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Scopes help make the perfect shot

October 17, 2009 at 10:39 PM


For every small convenience and helpful gadget there is a story — a story of innovation, genius and problem-solving.

From Velcro to barbed fishhooks, someone had an idea for making things better and more convenient.

Sometimes, developments in one arena are adopted in another.

“Today, I don’t hunt anything with a rifle that doesn’t have a scope on it,” says Kevin Howard of Howard Communications, based in Elsberry, Mo.

He says the modern riflescope had its beginnings back in the mid-1800s with the William Malcolm scope, adopted by sharpshooters during the Civil War.

The scope doesn’t look much like today’s compact models. It is long — stretching from the front end of the rifle barrel to the stock. Its adjustments for windage (side-to-side movements) and elevation (up and down) are on the outside of the instrument.

The Malcolm scope still is reproduced for those interested in vintage firearms and reproduction rifles.

“The ones they are making today, of course, are better than the ones they made back then,” Howard says. “It’s more about trying to get an authentic feel than the optics.”

Howard says today’s advancements started in the 1930s with a scope designed by Bill Weaver that retailed for $20 to $24. Weaver is still making scopes in its 79th year.

Since then, additional developments have come along, such as sealed glass with nitrogen injected to keep the elements from fogging.

“That was a huge advancement,” he says.

Today’s scopes can help hunters compensate for long distances and even help them aim in low light.

Windage and elevation adjustments are inside the scope today.

“If you have a cross-section of a scope, you would see a tube within the tube of the scope,” he says. “That’s where your adjustments fall in place. You have groups of lenses within the erector tube also.

“That’s unlike the Malcolm scope, where you adjusted it by moving the whole scope.

”Howard says the scope needs to “fit” the shooter. “I want to throw it up and see the cross hairs immediately,” he says. “Even if I’m shooting with both eyes open. You don’t want to have to move your head around.”

Howard says the DOA (Dead On Accurate) reticle from Bushnell is a range compensating reticle.

“You look at a different hash mark (depending on the distance of the shot),” Howard says. “You will have the basic crosshair and then lines below it that correspond with different distances.”

Those extra marks help guide shooters trying to gauge the tug of gravity on a bullet or slug over long distances.

“The hash mark automatically lifts your gun’s point of impact up,” Howard says.

Howard suggests sighting the gun in for the distance you want.

“For rifles, that’s usually 100 yards,” he says. “Then each hash mark takes you out another 100 yards.

“You still need to shoot the gun and check those points of impact,” he says. “But it takes the guesswork out of holding over.”

Light and distance both are big factors.

The Bushnell FireFly reticle helps a hunter aim as the sun drops low or clouds roll in.

“It just illuminates the reticle,” he says. “Charge it up with a high-powered flashlight and it makes it easier to see in low light.”

Crosshair wires also taper to guide a shooter’s eye to the target.

“One of the most popular ones is the Multi-X reticle,” he says. “The outside has a thicker wire than the inside, and it kind of helps draw your eye to the center of the scope.”

Howard says his first scope came his way after a family friend grew frustrated following an unproductive weekend of deer hunting in the early 1960s.

Fifty years ago, white-tailed deer were just making a comeback, and hunting seasons were being reopened after half a century.

“An older gentleman — Mr. Krause — had moved here after World War II from Austria, and he hunted on our farm north of St. Louis,” Howard recalls. “He was the first one to see a deer on our farm when I was probably 8 years old.”

Howard says that when deer seasons were re-instituted in Missouri around 1964, Mr. Krause spent the three days of deer season trying in vain to shoot a deer.

The first morning he was sitting in a tree stand and accidentally discharged his firearm and spooked a deer while cleaning water droplets off his scope.

The next time out, the deer was directly between Krause and the sun.

“The sun just came through the scope and blinded him so he couldn’t see the deer,” Howard says.

“Sitting in a corncrib the last night of the season, the old man stuck his barrel through the wooden slats of the crib.

Unfortunately, the scope came to rest up against the wooden slats, blocking his view. The deer escaped before he could find a way to get the barrel and scope through.

“After he got back to the house, he took a screwdriver and pried that scope off the gun and gave it to me,” Howard says.

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