Part of the drill before any hunting season is getting to the range and making sure everything is right. For many of us, that just means making sure Old Betsy is still in good nick, but my life usually isn't that simple. There are test products, new loads and sometimes even different sponsors for different TV shows. I was getting ready for a sheep hunt, and I wanted to use my Blaser R8 and a Zeiss scope.
It occurred to me that this particular optic hadn't been on the rifle for months. It had been sitting on the shelf in one of Blaser's detachable scope mounts, so it was just a matter of clamping the scope into place and hoping the zero was at least close.
It wasn't just close; it was still exactly and precisely in zero, so all I needed to do was adjust the elevation a bit so the stadia lines in the reticle would track properly with the load. I understand why the Europeans have long preferred scopes with larger objectives. They don't observe "shooting hours" like we do, so they need (and developed) bright, light-gathering scopes. On the other hand, detachable scope mounts have been popular in Europe for decades, long before they were common over here.
I don't exactly know why this should be, but in this area the Europeans were a long way ahead of us, and they really trust their detachable scope mounts. It isn't uncommon to see a European hunter almost ceremoniously take his scope out of a separate telescope case and clamp it on his rifle at the start of a hunt.
I trust that Blaser mount, and I've used other European detachable scope mounts, new and old, that are just as repeatable, but I wouldn't go quite that far. If the scope is off the rifle, I want to check zero. Maybe that's just being old-fashioned, because detachable scope mounts are "in." Domestic manufacturers have caught up, and there are now a number of American detachable scope mounts that are reliably repeatable. Dave Talley's mount is probably the benchmark, but while I certainly haven't used all the options, I have great confidence in detachable scope mounts from Alaska Arms, Leupold and Warne, among others.
Come to think of it, the great old Weaver system works extremely well. This is a page from the tactical/modern sporting rifle side. The Picatinny rail is really just an extension of the Weaver mount with multiple attachment points. Most rail mounts are detachable and fairly repeatable.
The classic sporting application for detachable scope mounts has been on rifles intended for dangerous game, from bears to buffalo and beyond. When I was a lot younger, I bought into this. You know, use the scope most of the time, but if you have to follow a big nasty into the thick stuff, remove the scope and use iron sights for close-in work. Today I'm not so sure this concept is valid. We see better with a scope, and we acquire targets more quickly. There remain some very specialized situations where iron sights are superior, such as during a driving rainstorm or blizzard, when hunting with hounds and for all elephant hunting.
For close work, too much magnification is dangerous, but with a low-powered scope turned all the way down, that problem is solved. Under most circumstances, I can't imagine a sane person removing a functioning scope in favor of iron sights. Although I have generally followed the crowd and used detachable scope mounts on dangerous-game rifles, I can honestly say I have never removed a scope in favor of irons. Well, I did that once, but it was because the scope kept smacking me between the eyes, and I was afraid I was going to bleed to death.
Ken Elliott, my long-time boss at the Petersen Publishing Company, firmly believes that a hunting rifle should wear iron sights, and his usually do. If you have iron sights, detachable scope mounts makes sense, even if the likelihood of actually using it is low. These days I see a lot of detachable mounts on rifles that do not have iron sights. There are good reasons.
For one thing, scopes can fail. This can be a mechanical failure, which is rare, but it does happen, and I've seen it happen with just about any brand you can think of. More common is for the scope to take a serious knock from a slip in the rocks, from a train wreck with a horse or from doing something stupid like leaning the rifle where it can fall over (or something even more stupid like leaning it against a vehicle and driving over it).
With baggage limits as they are these days, I try not to fly with two rifles, but I often carry a spare scope. Historically, a lot of guys like me have advised this with the tagline "already set in rings." That's good, but detachable scope mounts are so reliable today that you can go a step further and say, "already set in detachable rings and pre-zeroed." I continue to recommend always checking zero when removing and reattaching a scope.
However, even though a spare scope will probably be in camp rather than immediately available, it isn't always practical to check zero at the moment, perhaps because of daylight or concerns about the noise. A pre-zeroed scope in compatible detachable scope mounts will be plenty close enough to continue the hunt, but I still suggest verifying zero as soon as you get a chance.
In this case, a spare scope may be just that, whether similar to the primary scope or truly a spare, something you can get by with if the need arises. There are other reasons to have multiple scopes or sights set up for a given rifle. For my Blaser with a .300 Weatherby Magnum barrel, for instance, I trade back and forth between two scopes, the Zeiss 3-12X mentioned earlier and a Leupold VX6 2-12X. Either is a good choice for open-country or mountain hunting, but the Leupold has a dial-up custom turret for a certain load. If I want to use a different load, I switch to the Zeiss scope with the Rapid-Z reticle.
Another sound option is setting up with disparate sighting systems. Hey, we do this all the time with our ARs, right? How about a magnifying scope for longer range and perhaps a reflective red dot sight for closer work? I have a .375 set up exactly this way, with a Leupold VX7 1.5-6X for general use and an Aimpoint Hunter for close cover, both in Leupold detachable rings. Uh, yeah, this rifle also has very good iron sights, but I need to be honest. These days I'm having increasing difficulty resolving iron sights, so the Aimpoint offers a much faster and more visible option.
I can't see myself removing the scope in favor of iron sights — especially today — but last March in Burkina Faso, I did remove the scope in favor of the Aimpoint when it was my turn to hunt buffalo. I can't properly call it a charge, because it really wasn't, but after receiving the first bullet, the buffalo ran straight toward me. That red dot was bold and bright on the center of his chest, and the second shot dropped him faster and cleaner than I could have done with iron sights.