In a little more than a month, Indiana deer hunters will have their first chance to join the majority of hunters in other states in using “normal” center-fire rifles on private land. This is perhaps the biggest change in deer hunting regulations since the first “Modern” deer season was opened for business in the 1950’s.
As hunters count down for the big day, many are trying out a new rifle. While some will use iron sights, many are putting new optics (i.e. “scope”) on their gun. And, while hunting optic technology has improved dramatically in the last ten years (especially in the budget category), there is another part of the equation that most hunters don’t even consider: scope rings or bases.
Rifle rings are the steel “bridge abutments” that hold the scope in place to whatever it is attached to: barrel, receiver, scope base or a removable “quick detach” mount. Simple in theory, there are usually overlooked by the majority of shooters until a problem surfaces. Scope rings and bases are the foundation of the sighting system of your firearm and like a building foundation, cutting corners and cost are likely to cause major trouble in the long run.
In a sense, rings are the “Rodney Dangerfield” of the shooting world.
The problem with rings, just like scopes, is that they are not all created equal even though they look the same. Most hunters take it for granted that rings are just odd-shaped hunks of metal that hold the optic but there is considerable technology and manufacturing expertise involved.
The core principle of accurate shooting is to strive for every part of the shooting process to be the same from shot-to-shot. This means your body position, trigger pull, ammunition and yes, scope and rings, must remain consistent over time.
In the case of rings, if you buy cheap $15 rings to mount your $500 scope, you have essentially thrown away your money into the gutter. Conversely, a mediocre scope in a rock-solid mounting system will perform better than anything short of a dedicated sniper rifle.
That’s why it is important to buy the best rings that you can afford. In fact, before buying or upgrading a scope, dedicate some of the cash to purchasing a better mounting system because your money will go much further. The differences might be measured in thousandths of an inch on the rings but miles on the target.
When mounting rings to your weapon, make sure that everything is applied with surgical precision and cleanliness. Use a torque wrench or properly-sized screwdriver and make sure the set-screws are coated with one of the chemical preparations that prevent them from loosening over time. Don’t use things like super glue as you’ll probably want to remove the rings as some point.
Make sure to use the proper rings for the job as they come in a variety of heights and scope diameters. If you use rings that are too high, you will probably lift your cheek off the stock of the weapon, leading to inaccuracy. If the rings are too short, you’ll have the reverse problem with the added joy of difficulty in loading or manipulating the weapon’s action. Start with manufacturer’s recommended rings and go from there, so long as you go upward instead of down in quality.
The scope to ring fit must be perfect. Under recoil, a poorly-fitted ring can allow the scope to move just a fraction of a millimeter which will translate into poor accuracy downrange. Precision shooters use a jig and lapping compound after the rings are secured to the gun to make sure they are both parallel to the bore and smooth as glass and perfectly round inside. This tight metal-to-metal fit between scope body and rings ensures the optic won’t move under repeated recoil or the banging around that invariably happens in the field.
This lapping also makes sure the scope hole is truly round. You would be surprised how out-of-round a cheap scope ring can be, placing undue stress on your scope. This can lead to a variety of problems sooner or later, all of which will be blamed on the optic rather than the true cause.
What are the best rings? The major hunting scope manufacturers all produce decent quality rings, especially in the higher price-point categories. If you are looking for the ultimate in both ruggedness and precision, check out military/law enforcement sniper scope or rifle manufacturers for their recommendations.
When affixing the ring to weapon, you can affix it directly to barrel or receiver, or use a scope base such as often seen on bolt-action weapons. The same “you get what you pay for” advice given for scope rings also goes here.
Removable mounts are a topic until themselves so we’ll leave it for another day except to note that all but the best (read that straightforward endorsement of LaRue Tactical, http://www.larue.com) will not zero back to the original point of impact when removed and reinstalled on the gun. With most removable mounts, just understand that you’ll need to re-zero the gun before making any shots that count, regardless of what the breathless package literature says.
Scope rings and bases aren’t voodoo or rocket science. Simply purchase quality equipment, use care in mounting it properly and you won’t be shortchanged on that highly-anticipated opening day of the 2016 deer rifle season.
Rings we recommend:
Low price- Vortex Optics
Mid Range- Burris XTR
High End- Badger Ordnance 30mm Standard