Specifying An HFT Scope

Andy McLachlan discovers a way to create the scope of his dreams

Daz Taylor’s new scope at the MAD UKAHFT round

Like many long-term shooters, I have collected large numbers of decent-quality telescopic sights over the years, which we of course all need to maximise the potential of our now laser-accurate air rifles.

Many shooters, particularly those just starting down the road of becoming a ‘serious’ shooter, will spend upwards of £700 to equip themselves with a gun and then plonk a scope costing £100 or so on top of it. This just does not make sense.

A high-quality scope is necessary to get the most out of both the gun and the shooter’s own abilities. I would agree that scopes costing considerably less than £200 have certainly improved in quality during recent years. We have models from various manufacturers now competing for our cash, all offering superb optics at a standard we would not have believed possible only a decade ago.

However, if you have just bought yourself an expensive rifle, do yourself a favour and fit a high-quality scope to it. I remember reading somewhere that any quality scope should cost somewhere around at least half the price of the gun in order to do the total combination justice. That means if you’ve just bought a brand-new target rifle costing £2,000+, an additional stack of cash needs to be added to the overall purchase price if you want to get the best from the overall combination. That’s unless, of course, you’ve previously invested in a high-quality (and thus usually expensive) scope and can just mount it on your new gun.

Experienced shooters have a saying: “Never get rid of a good scope.” How true this is! The scope is just as much, if not more, a part of an effective shooting outfit than the rifle is. A reader recently wrote advising us all that the quality of an optic’s lenses is paramount to a scope’s performance, which is spot on of course. He currently uses an expensive Swarovski and is more than pleased with its performance – as he should be considering the price of the initial purchase, particularly if it was brand new.

James landed a first and third place trophy for one of the HFT Masters double header rounds at Emley and Rivington using the new scope

Having said that, I have to report that in addition to lots of rifles bought and sold over the years, I’ve allowed many superb scopes to be sold. A couple of these were fantastic all-round hunting scopes with high-quality lenses that really did improve the overall shooting experience, with their ability to brighten the dullest image and extend darkening evening light to the maximum shootable limit.

I currently possess only one ‘high-quality’ Japanese-manufactured optic specifically designed for target shooting. This is a Bushnell Elite Tactical LRS 3-12×44, which is endowed with the excellent G2DMR reticle with its half-milliradian reference markers that are so useful for HFT. The image is certainly clear and bright, as befits an expensive scope, and has served me well over the course of the past year’s target shooting. The problem with it, however, is that the lens size and scope’s overall design do not make it an ideal scope for HFT. It is possible to use the side parallax adjustment to get the likely error reduced to the preferred HFT parallax range of 25 yards, but very close and long-range targets still display a blurred image to my own ageing eyes. This can be used to assist with rangefinding, but I personally prefer to have targets in as clear an image as I possibly can.

An ideal HFT-specific scope needs to possess as large a depth of field as possible. This means that the optic is able to clearly see all targets from close up, at 8 or 9 yards, right up to the maximum range of 45. In order to best facilitate this, a smaller objective lens is required. See my explanation on p48 for more about this.

If you look at the size of the objective lens on the top shooters’ HFT scopes, you’ll notice that a high majority of them will be either 32mm or  36mm. This gives the shooter the required depth of field and clarity required, which is then ably supported by high-quality lenses and a useful reticle to provide the HFT-specific optic.

I wrote a review of some of the best-rated HFT-specific optics which we published in Airgun Shooter last year. The competitor with the deepest pockets will usually choose something from the March or Nightforce stable of optics, with some preferring to use the more affordable Vortex product. None of these are cheap, but as with all things, you tend to get what you pay for.

I also mentioned that the scope that has ruled the roost for the past five years or so within serious HFT shooting circles is the MK 4 Leupold 2-8 x36 with the Tactical Milling reticle (TMR). Sadly, this is no longer available in the UK. This high-quality optic has been used by many of the top shooters due to the scope’s specifications and first-rate build quality. It appears that the scope now falls within the restrictive parameters set by the US government for some exported products, hence it no longer being available for purchase here in Blighty.

Daz with Leupold scope

Considering all my previous comments and keeping them in mind, my son James, along with a few other serious shooting friends and myself, decided to track down the Leupold stand at the last Northern Shooting Show. Our intention was to take a look at the latest range of optics to identify any particular scope that might fit the HFT bill.

Credit has to go to the Leupold European sales director, who spent a very patient hour or so explaining to us how the company designs scopes and specifies particular lens coating materials for any of its new product launches. This was initiated by James’s initial “Tell me why this scope is better than my MK 4” comment.

One particular line of Leupold scopes stood out as being ready to ensure a near-perfect HFT specification. The VX 3i range possesses high-quality lenses with the latest Leupold Twilight Max Management System lens coatings, and interior scope design that certainly make the image shockingly clear and bright. Unfortunately, Leupold doesn’t produce a current model within its product range that fits the specs
we had in mind.

This is where the Leupold Custom Shop is able to help out shooters with specific requirements. Never being one to miss out on equipment that might lead to further competition success, James decided to contact the in-house, US-based Leupold Custom Shop to see if they would be able build an ideal HFT optic. Using the standard 2-8 x36 VX3i scope with its 25mm body tube, James requested the following modifications to be made:

Illuminated Tactical Milling Reticle
Standard turrets
Lens to be re-parallaxed to 25 yards

The new scope and adjustable mounts

As we had all seen just how impressive the standard VX3i scopes were, once James had confirmation that his ideal scope to personal specifications could be manufactured, an initial five of us paid our money up front and waited to see just how the scopes would turn out.

Needless to say that the scopes, once they arrived a month or so later, proved to be every bit as good, if not better, than we could have hoped for. The scopes have now been used several times in anger and have certainly not disappointed any of us. No item of equipment will suddenly turn an average shooter into an expert. However, armed with a decent rifle and this particular scope, even an old but keen shot such as myself is able to maximise those opportunities. It is clear that these scopes have been built to last a lifetime – at least!

We have all mounted our VX3i scopes on Sportsmatch adjustable ATP65 mounts to maintain our preferred 2.2 scope height, meaning that our previous aim points have not required recalibration. I must admit that zeroing the scope initially, via the adjustable mounts, was not as difficult as I imagined it might be, and after half an hour I required only two clicks on both elevation and windage to establish my 40-yard zero from an optically centred scope. These adjustments for both height and left-to-right are dead centre, meaning the scope lenses are level, enabling light to travel straight through the middle of the lens assembly. This adds further confidence to me in my own set-up, as I need all the help I can get!

The final act of preparing the scope for a full competition campaign was to persuade one of our friends at our Rivington club to manufacture sunshades for us. Jim Edge has once again done us proud as he has even managed to match the sunshade to the matt finish of the scope.

This particular optic has of course attracted the attention of many other competitors on the HFT shooting circuit, resulting in some additional orders. If you’re interested, I suggest contacting the Leupold Custom Shop directly for further information. All that remains now is to continue practising until I am able to deliver the high standards of accuracy that my equipment is capable of.

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Posted in Features, Target Shooting

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