Study Unit

Gun Sights

This sneak preview of your study material has been prepared in advance of the book's actual online release.

In this study unit, we’ll explain the design, function, and installation of metallic and optical gun sights. Following a brief history of gun sights, we’ll address metallic rifle sights, shotgun beads, and pistol sights. We’ll present gun sight installation procedures and identify the tools the job requires. Next, you’ll learn about the development of and uses for optical sights (scopes) for rifles, slug shotguns, and pistols. Then, just as for metallics, we’ll detail installation procedures. In the final sections, we’ll address bore and final sighting, drill and tap procedures, bolt alterations, and safety replacement.

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When you complete this study unit, you’ll be able to
• • • • • • • Summarize the history of gun sights, identifying hallmark developments in their evolution Explain the design, function, and installation of metallic and optical sights Explain how to bore sight Explain how to sight-in rifles and pistols Identify correct drill and tap procedures Describe the process of bolt alteration Describe how replacing safeties often facilitates scope mounting


Metallic Sight Development Metallic Sights for Modern Rifles Installing Metallic Rifle Sights Installing Dovetail-mounted Open Sights Zeroing and Adjusting Metallic Rifle Sights

2 6 13 16 20

Contents Contents

Fixed Sights The Paine Sight The Patridge Sight Adjustable Sights Dots, Outlines, and Inserts Glow-in-the-dark Sight Ribs Installing Handgun Sights Shotgun Beads Installing Beads

24 25 26 27 28 28 29 29 34 37

History and Development Functions and Features of Rifle Scopes Pistol, Shotgun, and Air Gun Scopes Reticles Mounting a New Scope Scope Installation Attaching the Mount

40 45 53 58 59 65 66

Drill and Tap Procedures Attaching the Rings Positioning the Scope

71 78 79

Bore Sighting Final Sighting Bolt Handle Alteration for Scope Mounting Procedure Safety Replacement for Scope Mounting Installation Procedures

84 87 90 91 93 94


97 101


Gun Sights
History doesn’t record who invented the gun sight, and we generally believe that shooters seldom used sights over the two or three centuries following the first shots down range. Accordingly, the ancient matchlocks, harquebuses, and wheel-locks couldn’t have been very accurate. The shooter simply pointed the barrel rather than aiming, and, if the target was close enough, the shooter may-or may not-have hit the target. Even so, while gun sights were exceedingly rare, evidence exists of their use. In The Book of Rifles (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1960) author W. H. B. Smith reports that medieval German manuscripts document the use of front and rear sights by target shooters to ranges as long as 200 meters as early as 1500. You can see examples of such early sights on museum relics and in archival drawings. These sights were finely crafted works with minute adjustments for both elevation and windage. The sights could have contributed to remarkable accuracy if the guns on which they were mounted were equally capable. Some early sights incorporated such advanced features as • Rear apertures (tiny peepholes set close to the eye) • Hooded fronts (a circular covering of the vertical bead or post at the muzzle) • Threaded adjustment tracks complete with calibrated settings All are advantages seen in the highest quality match sights today (Figure 1).


FIGURE 1—Although this early matchlock rifle carries sights, it wasn’t very accurate.

We can only guess at the effectiveness of the early sights, but clearly some gun makers enlisted the age-old concept of using two reference points to establish a straight line. The old revelation is that you can “create” a straight line using your eye to sight on two given points, be they sharpened sticks, notched wood or pottery, or even pointy rocks. Certainly early builders used such a fundamental sight premise. By the time of the great Greek and Roman empires, the science of surveying had developed the principle. The principle is simple: After aligning two positive, stationary references, it becomes possible to extend that line to a third point. In the case of guns and shooting, that third point is the target. Hence, the reliance on front and rear sights working in tandem, even as we continue to use them today, is simply recognition of an immutable law of physics. Each time a shooter aligns front and rear metallic sights on a target, he or she creates a line (Figure 2).

FIGURE 2—The principle of extending a straight line from the eye through two fixed points and then on to a third point-the target-is the basis for all metallic sight functions.

Metallic Sight Development
While the knowledge of sights was fairly widespread, the great majority of guns through the end of the eighteenth century had none. It’s unlikely that the early smoothbore mus-


Gun Sights

kets would have benefited from mounted sights. Great armies of the line squaring off in pitched battle wielded these military arms. The emphasis was on reloading speed and a high rate of fire-not precision.

Early Hunting Sights
Perhaps the most common sights of the era were those found on the better hunting guns, first the German Jaegers and then American long rifles (Figure 3).

FIGURE 3—Sights like the ones mounted on this early American long rifle were rather crude fixtures.

Compared to finely wrought examples occasionally seen on a weapon made for some duke or prince, they were somewhat crude fixtures. In their most common form, they consisted of a shallow V- or U-shaped notch for the rear sight-the one closest to the eye-teamed with a simple rounded bead front sight positioned at the end of the barrel. Even today, such a combination is preeminent, and is commonly referred to as an “open” sight. The shooter simply centers the bead in the notch and imposes the alignment over the target.

The Pivoting Ladder
Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, the function of rifles changed dramatically. Emphasis shifted to accuracy, and with that shift came the proliferation of sights on virtually every rifle. Long-range shooting became a much more viable art that depended on adjustable sights. The rear notch remained in vogue. However, by the time of the Civil War, arms makers like Sharps, Maynard, Enfield, and Spencer had addressed the adjustment demand by mounting the notched sighting piece on a pivoting “ladder.”

Gun Sights


By raising the ladder (which actually served as a track for a sliding notched crosspiece) up off the barrel, the rifle would place its shots higher, that is, achieve impact at longer distances. The adjustment simply required that the shooter elevate the muzzle to align the sights. Thus, the ladder-type rear sight, marked off in graduated settings that indicated the increasing range, made it possible to shoot quite far with reasonable accuracy. Indeed, some sights of the post-war years were calibrated to 800 yards or more. A ladder (sometimes referred to as a “leaf,” though that term more frequently designates any notched sight piece) could be attached to the gun and worked in different ways. Perhaps the most recognizable type was hinged at the rear and was simply stood up vertically for use. The sighting notch was held in place by a set screw or spring-loaded “ears” that were squeezed to free it to move to another setting.

Tangent Sight
Another ladder/leaf style worked on a lever principle (Figure 4). In this type the sight leaf serves a dual purpose: its notch is built in as a fixed end piece, and it acts as a guide for a sliding jack. As the jack moves forward in contact with a ramplike base, the entire piece angles upward. The closer the jack gets to the top of the ramp, the greater the elevation of the rear sight, and consequently the shot. It’s easy to see how this type is braced more rigidly, and therefore is more durable than the pivoting ladder. Both designs proved so useful that in some form they were continually employed into the modern era on such advanced rifles as the 1903 Springfield (vertical type) and Mauser 98 (vertical and ramp combined).


Gun Sights

FIGURE 4-This Mauser “folding leaf” or “ladder” is typical of the type outfitted on military bolt-action rifles in the years leading up to World War II. You can adjust elevation to more than 1,000 yards.

The Aperture or “Peephole” Sight
Shooters soon devised another way to use the ladder sight, this time as an elevator for a sliding peephole, or aperture. Somewhere along the line they learned that sighting through a small opening positioned close to the eye produced excellent results. The rear sight no longer obscured a significant amount of the field of view-so long as the peep was large enough and/or close enough. Even better, the eye reacted naturally to the peep, centering itself instantly while looking through to the front sight and target beyond (Figure 5). In all two-component sight systems, the front sight must be the primary focus if the sights are to deliver their inherent accuracy. While the peep won’t compensate for poor shooting fundamentals, it does make sight alignment largely an automatic process. By all accounts, peep sights were and still are the fast track to accuracy. Perhaps no one has used peep sights to such devastating effect as the buffalo hunters. To get the peep close to the eye where it would do the most good, they mounted the folding ladders on the tang straps of their heavy Sharps and Springfield rifles. Attached to and sliding on the ladder was a rather large, coin-like metal disc drilled with a tiny hole.

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FIGURE 5—Aperture sights are prevalent among competitive shooters because they tend naturally to center the front sight as well as sharpening the focus. The micrometer fine-tuning on this model is capable of 1/8 minute-of-angle (1/8 inch at 100 yards) adjustments.

From ranges up to 1,000 yards, the professional hunters employed these rifles and tang sights to slaughter the bison with terrible efficiency. Eventual improvement came to tang sights by substituting a solid stem for the traditional ladder. The peephole was then mounted on the stem or incorporated into the design as a rounded end piece. The stems were usually threaded and set into a knurled sleeve, which was turned to make very exact elevation adjustments. At the pivoting base was a screw that moved the peep laterally to adjust for windage. This type of sight was often mounted on the turn-of-thecentury Winchester and Marlin lever-actions where it complemented the standard-issue open sights.

Metallic Sights for Modern Rifles
Before continuing the discussion of later peep/aperture sights, we should consider two other developments. The first is the front sight, which takes a few basic forms: bead, blade, post, or aperture.


Gun Sights

The Front Sight
Small, rounded beads are the most common front sights. You’ll sometimes find them used with one of the other typesfor example, when mounted atop a blade. The blade and post are very much alike, both appearing as thin rectangles rising at the muzzle. The blade simply comes to an edge while the post is flat-topped. The front aperture, also called globe front, is a thin ring. While you’ll encounter almost any combination, it’s often helpful to mate front and rear sights with complementary profiles. When using a U-shaped rear notch for example, the rounded bead is a good match, for it appears as a ball floating in an oval field. This combo works well for hunters who have to line up shots quickly, though it does have range limitations and tends to obscure much of the target. A V-notch works well with a sharp blade to make relatively fast, accurate shots at longer ranges by covering much less target. A post is the right shape for a square notch when sight alignment is difficult. It’s also appropriate when the target is so close or so large that it matters little if quite a bit of it is blotted out. The post is a favorite of pistol shooters. Front and rear apertures team up to make concentric circles around a bulls-eye, a rather specialized sight that’s ideal (and intended) for competition shooting. The idea with all types is to present the front sight perfectly centered in the rear opening. We should point out that other arrangements of such variables are useful and popular in certain situations. The aperture-and-post has been the standard arrangement on U.S. military rifles for almost a century, providing soldiers with an uncluttered field of view and a front sight that’s substantial and easily seen. Making the front sight more visible has always been a concern. Held out away from the eye, front sights that are usefully small tend to fade as the light dims. For hunters who use metallic sights, the ability to see the front sight largely determines their time in the field. Since the early days of metal sights, shooters have doctored their front sights by various means to make them brighter. A common strategy has been to inlay a post or blade with some

Gun Sights


luminous material like brass, ivory, or recently, plastic. Beads made entirely from these substances also help to solve the problem. Today’s shooters often resort to white or Day-Glo orange paint on the rearward face. The problem with all such remedies comes when the sun is strong and the reflection from a bright front sight produces a glare that makes it difficult to see. This is something that can also occur with very shiny blued sights. Match shooters, subject to eye fatigue during long events, insist on nonreflective sights and sometimes dull theirs with lampblack, a blacking agent, or by scorching them with a lighter. Another approach is a sight hood such as the one used to support front aperture rings, so long as it’s big enough to permit plenty of light (Figure 6). Competition rifles often carry both blackened sights (which contrast nicely with light-colored target sheets) and hoods, while a hunting gun may benefit from a hood combined with a luminous bead or blade. Many military rifles, including the M1 and M16, come with upraised “wings” that shield the front post without actually hooding it.
FIGURE 6—Globe front sights are the perfect complement for aperture rears. Hooded to prevent distracting glare, they can be fitted with a wide range of inserts. The ring or front aperture insert is ideal for centering round bulls-eyes.


Gun Sights

The Rear Sight
The second development to consider is the many variants of the basic notched rear sight leaf. So far, we’ve simply referred to notches’ general outlines, but it’s also important to note the specialized forms some have taken, particularly the ones still being used today (Figure 7).

FIGURE 7—Rear sight blade styles include (from left): express, buckhorn, and semi-buckhorn.

The buckhorn sight. A distinctly American rear leaf, with a wide following in the early days of lever-actions, was the buckhorn. This sight got its name from sides that curved up and in, vaguely copying the shape of white-tailed deer antlers. Rather than a simple notch, the buckhorn sight design left a large central opening (sometimes including a tiny “V” at the bottom). In a sense, the buckhorn attempted to combine the notch and aperture, but from its customary forward mount atop the barrel it tended to cover up too much of the target. An improvement to this approach was the semi-buckhorn, which begins to copy the shape but has much shorter “horns” that don’t curve inward and form a broad “U.” Today’s rear sights sometimes consist of a semi-buckhorn-shaped frame onto which various exchangeable leaves with varying notches attach. The express sight. Another variation on the notched leaf is the express sight, which offers an even wider taper than the semi-buckhorn. It takes the form of a very shallow “V,” whose sides run out to the corners at an extreme angle. As the name suggests, the express is the fastest metallic sight to bring into use, though it’s somewhat lacking when a shooter requires long-range precision. The express sight’s speed, however, has made it the top choice for hunting dangerous game at close range. The finest English doubles (and other large-bore rifles) frequently have very elaborate express

Gun Sights


sights containing a number of folding leaves. Arranged in increasing heights, the leaves enable the shooter to select the correct one for a particular distance. Meanwhile, the higher leaves for longer ranges remain folded flat against their mount. The mention of express sights is synonymous with African hunting. Most rear leaf sights are adjustable for elevation but only the better ones for windage too. Commonly, if windage adjustments are available, they’re built into the mount. Usually, a springtempered base lies horizontally along the barrel and is fixed by screws or a dovetail union at its forward end. The rear of the base may not be attached, but spring tension holds it down. You adjust the elevation by forcing the spring arm upward. Sometimes you can insert a screw, lifting the base as it turns, but more often you change elevation by pushing a stepped wedge under the sight. Other times you angle the base upward and the fitted leaf simply slides forward and locks with a screw. When you use exchangeable notched blades, the screw holes provided for their attachment elongate to supply the adjustment. All of the adjustment provisions work adequately, but many lack precise index marks to facilitate quick return to a certain elevation. When windage adjustment is provided, you can usually achieve it by driving the entire sight-mount included-one way or the other in its dovetail slot. This adjustment is drift adjustment, and it’s the most common way for adjusting a front sight. Occasionally, you can laterally manipulate a rear leaf sight with a screw. When this is the case, more precision is available than when using the drift method. Rear leaf sights have always served their purpose reasonably well. To this day, manufacturers outfit most factory rifles with them. They’re often dressed up with a white triangle or diamond pointing to the sight notch. No doubt, this has made them even faster to use. As previously mentioned, however, savvy metallic sight shooters long ago realized the advantage of placing a peephole or aperture close to the eye.


Gun Sights

This realization triggered the development of sophisticated yet versatile rear aperture sights that you could adapt to practically any kind of modern rifle.

The Cocking-Piece Sight
With the advent of bolt-actions that offered no tang for mounting, aperture discs and rings moved forward. Early on, there was the cocking-piece mount, which attached directly to the moving bolt plunger on rifles like the ‘03 Springfield, the Krag, and the Mauser. Cocking-piece sights were essentially scaled-down versions of tang-mounted sights, but even the lightest model slowed the rifle’s lock time, thus negatively affecting accuracy. Accuracy was further compromised because the sight was mounted on a moving part and really didn’t occupy a consistent position shot-to-shot. Moreover, it was nearly impossible to practice good follow-through and to call one’s shots when using a sight that jumped away. Cocking-piece sights had their fans for several decades, but by the 1950s they pretty much faded from the scene.

The Receiver Sight
A rear aperture style with much more staying power is the receiver sight. As its name indicates, this sight mounts on the receiver, usually as far to the rear as possible. Both hunters and target shooters embraced it. Today, however, the scope has just about made the premium metallic sights obsolete for hunting. Still, a visit to any bulls-eye rifle shoot confirms they’re still alive and well when not competing with scopes. It’s the rare match shooter who tries to compete with anything but precision receiver sights (Figure 8). Several decades back, the development of receiver sights for hunting and target shooting took different directions. In general, the hunting models remained compact and rugged and possessed fewer parts than the sophisticated match versions with their built-in micrometer adjustments, calibration scales, and eye shades.

Gun Sights


FIGURE 8—A great many hunters once favored compact receiver sights like this Lyman 66. Besides being very lightweight and handy in heavy brush, they provided excellent accuracy. Also, you can quickly remove many models from their mounts when not in use.

Aperture size and the way it’s presented to the eye are also major differences. Hunters want a fairly large aperture that allows them an unobscured view, and at the same time don’t want available light limited any more than necessary. For them, a peephole about inch in diameter, surrounded by a narrow rim, is probably the best bet. Match apertures are considerably smaller-.05 inch is a common size and some are even tinier. Competition sights also change aperture size quickly, either by accepting removable discs or by utilizing a disk containing an adjustable aperture similar to those found in camera lenses. Changing discs and adjusting the aperture size enables shooters to meet range conditions. Discs often come with an oversized light shield, or they’re mounted inside a rubber eyepiece that blocks out all light that’s not coming through the tiny hole. This also has the effect of bringing the image of the target into very sharp focus, again working like a camera lens. The best receiver hunting sights were traditionally built on a right-angle frame whose horizontal upper leg holds the aperture out over the receiver in line with the bore. The vertical leg extends down on one side where its mount attaches to the receiver with screws. The entire unit remains extremely compact, hardly two square inches. Today, many of the same models are tailored to use top mount screw holes, but they have the same low profile that stands up to rugged use. Shooters often relied on such sights as insurance not so many years back when scope durability


Gun Sights

was still a dubious proposition. Adjustment knobs are purposely down-sized so they won’t snag on brush or clothing. Certain models feature a spring-loaded quick-release fixture for removal from the mount base at the press of a button (Figure 9).
FIGURE 9—Notice this receiver sight’s right-angle frame.

