To Scope or not to Scope

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Published on: Aug. 2, 2008

Last revision: Dec. 8, 2010

Some hunters let circumstances decide for them what kind of sights to use on their deer rifles. If their rifle came with iron sights, that’s the way they shoot it. Others follow conventional wisdom. If all their friends use telescopic sights, they slap a scope on the rifle and never look back. Circumstances forced me to think about the choice.

I always had scopes on my .22 squirrel rifles. Then I bought the deer gun of my dreams—a European-style Savage .30–06 with a beautiful, hand-checkered, oiled walnut stock. It was not available with a factory-mounted scope, and I hated to ruin its classic lines with a bulky optical contraption.

Weight was a consideration, too. I hope to take the gun elk hunting in Montana one day, and a scope with mounting hardware would add more than a pound to the load I would have to carry up hogbacks in thin mountain air.

On the one hand, I thought a scope might be a great asset when trying to make shots at the distances often involved in elk hunting. The magnification would prove useful for long shots at home, too. If you have a firearm capable of taking game at 400 yards, why wouldn’t you want a sight capable of such shots?

On the other hand, most of the shots I get at Missouri whitetails are well inside 100 yards. Furthermore, I worried that a scope might be more hindrance than help on close shots or moving deer.

Then there was the question of my vision. My uncorrected vision is nearly 20–20, but I wear bifocals for close-up vision. I wondered how this might change the best choice of sights.

I bought my rifle in June, so I had plenty of time to spend at the shooting range sorting out all these considerations. Here is what my time at the range revealed.

Ironing Out Shooting Problems

For the past 15 years, I have hunted deer exclusively with traditional muzzle-loading rifles. The discipline of shooting weapons that Daniel Boone would have recognized has made me a much better rifleman. My outdoor journal revealed that all but one deer taken with muzzleloaders have been lung or heart shots. So I was not worried about my ability to take deer at short range with an iron-sighted .30–06.

My journal also records, however, that I never shot at a deer beyond 60 yards. I needed to learn how accurately I could shoot with iron sights

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