Oh, No! Scope Death!

By Randy Wakeman

Your scope is dying, and you can't save it. Perhaps due to the enthusiastic advertising over the years, many of us have fallen into the trap of believing that a rifle or pistol scope is maintenance free, or is somehow not a wearing part. It is decidedly both.

It varies by specific type, but a generally available 3 x 9 hunting scope has in the neighborhood of 55 individual parts, including 10-12 lenses precisely aligned, then screwed and glued into position. Just one bad lens, or one misaligned lens, and your scope will have problems. Though most of us readily accept that automobiles or firearms require regular maintenance, it seems that many of us are under the false impression that scopes can go untended forever. This is just not so; they are wearing parts, with a finite life.

Though re-barreling a rifle or pistol after 10,000 shots may seem like standard fare to some, and the replacement of "O" rings or bronze friction pieces in some shotguns is considered normal, somehow the notion remains that scopes are not subject to wear. There is no wear to scope adjustments regardless of how much we use them, the gas seals in scopes must somehow last forever (though our barbecue grill's propane tanks do not), and the normal flexing and stress we inflict on our scopes though recoil takes no toll. But in reality all of these are subject to wear and eventual failure, and your scope will not take recoil forever, even though it may have come with one of the many lifetime warranty variants.

Scopes could be made better than they are today. Rather than having lock rings threaded into place, secured by screws, the lenses could be permanently bonded into position. To do this would mean your scope could never be repaired, however. The question that arises over and over again is "Will the XXX Ultra scope hold up?"

There is no clear answer. Hold up to what, exactly? How many recoil pulses, of what strength and duration. Based on exact proper mounting, or what amount of misalignment? How many odd knocks and bumps, from what angle, and with what force? Scope life is not linear, and we do not normally log such scope use details.

We've all read the "tested to X-thousand rounds of .375 H & H recoil." The only problem with that rationale is that there is no such thing as .375 H & H recoil. What load? What type of gun, a 7 pound gun or a 12 pound gun? What about that muzzle break, and what does that do to our many-faceted optical tube of wonder? We worry about felt recoil, of course, but what factors modify the SAAMI free recoil formula to show precise scope stresses? In terms of our personal habits and use, it will likely forever remain a mystery.

While scope discussions often offer more lively, animated expression than most others in the shooting sports spectrum, we seldom give the 55 part jigsaw puzzles with crosshairs their due. It sure doesn't stop us from cussing a bit when our eyeglass screws fall out, does it? At the range for casual shooting, "fire till they die" makes perfect sense. However, if you are going on that hunt of a lifetime that you have been saving for, for such a long time, should that 20 year old tube that you love so much really have your complete confidence, regardless of manufacture?

This little article may sound a bit depressing, but colleague Alan Orr has passed on a few "Boy Scout's Motto" tips that have saved many a hunt in times past. Consider taking an extra scope along for insurance, as even the world's finest cars have spare tires. It is not the "best idea" to wait until you the day before you leave for a hunt to evaluate your scope. It is just good practice to check your scope before every season. The combination of humidity and wooden stocks can often simulate the symptoms of a bad scope. It is also good idea to periodically check your gun's action screws and bedding.

When cleaning your scope, the lenses should be cleaned with the same lens tissues and cleaning solutions as camera lenses. Do not use "Windex" or regular tap water as they can attack the lens coatings or possibly scratch the glass. Hopefully, you'll save yourself a few headaches in the future by giving just a little extra attention to that wondrous stack of lenses that makes us all more accurate hunters and shooters.

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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.