Target aperture sights for smallbore rifles are fitted to mount directly into grooves milled into the top of the receiver. Oftentimes they sit relatively high above the bore line to correspond with the elevated cheekpieces found on these rifles. Target sights are comparatively heavy (6 1/2 ounces vs 1 1/2 ounces for a hunting sight) and their large micrometer adjustment knobs give positive clicks as fine as 1/8 minute of angle.

Installing Metallic Rifle Sights
At one time, the acquisition and installation of a new sight were the most common reasons for visiting a gunsmith. To some degree this is still true, although nowadays the request is usually for scope installation. Unless the gunsmith works closely with serious match shooters, the times the shooter will ask the gunsmith to exchange a rifle’s factory metallic sights for better ones will be few and far between. Nonetheless, it’s a job that the gunsmith must handle with skill and precision if the sight is to perform up to its capabilities. Sloppy work can permanently mar a gun, and while many shooters can mount their own scopes, the general unfamiliarity with metallic sights usually means that the shooter must turn the job over to a professional.

Gun Sights


Prior to installation, you must determine the proper sight height. For relative similarity between the point of impact and aiming points, front and rear sights must be the same height above the bore. To calculate the height, use a caliper or micrometer to make three very exact measurements (precision is vital here, as a few thousandths of an inch could make a big difference). Measure the barrel diameter at the rear sight and divide by two. To this figure, add the measured height of the rear sight at the middle of its adjustment setting. Then, measure the barrel diameter where you’ll mount the front sight and divide by two. Subtract the forward barrel figure from the rear barrel/sight sum and the difference is equal to the required height of the front sight. For example, say the barrel diameter at the rear sight is exactly 1.0 inch. Divide by two to get .5 inch. Then, add the height of the rear sight, which is .5 inch. At this point we’re back to 1.0 inch. Barrel diameter at the front sight measures .8 inch, which divided by two is .4 inch. Subtract .4 from 1.0 (1.0 – .4) to get a difference of .6. The overall height of the front sight must be .6 inch. In practice, you must build up the front sight to match the relatively high position of the rear. When you mount a basic rear sight leaf directly to the barrel, a front bead, blade, or post similarly mounted is often sufficient. However, when you elevate the leaf or use a different type of rear sight, it becomes necessary to raise the bead/blade/post with a ramp. You attach the ramp, a rectangular piece whose face angles back toward the shooter, to the barrel, and then you attach the sight to the ramp. Combined, the ramp and front sight meet the height requirement with a much stronger and better-looking fixture. You may see a barrel with an integral ramp, usually the work of a custom barrel maker. This adds considerably to the effort of forging the barrel, and therefore considerably to its cost. Fortunately, add-on ramps are widely available, and some even have the bead or blade incorporated into their design. The leading makers of metallic rifle sights like Williams and Marble offer extensive selections of front sight heights and styles to work with various rear sights on just about any modern rifle.


Gun Sights

Metallic sights attach to a rifle in several ways. Rear sights are either held in place by screws, friction-fitted into a dovetail slot, or soldered (silver or soft depending on the sight and gun) to the receiver or barrel. Front sights are secured by screws, dovetails, and soldering as well, and in addition, a blade or post may be inserted at the muzzle in a linear slot. You frequently cut dovetail sight slots directly into the barrel, but you may also machine them in a mount base joined to the barrel by screws or an encircling band. Some front sights are even fabricated with the bead/blade, a ramp, and the band as a single made-to-order unit. When substituting a new sight that’s the same type as the old one, the gunsmith can almost always use the existing screw holes or dovetail slots. You should check them, of course, to make sure they’re in good condition; the threads must be intact, and dovetail corners must be sharp. In cases of extreme wear, retapping a hole or dressing corners with a file may be necessary. At the outset of any sight exchange work involving dovetail mounts, remove the barreled action from the stock and brace it in a padded vise. (This may also be necessary with certain screw-on mounts.) Such reinforcement prevents possible barrel damage. Always drive the old dovetail mount out from left to right with the muzzle pointed away. Use a soft brass drift punch or a nylon rod for all driving and tap only as hard as necessary to move the sight. With dovetails, mark the barrel with a felt-tip marker pen to record the center point of the old sight. Make a corresponding mark on the new sight, then drive it in-right to left-until the two marks are just short of meeting. Make the final drift adjustment after firing a few shots (preferably at close range, say 10-15 yards), tapping it only as far to the left as needed to line up the windage. This saves wear on the slot caused by driving the dovetail back and forth and will ensure that the sight remains sufficiently tight. If the fit of a new sight is a little loose, use a coating of solder tinned to its bottom surface to take up the slack. Be sure to file the solder smooth before installation and clean up the edges afterward.

Gun Sights


For some sight mounting jobs it will be necessary to provide a dovetail slot where none currently exists. It is best, when cutting a dovetail into a barrel or receiver, to use a milling machine and the properly sized sight base cutter. The standard for rifle sights is inch with a 60 degree shoulder. Machine tools aren’t an absolute necessity; however, you can fashion a perfectly acceptable dovetail with a few hand tools. However, you must do it with extreme care, and many gunsmiths disdain making this alteration to a gun. Their feeling is that it weakens the barrel and so doing causes it to vibrate much more than usual, thereby reducing accuracy. As an alternative, you can provide dovetail slots by substituting screw-on or sweat-on (soft solder) bases or a barrel band precut with dovetails. Nevertheless, because dovetail-mounted open sights remain prevalent, we’ll now describe the procedure.

Installing Dovetail-mounted Open Sights
Sight dovetails have the standardized dimensions of .090 inch deep and .375 inch wide along the lower face. Before getting started, measure the barrel to ensure that it’s thick enough to take the cut. You should leave as much metal above the bore as you plan to take away. It’s important that you make the cut exactly perpendicular to the bore. The easiest way to do this is by snugging the barrel in a padded vise, then rotating it until the existing rear sight is level (check with a machinist’s level). If this isn’t possible, use a pair of try squares to true the action vertically. Rest the head of one square on a level surface and align its blade with the blade of the other square. Then, rotate the barrel until the flat underside of the receiver lines up with the head of the second square. For clean, precise hand cuts we advise you to employ some kind of guide tool, such as the SPL Dovetail Guide (Figure 10). This is a handy, square-sided device that clamps onto the barrel and offers an open tooling slot on its top face that’s perfectly sized (depth and width) and angled for dovetail dimensions. Its flat sides simplify leveling and the hardened steel prevents overcutting. The user merely makes cuts (described below) through the slot.


Gun Sights

FIGURE 10—The SPL Dovetail Guide helps you cut clean and accurate dovetails every time.

In the absence of a machined guide, begin by measuring the narrowest part of the sight dovetail and transferring this dimension to the barrel using a sharp scribe. Use a try square to ensure that you make the scribing marks squarely on the barrel. Even better is to inscribe the dovetail’s entire profile on the barrel. At this point, just enough of the barrel’s upper surface should project above the vise jaws so that the jaws help regulate the depth of the cut. Use a hacksaw to begin the metal removal. Caution: Be sure not to penetrate to the full .090 inch depth. Make several of these closely spaced, short hacksaw cuts inside the scribing marks. You remove the remaining steel and shape the dovetail with a 60 degree, 3 square file. It’s best to grind one side of the file smooth beforehand so that only one surface is cutting at any one time and turn down the smooth side (Figure 11).

FIGURE 11—After carefully scribing the outline on the barrel and making a number of initial cuts with a hacksaw, you shape a dovetail sight mounting slot with a 60 degree file. At least one side of the file should be smooth to avoid unintended cutting.

Gun Sights


Ideal for cutting dovetails is Brownell’s Sight Base File, specially made for this job. It comes with just one cutting face; the other two sides are smooth, eliminating the possibility of unintentionally enlarging the cut. Undercut both sides gradually, switching from one to the other to make sure they stay even, and as the slot takes shape, closely compare and fit it to the actual sight dovetail. Keep in mind that the slot should taper a tiny bit-the final cuts make the right side a few thousandths of an inch wider to ease the dovetail in and out of the cut. Many rear aperture sights are side-mounted to the receiver wall with screws, except on certain match rifles where receiver top grooves have been provided. It’s vital that you install the mount square to the receiver so that the aperture arm’s position is exactly perpendicular to the bore. The location of the mounting holes governs this. Ideally, you locate, drill, and tap screw holes using a professional jig setup like the Forster Universal Sight Mounting Fixture or Brownell’s SSR Mounting System. These tools ensure correct alignment with the bore, square screw holes to the action, and guide drills and taps with hardened bushings so that the holes are clean and straight. When a drill jig isn’t available, it’s possible to square the sight base to the receiver with a try square. Place the square’s head on the true undersurface of the receiver and line up the base with the blade. Clamp the base securely in this position with a C-clamp, and scribe the location of one of the holes. Remove the base and center punch the mark, then drill the hole with a No. 31 drill and tap for a 6-48 screw. Install the sight, tightening the screw firmly. Now, use a No. 28 drill to mark the spot of the second hole. It will center in the sight base hole, thus ensuring precise registration with the first hole. Don’t overdo it with the No. 28 drill-just enough to provide a center. Then remove the sight, center punch, and finish drilling with the No. 31. Tap the hole and install the sight. Caution: Only use hollow-ground screwdrivers with parallelsided blades and be certain that the blade completely fills the screw slot. If you don’t have the correct blade, grind one to fit. A mismatched screwdriver blade invariably jumps the slot, thus damaging the screw head and scratching the metal finish. Screws extending through the receiver wall must be


Gun Sights

filed flush. Use a quarter-inch rattail file for this and finish with a piece of emery paper wrapped around the file. All sight-mounting screws should be extremely tight and coated with a few drops of Loc-Tite or a similar thread-locking compound before final installation. Use sparingly and wipe away any excess before it has a chance to seep onto other surfaces or parts. Although it’s permissible to drill into receivers when mounting sights, you should never penetrate the bore when drilling holes for barrel sights. Quite simply, this ruins the barrel. It’s essential to determine how deep the hole can be in a given spot. This may change from one end of the barrel to the other since many have thicker walls at the breech than at the muzzle. Prior to any drilling operation, measure the barrel thickness at the spot you’ll drill using a caliper, divider, or micrometer where possible. Most quality drill presses come equipped with a depthindicator scale. It’s a good practice to set up the drill so that it can penetrate no deeper than 1/32 short of the final desired depth. Take great care when drilling barrel-sight holes, checking frequently with a high-quality depth micrometer. The optimum holding power of a 6-48 screw is attained at .137 inch; for the 8-40 it is .162 inch. In thin-walled barrels, it’s not always possible to provide this much internal thread while taking care that the screw doesn’t bottom out in the hole. Carefully note where the screw head is when the screw begins to tighten. If it’s not fully seated against the sight body, remove the screw and carefully grind a little off the end. Sweat-on (soft-soldered) sight bases and ramps will often be reinforced with a screw, but it’s the heat-bonding of the metals with the solder that’s intended to secure the sight. However, there are few things to keep in mind when using this method to install sights. Foremost, you must mount the bases squarely to the barrel. To do so, true the barreled action in the vise with try squares as previously described. Place the sight in its approximate location on the barrel and use a level to determine its exact position. Scribe the outline of the base on the barrel as a guide for the sweating operation. It is best to use a sight/ramp soldering jig as offered by

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Brownells and other firms to maintain the necessary constant pressure during heating. It’s difficult for a standard C-clamp to prevent sight-base slippage when the solder softens. Remove excess solder with a rag and check to make absolutely sure the sight is level before the joint begins to harden.

Zeroing and Adjusting Metallic Rifle Sights
One fundamental principle governs sight adjustment: Always move the rear sight in the direction that you want the shot to move. If, for example, a shot group prints to the left of the bulls-eye, move the rear sight to the right; when shot placement is low, raise the rear sight. When you apply this principle to open or aperture rear sights, it means that you must move the sighting notch or peephole. Conversely, on those occasions where it’s necessary or preferable to adjust the front sight, you must move it in the opposite direction of the desired impact change. Some open and rear-leaf sights are dovetail mounted and have no provision for adjustment other than drifting the dovetail in its slot. This adjusts for windage only. You make drift adjustments the same way that you remove an old dovetail-by driving the sight with a mallet and brass or nylon punch. Not only is this a very inexact technique, it could damage the rifle if the shooter doesn’t take pains to do it right. When making windage adjustments, avoid marring the stock or metal finish by first laying the rifle on a table or bench covered with a rubber mat or old carpeting. Rather minute changes in the sight’s position can produce significant shifts down-range, so tap the sight lightly and move it only a little at a time. Elevation adjustment for most open sights is controlled by a screw or a notched sliding elevator. Occasionally a sight is made to take replaceable leaves that you can shift up and down in their oblong screw slots. All of these are fairly easy to use, but the shooter must work with them to become familiar with the impact changes they produce. Understand


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too that elevation is set for a particular distance, so shots will no longer be zeroed when firing at longer and shorter ranges. The key to adjusting open sights is to patiently make the adjustments in very small increments. Also, it’s wise to begin the sighting-in process at very close range-certainly no farther than 50 yards-and on a rather large target. Most experienced shooters prefer to adjust windage first. That way the shots are hitting on the target’s central axis. The good thing about zeroing open sights is that they are very sturdy and probably won’t need to be dealt with again so long as the shooter and load remain the same. Whether for hunting or competition, rear aperture sights are usually designed with precise adjustment capability. This makes them easier to zero than open sights. Because they’re inherently more accurate, the shooter usually needs to fire fewer sighting-in shots than is required for open sights (Figure 12).
FIGURE 12—A multileaf notched rear-sometimes referred to as an express sight when found on large-caliber “safari rifles”-is the most sophisticated type of open sight.

Aperture sight adjustments are calibrated to provide impact shifts in a fraction of one minute-of-angle, a geometric unit for measuring a circle. For the shooter, it’s necessary to understand that one minute-of-angle nearly equals one-half inch at 50 yards, one inch at 100 yards, two inches at 200 yards, etc. When sights adjust in one-quarter minute clicks, the practical effect is to change shot placement one-quarter inch at 100 yards, one-eighth inch at 50 yards, one-half inch at 200 yards, and so on. (One-quarter minute clicks is the

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most common degree and terminology for such increments.) If, for example, a 100 yard shot group is two inches high and 11/2 inch left, the shooter would zero it by rotating the adjustments knobs to move the aperture down eight clicks and right six clicks. Suppose the group is off-target by the same amounts at 200 yards. Then it would take four clicks down and three right to put the shots in the bulls-eye. Be aware that not all aperture sights offer quarter-minute adjustments (half-minute and eighth-minute are also available). Also be aware that the adjustment values are usually figured on a 30 inch sight radius (the distance between front and rear sights). When the sights are closer or farther apart than 30 inches, the values will differ. Also, some less sophisticated models may adjust by means of a sliding scale held in place with a set screw rather than click-type knobs. When the shooter learns what to expect from the adjustments, he or she is able to use them quickly and efficiently to allow for wind or additional range when hunting or in competition. Because the knobs and scales are marked, the shooter can quickly return the sight back to its original setting. Again, it’s wise to sight-in at 50 yards or less first, then correct for the desired zero range by moving the target and firing at that distance.


Gun Sights

Self-Check 1
At the end of each section of Gun Sights, you’ll be asked to pause and check your understanding of what you have just read by completing a “Self-Check” exercise. Answering these questions will help you review what you’ve studied so far. Please complete Self-Check 1 now. Indicate whether the following statements are True or False. _____ 1. To get peep sights closer to the eye, buffalo hunters mounted them on the tang strap of their rifles. _____ 2. When zeroing metallic sights, you should begin the shooting at 50 yards or less. _____ 3. The aperture of a target competition receiver sight is usually quite large. _____ 4. You should taper a dovetail sight mounting slot so that the left side is a few thousandths of an inch larger. _____ 5. In essence, when a shooter aligns front and rear sights, he is creating a straight line to the target. _____ 6. To make front sights more visible, shooters have resorted to moving them closer to the rear sight. _____ 7. German target shooters were using front and rear rifle sights as early as 1700. _____ 8. The development of ladder-type rear sights made it possible to sight-in for as far as 800 yards. _____ 9. On certain sight mounting jobs, it’s necessary to drill into the rifle’s bore. _____10. Front sight styles include express, buckhorn and semi-buckhorn. Check your answers with those on page 97.

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In no type of shooting is it more important and as difficult to use the sights properly than when firing a handgun. We can sum up the reason for this in an oft-heard pistol shooter’s phrase-short sight radius. As noted in the section on rifle sights, sight radius simply means the distance between front and rear sights. Obviously, this distance is much shorter on a handgun. Consequently, there is far less room for alignment error since it only stands to reason that any variance magnifies the barrel’s angle off the intended aiming point. The result down-range is inaccuracy. As difficult as it is to attain proper sight alignment with a handgun, it’s probably even harder to maintain it. A firearm held out in front of a shooter will just never be as steady as one braced against the shooter’s body. Though handguns are every bit as old as long guns, perhaps even predating them, the inherent problems of shooting them with any degree of accuracy effectively stymied the development of their sights. It was probably a foregone conclusion that these fast-handling, easy-carrying guns were to be relegated to point-blank duty and we couldn’t expect much more of them. This isn’t to say that early handguns didn’t have sights. Many muzzle-loading pistols were outfitted with front bead and perhaps some type of rear notch or even both. No doubt these sights made them far more serviceable. Still, muzzle-loading pistols and the like weren’t much good any farther than one could throw them.

