bit, more often than not it isn’t enough for even the best shooters to notice.

The very first and most important thing you can do is to find an EXTREMELY solid place to mount your scope. Like literally nothing is too robust for what we are going to do, seriously if I could put a picatinny rail on top of a Caterpillar D10 I would use it. The reason we want such a solid mount is because we will be cranking it significantly and repeatedly, and if the scope itself moves AT ALL during the process your results will be skewed.
Since I haven’t found a pic-railed D10, I have instead taken other suitable options. The easiest I have found is to use a strong C-clamp to firmly hold my scope down to a table or countertop. I usually use shims to level the scope, and pieces of paper to protect from marring my scope or rings.

The trick is to mount your scope as solid as possible, and aiming at a suitable target that ideally is exactly one hundred yards away. I say exactly because I am mathematically challenged. If your target is exactly (and I mean exact) one-hundred yards away, you wont have to do the math equations necessary that I’ll explain later. For now we will assume you have a hundred yard target you walked out with a tape. And on/at that target distance you should hang a precise yard-stick or even better something longer like a surveyors ruler. Once you have everything assembled, ensure both scope and ruler are level and perpendicular.

The Test

With your scope firmly mounted and sighted in on the hundred yard measuring stick of your choice, you can start the test. From a marked point on the ruler, you should be able to measure out the MIL’s on your reticle. The first MIL up/down should be 3.6 inches or 3 and 3/5 from your crosshair, and if you dial one MRAD (ten clicks) up, your crosshair should now be on that same 3.6 inch mark. You can do this across the span of the entire elevation turret, if you dial ten MRAD (one-hundred clicks) you should have gone from zero to thirty-six inches. The test can obviously be done in the same way for MOA as well, but its gayer.

You can also get really extreme and setup the ruler on the horizontal axis and check your windage turret as well if you really feel thorough. But it is very important to do the process several times, taking the turret all the way up and down, ensuring that the movement is consistent and uniform. The math I spoke of above is used to determine how close to correct your scope is, I’ll do an example for you: If you turn the turret ten MRAD up (one-hundred clicks) it should have moved the cross hair thirty-six inches at one-hundred yards. If it didn’t, use your math’s to see the actual value. If one-hundred clicks moved it thirty-five and one-half inches, you can divide 35.5 by 100 and get .355, which is %98.8 of .36, that means when you dial ten clicks up you are actually getting 98.8% of your one-MRAD instead of the full 100%. Now, if your shooting a 300 Winchester at deer inside five-hundred yards that is barely enough to matter. But if you are a competition shooter or someone that frequently shoots long-range this is a good thing to know if only to correct your elevation units. That is one of the very useful tools I find in modern ballistic computing apps, the ability to correct the value of your turret clicks.
More important than whether or not your scope tracks perfectly, is to know the actual value that it does move. Even if your scope is off by 10% you can deal with it as long as you know, and it is consistent. That said I wouldn’t be paying for any scope that far off.
On the off chance you don’t have the exact one hundred yards, you can once again use your math skills to divide your results by whatever the distance you do have to check the turret travel.

While you have your scope locked up tight, it would be a good time to see if there is any reticle cant both when you adjust the magnification or turrets. If you do find some disparity in the cant, I would recommend you replace or repair it since this isn’t one you can just live with.

Conclusion

I hope this has been helpful for you, and if you find your scope to be sub-standard consider it a favor I did you. Better to know than to always wonder why everything is just a little bit off. Rifle scopes are fascinating tools, and knowing more about how they work can only improve your use of them. Check out your scopes and see how they measure up to each other.

-CBM

Off Season Activities

Who doesn’t get just a little sad when hunting season is over? Springtime for me can be somewhat depressing, perhaps its the colorless and winter torn look of the high-country I love to play in. But spring also is a new beginning of a whole new type of activities, as it begins to warm up and green begins flourish through the hills, there is still much to do. And I love spending time out in the wilderness. This is a video I did with the folks at Recoil, in the video we go into some of the fun and challenging activities that can still keep you on your toes until hunting season is back.