I crawled through the flattest parts of Colorado behind the inimitable Fred Eichler, chasing a herd of elk that just wouldn’t let us close the gap. The wide open fields of his ranch certainly offered a great view, but didn’t offer much in the way of cover. We finally settled down, me with a rifle on top of a bag and panting for what little oxygen there was, as Fred started calling the bull we wanted. He was weaving between cows and calves, and I just wasn’t comfortable taking a shot with such a precarious window of time, but it sparked an interesting conversation about how to compensate for bullet drop .
One of the author’s favorite scopes – a Leupold VX-6HD 2-12x42mm – has a simple duplex reticle and no exposed elevation turret; sustain can be a bit tricky outside of 250 yards.
On this particular hunt I had a Winchester rifle in 6.8 Western, topped with a Leupold VX-6HD 3-18x44mm scope that had an elevation turret specifically compensated for the new 162 grain copper impact load. Marked in yardage instead of mils or minutes of angle, compensating for course changes was as simple as turning the dial to match the distance indicated by the rangefinder. We had proven the system at the range before the hunt began, with consistent shots out to 500 yards, and, with Fred that morning calling the distances as fast as he could reach them, I followed the elevation turret. Just three decades before, this was almost unheard of – at least in the hunting fields – and compensation for drops was achieved either by estimation or by a graduated reticle; Either means specific knowledge required of your ball’s trajectory and how much to adjust at different distances. The drastic differences between the methods have sparked debate over which means of trajectory adjustment makes the most sense for the average hunter.
It seems young hunters are more inclined to adopt the “dial” method, while those with a bit more snow on their roofs are skeptical of the moving parts. Of course, that’s a generalization, and there are exceptions to every rule, but I know my dad definitely wants his elevation turret to rest comfortably under a hood, staying exactly where he put it. He believes in Murphy’s Law, and will make his adjustments via a compensated reticle, or using the good old estimation method. Obviously, the distances at which your shots will be taken will dictate the most logical way to manage your trajectory.
If the numbering isn’t to your liking, a compensated reticle can make it easier to hold.
The average Northeast deer hunter won’t have to worry about trajectory compensation at all, as shots in the woods rarely exceed 100 or 150 yards, and the shot is a shot. Moving on to mule deer hunters in the west, where the terrain is wide open and the shots much longer, course compensation becomes a daily issue. My first safari – in the semi-Karoo of South Africa – saw open hunting mixed with thicker patches of bush, and I was happy to have spent time preparing a data-driven drop chart of the real world. My .375 H&H carried a Leupold VX-I 3-9×40 with a duplex reticle, and when we completely ran out of cover chasing an eland bull, I found myself prone against a termite mound and killed that bull at 400 meters, estimating the remainder. It worked, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.
If you plan to make maximum use of a compensated reticle, a detailed data map can become a valuable asset.
Looking at the pleasures and pitfalls of numbering for elevation, I find this method to be the most accurate way, but you need to understand the grading system. If you only use one load for all your hunts, you can have a custom turret made, marked in yardage, for the easiest and most effective way. If you change your projectile choice/speed, you may want to have a turret marked in mils or MOA, and carry different drop charts, or memorize trajectory adjustments. And be sure to reset the turret; I’ve seen guys dial in for a shot at 400 yards, then decline the shot and soon see an animal at 100 yards, only to shoot well over its back.
A custom Leupold elevation turret designed specifically for the 6.8 Western’s 165-grain AccuBond load path, marked in yardage.
I like scopes that have a positive zero stop – the Leupold ZeroLock is my favorite as you can instantly check a zero setting even if you need reading glasses – as it prevents or at least minimizes the risk have your elevation turret somewhere you don’t want it. I tend to keep my turret set at 200 yards, as it allows me to handle any rapid fire within that distance, although it may run the risk of moving while hunting. That said, I’ve never seen clothing, vegetation, or anything else move my turret – yet.
I think it would be good advice to say that if you intend to dial in your elevation turret for course compensation, you should practice with it, and practice often. It can be frustrating trying to turn the elevation turret to the right spot under hunting pressure (especially when trying to shoot a straying animal, with changing distances). The more familiar you become with pulling your eye back from the scope slightly, focusing on the elevation turret, adjusting, and returning to the scope with minimal disruption to rifle position, the better off you will be. .
The MOA markings on this Bushnell scope are big and bold, making it easy to adjust when you’re behind the rifle.
If you’re the hunter who stays within 200 yards, a scope with an elevation turret designed for rapid elevation changes may not be for you. If you’re the type of hunter who prefers a favorite big game rifle for most of your hunting, you might want such a scope, even if you don’t rely on it often, but you can take this rifle to hunt the deer of Coues. , caribou or sheep. There’s nothing wrong with a scope designed to be dialed on any varmint rifle; I think when it comes to precise shot placement, there is no more accurate way to get the right hold. Unlike many second focal plane compensated reticles, which must be calibrated at a specific magnification setting, the dial method can be used at any magnification setting, leaving the appearance of the reticle unchanged.
All the technology in the world won’t help you if you don’t master it; training and practice are paramount.
Our hunting gear is getting more technologically advanced every year, and I’m okay with that if it ends in a more accurate and humane kill. If the idea of dialing a number on the hunting ground seems completely foreign, maybe it’s time to give it a try and see if it would improve your hunting experience.
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