Fixed Sights
Not until the introduction of Colt’s cap-and-ball revolver design and others like it did utility come to pistol sights. These revolvers weren’t immediately more accurate than singleshots of the time, but their ability to fire several shots rapidly led to enhancements for making those shots more consistent, one to the next.


Gun Sights

The early revolvers evolved with a sight setup that remains the basic offering to this day. It originally consisted of a small notch in the hammer for the rear sight and a thin half-moon blade stuck to the barrel for the front sight. This setup slightly improved when a shallow rounded groove in the top of the frame became the rear sight. Such sights are fixed. No adjustment is possible other than visibly changing the sight picture or filing down the front sight to move shots higher. (Remember, moving the front sight up or down-in this case down-results in shots moving in the opposite direction.) Because these open sights lack adjustment capability, they pose certain problems for the shooter. It becomes difficult to change loads, to shoot in wind, or to cope with much variation in range. If for some reason the gun doesn’t shoot well, it’s hard to ascertain if the sights are to blame. Nevertheless, these sights are utterly durable and the shooter can’t “rough” the off zero. Also, they in no way hamper the shooter when drawn from a holster or pocket. Furthermore, there have been countless revolvers and small automatics over the years that have been admirably accurate with such fixed open sights. We should note also that aperture sights never caught on for handguns, since the shooter’s eye is too far away to make much use of a peephole. In the late 1800s, when target shooting with all kinds of guns was a sport that attracted widespread interest, there emerged developments in handgun sights that had a profound influence. Two top pistol competitors, Ira Paine and E. E. Patridge, promoted distinctive designs, sometimes even referred to as “Paine” or “Patridge” sights. You’ll find both of these, or at least close derivatives, on a majority of the handguns in use today.

The Paine Sight
The original Paine-type sight teamed a U-shaped rear notch with a bead front. While the U notch remains quite common, it’s rare to see a bead on handguns these days, and blades (of many different shapes and sizes) are the clear choice of contemporary pistol makers and shooters. On some current

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models, the notch is built up off the frame in an integral projection or a soldered addition, and its shape may now be a V or square. Whatever the variation, the blade front and fixed notched rear remain as basic factory equipment on a wide range of handgun models. It’s especially prevalent on smaller pieces intended solely for very close range work (Figure 13).
FIGURE 13—Two enduring types of handgun sights are the Paine (top), a shallow Ushaped groove and a front bead, and the Patridge (bottom), with its high squarenotched blade and square front post.

The Patridge Sight
The Patridge, which remains quite popular with many handgunners, match shooters in particular, is fundamentally identical to its earliest versions. It offers a square or rectangular rear leaf bearing a square notch. The front is a blunt, high, flat-sided post that’s often (but not always) perpendicular to the barrel. E. E. Patridge felt that the sharp angles on top and the narrow clearances between the post and each side of the notch would give the fastest and most precise sight alignment so crucial for a short-barreled gun. Apparently he was right, for the Patridge system dominated pistol competition for many years until the use of optical devices superseded it. Even now, when the rules dictate metallic sights, a Patridge front blade working with an adjustable rear is the hands-down favorite.


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Adjustable Sights
Match shooters were quick to demand adjustable sights, and the gun makers soon responded. Companies like Colt and Smith & Wesson devised sights (both front and rear) that pivoted by some means and were held in place by set screws. The shooter adjusted rear windage by manipulating a pair of screws at either side of the sighting notch. At times it took much perseverance to zero early adjustable sights, but they could be made to shoot quite well and gave pistols a versatility they hadn’t previously possessed. Where the first adjustable pistol sights were probably somewhat fragile, those that followed and the ones used today are compact, rugged, and not likely to be thrown off zero even with rough treatment. In their most basic form, current adjustable pistol sights can only move laterally, usually by the drift method, and therefore can only correct windage. These aren’t for match shooting, of course, but you’ll find them on many mid-size and larger revolvers and some auto loaders, including many police and service weapons. The better adjustable rear sights are now capable of finetuning both windage and elevation (w&e), some even incorporating miniature micrometerlike mechanisms. Quite a few of the factory w&e sights appear as compact cylindrical attachments supporting notched sight leaves. Others, particularly aftermarket offerings, are contained in low-profile, square housings. On both styles, you make windage and elevation corrections by turning separate adjusting screws, some of which feature positive felt clicks like the ones in rifle receiver sights and scopes. When w&e rear sights are factory installed, they’re most likely on the pistol maker’s top-of-the-line models. The finest of these include Smith & Wesson’s factory rear sight and custom versions from companies like Millett, MMC, Bo-Mar, and Wichita. Obviously, they’re on the firing line when the top bulls-eye, silhouette, and combat pistol competitors are using metallic sights.

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Dots, Outlines, and Inserts
Not an especially new idea but one that remains timely today is the notion of adding some type of bright reference marks to pistol sights. These can be valuable when shooting in dim light, so they’ve been particularly useful for handgun hunters and police. Dots, which are usually white (alternately red or orange), can be on either side of the rear notch and on the face of the front post. Outlines are inlaid white or gold lines that highlight the shape of the notch and occasionally extend up or form a cross at the center of the post’s rearward face. Inserts, traditionally made of brass or red plastic, are set lengthwise into a front post and flush with its face. These also come in white, yellow, green, and orange. You should understand, however, that none of the highvisibility markers actually define the true sight picture. All are situated off the notch’s or post’s sharp black edges, which must be finely aligned for ultimate accuracy. The dots, outlines, and inserts function as guides that enhance and speed up the alignment process.

Glow-in-the-dark Sight
Working on the same principle are ultrahigh-tech glow-in-thedark sights developed for military and law enforcement use. These get their “glow” from a built-in source of tritium gas that makes luminous dots or outlines. Conversely, glare from any sight or visible surface can blur sharp edges and make precise sight alignment impossible. To prevent this, most sight surfaces that face the shooter are grooved, serrated, beveled, or even checkered so that they can’t reflect distracting light. Like rifle competitors, handgunners will dull sights with lampblack or commercial blacking agents to eliminate glare.


Gun Sights

Originally a feature found on shotguns, rail-like attachment ribs for pistols and revolvers provide a handy means for affixing sights. Performing as on shotguns, they guide the eye down the barrel to speed front sight acquisition. Ribs extend along the top of the frame/barrel or slide in a wide selection fitted for specific handgun models. Many ribs come outfitted with top-quality adjustable front and rear sights, though they can also be solely a mounting rail. In an extreme application, international free pistol shooters use a rib-like extension to position the front sight well out ahead of the muzzle. This gives them extra sight radius, which translates to increased accuracy. It’s obvious that such an unwieldy appendage is impractical and undesirable for handguns outside this highly specialized sport, but it does show how ribs provide a gun more sighting versatility.

Installing Handgun Sights
Among handgun owners, a fair number will want to swap factory sights for new ones. They’re certainly not in the majority and generally won’t include casual plinkers or one-gun householders whose pistol represents a means of emergency self-defense. Furthermore, handgun hunters these days are virtually unanimous in their adoption of scopes. However, in places where target shooting is strong or in shops that service police, security, or military personnel, there will be a steady call for replacement sights. Also, heavyrecoiling calibers and magnums that are fired a lot have a tendency to shear small pins and screws in rear sight mechanisms, or to “shoot” loose front blades. As with metallic rifle sights, there are a handful of common installation methods. These include dovetail friction mounts, screw attachment, soldering, and staking. Any of these methods will also work when employing a rib, although dovetail and screw mountings are the norm. The ribs themselves are usually affixed by a combination of dovetails, screws, and/or soldering.

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Fixed-sight pistols will rarely be subjects for rear sight replacement since the original fixtures are virtually indestructible and the purpose of these guns make them unlikely candidates for such customizing. However, in cases where a shooter desires an alteration, one must devise a way to attach a sight leaf to the existing rear sight. Where projecting “ears” or some sort of sight leaf is present, you may be able to solder a new leaf to the old one, filing the notch as desired. On early Colt revolvers and others whose rear sight is a basic top-strap groove, you must make a vertical relief cut with a Dremel tool or small hand grinder to have some flat surface on which to solder the new sight. This cut must match the contour of the groove, not going too deep into the frame lest the top-strap become weakened. A much more likely scenario is to leave the rear sight intact and replace the front. When the front sight is an integral barrel forging, as on older Smith & Wessons, you can partially ground it down to form a base. Then, slot it lengthwise to accept a new blade. Make the slot initially with a hacksaw, then widen and finish the cut with needle files. File-fit the slot to the blade, extend it all the way down through the base to the top of the barrel, and leave it a little tight. For an extremely rigid installation that won’t loosen when you shoot, secure it with a pair of hardened 1/32 inch drill-rod pins driven through the base. (To do so, it will be necessary to seat the blade first, then drill the pin holes.) To replace Colt front sights and others that are soldered/ brazed into a barrel slot, it will be necessary to remove all of the old blade at the outset. When any of it is still present-no matter how little-grind off whatever remains above the barrel and clean out the slot with a file. It’s then simply a matter of inserting and silver-soldering the new blade in place. Slot-mounted front sights are also common additions to semiautos when you need more height to complement the installation of a new rear sight. The latest versions are usually rectangular, ramplike posts outfitted with perpendicular mounting tenons that extend down into the slide. When no slot previously exists for this installation, you can start one by drilling a series of overlapping 3/32 inch holes just slightly narrower than the width of the tenon. Join the holes and


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shape and finish the slot by filing, taking care to keep the opening just a hair undersize to ensure a rigid fit. Silver solder the new sight to the slide; afterwards, trim off any part of the tenon that protrudes on the inside. For extra strength, you can use drill rod pins to anchor the tenon/slide union. The majority of handgun sight installation jobs involve adjustable rear sights. Match shooters are well known for experimenting with different models, and because the adjustable sights often incorporate moving parts, from time to time they come in for repair/replacement. Swapping one basic dovetail-mounted unit for another is the simplest rear sight conversion. This involves driving the old part out of its slot with a brass or nylon punch. Always drive the part from left to right with the muzzle pointing away and then file the new one in its place (Figure 14).
FIGURE 14—When removing a dovetail-mounted sight, always drive it out from left to right with the muzzle pointing away. These slots are tapered a bit to the right side to facilitate insertion/removal.

Among the current selection of aftermarket sights, one can find adjustable rear models made to fit factory dovetails on most American-made and many foreign handguns. This, by far, is the easiest, strongest, and least expensive alteration. It’s crucial that dovetail mountings on hard-kicking guns like the .45 ACP, 10mm, and all magnum calibers maximize bearing surface contact. Check this by coating the slot surfaces with lampblack or carpenter’s chalk, fitting the sight, then noting where the sight did and didn’t make contact. File

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down all high spots until you achieve uniform contact. It’s also wise to employ a secondary attachment method for dovetail mountings. Some current sights come with set screws that bear on the dovetail floor. Similarly, you can stake the sight securely into the dovetail with a sharp prick punch. Alternate methods include tinning with soft solder (be sure to cover both slot and mount) or using the prick punch from inside the slide or top-strap to raise dimples on the bottom of the dovetail. A growing number of semiauto shooters prefer low-profile “combat” rear sights. These mount very low to the gun to minimize quick-draw interference and come in fixed, drift adjustable (windage only), and fully adjustable versions (Figure 15).
FIGURE 15—Low-mounted adjustable rear sights have made handguns significantly more accurate and versatile. The best models are adjustable for both elevation and windage and come with positive, micrometer-like “clicks.”

Full-adjustment models can sometimes require significant alteration of the slide since they may fit too far to the rear to utilize the factory dovetail. This requires cutting a new dovetail and, often, removal of metal from the rearmost portion of the slide to allow clearance for an overhanging sight leaf. You should perform such operations on a milling machine, but first you must fill in the original dovetail by arc welding or with a tight-fitting dovetail blank. Use a 65 degree cutter-in the appropriate width-to make the dovetail and an end mill cutter for the clearance cut. Make certain not to remove any more metal than is absolutely necessary to clear the rear of the sight. For more details on milling machines, see the study unit entitled Basic Metalwork and Machine Tool Operation.


Gun Sights

Another adjustable rear sight commonly chosen for upgrade jobs is the Smith & Wesson type with its elongated, springlike mounting base. Millet Co. fabricates fitted versions for many current revolver models (including one for older S&W N and K frames) as well as the Colt Gold Cup auto loader. The base extends along the top-strap or slide like a partial rib and is neatly attached by a mounting screw (Figure 16).
FIGURE 16—Most adjustable rear handgun sights feature an elongated mounting tang fitted into an inletted slot at the rear of the slide. A number of methods can secure the sight in place, and the most common is probably with a screw that extends down into the slide.

On guns that don’t already have the screw hole present for an existing sight, you must drill and tap one. Always disassemble autos or remove revolver cylinders before any drilling operation. Secure the slide or frame in a padded drill press vise or a drilling jig that can handle pistols, such as Brownell’s SSR Mounting System. Drill and tap for a 3-56 screw (or improve this to a 5-40), and tighten it securely (as tight as possible without snapping the screw). Be sure to use only a parallelblade hollow-ground driver that perfectly fits the screw head. A sparing application of Loc-Tite or similar thread cement will help ensure a lasting bond. Always trim off any part of the screw that protrudes beneath the slide/top strap undersurface. You can adapt this same type of sight to Colt Government models (and their clones) and other semiautos. This requires inletting a shallow recess into the top of the slide so the base

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will mount flush. Milling is certainly the faster way to accomplish this, but you can use a file so long as you carefully center the work on the slide. Begin the cutting just behind the ejection port and just wide enough to snugly accept the base. You must cut a step (by milling or with hacksaw and file) into the upper rear corner of the slide to accommodate the sight body. A similar step is necessary for installation on certain revolvers and you must position it very carefully. If it’s too far forward, it can undermine the strength of the top strap/recoil shield joint. Too far back and it can interfere with hammer fall, which at times may require reshaping of the hammer spur. You install popular ribs like the Bo-Mar series, with specific models to fit everything from Colt and Browning autos to S&W and Ruger revolvers, by accessing existing dovetails. On this type of job, you need to remove the factory sights, both front and rear; then, grind off the front blade if it’s an integral forging. File-fit the rib’s mount dovetail into the slot, taking care to see that bearing surfaces are in full contact with lampblack or chalk. With the rib in place, center-punch the slide or top strap through the rib’s pre-drilled screw holes. At this point, with the rib still in place, check to see that its lower contour matches the curvature of the slide or revolver’s top strap and barrel. If the correct rib fits the particular gun, it won’t require more than a couple passes with a file here and there for precise mating. Also check to see that the clearance around the ejection port of an auto loader is sufficient. If the fit checks out satisfactorily, remove the rib. Then, drill and tap as previously described. To install, reposition the rib, then Loc-Tite and tighten the screws (very tight!). Also, stake the dovetail mount with a punch or (before inserting the screws) silver solder the dovetail, the bearing surface under the front sight, or even each pillar on a vent rib when recoil is especially fierce.

Shotgun Beads
Shotgun beads function in a way that’s unique among all gun sights. Unlike those found on rifles and pistols, they’re not intended for any kind of precise aiming. Even when shooting a gun with more than one bead, there’s no more


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than a cursory need for alignment. A bead simply signals the position of the muzzle, without diverting the shooter’s attention from the target. It serves only as a mid-point reference in a fluid, reflexive sighting reaction that originates at the eye and ends with the target. There’s no focusing on the bead as there is on a front sight; the focus must always be on the target. Practically all contemporary shotguns come with a bead at the muzzle, and a few even provide a second, mid-barrel bead. It’s the consensus of today’s shotgunners that a bead helps them get on the target faster, helps determine leads more clearly, and therefore produces more hits and bagged game. It’s also true, however, that among all types of gun sights, shotgun beads are the least critical. This is clearly seen in the historical use of such beads.

Early Beads on Smoothbores and Flintlocks
Some of the earliest smoothbores, guns dating from 1500s and 1600s, had small, barleycorn-shaped beads at the muzzle. This may lead you to believe that the “shotgun” bead is a rather old development, but that’s not exactly the case. You must keep in mind that the traditional smoothbore muskets most likely shot a single round-ball slug. However, some shooters observed that they were more effective-at least on close targets-firing loads made of several smaller projectiles (buckshot). Flintlock fowling pieces, long-barreled, large-bore guns that were the predecessors of true shotguns, were frequently fitted with a bead or even a low blade. It’s not clear whether this was a carryover from musket design or if the shooters recognized a need to keep track of muzzles that extended three or four feet from the eye. But it’s curious that when barrels were shortened to more conventional lengths on the finer flintlock shotguns of the early 1800s, beads were few and ar between. Throughout the 1800s and into the twentieth century, the inclusion of beads on shotgun barrels was, at most, occasional. Some guns had them, but many others didn’t. A prominent rib between side-by-side barrels was often the only concession to sighting. Where beads really began showing up

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with frequency was on the single-barrel guns (both singleshots and repeaters) of the early 1900s. Here one can see muzzle-mounted beads made of brass, ivory, steel (blued or bright), and eventually plastic. Before long, such beads became commonplace on side-by-side and over-under ribs as well. In shape and position, these beads were markedly similar to those found on the historic muskets. Interestingly, they remain virtually the same today.

