Scopes for benchrest target shooting

Andy McLachlan’s in favour of scopes offering only modest levels of magnification for most of his shooting – but not benchrest!

Andy picked up this fixed 45x Leupold from his son James, after James bought a high-end March scope for his FT campaign

Most airgunners nowadays will use a sight with a magnification between 10 and 16 for their average shooting session. This specification allows for the target to be viewed as large as required in order to shoot accurately.

When wound up to max magnification, a scope like this will let the shooter view the target accurately and witness the fall of shot easily. This ‘mid-range’ specification, displaying an objective lens of between 40 and 50 millimetres, is adequate for a high percentage of scenarios, including target shooting and hunting.

Years ago, back in the dark ages of mechanically powered rifles and lesser scope options, many of us used optics with a 4x magnification and a 20 or 32 millimetre objective lens for our shooting. These scopes could be described as ‘average’ if not poor.

Considerations such as parallax adjustment had only just started to appear, and we all made do with what was on offer from our local retailers.

Fortunately, the Japanese optics manufacturers noticed a gap in the market for higher quality products, and scopes such as the Japanese-manufactured range of Tasco AG (Airgun) appeared in the late seventies and early eighties.

These scopes were certainly far superior to the lower quality models available at the time. They were far more expensive, but worth it for the super high-quality images and usual zoom ranges available from within the range.

My favourite was the 2-7×32, a sound example of which still sits on board one of my classic spring rifles, a Feinwerkbau Sport, along with the high-quality steel Apel one-piece scope mount. In 1981 this scope was £49.95, the equivalent of more than half the average working man’s weekly wage packet.

Another classic range of higher quality scopes appeared on the market around this time. The Optima range included offerings such as the Super Moonlighter with its 56mm objective lens. 

The idea was the enormous objective lens would allow vast amounts of light into the scope and enable its use in late evening. The scope was manufactured in Japan and used camera-quality lenses, which helped it to perform as well as it did, with the optic being present within the Optima model range for many years. With a range of 3-9x magnification, it could be ordered with the parallax fixed at either 100 yards, or a more airgun-friendly 30 yards.

Andy prefers to use his Rapid Air Weapons HM 1000 and Leupold scope combo when he’s shooting long-range benchrest

Those with pockets deep enough to allow it also had one or two options from German manufacturers such as Zeiss and a few other top-end European optics producers.

For nearly 20 years I shot everything air rifle-wise with a six mag scope. My eyesight was certainly better then than it is now, but I can honestly say that requiring larger amounts of magnification was never an issue.

For hunting purposes, which is what I spent most of my time doing, taking standing shots in the field with relatively low levels of magnification was to me an advantage when attempting to avoid ‘wobble’, which, as most of us know, is what happens when you are using high levels of magnification and the image is bouncing about all over the show.

As my shooting preferences have altered over the years, and as far more scopes with all sorts of specialist features have appeared to address those specific needs, I now find myself requiring an optic with previously unheard-of levels of magnification.

Unlike Hunter Field Target shooting, with its requirements for low levels of magnification, with my recent interest in benchrest shooting, particularly at our preferred range of 50 yards plus, my shooting friends and I are now looking at scopes with high levels of magnification to allow for accurate shot placement upon relatively long-range targets.

Fortunately for us, the current market is full of suitable optics due to the popularity of Field Target shooting, which requires high levels of magnification, a clear image quality and the ability to fine-tune the parallax adjustment aiding target focus clarity to assist rangefinding capabilities.

The perusal of a quality retailer such as Optics Warehouse selling a wide range of high-quality products turns up lots of potential candidates for those wishing to purchase a suitable optic. We really are so fortunate these days that the market can cater for most levels of budget, with even the lower-end gear being usable in most cases.

As for the high-end products, you really have to take a peek through one to realise just how good a highly magnified image can be with those top quality lenses and the excellent and bulletproof build quality that appears at the top of the price range.

The thing with scopes though is that you can pay an awful lot more for optics that appear only slightly better than models lower down in the price range. It’s most definitely a case of diminishing returns for any additional cost within the optics sector, unfortunately.

I have purchased quite a few scopes recently (but not as many as my friend Dave Pilkington, who appears to average about two a month at present!) in my search for a suitable long-range optic for benchrest shooting.

Having tried scopes from both the Hawke and Vortex stables with a magnification range of 6-24x, my current favourite must be the Hawke Compact. This is a superb scope and currently lives upon my favourite all-round rifle, the AGT Vulcan 2.

During the upcoming benchrest season post-lockdown, I will be using this combination for my 25-yard cards, but not for the recently introduced ‘Distance’ category of 48 yards that has now been introduced at my Bolton club.

I would argue that an ideal compromise magnification for long-range benchrest shooting at around the 50-yard mark is approximately 18-20x. This ensures that the 24x scope is not maxed out and approaching its operational effectiveness with everything being wound up to the optimum.

This is for shooters, like me, who are not necessarily used to using super-high-mag scopes. Regular benchrest shooters often use up to and including 60x magnification, which almost lets them make out individual atoms upon the target card. Too much for me though!

HFT scopes require a much smaller objective lens than one that’s being used for either Field Target or benchrest

Having a son that thinks nothing of spending a lot of money for the very best equipment available sometimes allows me to purchase his cast-offs at a lower price than would normally be possible elsewhere.

Following the purchase of a new March scope, the previous FT scope James was using, which was a Leupold Competition fixed 45x magnification, became available for me to try. This is not a new scope, but was manufactured in 2006.

I am presently attempting to get used to the super-high (for me) levels of magnification which certainly picks up on inconvenient physical realities such as a beating heart.

The scope is currently living on board my Rapid Air Weapons HM 1000 rifle, which is my choice for long-distance benchrest due to its beautifully engineered and relatively simple action and the accuracy of its barrel. It remains to be seen if I can master the wobbles, but I am certainly going to try my best to. Watch this space! 

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