"There's a huge old buck in this area, and I've been hunting him for 5 years." My Anticosti Island guide's words rang in my mind as a huge Quebec whitetail appeared 150 yards across a meadow.
The buck was unaware of our presence as I slowly knelt to rest my rifle on a huge stump. I was rock-steady as I went through my firing routine: breathe smoothly, place the crosshairs on the buck's chest, slowly break the trigger, follow through.
The tack-driving H-S Precision Varmint rifle barked and when I returned the big 3-12X Swarovski scope to the buck's location, he was still standing in the same spot! I cranked another round, went through my routine again and broke the trigger as cleanly as I've ever fired a shot. After recovering the sight picture for a second time, I saw that the buck was still there-he hadn't moved an inch!
I was thinking, "This is NOT good," as I cranked in a third round. But after another errant shot, the buck looked around for a few seconds and then slowly walked off into the dense cover. I looked at my guide and noticed his hands were shaking and his face was white as a ghost.
How could I miss a slam-dunk shot with rifle/scope/bullet combo that had performed so well on the range? It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.
That morning I'd slipped on a patch of ice and landed hard on the rifle, and the scope took the worst of the fall. It was definitely the hardest drop I'd ever given a scoped rifle, but I had no choice but to keep hunting and hope the scope and mount had withstood the abuse.
My guide and I silently walked over to where the buck had been standing and found no sign he'd been hit. I insisted we go somewhere to check the rifle, so we walked out to the guide's truck and drove to a shooting range.
My first bullet told the story-I couldn't hit a large paper plate at 25 yards. Upon close inspection of my gun, I found where the front scope ring had been bent slightly. Fortunately the scope had enough adjustments to zero the rifle and compensate for the damaged ring, and I took two good-sized bucks later during the hunt.
The Weakest Link
Most hunters trust the ruggedness of their rifles and scopes-to a point. Rifles stand up to a lot of abuse, particularly the stainless steel, composite-stocked models that have become so popular in recent years. High-quality scopes also stand up to most bumps that occur during hunts. But scopes can and do get knocked out of zero. Reticle systems break loose and internal lenses move when they shouldn't. The best scopes are more likely to survive drops and slams since their internal construction are designed to withstand abuse.
That leaves one key component in the accuracy chain-scope mounts-as a likely weak link. Believe it or not, one of the most popular style of scope mounts can spring out of alignment, bend and even break apart. I'm talking about the Redfield design marketed by many scope and mount manufacturers. It usually works well, but shooters need to keep in mind the design has a weakness.
The dovetail portion of the front ring is the weak point-there isn't a lot of steel at the narrowest portion of the dovetail. Because of the small amount of metal holding the ring to the base, these dovetails are very susceptible to bending, as I found out the hard way during my Quebec hunt.
The dovetail stud fits with a friction-fit into the slot in the base. Although the contact areas should be lubricated, each time one of these rings is removed and replaced, metal is removed or displaced. Eventually they become loose and the mount has to be replaced.
Another problem arises if the two bolts securing the rear ring become loose. Then all of the recoil forces have to be taken by the little dovetail. Heavy recoiling rifles, particularly with large scopes mounted, will shear the dovetail off the ring body. I know this from talking many years ago to the technicians at the old Redfield factory in Denver, Colorado.
In my opinion, the Weaver-style scope-mounting system is more reliable. Weaver-style dovetail bases have a large cross-slot, and when the matching rings are set on the base, a heavy bolt sits in the cross-slot, preventing forward or backward movement. The fore-mentioned heavy bolt also tightens a steel side plate. This action clamps the bottom of the ring to the dovetail base.
Weaver-style mounts have millions of users, and it's easy to understand why. They're simple and rugged units, and the original design doesn't involve expensive machining like the Redfield design. In fact, Weaver-style mounts are so inexpensive and simple that many shooters assume they aren't as strong as Redfield-style mounts. Wrong. The Weaver design is by far the strongest mounting system on the market-period.
I doubt that any rifles are used and abused as much as the tactical rifles employed by military and law enforcement agencies throughout the world. These rifles use tactical mounts from a variety of manufacturers, and they're all based on the Weaver design.
How about the current crop of detachable scope mounts? Generally these mounts are more complex to install, more expensive, have more parts and rely on precision machining for repeatability. However, I can tell you from experience that the popular Warne and Talley detachable mounts are reasonably priced and very reliable.
Regardless of whether you choose standard or detachable mounts, I should pass along a warning: Never over-tighten scope rings, particularly the two-piece shells such as the Weaver-styles. Popular 1-inch scope tubes are not very thick and can crush easily.
The best way to prevent this is by tightening Torx or Allen screws using the short stem of a mounting wrench for leverage. Correct tension is approximately 16 inch-pounds, and that's about what you'll get by using the wrench's short stem for a handle. Note: I'm talking about only the screws that clamp the rings around the scope. Tighten the screws that hold the scope base to the gun as tight as you can get them, and use Loctite (the type that allows for later removal of screws) or nail polish on the screw threads.
Armorers in the military who maintain some of the most accurate rifles in the world use sophisticated torque wrenches and screwdrivers when installing mounts. The average shooter doesn't have to set his screws with a torque-rig, but don't let them loosen or your bullet groups will open up and a buck of a lifetime might escape unscathed.