Beads for Today’s Shotguns
While beads remain fundamentally the same as those seen centuries ago, there’s a healthy selection available for today’s shotgunners. The choices hinge on three basic variables: color, head diameter, and shank size/thread. The shooter will also have to decide if he or she prefers relatively unbreakable solid metal to more fragile but also more visible enameled or plastic beads. The usual colors are white, gold, and orange/red. The blued steel beads so often supplied by gun makers are rarely chosen for an add-on piece since they’re nowhere near as visible as the brighter colors. White/ivory beads are either plastic or enameled, or if solid metal, shaped from bright stainless steel or aluminum. Gold beads are nearly always brass, but some may be steel coated with gold-colored enamel. Red/orange beads almost always contain plastic. The beads, or globes, can range from .070 inch to .175 inch. and the smallest sizes are used as a rear bead. The position of the smallest sizes is normally midway along the rib. The size one selects for a gun is strictly a matter of personal preference, since the bead should only act as a reference and must never draw attention away from the target. Shank lengths and thread sizes vary somewhat and when you replace a broken or existing bead, it’s best to stick with the same size unless the threads have damage. Shanks come as short as inch and as long as inch. The desired length will depend on the height of the rib, when present, and barrel thickness. When the bead is to sit directly on the barrel, a shorter shank will be in order. Common thread sizes for bead shanks are 3-56 and 6-48, though Brownells also offers a number with an 8-40 thread. Additionally, other makers offer such sizes as 5-40, 6-40, and .146-48 (oversized 6).


Gun Sights

We should also point out that some manufacturers, Lyman and Marble among them, offer beads with tapered, unthreaded shanks driven into place. Also adding variety to the market is Poly-Choke with a number of arrangements where the bead is partially enclosed in a compact metal housing. These can appear as a short cylinder with a rear-facing “lens” or as a very abbreviated sloping ramp with the bead inset at the angle of the face and top.

Installing Beads
The majority of bead installations will be screw-in types on ribbed barrels (Figure 17). If you’re replacing an existing bead, begin by removing it with a special tool made just for this purpose. These sight installers have circular jaws that won’t mar the bead surface even while gripping it very tightly. (Brownells sells these in three different sizes to match bead diameters.) Alternately, some beads feature a shoulder that you can turn with a small wrench (Figure 18). Beads that won’t screw out with the sight installer you can cut off flush with a jeweler’s saw. Then, you drill out the shank left behind and tap the hole for the new installation.

FIGURE 17—Shotgun beads may be tapered (left) or threaded (right).

FIGURE 18—A Brownell’s Sight Installer is invaluable for attachment or removal of screw-on shotgun beads. It comes in three sizes, with collapsing jaws that grip the bead firmly without scratching it.

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Secure the barrel in a padded vise on the drill press table using a machinist’s level on the rib to ensure that it’s level. Set the press to drill no lower than the bottom of the rib. Be sure to select the correct drill size for the new bead’s thread, and turn the tap in at least four threads. Using the sight installer, test the fit, taking great care to start it straight. If the bead doesn’t seat all the way down on the rib it may be necessary to grind a little off the shank (again holding it securely with the bead installer). Apply a drop or two of LocTite or similar thread cement, and screw the bead in tight. For the drive-in types, you ream the holes before driving the beads into place. You can make a jig for this job from a piece of soft scrap wood in which there’s a hole just smaller than the bead. Hold the bead in the jig indentation and seat the bead with a few raps from a light mallet. You can also install beads on barrels lacking ribs, although such guns are in the minority today. Such jobs will require drilling into the barrel. Level up the work with a Top Dead Center tool, then drill and tap the hole. Run the bead in snugly and mark the excess shank length, then remove it and, with a jeweler’s saw, cut off that part that penetrates the bore. With a file or a small grindstone in a Dremel tool, gently hone the stud flush after final screw-in. Polish over the joint and any filing marks with a polishing point or emery paper (Figure 19).

FIGURE 19—Shown on the right is a finished bead installation on a double-barrel shotgun. On the left is a cutaway view of the installed bead. (Photos courtesy of U.S. Repeating Arms)


Gun Sights

Self-Check 2
Fill in the blanks in the following statements. 1. _______ _______ aren’t meant to be carefully aligned on a moving target. 2. Originally, glow-in-the-dark sights were developed for _______ and _______ use. 3. When mounting a screw-in bead, it helps to use a _______-jawed sight installer. 4. Because they aid visibility in dim light, police and hunters have found it useful to outfit their handgun sights with _______, _______, or _______. 5. The three basic variables of replacement shotgun beads are _______, _______, and _______. 6. Sight alignment is crucial to handgunners because the _____ sight radius magnifies errors. 7. Low-profile _______ sights for semiautomatics cannot be simply screwed or soldered in place. 8. Top-quality rear pistol sights are adjustable for _______ and _______. 9. You can usually fashion the slot for a new front sight blade with a _______ and needle files. 10. The popular Patridge-style sight combines a _______ rear notch and a flat-sided post. Check your answers with those on page 97.

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Since World War II, no development in the shooting world has been more important than the adoption of scope sights. These gun-mounted telescopes have garnered near universal acceptance for the simple reason that they help shooters achieve greater accuracy-more targets hit, more game bagged. The shooter achieves accuracy in a number of ways. • The shooter can see the target better. • The shooter can fine-tune his or her aim by picking out a spot on the target, or a vital area on game. • The sight rarely obscures the target. • As modern scopes developed, sight picture acquisition became faster to the point where many shooters can “get on” the target or game animal faster than by aligning iron sights. As a result of scope sights, older shooters have had their sporting years extended and hunters are vastly more efficient in the critical dawn and dusk periods. Also, those who are unable to spend a lot of time practicing find it somewhat easier to develop marksmanship skill. Scopes aren’t without drawbacks, however. They add weight to the gun and even the improved current models can’t always stand up to rough handling. When something goes wrong “inside,” you can’t repair the scope at the range or in the field. Unless you can employ an alternate sight, the gun is effectively out of commission. Fortunately for today’s hunters and shooters, the reputable scopes on the market aren’t prone to failure if treated with reasonable care.

History and Development
We’re not certain who first mounted a telescope on a rifle. However, the first occurrence of a scoped rifle probably came shortly after the seventeenth-century German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, improved on earlier telescope concepts.


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Kepler managed to reproduce an image within the tube rather than relaying it to a “focal point” somewhere behind the rear lens. Kepler’s innovation required changing the curvature of the front or objective lens to bring light rays together at an interior focal point. The rear or ocular lens was ground to focus on the image and thus relay it to the eye. Kepler’s efforts resulted in a much truer image delivered by a glass of manageable size. (In attempts to get the lenses to focus, early telescopes were often yards long.) Even with Kepler’s improvement, images were usually fuzzy and distorted, and to the viewer they appeared upside-down. One can only imagine how fragile and prone to fogging these telescopes were, so it’s understandable why they weren’t exactly an immediate hit with shooters. The performance of scopes improved as optical discoveries occurred. Compound lenses, fashioned from two affixed pieces of glass with differing optical properties, greatly reduced troubling distortion. It was found that an erector lens, inserted inside the tube between the objective and ocular, would set the image back on its feet. By the early 1800s, gunsmiths and glass makers teamed up to build workable telescopic rifle sights. By mid-century, American target shooters used scopes, and Civil War snipers put them to effective, if limited, use. Over the next 50 years, scope sights were being crafted in various places, and their availability was fairly widespread. However, the hunting and shooting public still didn’t rush to embrace their development. These scopes, many of which were nearly a yard long and built around heavy-gauge steel tubes, could add three to five pounds to an already ponderous Sharps or Springfield rifle. The long tubes and their nineteenth-century lenses seemed to trap more light than they transmitted. Shooters likened looking through one to being deep in a tunnel. The glass was quick to fog in bad weather, and obtaining and maintaining a positive aiming zero was, at best, trying. Shooters still found iron sights most reliable for fighting Indians, for hunting, and for protecting a frontier homestead.

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The turning point came about the turn of the century when scope lengths shrunk to under a foot and a half. Though they still lent themselves well to bright-light situations, this new breed of scopes caught on with target shooters first, and hunters to a lesser extent. American firearms firms like Stevens and Winchester, along with the German optics makers Zeiss and Hensoldt, began mass-producing the instruments. Not coincidentally, this was the dawn of the boltaction rifle era, and these two technological breakthroughs seem to have augmented each other’s development. With bolt rifles, shooters achieved much more accuracy than was previously possible. To take advantage of it they needed better sights, and scopes provided this higher level of precision. Refinements in the 1930s made scope sights even more popular and versatile, and while many shooters remained skeptical about their usefulness, scopes spread to rifle ranges and hunting camps across North America. Continued down-sizing spurred the introductions of models like the Lyman Alaskan and Weaver 330. Such scopes were about a foot long, built on slender 3/4 or 7/8 inch tubes, and came in relatively low 2.5X and 3X magnifications respectively. These lightweight scopes had great appeal to hunters. By the decade’s end, Zeiss had developed a process to treat lens surfaces with a thin, transparent layer of fluoride or magnesium oxide. This was a giant step toward eliminating the traditional problem of light reflecting from the glass rather than passing through it (Figure 20). Coated lenses are far more efficient at transmitting the light they take in, therefore conveying brighter, clearer images, even at times of dim ambient light. The years following World War II brought a series of further refinements that finally won the shooting public’s favor. One major refinement involved filling the tube with nitrogen gas and sealing it airtight. This prevented fogging of the inner lens surfaces when the shooter encountered temperature extremes or wet, humid weather. The early 1950s saw the advent of variable scopes that could increase or decrease magnification power at the turn of a ring. Shooters soon learned that scopes could be highly versatile-at least with the resolution of the problems of reticle


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FIGURE 20—The latest line of Carl Zeiss scopes, the Z-series, features the patented Zeiss T multicoating, which evolved from Zeiss’ early work with lens coating. (Photo courtesy Carl Zeiss Optical, Inc., Petersburg, VA)

“growth,” inferior light-gathering and field of view, and zero shifts. Current variables are nearly the equal of fixed-power models in most regards. They’re perhaps a bit bulkier, but they’re capable in more situations. Reticle presentation then became upgraded. The aiming marks, seen as crosshairs, posts, dots, and various other combinations came to be made of fine wire or filament and lines etched on glass. In years past, they looked like spider webs. They come in various widths, arrangements, and combinations, depending on the design (Figure 21).

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FIGURE 21—Here are the most common scope reticle styles (from left): crosshairs, post, duplex, and dot.

In most older scopes, the reticle was permanently fixed within the tube. The only way to make a sighting adjustment was to move the entire scope in its mount. Early scope users considered an external adjustment superior (even though it required a bulky, delicate mount) because it allowed the scope’s construction to be simpler, stronger, and more effectively waterproof (Figure 22).
FIGURE 22—You’ll find external adjustment scope mounts only on match rifles these days, as advancements in optics technology have led to internal adjustments that are both accurate and reliable. Nevertheless, competitors remain loyal to large-knobbed micrometer fixtures that move the scope body from the outside.

A few older models featured reticle adjustment inside the tube (usually just one), and the reticles tended to move offcenter in the field of view. Today’s models feature permanently centered reticles, easily adjusted by screw-in or dial mechanisms housed in the upraised turrets located midway along the scope body. You would rarely see external adjustment


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scopes any longer outside bulls-eye competition or on collector guns; and in the United States, only Unertl still makes this type scope and mount. Instead, we now see multiple crosshairs, range-finding scales, and battery power for illumination in the dark. After nearly 200 years of development, today’s scopes provide tremendously effective sights for millions of shooters. They’re strong, lightweight, and reliable, and by making the targets appear larger, brighter, and sharper, they make us better shooters and hunters.

Functions and Features of Rifle Scopes
The great demand for scopes by nearly all segments of the hunting/ shooting world has spurred the evolution of a wide range of highly specialized models. Today you can buy scopes specifically designed for hunting anything from a rat to a grizzly bear, for pinpointing tiny X-rings or distant steel silhouettes, or just for knocking tin cans off a fence post. There are scope sights made for pistols and shotguns. There are also others intended solely for air rifles, and amazing night vision units (not widely available to the public) for military and police sniper duty. Also available are infrared rifle scopes for hunting that maximize light transmission in the red part of the color spectrum. By far, the most common scopes are hunting rifle scopes, but even these come in a mind-boggling array of shapes, sizes, power capabilities, and internal features. Most likely the conditions of the hunt or competition or recreational pastime will determine the appropriate model (Figure 23).

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FIGURE 23—Pictured are Steiner’s revolutionary new color-discriminating rifle scopes. The Penetrator series maximize light transmission in the red part of the spectrum, reflect blue and green light back into the woods, and enhance the eye’s ability to spot game against a forest background. (Photo courtesy Steiner Optik through
Pioneer Marketing & Research, Inc., Westmont, NJ)

Hunting Scopes
Hunting scopes must go beyond simply presenting a clear, magnified picture of the intended quarry. Big game hunters can often benefit from the scope’s enhanced twilight capability, a function achieved by employing a large-diameter objective lens that takes in lots of light (Figure 24).


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FIGURE 24—Pictured is the Leupold 3 ö 9-50mm large objective variable scope that provides hunters with maximum visibility during early morning and late evening hunts. Those who will be walking far or climbing mountains will suffer, however, from the extra weight of a “wide-eyed” model. These users probably will want to compromise for a more compact unit that combines reasonable twilight ability with a handy carrying weight. (Photo courtesy
Leupold & Stevens, Inc., Beaverton, OR)

Objective lens diameter isn’t the only element that contributes to overall size. There are other dimensional factors to consider when selecting a scope. Variables, because they must accommodate shifting interior lenses, are nearly always longer than similar fixed-power models. The wider the range of power settings, the greater the length required. For example, a 6-24X scope will be considerably longer than a 3-9X of similar optical quality. The greater length also adds weight and makes the scope more likely to snag on or bump against brush. An additional size consideration is the scope’s proportion to the rifle. On a diminutive .22, a carbine, or one of the new breed of down-sized “mountain” rifles, a massive, large-objective variable will disrupt the balance. This makes for a topheavy unit that comes to the shoulder clumsily and is slow to access the target. Also, the looks of such a combo will be just as awkward to many. Generally, a smaller-sized rifle will handle and look better with an optic built on a similar scale.

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Various Power Ratings and Their Uses
Perhaps the key factor for most scope purchasers is power rating, an area where an enormous range exists. Today you can find scopes ranging from 1X (no magnification) all the way up to 40X (or greater in customized models). You must understand that as power increases, field of view decreases. For example, a typical 4X scope will deliver a 32 foot width of field at 100 yards, while a 10X shows only 12 feet at that distance. This varies somewhat with construction but not greatly, and variables nearly always yield a smaller field at the same power as fixed scopes. Shooters who can genuinely use higher magnification scopes are probably firing on stationary targets easily distinguished from their background. This would include bulls-eye, silhouette, and bench rest competition, varmint hunters, and to some extent, stalking big game in open plains country. For use on game that’s moving and/or in heavily wooded or brushy areas, a high-powered optic with its very limited field of view frustrates hunters’ ability to engage and hold on their target. For hunting most North American big game-deer, elk, black bear, and moose-big game hunters have settled on 4X as the consensus setting. Today, the 3-9X variable also enjoys great popularity. Such scopes offer a good field of view, are normally fitted with a 32mm or larger objective for optimum light gathering, yet aren’t overly large, weighing anywhere from 10 to 15 ounces. At 4X, deer-sized or larger game is sufficiently magnified for the shooter to attain lethal shot placement at the practical limit of his or her ability to shoot accurately-out to 300-400 yards. Many professional guides opt for iron sights on their “stopping” rifles when hunting grizzly bears and dangerous game in Africa. Their scopes are usually at the low end of the power curve, 1X to 3X, as field of view and speed become more important than increased magnification. Objective lens sizes are also scaled down on such scopes, since the hunters prefer economy weight (under 10 ounces) and maneuverability to twilight capability. We should make clear here that objective lens dimension has nothing to do with field of view.


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Rather, the ocular lens governs the visible field. Generally, lenses that yield wider fields require diminished eye relief (the distance from the rear lens to the eye), so a compromise must be made here to make the scope functional. Hunters can use higher-power scopes like 6X to 12X to great advantage for open-country game like pronghorn and caribou. Here, long shots are the rule and the hunter can often take the time to get in a steady shooting position. Objectives tend to be big on such scopes (40mm or more). However, if the hunt involves much walking, the 12 to 20 ounces they can add may prove burdensome, and again, the user is better off with a smaller model. Those who climb for bighorn sheep and mountain goats, usually found in fairly open places where a close approach is unlikely and shots tend to be long, also need the smaller model. Reaching sheep and goats is such an arduous ordeal, however, that hunters look for any possible way to lighten their loads. Sheep and goat hunters often rely on 3X to 6X scopes or smaller variables with mid-size objectives. Ideal for such hunting (and also finding favor for use on antlered animals) is a new class of low-end variables, a 1.5-6X, 2-7X, and 2.5-8X category. They offer surprisingly good definition and light-gathering ability despite streamlined objectives that may measure no more than 20-28mm. Among hunters, varmint hunters are most likely to use heavy powerhouse scopes. These formidable optics often range up to 20X or 24X, and at times exceed 30X, although, at that magnification, the mirage of heated air rising from the ground can be thoroughly distracting. Needless to say, the quality models offer tremendous magnification. The magnification makes it possible for a flat-shooting, heavy-barreled varmint rifle to hit a tiny target as far as a quarter mile away. Weight isn’t such an important factor here since the sport typically involves very little walking and the shooters fire from a rest or otherwise supported position. Varmint scopes are likely to boast huge objective lenses, from 40 to more than 50mm. This isn’t because the users are expecting to encounter game at the very beginning and end of the day in the manner of deer hunters. Rather, the higher power requires a greater amount of light to transmit a high

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degree of clarity and resolution. Related to this is the perennial question concerning the optimum power setting in low light. Many shooters believe that lower powers are superior at these times because they do a better job of transmitting light. However, higher magnifications are actually better at aiding visibility simply because they bring the image closer. Compared to what one sees with the naked eye at 150 yards, an image at 4X appears to be inside 40 yards. But at 8X that same subject looks as if it’s just 20 yards away (Figure 25).

FIGURE 25—Shown is the Leupold 3.5 10 adjustable objective varmint scope. Its distinguishing feature is a unique elevation adjustment system borrowed from Leupold’s legendary bench rest scopes. The shooter can make adjustments in 1/4 minute intervals, enabling him or her to “pinpoint” shot placement, which is what varmint hunting is all about. (Photo courtesy of Leupold & Stevens, Inc., Beaverton, OR)

Another feature found on most varmint scopes that may be missing from other hunting models is parallax correction. Parallax is an image transmission condition that can lead to sighting errors when the focal point doesn’t coincide with the plane occupied by the reticle. That is, the image projects ahead of or behind the reticle. You can notice this condition when the subject seems to “float” over the reticle as the user’s head shifts. When parallax isn’t present, the image and reticle move together. Parallax becomes pronounced only on very close images, say inside 50 yards, and at that range the sighting error is insignificant on all but the smallest targets. Beyond 150 yards, very little parallax will be evident.


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Most modern scopes are manufactured to be free of parallax at 150 yards. Because some varmints present such minuscule targets and because parallax is much more noticeable at higher powers, manufacturers have outfitted certain scopes with adjustable objective lenses. These lenses simply rotate one way or another according to marked gradations to correct for a particular distance. Most target scopes will also have this feature, as do certain lower-power models more typically suited for big game hunting. The parallax correction may not have much practical application on these, but it does offer a bonus for shooters concerned with ultimate accuracy. For serious varmint hunters, however, parallax correction can produce tangible results in the field (Figure 26).

FIGURE 26—Parallax is a condition that occurs in optical sighting instruments when the image is transmitted behind (middle figure) or in front of (lower) the reticle. Error-free sighting occurs only when the scope is free of parallax (top), though the degree is usually insignificant unless targets are quite small, in which case the shooter would use a higher-powered scope.

Hunters of small game like squirrels and rabbits, as well as plinkers, can usually satisfy their needs with small (4 to 8 ounces) low-magnification scopes. These are often built on 3/ inch tubes, housing objective lenses with 15 to 24mm 4 diameters, and they rarely exceed 4X. Intended for .22 rimfire rifles, these low-end scopes provide adequate magnification and light-gathering ability for the short ranges over which the guns are effective.

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Target shooters need not consider quite so many variables when it comes to selecting a scope. When the emphasis is on precision, and shooters line up their shots with painstaking effort (as is the norm in most competitive shooting) magnification is a vital factor. Therefore, bench rest, bulls-eye, and silhouette match shooters want and can use plenty of power without suffering from the resulting weight and narrow field of view. 15X is about the minimum commonly employed by experienced marksmen and it’s not unusual for top competitors to resort to scopes topping 30X and even 40X. We should note that everyone can’t use such extreme powers effectively. While it’s true that the target will appear much larger, it’s also true that the shooter’s movements are equally magnified. Unless the shooter fires the rifle from a supported position, as is the case in prone or bench rest events, it will seem that the target is “dancing” across the field of view. It takes a skilled rifleman with supreme powers of concentration to steady this sight picture and make a good shot. The lack of time to accomplish this is another reason why big game hunters are unable to benefit from ultrahigh-power optics. Quick and precise sighting adjustments are also important to competitors. Because subtle shifts in the wind can cost points, shooters must be able to make instant corrections. On scopes designed for silhouette and bench rest shooting, high-profile adjustment knobs shift the cross-hairs slightly with each readily felt “click” (normally inch at 100 yards). Silhouette shooters also use this system when moving from one target distance to another, dialing a predetermined number of clicks to alter points of impact. In bulls-eye shooting, shooters encounter the last vestiges of external adjustment in the form of micrometer-style rear mounts. Supporting 20X to 25X, long-tube scopes with fixed reticles, these precision mounts contain spring-loaded stabilizers that press opposite the two graduated micrometer heads, one for elevation, the other for windage. As with scope turret knobs, they work with audible and felt clicks. There are usually 50 clicks per revolution of the head and the distance each click shifts the point of aim depends on the measurement between the front and rear bases. The closer the mounts, the greater the adjustment. Smallbore rifle shooters, who typically


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want 1/4 inch clicks at 50 yards, accordingly will space front and rear mounts 7.2 inches apart.

Pistol, Shotgun, and Air Gun Scopes
Though some once considered it odd, it’s no longer unusual to see a scope mounted on a pistol, shotgun, or air gun. Recent scope designs and materials have made it possible to attach a scope to virtually any type firearm.

Pistol Scopes
Pistol (or handgun) scopes emerged as a major development of the 1980s with models tailored specifically for hunting and competition, for revolvers, semiautomatics, and single-shot guns. When employed by skillful handgun shooters, they yield the same benefits enjoyed by rifle shooters for so many years. The obvious restrictions on size/weight (7 to 10 inches and about 8 ounces is average) and the pistol’s relatively short effective range have limited useful features, however. Low magnification (typically 1X to 4X and rarely topping 6X), compact dimensions, and moderate light-gathering capabilities characterize today’s pistol scopes. In addition, eye relief is a critical factor. For many years this was also the case with rifle scopes. The shooter had to hold his or her head rigidly in just the right position to see the full field of view. The tendency was to creep forward on the stock and end up with a half-moon cut on the forehead from recoil (Figure 27). Design advancements have given shooters a couple inches leeway in obtaining proper eye relief, an especially important concern of hunters who must get “into” the scope and “on” their targets in a hurry. And in certain cases shooters will also opt for long eye relief, when fierce magnum recoil is present or on rifles where the scope is mounted in a forward position.
FIGURE 27—Eye relief is the distance between the scope ocular (rear) lens and the shooter’s eye. You must account for eye relief when mounting the scope. Eye relief varies from one individual to another, so the shooter should be on hand for measurement.

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Eye relief for a pistol scope user is a more demanding proposition since shooters hold handguns some distance away from their head and because there’s no cheekpiece to establish a natural line of sight. Pistol scopes are built so that the correct eye relief will appear about 10 to 20 inches behind the ocular lens. It takes a good deal of experience to be able to routinely assume and maintain this position (Figure 28).
FIGURE 28—Handgun scopes provide extended eye relief, that is, greater distance between the eye and rear lens while still providing a full field of view. Lower magnifications, like 1.5X to 3X, are the most popular, but higher powers are available.

Hunters and silhouette shooters will generally opt for more powerful 3X and 4X models with larger objective lenses (though normally not larger than 32mm). Bulls-eye and practical competitors who perform in rapid-fire events that demand speed tend to stick to lower 1X, 2X, and 3X magnifications. Electronic optics are also quite popular with match shooters, particularly among bulls-eye competitors. These units operate on small batteries and project an illuminated dot onto the field of view (Figure 29).


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FIGURE 29—The Aimpoint 5000 is a 30mm electronic red dot optical sight that runs on lithium batteries. The main unit, designed for all types of pistols and revolvers, measures 5.5 inches. It’s not necessary to focus or center the dot. The shooter simply puts the dot on the target and shoots. (Photo courtesy of
Aimpoint, Herndon, VA)

The dot acts as a reticle and you can adjust the width and intensity by turning a switch. Electronic optics caught on big in the early 1980s because they’re fast to acquire the target and offer a somewhat simplified sighting procedure. More importantly, they have prolonged the competitive careers of many older shooters who began to have trouble focusing on their front sights. Originally, electronic optics were without magnification, but recently we’ve seen the production of 2X and 3X models. Handgun hunters haven’t been so quick to adopt the electronics, probably due to the electronics’ bulk and lack of useful magnification. On rare occasions a shooter may want an electronic sight mounted on a rifle or shotgun (Figure 30).
FIGURE 30—The compact lightweight Laserdot utilizes a state-of-the-art laser diode that eliminates all moving parts and tubes, which were necessary in earlier designed lasers. This allows the Laserdot to withstand heavy recoil and demanding shooting conditions. Laserdot mounts easily into standard one inch rings, or with its optional rail mount for use on pistols, rifles, shotguns, air rifles, and bows. (Photo courtesy of
Aimpoint, Herndon, VA)

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Shotgun Scopes
Just as handgun optics became quite common in the preceding decade, scopes for both regular shotguns and those bearing slug barrels will become widespread in the 1990s. Fast-developing areas restrict rifle use for deer hunting. So more and more hunters will have to turn to shotguns if they want to continue the sport (Figure 31).

FIGURE 31-The Leupold 1 4 shotgun scope is just one in a line being designed specifically for shotgun hunters. Leupold shotgun scopes are parallax-adjusted to deliver precise focusing at 75 yards, as opposed to the 150 yards, which is typical of rifle scopes. (Photo courtesy Leupold & Stevens, Inc., Beaverton, OR)

Shooters have experimented with shotgun scopes (often successfully) for many years, but recent improvements in slug barrels and slugs made these guns accurate enough to benefit from precision sights. The majority of shotgun scopes on the market are lightweight, low-magnification models of 4X or less with objectives around the standard 32mm. Expect to see this category grow over the next several years (Figure 32).


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FIGURE 32—In 1989, Remington introduced a complete rifled slug accuracy system for its 12 gauge Model 11-87 semiautomatic and Model 870 pump-action Deer Guns. They feature a permanent, integral scope mount on the barrel and a new, interchangeable, rifled “Rem choke” tube. They also have a permanently attached cantilever scope mount, including rings, that extends back over the receiver to provide normal eye relief with rifle scopes.
(Photo courtesy Remington Arms Company, Wilmington, DE)

Air Gun Scopes
Scopes that carved out a steady market niche are those designed specifically for air guns. Along with the development of pellet rifles and pistols powerful enough to kill pests and small game came the demand for suitable optics. At first some felt that air gun scopes would work well on any small firearms model, but they did not hold up on hard-recoiling spring-piston guns. Lenses would crack, reticles would shake loose from their moorings, and internal adjustment mechanisms would go haywire. The problem was caused by the way these scopes were designed to withstand the rearward thrust of firearms recoil. The spring-piston gun acts in exactly the opposite manner, kicking forward when the piston slams against the front of its cylinder. Air arms manufacturers and importers soon introduced scopes with lenses braced to withstand forward recoil and enthusiasts rushed to put them on their guns. Air gun scopes have been modest in size and power, commonly 4X with 32mm or smaller objectives. However, a number of variables up to 3-9X and 4-12X with 40 to 50mm objectives have also been on the market. A feature many of them have included is manual parallax correction, necessary for the close ranges and tiny targets. Air gun silhouette and field target events are growing sports, but recent technology in compressed air power has led to light-recoiling guns that don’t need specially braced optics. Also, many higher-quality firearms scopes already have the rigid construction to stand up to spring-piston recoil.

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When deciding which scope to buy, the purchaser must also consider the type of reticle that suits his/her needs. As previously mentioned, they come in three categories: crosshairs, posts, and dots. Within each category there’s a mind-boggling number of variations.

Fine crosshairs are excellent for precise accuracy but they can be difficult to see in poor light. Bulls-eye target competitors who have the time to “find” them and some varmint hunters favor them.

Posts are especially popular in Europe where they originated. They come in single (one vertical from the bottom), three-post (from the bottom and sides), and four-post (all four directions) versions, usually ending in a point. They don’t meet, therefore leaving a clear area in the center of the field of view. Post reticles are easy to see and don’t obscure the target, but don’t facilitate finely tuned aiming. They’re very useful for big game at close ranges.

A combination of the post and crosshair styles is the duplex reticle. The duplex’s “legs” begin as thick posts, then taper abruptly to narrow crosshairs at the center. Frequently they are without a top post. The solid posts provide an easily accessed reference and the thin central hairs allow fine precision, so long as the light is sufficient to see them. Even when conditions are rather dark, the post arrangement makes it possible to use the scope with satisfactory results. Duplexes are probably the most versatile reticles, and are quite popular among U.S. big game hunters.


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Dot reticles lend themselves well to the specialized uses of match and varmint shooting. In such uses the shooter has the time to pick up a circular point small enough to provide exact aiming without obscuring the target. Top competitors often find it easier to concentrate on a dot during lengthy events, especially in the standing position when the pronounced movement of crosshairs can be a nagging distraction. Bulls-eye shooters use one-minute-of-angle dots that match the size of their X-rings, whereas bench rest shooters want pinpoints as tiny as one-eighth minute. Varmint hunters sometimes experiment with multiple dots on a vertical axis. Installed by custom scopesmiths, they show point-blank holds for various ranges with a given load, or are made in different sizes to indicate range on a certain animal. Obviously, it takes a knowledgeable, accomplished shooter to realize their potential. At the risk of digression, it is important to note that you can make range estimates by using a system of parallel horizontal crosswires designed to bracket a certain measurement at a specified distance. Often this measurement is 18 inches, the nominal depth of a mature deer’s chest. The user determines the distance to the animal by trying the various brackets, then uses the appropriate crosswire for the hold. This takes time, of course, and at the moment of truth such systems with their numerous wires often prove confusing. Not many big game hunters opt for such range-finding scopes.

Mounting a New Scope
Although mounting a scope on a rifle isn’t a difficult gunsmithing task, you must do it correctly for the rifle to perform to any standard of accuracy and consistency. A gun with a crooked, loose, or otherwise improperly mounted scope sight simply won’t shoot straight. For that reason, many gun owners prefer to have a professional accomplish this important task, relying on his/her expertise to get it done right-regardless of the added expense.

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For the gunsmith, scope mounting is a measure of professional service that involves customer relations as much as technical know-how. The amount of time it takes to install a scope on most modern hunting rifles is minimal, since they’ve been manufactured with the presumption that a scope will eventually be mounted. Older guns, military weapons, and certain target models may pose more of a challenge, although mounting hardware is commercially available for practically any modern mass-produced firearm. A professional scope-mounting job should be a confidence builder for the customer. It is the finishing touch on any gunsmithing operation that requires disassembly of the gun, the cap to the purchase of a new firearm, or perhaps new “eyes” for an old friend. With the scope properly mounted, the shooter heads to the range fully confident in his/her equipment.

Mount Components
Mounting a scope on a gun requires using hardware made specifically for that gun. Hardware usually includes mount bases (or blocks) and rings (Figure 33).
FIGURE 33—Leupold’s bases and rings are now available in matte (sheenless) finish.
(Photo courtesy Leupold & Stevens, Inc., Beaverton, OR)


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You’ll find some of the hardware fashioned as one-piece combination base/rings. In some cases, the firearm will have parallel dovetail grooves machined into the top of its receiver, and these you can use for attaching simple clamp-type rings.

Rifle Mounts
On nearly all rifles, mount bases join directly to the receiver or side plate with screws. This is a straightforward job on most guns since they come from the factory with screw holes already tapped. There are a number of manufacturers offering quality mounts tailored for an extensive selection of modern rifles, and it’s not difficult to find mounts for many older models. Many such bases are sold in kits containing the correct screws. The rings hold the scope. These come in 3/4, 7/8, and 1 inch sizes, as well as metric 26 and 30mm diameters. One inch rings are by far the most prevalent. Most rings consist of mated semicircles that detach to accept the scope, then reattach with screws. Formerly, rings were also circular bands that cinched tight at an overlapping union. These were fine for accommodating straight-tube scopes (those lacking flared ocular and objective bells) but bending them wide enough to fit around the tube sometimes caused them to crease or to scratch the scope. You’ll find split rings used in almost all of the current mount offerings. Rings attach to mount bases in several ways as follows. • Some clamp to the mount’s rail or rib-like features • Others hold onto a slot with a spreading claw • Another type fits over a protruding stud and is held in place by friction or with a set screw • Still others screw directly to holes threaded in the base All of these methods have proven effective so long as the device is well made of quality materials, but logic suggests that the simplest design with the fewest parts will be the strongest.

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Mount bases and rings were originally made of steel and most still are. However, aluminum mounting hardware is catching on quickly as a lightweight alternative, and in most cases is proving sufficiently durable. Among the numerous scope mounts introduced over the years, a handful stand out as enduring and popular. The best ones have proven durable, easy to install, fairly lightweight, and able to maintain the scope’s zero when refitted after removal. You can scope virtually any rifle from the smokeless powder era except for certain later military arms. One of the most popular types of “top” mounts-so-called for its position on top of the receiver or barrel-is the dovetail style. Generally, dovetail mounts come as rails that attach to the receiver with screws, or on small-caliber rifles, grooves milled into the receiver. The rail, which comes in both oneand two-piece configurations, is beveled top to bottom to mate with corresponding clamping “jaws” on the rings’ riser piece. Most frequently the dovetail rail screws into tapped holes on the top of the receiver, particularly on a bolt-action rifle. You’ll often find a side plate mount used in the case of leveractions like the Model 94 Winchester, where the rear of the receiver pivots back to open the breech. As the name suggests, the side plate style of mount fastens onto the receiver wall via screw or pin holes. The plate extends upward along the receiver to suspend the scope above the bore axis, either angling into position directly over the top of it, or holding it out to one side (diagonally to the bore) on top-ejecting actions such as the older Model 94s. Many side plate mounts also incorporate some type of dovetail grooves, thereby enabling use of the most common-type ring. Around 1950, the W. R. Weaver scope company of El Paso, TX, introduced what has probably been the top-selling mount of all time. The Weaver top mount is a dovetail rail improved by a perpendicular slot that engages long ring-clamping screws. The design acts as a recoil lug for the scope and it provides a much greater bearing surface than the clamp ears alone. Weaver-type mounts fit a long list of rifle models and many manufacturers offer rings to fit it. The Weaver-type mount has gone through minor changes (notably in the clamping screw) but this proven mount remains a favorite of American shooters and currently fits hundreds of rifles.


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Another old favorite is the Redfield-style mount, still made by that company and many others. It’s available in one- or twopiece versions, the bases secure the front and rear rings in different ways. The front ring has a circular, dovetailed stud on the bottom, which you insert into the base, then turn to lock in place as it snugs against the oblong base slot. The rear ring is snugged by countersunk screws on either side. The Redfield type and similar designs make scope removal quite fast, as it’s only a matter of loosening the rear ring, then pivoting the works free of the front base (Figure 34).
FIGURE 34—The Redfield bridge-type mount has been around for more than 50 years and is still going strong. Its popularity is in part due to its easy-off/easy-on again capability. This is made possible by turning the rotary dovetail stud on the front ring into a snug friction fit in an oblong slot on the base.

Many big game hunters favor quick-detachable scope mounts though they’re the most expensive on the market. Such mounts facilitate rapid scope removal/replacement with rings featuring lever or claw-like fixtures that clamp onto the base with simple hand manipulation. Many, though not all, of the quick-detachables are European made. Their built-in clamping mechanism boosts their price.

Pistol Mounts
Pistol mounts function much the same as those for rifles, at least in the case of revolvers and single-shots, where the bases respectively fasten onto the top strap or barreled action. Most handgun mounts can utilize adjustable sight screw holes. If they’re not present, you must drill the holes accordingly. Also, there are quite a few “no-gunsmithing” versions that clamp onto the top strap or another part of the frame in addition to using any existing screw holes.

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There may also be a ring-like brace that clamps directly around the barrel for installing the mount on a hard-recoiling magnum revolver. These guns often have three rings to secure the scope in the wake of the violent recoil. Generally, “no-gunsmithing” mounts simplify the installation job, but also add significant bulk to the gun. Scope mounts for a semiautomatic pistol are often more elaborate than on a revolver since the slide must remain free to move back and forth. Again, frame-clamping versions are available, but many shooters who want to scope self-loaders choose grip mounts. These have a long extension that angles down on the side opposite the ejection port and replaces the factory grip. Accordingly, this portion of the mount is shaped, checkered, and/or finished to match the standard grip. It features screw holes that line up with those in the frame, making for a handy installation job (Figure 35).

FIGURE 35—The “Guide-Line” handgun scope mounts from Williams eliminate installation problems often encountered when installing a scope on a handgun. They install easily with no required drilling or tapping. (Courtesy
Williams Gun Sight Company, Davison, MI)


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Slug Shotgun Mounts
Many of the latest slug shotguns are factory drilled and tapped to accept top mounts just like a rifle, but most existing slug bores must be customized for this purpose. Additionally, there are side mounts expressly made for certain models; some require gunsmithing, some attach by replacing factory trigger pins with long mount bolts, and others simply clamp to the receiver. Redfield makes a mount that clamps onto the rib, making it possible to scope side-by-sides and over-unders as well as the more customary pumps and semiautos.

Scope Installation
There was a time when the most difficult part of mounting a new scope was correctly aligning it with the gun’s bore. This required a professional gunsmith (or at the very least a knowledgeable enthusiast) using try squares or a drilling jig to determine true mount placement. Today the guns come drilled and tapped from the factory, which all but eliminates the preliminary step. Even if they weren’t, or in those rare instances where the screw holes aren’t true, modern scopes have a much greater capacity for adjustment than their predecessors-certainly enough to compensate for minor misalignment. When you can see misalignment, however, you should return the gun to the dealer or manufacturer. In instances where you can’t return the gun, it may be necessary to drill new mount screw holes. Then it will again be crucial to achieve proper alignment with the bore. For the majority of scope-mounting jobs today, the first step is to thoroughly cleaning any grease or oil from the gun, mount, screws, and the scope itself. Residual lubricant on any of these parts can lead to future slippage. Even the slightest movement can undermine accuracy, causing the scope to shift within the rings, perhaps damaging the tube or adjustment turrets. Even worse, recoil applied to a loose mount can sometimes shear off screws, and the entire works may jerk free of the gun. Wiping with a clean cloth will probably do, but to ensure clean mounting, you should use a fast-drying solvent or degreaser. Don’t forget to include screw threads and screw holes, which you can access with cotton swabs (Figure 36).

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FIGURE 36—Thoroughly clean and degrease gun and mount surfaces before beginning any scope installation. Even the slightest bit of give, magnified under recoil, can lead to a loose mount and in extreme cases can result in screws shearing off.

Attaching the Mount
With the gun and mount hardware free of grease and oil, it’s time to pull out the tools. You don’t need much when utilizing predrilled screw holes: the correct screwdrivers or Allen wrenches, a small mallet, and a tube of Loc-Tite or similar thread cement (Figure 37). Using the right screwdriver is an absolute must. To tighten the screws sufficiently without jumping, the driver must fit perfectly in the screw head slot. It must have a hollow-ground blade with parallel sides, and the blade should be long and thick enough to fully engage the slot. When you don’t have the correct size at hand, grind one to fit the screw. Improperly fitting driver blades are bound to jump from the slot, and the damage they do is all too clear. Damage such as mangled screw heads that may be next to impossible to remove, scratched rings or mounts or barrel finish, and gouged stocks. These are immediate and unmistakable signs of amateurish scope installation. Some mounts use Allen screws. Naturally, these are easier to work with as long as the head is heavy enough to take the necessary pressure involved in tightening. Some 6-48 (standard sight-mount screw size) Allen heads are rather dainty, so if the least bit of rounding occurs, back the screw out and start over with a fresh one.


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FIGURE 37—The fundamental tool needed for nearly all sight mounting jobs is a top-quality screwdriver. The screwdriver(s) should have hollow-ground, flatsided blades that completely fill the screw head slot. Allen heads should contain hardened steel to avoid “rounding off” as the screw tightens.

Keep in mind that scope mount screws must be very tight. It’s possible for a strong-armed gunsmith to twist off a 6-48 screw, but with even, judicious pressure, this should not happen. Another way to achieve an extra degree of tightness is to rap smartly on the screwdriver handle with the mallet as you make the last turn. This can often account for another quarter turn without compromising the screw’s strength. For especially hard-recoiling magnums and on very light “mountain” rifles, it may be wise to substitute heavier 8-40 screws, a measure some manufacturers already provide on certain current pump, lever, and auto rifles. This of course means retapping the base and receiver screw holes. Double-check to make sure the base(s) is correct for the gun. Position the bases and start the screws until they’re snug but not tight. Then, alternating between each screw, finish the tightening job, taking up a half, then a quarter, turn at a time until there’s no more looseness. It’s a good idea to coat the screw threads with a drop or two of Loc-Tite to guard against loosening. Caution: Use Loc-Tite and similar metal adhesives sparingly, however, since it may be necessary to break the bond someday. Also, any excess could seep down into the receiver and freeze or otherwise interfere with moving parts.

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Self-Check 3
Indicate whether the following statements are True or False. _____ 1. Coated lenses and tubes sealed with nitrogen gas are two of the major factors in scope development. _____ 2. Handgun scopes must offer extended eye relief. _____ 3. Top mounts, like the popular Weaver series, generally attach to the top of the receiver or barrel with screws. _____ 4. The first thing to do when shots fail to form a group during sighting-in is to check that mount, ring, and action screws are tight. _____ 5. “No-gunsmithing” pistol mounts usually clamp onto the top strap or another part of the frame. _____ 6. Modern scopes reproduce the image at about the same location as the shooter’s eye. _____ 7. Parallex occurs on images beyond 150 yards. _____ 8. Because big game is generally more active at twilight, hunters can often benefit from scopes with large objective lenses. _____ 9. When something goes wrong inside a scope, it can usually be repaired on the spot. _____10. Bulls-eye shooters usually prefer a “duplex” scope reticle. Check your answers with those on page 98.


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Attaching mounts where no screw holes are present is a more involved process, as it requires proper alignment and drilling and tapping. Correct screw hole positioning will depend on the type of mount, but it’s always wise to set up this work in a drilling jig like those from Brownells and Forster. A drilling jig will ensure that the screw holes are true to the bore while facilitating correct drill and tap techniques. At the very least, you must align the barreled action in a padded vise on a level drill press table. Note: Step-by-step drilling and tapping instructions follow this procedural overview. 1. You should position bridge-type (one-piece) top mounts so that the mount’s recoil shoulder (when it has one) butts tightly against the rear of the receiver ring. Be sure that any holes drilled in the receiver bridge are at least inch from either edge. Position Weaver and most twopiece mounts where they won’t interfere with loading/ejection ports or the seating of locking lugs. 2. When employing a drill jig, some mounts may require adjustment of the drill arm. You can do this without disturbing correct alignment. When you don’t use a jig, drill and tap one hole only, then attach the mount securely, re-level if necessary, and center-punch the remaining hole(s). 3. You secure side mounts by screws and/or taper pins. Weaver and other firms currently offer a wide selection to fit various modern rifles. They often attach by means of a screw-on base plate shaped to fit specific receiver walls. To determine the mount/base position (when not utilizing predrilled holes), separate the barreled action from the stock and place it (leveled) in a vise. Secure the scope in the rings, join the mount and base plate, and hold the arrangement in the desired location against the receiver. On most guns this will be 1/4 to 1/2 inch in back of the receiver ring. Clamp the arrangement in place, and use a level to ensure that the mount is true to the bore. Center-punch the middle screw holes, then

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remove the mount/base and drill and tap these holes. Always use a drilling jig when possible. Reattach the mount/base and repeat the procedure for obtaining the remaining screw holes. Use a Dremel tool to flush the finish screws and pins to the inside of the receiver and use a small grindstone to smoothly polish them. 4. You can accomplish side-mount installations on certain lever-action rifles and shotguns by securing the mount in holes provided for action or trigger assembly taper pins. Secure the barreled action in a vise, then drive the original pins out right to left with the muzzle pointed away. Replace one pin at a time, inserting them left to right, to avoid misaligning moving parts. 5. Most pistol mounts fit existing features, either clamping to the top strap/rib, frame, barrel, and even the trigger guard, or utilizing the rear sight screw hole. Ruger, for example, mills their revolver ribs to accept clamp-on rings, and single-shots like the T/C Contender and Remington XP-100 come pre-drilled. 6. For some handgun mounts, however, you’ll have to drill and tap screw holes. You must center and align them with the bore on the revolver’s top strap, or on the slide when using a side mount system on an auto loader. Begin by leveling the frame or top strap in a padded vise, then position the mount directly in line with the bore. It’s also wise to file-fit the bottom of the base so that it perfectly fits the gun’s contour. Clamp the base in place and center-punch the screw holes through it. Separate the base to drill and tap the first hole, then reattach to confirm the position of the remaining holes. Pistol bases must bear the brunt of fierce recoil, so be sure to degrease all bearing surfaces and threads prior to final installation, and use Loc-Tite to anchor the screws. Grind and polish screws flush to inside surfaces with a Dremel tool or files and emery cloth.


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Drill and Tap Procedures
A professional gunsmith will have a good drill press in his or her shop. In no other type of gun work is this tool more essential than when mounting sights. Hand drills can make the screw holes, but without a press there’s no way to ensure that they’ll properly align. A crooked sight is about as worthless as no sight at all, and to make matters worse, the gun can become permanently marred if you make a mistake aligning the holes. For gun sight work, a drill press should have certain features. You need a compound vise to put the work in the proper position and to hold the gun steady and square. A depth indicator and a positive depth stop are vital to prevent over-deep holes and the ultimate error-penetrating the bore. You also need good chuck that will close down tight enough to grip drills as small as 3/64 inch when you make tiny holes to roll pin a front sight blade. The necessary drills will be smaller sizes; Nos. 28 and 31 wire gauge will get the most work, but you should have on hand a wide selection, up to No. 16 perhaps, in the event that some oddball job shows up. Short-length drills allow more precision, have less “bend,” and are perfectly adequate for shallow mount holes. Carbon steel drills will handle most jobs as long as you don’t run them so hot to draw the temper, as many gunsmiths today prefer the high-speed steel type. For extremely tough receivers (the 1903A3 Springfield’s hardness is legendary) solid carbide drills may be in order. These, however, are quite expensive and must not be used in softer steels. Additionally, a center drill will come in handy. This is one that’s made extremely rigid by an oversized shank before ending in a very short drilling tip. Center drills are ideal for starting and centering a hole, and to free broken screws and taps. As noted in the earlier sections on metallic sights and scopes, a proper drilling jig is a great advantage in sight installation.

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Tools like the Forster Universal Sight Mounting Fixture or Brownell’s SSR Mounting System are engineered with broad adjustment capability to secure and set up virtually any long gun (Figure 38). You can arrange the Brownell’s unit to accommodate handguns and to install ribs. Such tools are expensive, but the precision they facilitate and the time they can save should profit anyone mounting sights on a regular or volume basis. Both the Forster and Brownell sight mounting jigs secure the gun by clamping it to leveled V-blocks, and each provides a sliding drill arm that travels slots parallel to the V-block alignment. The drill arms, which secure interchangeable bushings for both drilling and tapping, move to the precise location of the desired hole and lock into place. Positioned directly over the top of the gun, the superhard steel bushings FIGURE 38—With the work secured in a Forster jig won’t allow drills or taps to flex or “wander.” clamped to the press’s compound table, you can proceed drilling with assurance that the holes will When you set up the work in these V-block align perpendicular to the bore. The No. 31 drill, arrangements, screw holes are true to the which matches the 6-48 screw, is the most common center of the bore and in perfect alignment size for sight work. with one another. B-Square’s Professional Drill Jig is a specialized fixture made to position screw holes for popular scope mounts on Springfields, Mausers, U. S. Enfields, and other similar military bolt actions. It comes with interchangeable bars (depending on the rifle) that furnish the correct hole spacing in reference to the recoil shoulder, and also accepts various bushings. B-Square also makes a mini Barrel Sight Jig that combines a V-block base fitted with two No. 31 bushings and a U-clamp that encircles the off-side of the barrel (Figure 39).


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FIGURE 39—B-Square Barrel Sight Jig (Drawing
courtesy of B-Square,Fort Worth, TX)

Another very similar jig is the Top Dead Center tool. With both tools, you must first level the barrel in the vise, then slide the jig to the correct placement and level it. This centers the holes and makes them perpendicular. However, these jigs are limited to use on round barrels and won’t service receivers or pistol slide mounts or the like. Whatever sight mounting fixtures are most practical given the cost and the volume/type of work they’ll perform, they’re virtually a must for professional sight mounting. Without them (or some similar tool), you must make do by using the mount itself as a guide and rely on squares, a center punch, and a huge amount of luck. The center punch, by the way, probably won’t be necessary when using a close-fitting jig. Nevertheless, it behooves any busy gun sight installer to keep some on hand just in case. And when working without a jig, a 60 degree high-speed steel punch inserted through the mount’s predrilled screw holes will provide adequate hole positioning, so long as the work is true. Keep in mind, however, that the impact of the punch will further harden the surface of the steel. We advise you that tapping proceed immediately after drilling without disturbing the setup. Sight mounting work won’t require a great variety of tap sizes. However, you should make those on hand from the best quality carbon steel. Again, some gunsmiths prefer those made from more expensive high-speed steel. The 6-48, 3-56, and 8-40 sizes will be the ones most frequently employed for sight screws, so a reasonable quantity-enough to allow for some unavoidable breakage is necessary.

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Note: The sizes we’ve mentioned so far aren’t the only sizes you may need. You find a good selection that will cover nearly all sight mounting jobs in Brownell’s Drill & Tap Kit No. 2 (Figure 40).
FIGURE 40—Brownell’s Drill & Tap Kit No. 2 (Photo courtesy
Brownells Inc., Montezuma, IA)

Keep in mind that three different taps are necessary for any screw hole that bottoms out without going all the way through-the majority in sight mounting. The taper tap is so-called because its long, gradual taper brings more teeth to bear at a time; it’s the starter. The plug tap, with a bit less taper, enlarges the hole and makes the threads more uniform. The bottoming tap has no taper and is flat on the end, and is used to finish the hole. Best for turning the taps is a T-handled wrench with an overhead spindle that extends into the drill chuck. This ensures that the tap work will line up precisely with the drilling. The wrench turns freely (by hand power only, never using the drill motor) on the spindle yet has no lateral movement that could compromise the work or stress the tap. When using tap wrenches lacking the connecting spindle, we strongly advise you to have some kind of guide bushing in place to


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prevent canting the tap. A possible alternative is the handheld Taprite Tap Guide, which will support the tap and keep it from threading on a slant. Drilling and tapping the small holes required for sight mounting screws in hardened steel can be delicate work. It is wise, then, for the beginner to practice first on pieces of scrap steel before applying these techniques to a gun.

The drilling procedure you use will depend on whether or not you use a drill jig. When you do use one, begin by determining maximum safe hole depth with a caliper or micrometer, then setting the depth stop in the drill press accordingly (Figure 41). Before turning on the motor, lower the drill once again to ensure there’s no binding as it enters and passes through the bushing. Be sure drills are sharp; if a point doesn’t immediately take hold with moderate pressure, it needs sharpening. Apply firm, steady pressure, but never so much to cause the drill to “spring.” This could result in an enlarged, out-of-round hole, or a broken drill. Use plenty of top-quality cutting oil, such as Tap Magic or Brownell’s DoDrill (STP motor lubricant will work in a pinch), throughout the operation. When no drilling jig is available, you must secure the work in a padded vise mounted to the press table, and true it with a try square and level (Figure 42).

FIGURE 41—Before beginning any barrel drilling job it’s absolutely essential to determine how deep the hole can be and to set the depth indicator/stop on the drill press accordingly. A good rule of thumb is to leave at least as much metal as is removed. Line up the work in the jig and true it with a level.

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FIGURE 42—Always use try squares and a level when setting up drill and tap jobs. It’s preferable to secure the barreled action in a drilling jig or at the very least a padded vise.

Clamp the mount base in its intended position and level it, then center punch one hole. (Completing work on one hole at a time will ensure correct registration.) Remove the base and begin the hole with the center drill, going only as deep as the full diameter of the drill. Switch to the standard drill and complete the hole. Move on to the next hole after tapping the first and securing the mount in place with a screw. Drilling and tapping hardened steel receivers may prove extremely difficult, particularly when you don’t use a drilling jig. You can usually remedy this by hand grinding off a tiny spot of extra-tough surface metal before starting the hole. However, the 1903A3 Springfield and some other receivers have been hardened beyond surface depth and will require spot annealing (softening) with a torch-at least for tapping. Though annealing was once a virtual prerequisite for drilling 1903A3s, etc., the widespread use of today’s high-quality high-speed steel and carbide drills makes it largely unnecessary. This does nothing to prepare the steel for tapping, so there can be cases where spot annealing will prevent broken taps and the frustration of removing them.


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Drill the holes as needed, then polish around them with emery cloth; the polished spots should be about 5/16 inch wide. Using a needle tip, set the oxyacetylene torch for a low, lean flame and heat the metal-one spot at a time-to a deep blue. Be careful not to let the steel begin to turn red or further hardening will occur. Withdraw the flame slowly to allow gradual cooling, then repeat the polishing/heating routine two or three more times until the steel remains blue, rather than brightening, when polished. You follow the same procedure when it’s not possible to predrill holes, expect that you’ll need to begin by spotting with a small hand grinder, removing about inch of surface metal before heating. Don’t begin drill or tap work until the metal has thoroughly cooled.

Again, we highly recommend that you perform this job through the bushing in a jig, using a wrench with a spindle extension that you can secure in the drill press chuck. This will hold the tap straight, evening out the pressure all around, helping to prevent chipped teeth or even breaking the tap (Figure 43). As in drilling, it’s essential to freely use a high-grade cutting oil. Turn the tap a half turn then back off a quarter, turn and back off. It may be smart to back the tap all the way out on occasion and clear accumulated chips. Stop tapping at once if you begin to feel the tap give without actually turning in the hole. Likewise, if the tap squeaks or grinds, this probably means the tap isn’t sharp enough. You need to either sharpen it or swap it for a new one. Quit with the taper and plug taps when you feel their points bottom in the hole. Be sure to clean out chips with a magnetic tip and debur the surface with emery cloth before starting screws.
FIGURE 43—It’s preferable to use a T-handled tap wrench with a free-turning extension spindle for threading sight holes. For the greatest precision, disturb the setup as little as possible when switching over from drilling to tapping, and engage the spindle in the chuck.

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Attaching the Rings
Attaching the rings to the base is the next step. Separate the halves of split rings (set aside the tops of those that come apart horizontally) and if the base contains slots, indents, or other recoil shoulders, be sure to properly seat the ring clamps in these references. On Weaver-style bases, there’s sometimes a small bit of play between the clamping screw and its slot. So, be sure to check this and tap the rings forward with a small mallet before tightening the screws. Also, be sure not to confuse the old-style round clamp screw with a new-style square base slot or vice-versa (Figure 44).
FIGURE 44—Reliable yet inexpensive, the Weaver top mount is probably the all-time best-selling scope mount. Weaver top mounts fit the receivers of practically all modern rifles. Before tightening the ring screws during installation, tap the ring forward to be sure no play exists in the crossbolt slot.

On the Redfield Jr. and other socket-type fixtures that are rotated into a secured friction fit, use a screwdriver handle, a dowel, or small piece of pipe rather than attempting to crank it in with the scope. Do this a time or two until it seats properly before setting the scope in place. Note: It’s not unusual to find overly long mount screws that bottom out before getting really tight. In the case of Weaver clamp screws, it’s also not unusual to find screws that protrude into the screw head slot and make it impossible for the driver to gain a solid hold. You must shorten them, taking care not to damage threads.


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Positioning the Scope
The exact position of the scope depends largely on the shooter’s personal eye relief, which won’t be the same from one individual to the next. For that reason the shooter should be present when the scope is being mounted. For rifle and shotgun scopes, the shooter stands or sits shouldering the gun as he or she would in a normal firing position. Be especially sure that the head is in its natural position on the stock. Also, the shooter should wear clothes he or she wears when using the gun. For cold-weather hunting, this means heavy garments or several layers. Handgun shooters should grasp the gun with their customary hold, but they may also need some external support. Ensure that the rings are the correct size for the scope tube and determine the desired ring height. Rings generally come in low, medium, and high variants; of these, low rings are the most popular. Optimum height depends on how the shooter cheeks the stock. Raising one’s head from the cheekrest to see through a high scope leads to poor shooting. However, the size and position of the scope’s ocular bell may also require higher rings to clear a bolt, hammer, safety, or other moving parts. At times you can alter the part, such as changing the angle of the bolt handle or adding a hammer extension, but a simpler alternative that works in many cases are extension rings. These are offset from the bases to allow the scope to be placed out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, you can only slide a scope so far in either direction before compromising eye relief. When this happens, high rings, a gunsmithing alteration, or a different scope may be the only option. Place the scope in the rings and tighten the screws until they hold it snugly but still allow it to move. Then slide the scope toward or away from the shooter’s eye until the shooter sees the entire field of view. With modern rifle scopes, this eye relief zone may extend an inch or more, so for the sake of speed it may be preferable to find the midpoint. On hardkicking magnums, it’s wise to place the scope toward the front of available eye relief (that is, with maximum distance between the scope and the eye). This makes it less likely for the shooter to get conked on the head during recoil.

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Once you determine proper eye relief, set the gun in a padded vise or cradle and make sure it’s level. Without disturbing the position of the gun, rotate the scope (taking care not to shift it forward or backward) until the vertical crosshair or post is also perfectly vertical. This step prevents scope canting, which can lead to sighting errors. Tighten the screws with partial turns, alternating from side to side and ring to ring. Don’t attempt to secure any one screw or either side too quickly, or the scope may become pinched off its vertical axis. Alternate tightening allows even spacing where the ring halves meet. Ideally, the halves should be in contact, but this isn’t always the case. Small gaps are sometimes present. For strength and looks these gaps should be even, so you can fill them with tiny spacers. It’s not necessary for ring screws to be so absolutely tight as mount base screws, and overtightening can mar or dent the scope tube. Sighting may reveal that the scope doesn’t have sufficient adjustment to obtain the desired zero (this rarely occurs with late-model guns, but it can crop up on older military conversions, air rifles, and others). Then you can remount the scope in adjustable mounts or by using shims. There are a number of adjustable mounts on the market, some for both elevation and windage, some for one direction or the other only. Don’t confuse them with micrometer-style target mounts that must make fine adjustments for scopes with fixed reticles. Rather, they’re limited to gross adjustments and must be used in concert with internal adjustment. When using one, begin it at the middle of its adjustment range, then move it only when necessary.


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Shims, both manufactured and homemade, can also solve minor elevation deficiencies. Factory shims made of superthin steel or other material fit under mount bases and come predrilled in various combinations to match the bases’ screw holes. You can fashion home versions using anything from steel sheeting to an old business card. When using any material that has even the slightest degree of “give” (like paper), be sure that screw tightening has crushed the “give” out of it. Similarly, you can cut a shim to fit the inside of a ring; electrician’s tape (sticky side down) makes for a neat job and can be used in two or three layers. “Crushed” under the pressure of the ring screws, it will also ensure against scope slippage. For aesthetics’ sake, you should touch up any shims that are visible after installation with black ink or a bluing retouch marker (Figure 45).

FIGURE 45—Birchwood Casey offers a trio of touch-up pens designed to make it “quick and easy” to keep blued steel and black anodized aluminum or other black-painted metal surfaces looking good on guns. (Photo courtesy
Birchwood Casey, Eden Prairie, MN)

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Self-Check 4
1. You should use _______ _______ like Tap Magic and Brownell’s Do-Drill during drill and tap operations. 2. You may need to spot _______ with a torch to produce screw holes in 1903A3 Springfields and other hardened receivers. 3. When tapping a screw hole, never apply _______ _______ if the tap begins to squeak or grind. 4. A _______ tap enlarges a drill hole and makes threads more uniform. 5. Using a tap wrench with a spindle extension secured by the drill press chuck holds the tap _______. 6. The drills that get the most work in sight-mounting jobs are Nos. _______ and _______ wire gauge. 7. A gunsmith’s drill press should be equipped with a chuck that will close tight enough to hold a _______ drill. 8. A _______-bodied, _______-tipped center drill is useful for starting a hole. 9. Using a drilling jig, like those from Brownells and Forster, is the best way to ensure _______ _______ sight mount holes. 10. Drilling jigs feature interchangeable super-hard steel _______ to keep drills from “wandering” off precise screw hole locations. Check your answers with those on page 98.


Gun Sights

With the scope successfully mounted, it’s now time to zero the rifle’s shots to hit where the reticle indicates. This is somewhat easier to accomplish with a scope than iron sights, since the aiming point is so much more precise. By employing the correct techniques, you can complete sighting-in quickly using less than a box of ammunition. By contrast, an unprepared trip to the range can cause no end of frustration. Before you commence the sighting-in, and even before you touch the first adjustment knob, you must focus the scope for the shooter’s eye. You can do this anywhere, though outside using a neutral background free of distracting elements is probably best. It’s also useful to view some distant objects during this procedure. If the shooter is going to wear glasses or contact lenses when using the rifle, it’s important for him or her to have them on at this time. Quickly look through the scope at the sky or some other well-lit, uncluttered background and note the sharpness of the reticle. If it takes a moment for the eye to bring the background into focus, then you need to refocus the scope. Suppose it’s immediately sharp and clear all the way to the end of the crosshairs and remains so when you repeat the exercise a few times at, say, three minute intervals. Then, reposition the scope to look at some object 100 yards or more away. If the eye can shift back and forth from the crosshairs to the object and both remain sharp without a momentary lapse, then you don’t do anything further (Figure 46).

FIGURE 46—For those who prefer sighting-in on round bulls-eyes, Birchwood Casey offers a target spot assortment for creating instant bulls-eyes. The target spots are printed with a high contrast, radiant-red fluorescent color that effectively creates a sharper sight picture and bullet holes which are more clearly visible. (Photo courtesy
Birchwood Casey, Eden Prairie, MN)

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You correct unsatisfactory focus by loosening the lock ring, and turning the ocular lens in or out until a tack-sharp, quick-glance focus is evident (being careful not to screw it all the way off). Repeat this test several times, being sure to refocus the eye on something else during the look-away intervals. Lock the eyepiece into place and the focus should remain correct so long as the shooter’s vision is the same. Because everyone’s eyes are different, it’s essential that you set the focus for the person who will use the scope.

Bore Sighting
Bore sighting is a handy shortcut to establishing a zero. You accomplish bore sighting by aligning the reticle on a downrange target that appears centered when looking directly through the barrel. Most shooters favor a round bulls-eye, but this method will also work with some kind of “X” or cross, or even with target squares (Figure 47). Bore sighting works best with bolt actions and single shots, but it can work with levers, pumps, and semiautos by employing a chamber inspection mirror. Begin by securely resting the rifle on a bench rest pedestal, sandbags, or some other solid rest. Remove the bolt, open the action, or position the mirror-whatever it takes to get a clear look down the bore. Shift the gun until the target is as perfectly centered as possible.


Gun Sights

FIGURE 47—Those who prefer precision squares will appreciate the superimposed grid pattern offered on Birchwood Casey’s traditional targets. Each target contains multiple faces for more shots per sheet. (Photo courtesy Birchwood Casey, Eden Prairie, MN)

From this point, you must be very careful not to move the gun even the slightest bit. Proceed to look through the scope from the normal shooting position. In all likelihood, you won’t find the reticle lined up on the target. Hold the rifle firmly, still taking care not to move it at all, and very gently turn the internal adjustment screws or knobs until the reticle is precisely imposed over the target (Figure 48). That’s all there is to bore sighting, but keep in mind that it’s not an exact science. It’s likely to put the first shots somewhere on the target paper, but further fine-tuning will be necessary. Most shooters bore sight at 100 yards, the distance they’ll be zeroing for. Even though most know enough to use very large targets, there are times when the shooter won’t find shot holes when the test firing finally begins. This

Gun Sights


can occur when barrels are slightly bent or the scope is slightly out of alignment with the bore, but even these guns can be bore sighted, zeroed, and shot accurately. The answer here is to move the target closer-50 yards, 25 yards if need be. Repeat the bore-sighting procedure and try a shot or two. When you find the shots at closer distances, it may be necessary to bore sight again when the target is farther down range.

FIGURE 48—When bore sighting a rifle, the procedure begins by centering the target as one views it through the bore (bottom). Then, adjust the scope’s crosshairs until they also center on the bulls-eye for a reasonably reliable preliminary zero.

Modern technology provides a gadget to bore sight any type of scope indoors. This handy little device is a collimator, and for anyone responsible for bore sighting or zeroing several guns, it can be a real time-saver. At the heart of the collimator is a close-tolerance rod called a spud that extends a couple of inches into the muzzle. You then attach the spud, which you select to fit the bore diameter, to a small optical unit containing visible crosshairs and reference marks, or


Gun Sights

perhaps a grid. The user simply aligns the scope’s reticle with the collimator’s horizontal and vertical axes and the optical bore sighting is complete. Again, even a slight bend in the barrel will fool the collimator. In such cases, revert to conventional bore sighting at short range (Figure 49).
FIGURE 49—Containing a grid or crosshairs in its small optical screen, a collimator allows convenient preliminary sight-in just about anywhere. One selects the correct interchangeable spud to match the size of the bore, inserts it in the muzzle, then adjusts the scope reticle to overlay the collimator’s reference markings.

Final Sighting
Though bore sighting or using a collimator will usually put one “on the paper,” you should still the take a gun out to the range and ascertain its zero at a suitable distance. Most often the distance for centerfire rifles is 100 yards, the common length of U. S. rifle ranges. This makes for convenient scope sight adjustments, since each click will move the corresponding reticle a fraction of an inch per 100 yards. Most click adjustments nowadays are good for one-quarter inch at 100 yards, but you’ll also see scopes with one-third and onehalf inch graduations. You should zero rimfire rifles and slug shotguns at 50 yards, since 100 is at the upper limit of, or beyond, their effective range. Likewise, you should sight-in scoped pistols at 25 yards, unless they’re long-barreled single-shots chambered for a rifle cartridge, whereupon 50 or 100 yards would be more appropriate.

Gun Sights


You should do all sighting-in work from an absolutely solid rest. At the very least this means sandbags on a stable shooting bench. A formal bench rest pedestal equipped with an elevation wheel and accompanied by a rear bag is markedly better. Relying on a balled-up jacket or a small, clamp-on bipod is often a futile exercise. Handgun shooters will achieve even better results with a Ransom Rest, a specialized clamping device that completely supports the pistol, which in turn is fired by a lanyard attached to the trigger. To achieve the final sighting, sit comfortably and lean into the gun in the classic bench rest posture. Square the butt securely on your shoulder, grip the stock wrist lightly with your trigger hand, and use your off hand to pinch minute aiming adjustments into the rear bag. On particularly hardkicking guns, you may need to use your off hand to control the forend, which has the tendency to jump off the rest. When that happens, the shooter usually gets smacked by the scope, something no one really enjoys. Fire the first shot and then find it on the target. You can often see it through the scope (depending on the magnification power and the bullet’s caliber), but a surer bet is to use a spotting scope (Figure 50). If it doesn’t appear through the optics at hand, then you may have to walk down-range-only when safe to do so-and locate it. If the bullet hole isn’t on the paper (allow for plenty of surface area when getting started), move the target closer by at least half the distance and try again. If the first bullet hole isn’t more than several inches from the point of aim, continue firing a three-shot group. Figure that the gun’s average point of impact is the center of the three shots. That point must be moved to occupy the same spot as the original point of aim, a shift accomplished with the scope’s internal adjustments. Use a coin or screwdriver to make the change unless the scope has knob adjustments. It’s important here to estimate the required move and to know exactly how far each adjustment click will move the shot. The adjustment mechanisms of modern scopes are very reliable, but occasionally they’ll hang up, a commonplace mishap with older models. If the reticle doesn’t seem to respond, give the turret a sharp rap with your knuckle and fire another shot.


Gun Sights

FIGURE 50—Bushnell’s 18-36X Sentry spotting scope provides wide field viewing at low power and sharp close-up detail at high power. A built-in peep sight aids fast target acquisition.
(Photo courtesy Bushnell, San Dimas, CA)

Should the first hit land way off the mark, however, make the initial sighting change right away-no need to fire three rounds out of the ballpark. If several subsequent shots fail to form a group, recheck all mount, ring, and action screws. They must be tight! Poor shooting technique or an unstable rest can also lead to unsatisfactory groups. Some loads simply perform poorly in a given gun; if this happens, try a different load. The purpose here isn’t to shoot tack-hole clusters, but they must be tight enough to provide a definite point-of-impact reference. Note: Always make it a practice to center groups, not individual shots. Continue with three-shot groups throughout the zeroing procedure. Make adjustments with purpose; figure the number of clicks needed to move the group and make them. Don’t creep to the center of the target. When a gun is grouping satisfactorily, it shouldn’t require more than three or four adjustment series to reach the desired zero. Be sure to allow enough time between shots, however, to prevent barrel heating from producing “fliers.”

Gun Sights


Scope zeroing is a service extended by many professional gunsmiths after performing work or following the purchase of a new firearm or scope. For the most part, a gunsmith can establish a workable zero for the gun no matter who subsequently shoots it. There will be minor differences from person to person, however, due to the way each one shoulders or grips it. By all means prevail on customers to get out and practice, if for no other reason than the safety factor of being familiar with one’s equipment. Unless you have several guns to sight-in, this practice can eat into valuable shop time. You can charge a fee for the service of course, though if it’s reasonable-say $25-it will probably just cover expenses. Don’t overlook the customer service value and the goodwill generated. These certainly contribute to the gun professional’s reputation. In the long run, this kind of extra effort could pay solid dividends. Alternately, you could limit such service to bore sighting or collimating. For the majority of customers this will be entirely satisfactory-even at the cost of a few dollars. They’ll soon head for the range to try out the new or repaired gun or the new scope. When the gun and scope leave the shop with preliminary sighting-in already accomplished and the first shot prints cleanly on the target, it reflects on the gunsmith’s professionalism. Be sure that the customer realizes that bore sighting is merely a preliminary measure, and he or she still needs to complete the sighting-in job. Done in-house with a collimator, this will require only a few minutes. Also, if you do it in the customer’s presence, he or she will likely leave with a greater degree of confidence in the purchase or the work that you performed.

Bolt Handle Alteration for Scope Mounting
On certain older military bolt-action rifles, it’s necessary to change the angle or shape of the bolt handle to clear a lowmounted scope. On these rifles, a scope can prevent the handle from rotating into its uppermost position. They include the 1903 Springfield, Krag, Arisaka, and Mauser. Other rifles may need bolt alteration. You can achieve the alteration in


Gun Sights

two ways: 1) by forging the handle with a torch and bending it, or 2) by hacksawing the old handle off, leaving a stud onto which you weld a reshaped or custom handle. Most gunsmiths usually prefer the second method, since it subjects the bolt to somewhat less heat. Both methods require advanced gunsmithing skills and only those who have the proper training should attempt them. The intense heat involved in both cases can damage locking lugs and other bolt parts if it’s not confined to the handle. In addition to the welding apparatus and basic shop tools needed (hacksaw, grinder, files, etc.), there are a number of specialized commercial jigs that facilitate these conversions. Among these are the Three V Bending Block for the forging method, and Brownell’s Bolt Welding Jig for cut-and-weld jobs. Another valuable aid offered by Brownells is a heat sink, a fixture that screws into the rear of the bolt and draws heat away from the rest of the bolt body. These come threaded for Springfield, Mauser, and Enfield bolts, and we recommend you use them in conjunction with that firm’s Heat Stop, a paste that effectively controls the transfer of heat within a bolt. Note: Heat Stop may also be beneficial in any sight installation that involves direct soldering or welding.

You perform bolt handle conversions as follows. We stress once again that only qualified individuals should perform these tasks. Forging. Disassemble the bolt, insert a heat sink in the rear end, and coat the entire bolt body with plenty of Heat Stop paste. Secure the bolt body in a Three V block or similar tool, and place the arrangement in a heavy vise. With a large jet in the oxyacetylene torch, heat the bolt handle quickly until it’s cherry red and the metal is almost molten. Take care not to scorch the steel by allowing it to contact the bright, central oxygen cone visible within the flame, and make sure the locking lugs and bolt face don’t heat up.

Gun Sights


Grasp the knob with a forming tool (a flat piece with a tapered hole at one end) and pull it downward to create a right angle just out from the bolt body. Curve it up at the very end so the knob will clear the stock, and if desired for looks, rake the handle back a bit. (You can also bend it with a medium-weight machinist’s hammer, though not with the same degree of control.) Allow the setup to air cool slowly before removing it from the block. After removing the Heat Stop, file off any heat scale, regrind the bolt handle to its original width if any deformation has occurred, and polish it with a buffing wheel or emery cloth. Note: The above procedure differs slightly from that discussed in Basic Metalwork and Machine Tool Operation. There are various methods for forging bolt handles. Welding. Disassemble the bolt, secure its body in a vise, and hacksaw the handle with a diagonal cut running from the edge of the shank taper (where it changes from flat-sided to round) at a 45 degree angle. Often it’s necessary to anneal the area of the cut. Just be sure not to allow the heated metal to begin to turn from bluish-gray to red, as this will reharden it. At this point, determine exactly how much you have to shorten the handle to provide scope clearance and cut off the excess. If you’re changing the handle’s shape, forge it as described above, holding it in position in the vise. As an alternative to the original, there are a variety of aftermarket bolt handle knobs available for such conversions, and many gun owners opt for one with better looks. Grind the end of the remaining handle shank so that it forms wide “Vs” at the weld joint along the angled edge of the bolt stub. This gives the weld maximum surface area. Clean up weld joint surfaces, insert the heat sink, and position/secure both pieces in Brownell’s bolt welding jig or a similar fixture. This will hold the work securely without the risk of displacing it with an unintended bump and it allows convenient access to both sides. Encase the bolt body in a heavy application of Heat Stop paste. Proceed with welding, using a mild steel rod for both arc and gas welders. Torch welders should use a medium-sized jet, taking care not to pull away the flame too fast. Fill in the “V” notches all the way, working from the middle up and out to the sides until the bead slightly


Gun Sights

overfills the notch. Be sure the bead fills in solidly by guiding any scale that forms off to the side where you can file it away later. Timely completion of the welding will minimize the heat reaching the rest of the bolt. Air cool, then check the weld to make sure that it’s solid; fill in if needed. When the welding is complete, remove any accumulated scale, then grind, file, and polish to obtain a pleasing handle contour. Quite often it’s necessary to cut a relief notch in the receiver in order for the new bolt handle to close fully. With a milling machine or files, shape this notch to match the handle shape. Make it just deep enough so there’s minimal clearance on the inside edge of the receiver and the locking lugs can fully lock. Be sure that this position doesn’t interfere with the functioning of safeties and cocking/extracting cams. It may be necessary to reheat treat the entire bolt after welding or forging. Only qualified persons should attempt this job.

Safety Replacement for Scope Mounting
Just as it’s often necessary to alter bolt handles when mounting a scope on certain military (and similar) rifles, you may also have to install a new safety. Original safeties on military rifles, built into the back of the bolt, rotate vertically in a semicircular arc that’s blocked by the eyepiece of practically any low-mounted scope. You need to use a safety with an alternate operating movement with this type of mounting. Fortunately, a number of replacement models are available. Some replacements work in essentially the same manner as the originals, except that their movement arc, shortened from 180 degrees to 70 degrees, stops just short of the scope. Others adopt the “side-swing” design from the Winchester M70. This type rotates horizontally back toward the shooter, never moving up toward the scope. The task of installing aftermarket safeties varies with the individual model. Some, like the Buehler Low Safety, may be simply exchanged with no machining of other parts. Other jobs, such as required for the Chapman and DeLorge safeties, involve using a milling machine and preferably a milling fixture, as available from Chapman. Still others, like the Precise Metalsmithing and Dakota conversions, replace

Gun Sights


the entire bolt shroud, containing the new safety therein. Regardless of the type, you must carefully fit them to ensure sufficient cocking piece/sear clearance. Inadequate clearance could lead to slam-fires or firing as the safety disengages. Warning: Any such unintentional firing is dangerous, and could lead to property damage, injury, or even death. The serious consequences involved demand that only qualified individuals attempt safety installation. Carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions and be sure you fully understand them before beginning the conversion. If any questions remain, don’t hesitate to contact the manufacturer. It’s also wise to consult with a gunsmith experienced in this kind of work.

Installation Procedures
Following are installation procedures for the Buehler and Precise Metalsmithing safeties, as neither requires machine work. Again, we stress that only qualified professionals carry out this work. Buehler. Disassemble the bolt, remove the old safety, then screw the bolt sleeve back into the body. At this point the Buehler safety is dismantled. Compress the spring inside the hole in the mounting pin and slip the assembly into its position in the bolt sleeve. Install the safety lever and secure it with the setup screw. For smooth operation, bevel the bearing surface on the left side of the cocking piece to a 45 degree angle. When installed properly, this safety cams the striker clear of the sear while holding the bolt in the closed position. Excessive wear on the sear and striker engaging surfaces will sometimes allow the striker to protrude too far forward (in the cocked position) for the safety to function correctly. When this happens it may be necessary to grind back the shoulder on the cocking piece. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct clearance between the bolt head and the striker engagement surface. Precise Metalsmithing. Disassemble the bolt and with the safety lever in the middle position, screw the new shroud/ safety assembly into the bolt body. The plunger will seat in the detent slot when the shroud is in the correct position.


Gun Sights

Check to see that the bolt will close and that the safety travels smoothly throughout its arc of movement. If there’s any interference or binding in the safety, lightly file/polish the safety detent at the rear of the bolt. The safety lever should cam the cocking piece backward, providing positive clearance between the cocking piece’s engagement ledge and the sear. This clearance should be no less than .3 inch with the original trigger, perhaps a little less with a modern replacement trigger. Check this clearance with a vernier caliper or feeler gauge. If it’s insufficient or when operation isn’t smooth, polish the 30 degree bevel on the cocking piece’s camming surface or file the sear engagement ledge to shorten it as necessary. Note: The contact face on the cocking piece engagement ledge must be square and perpendicular to the bolt center line. Also, when you perform any filing on bolt parts, you’ll have to reheat treat.

Gun Sights


Self-Check 5
Indicate whether the following statements are True or False. _____ 1. Inadequate cocking piece/sear clearance never leads to dangerous situations like slam fires or firing when the safety is disengaged. _____ 2. When forging, heat with an oxyacetylene torch until the shank turns cherry red. _____ 3. Altering bolt handles for scope installation is a job that can easily be performed by most gun owners in home shops. _____ 4. For low-mounted scopes on certain military bolt-action rifles, replacement safeties must shorten or redirect the movement. _____ 5. Properly reshaped bolt handles never require receiver relief cuts and/or stock inletting. _____ 6. When the Buehler safety is installed properly, it cams the striker clear of the sear. _____ 7. Bolt alteration is accomplished in two ways: forging and welding. _____ 8. Installing a Chapman and Delorge replacement safety requires use of a milling machine. _____ 9. The Three V Bending Block bolt alteration tool is used for welding. _____10. The proper shape for bolt handle shank stubs prepared for welding is rounded. Check your answers with those on page 99.


Gun Sights

Self-Check 1
1. True 2. True 3. False. Match apertures are considerably smaller-.05 inch is a common size and some are even tinier. 4. False. The right side should be a few thousandths of an inch larger. 5. True 6. False. Shooters have resorted to applying bright paint on the rearward face. 7. False. They used front and rear rifle sights as early as 1500. 8. True 9. False. You should never penetrate the bore when drilling holes for barrel sights because this ruins the barrel. 10. False. These are rear sight styles.

Answers Answers

Self-Check 2
1. Shotgun beads 2. military, law enforcement 3. circular 4. dots, outlines, inserts 5. color, head diameter, shank size/thread 6. short 7. combat 8. windage and elevation 9. hacksaw 10. square


Self-Check 3
1. True 2. True 3. True 4. True 5. True 6. False. This was a characteristic of earlier scopes. 7. False. Parallex occurs on very close images, usually inside 50 yards. 8. True 9. False. You can’t repair the scope at the range or in the field. 10. False. Big game hunters prefer a duplex scope reticle.

Self-Check 4
1. cutting oils 2. anneal 3. added pressure 4. plug 5. straight 6. 28, 31 7.
3/ 64


8. fat, short 9. correctly aligned 10. bushings


Self-Check Answers

Self-Check 5
1. False. It could lead to slam fires or firing when the safety is disengaged. 2. True 3. False. This requires advanced gunsmithing skills. 4. True 5. False. A reshaped bolt handle may require cuts or inletting. 6. True 7. True 8. True 9. False. It’s used for forging. 10. False. The bolt handle shank stubs are V-shaped.

Self-Check Answers




Self-Check Answers

Examination Examination

925 Oak Street Scranton, Pennsylvania 18515-0001

Gun Sights

Whichever method you use in submitting your exam answers to the school, you must use the number above. For the quickest test results, go to When you feel confident that you have mastered the material in this study unit, complete the following examination. Then submit only your answers to the school for grading, using one of the examination answer options described in your “Test Materials” envelope. Send your answers for this examination as soon as you complete it. Do not wait until another examination is ready. Questions 1–20: Select the one best answer to each question. 1. When zeroing metallic rifle sights, A. divide the front and rear barrel diameters by two and subtract the difference. B. move the rear sight in the direction you want the shot to move. C. move the front sight in the direction you want the shot to move. D. file down the front sight. 2. Bore sighting means A. mounting the scope as close to the bore as possible B. being able to place the shots so that they are touching in the bulls-eye. C. centering a target when viewing down the bore, then adjusting the crosshairs to the same aiming point. D. using a shotgun with no bead or rib.


3. Installing a Smith & Wesson-type adjustable rear sight on a Colt Government Model .45 requires A. B. C. D. removal of the Smith & Wesson logo. a ramp front sight. inletting a shallow recess into the top of the slide. drilling a slot behind the ejection port.

4. Scope sights have really won the public’s favor since A. B. C. D. Kepler refined the telescope. Civil War snipers used them. mass production began in the early twentieth century. they were made brighter and more reliable following World War II.

5. The key to proper tap procedure is A. B. C. D. a straight tap with sharp teeth, plenty of oil, and gradual turning. beginning with slightly undersized taps and finishing with slightly oversized taps. uninterrupted turning to ensure unbroken threads. letting the drill press motor do the harder jobs.

6. Today’s scope mounts are very easy to install because A. B. C. D. the steel in modern rifle receivers is relatively soft, and therefore easy to drill and tap. they simply replace the factory iron sights. they can be attached by electromagnetics. they’re manufactured to fit factory-drilled screw holes and/or other design features.

7. Open sights, the most common of all metallic rifle sights past and present, consist of A. two aperture sights. B. a shallow notch and a bead or post. C. a long tube with no lenses. D. an extra-large peephole.

8. A collimator is a handy device for gunsmiths because it A. B. C. D. helps determine the correct height for scope rings. allows them to accomplish preliminary sight-in anywhere. helps the shooter judge the distance to the target. helps hold the gun straight for proper sight-in.

9. You level side-mounted rear aperture sight holes by A. B. C. D. truing with try squares and/or a drilling jig. drilling just one hole at a time. bore-sighting with the sight clamped in place. placing a machinist’s square on the front sight.



10. Rifles that often need bolt handle alteration and safety replacement for scope mounting include A. B. C. D. older military semiautos like the BAR, M-1, and AK-47. any rifle chambered for a magnum more powerful than .300 Winchester Magnum. lightweight “mountain” rifles. certain military bolt-actions, that is, Springfield, Krag, Mauser, etc.

11. Ideally, a drill press used for sight mounting should be equipped with A. B. C. D. rubber bushings in the sight mounting jig. a handle with large knobs, interchangeable chucks, and carbide bits. one forward speed and reverse capability. a compound vise, depth indicator and stop, and a tight-closing chuck.

12. Which hand tools do you need for cutting a dovetail sight mounting slot? A. B. C. D. A center punch and an oxyacetylene torch A Dremel tool, a cold chisel, and an emery cloth A scriber, a hacksaw, and a 60 degree file Vise grips, a hand drill, and taps

13. When applying heat for bolt handle forging or welding, one must never A. B. C. D. allow scale to form. allow the bolt handle to get red-hot. use an electric arc welder. allow excess heat to reach the bolt’s locking lugs.

14. Competitive shooters favor rear aperture sights because the sights A. B. C. D. facilitate natural sight alignment and precise adjustments. worked great for the buffalo hunters. are very easy to mount on dovetail grooves. don’t cause as much glare as open sights.

15. What are the two basic categories of handgun sights? A. C. B. D. Paine and bead Windage and elevation Top-strap groove and bead Fixed and adjustable

16. Safety conversions are potentially dangerous! Always A. checker the thumbpiece to prevent slippage. B. ensure that the new safety holds the striker or cocking-piece engagement ledge clear of the sear. C. ensure that the safety can never be manipulated when there are rounds in the magazine. D. affix the new safety to the cocking piece with a set screw or solder.



17. Methods used for mounting shotgun beads are A. C. B. D. screw-in or drive-in. cutting a dovetail in the rib or barrel. clamp or weld onto the rib with a Top Dead Center tool and a heavy hammer.

18. Essential tools for all scope mounting jobs are A. B. C. D. C-clamps and a set of socket wrenches. a solder iron and a Dremel tool. a tight-fitting, hollow-ground screwdriver or Allen wrench and Loc-Tite. a soft brass drift punch, small mallet, and magnetic level.

19. When working on the sights of a handgun that has “fixed” sights, the most likely job is A. C. B. D. replacing the hammer. milling a new rear notch. replacing the front sight. installing drill-rod pins through the old rear sight.

20. Scopes with high magnifications have advantages and disadvantages, such as A. B. C. D. fine adjustment capability but small exit pupils. the target appears much closer but field-of-view is diminished. easy-to-see reticles but critical eye relief. small size but poor twilight capability.



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