Yet, far more Syncerus caffer are shot with the aid of a scope than with open sights, even when Nyati is in the process of rapidly reducing that 20 yards to ground zero. And most Professional Hunters recommend glass over iron for everything from elephant on down. Why is that?
Because most African dangerous-game hunters are not 19-year-old food fortune heirs, gigolos, drug dealers or lottery winners, and scopes help older eyes that have worked hard all their lives to see better. High quality, low power, wide field of view scopes have decided advantages over open express sights and even aperture or ghost ring sights, even at very close ranges, and especially when the human sighting equipment is showing signs of wear.
The rifleman shooting over open sights is faced with the same dilemma as the pistol shooter. You have three things to line up and you can only focus on one of them. You have to focus on the front sight, of course, but you also have to center it in the fuzzy rear and place it properly on the fuzzy target.
With ghost ring sights you only have to line up the front sight with the target, as the rear sight automatically takes care of itself. Focus on the front sight, place it on the fuzzy target and a third of your dilemma is solved right there.
With a scope, the reticule (or reticle, as we tend to call it here) and the target are in the same plane so that you can at last simply focus on your target as you place the crosshairs on the spot of your choosing. Nothing is fuzzy anymore. Your only dilemma now is whether to go for the heart and lungs, the shoulder, the brain or the butt.
A high quality scope makes the world look bright, clear and crisp, even at dawn and dusk. A low power scope encourages you to keep both of your eyes wide open and the benefits of that should be obvious. Squinting through a scope with one eye is like standing on one foot, not something you need to do when you’re shooting. As for magnification, dangerous game is not dangerous if you shoot it at a range where you need to enlarge it in order to place your shot, thus neutralizing the very essence of the game. A wide field of view, combined with low power and open eyes, helps you pick up your target very quickly and follow it if it begins to move. Some prefer a scope even in thick bush because it helps you separate the bush from the beast with no loss of speed.
There are other things to consider in a dangerous game scope. By definition, you’ll be shooting a rifle that kicks a lot. So if you don’t want a black eye or a perfect circle stamped in the middle of your forehead every time you pull the trigger, you want a scope with long eye relief, so you can mount it a safe distance away from your face and still see through it properly.
Low power scopes come in both fixed and variable power varieties. Shooters got along fine with fixed power scopes for a long time and, early on, variables were more prone to come apart when mounted on an elephant gun. Things are different now, but there’s still nothing wrong with a fixed power scope of, say, 2x or 2.5x for dangerous game. On the other hand, variables allow you to begin your dangerous game stalk at even lower power which is a good thing, and they also allow you to crank up the power when you’re sighting in the rifle or to take that occasional longer shot, but you must remember to keep your variable on its lowest power setting while you’re hunting dangerous game. Otherwise, you may find yourself searching desperately in your scope for a buffalo only to find a storm of hair and dust and big angry eyeballs.
In general, Americans and Europeans differ on two or three points when it comes to scopes, though there are plenty of Americans with European tastes and vice versa. In variable scopes, Europeans tend to like their reticles placed in the front focal plane behind the objective lens (objective plane) so that the reticle grows thicker as magnification increases because they believe this is a more reliable system. Americans like their reticles in the rear focal plane in front of the eyepiece (eyepiece plane) so the reticle remains the same size no matter what power is used because that seems to make a lot more sense. Many European scope makers offer the choice.
According to the modern tradition, most American scope tubes are one inch in diameter, many European scopes are the larger 30mm size. I think it’s rather obvious that a sight picture is quicker and easier to acquire looking through a big circle than a small circle, and the European 30mm scope is making rapid inroads in America because of that fact.
To the American eye, it looks like Europeans mount their scopes on stilts. In the old days, this was because scopes were so unreliable it was important to be able to see beneath the broken scope right through the open mounts to the iron sights. Today it’s because European hunters so often use powerful scopes with huge objective lenses so they can shoot at long range in a level of light we would call night. Low power dangerous game scopes need only small objective lenses -- in fact, it’s better if the objective lens does not require a bell at the end of the tube, so that the tube remains the same diameter and is perfectly straight once you get past the ocular, which has the added benefits of allowing you to mount the scope low and fore-and-aft in the rings exactly where you want it for perfect eye relief. High-mounted scopes on a dangerous game rifle are totally unnecessary, low-mounted straight scopes are the way to go.
The latest thing in scopes, both foreign and domestic, is illuminated reticles. Yes, the reticles light up like Las Vegas when the sun goes down and you flip the switch. This may be a boon to leopard hunters, but is probably not worth the trouble and complication and extraordinary extra expense to anybody who confines his dangerous game hunting to daylight hours. The trouble with most of them -- all of them, as a matter of fact, with the sole exception of the Trijicon AccuPoint whose illumination is provided by vials of radioactive tritium in low light and a bright fiber-optic system during the day -– is that they are powered by batteries. I don’t have to tell you why there are no battery-powered Land Rovers or Landcruisers bouncing along the hot and cold and wet and dry tracks of Africa. But if the battery dies you still have the plain black reticle that works just as well as it always did, right? Well, sometimes.
One of the finest scopes in this review, obviously designed exclusively for dangerous game in all ways save one, came to me equipped with the most inappropriate dangerous game reticle anyone could possibly imagine. That this reticle is even offered on a dangerous game rifle scope is amazing beyond belief. What were they thinking? The thing in question is an illuminated dot. It looks just like a red-dot pistol scope on the target. Nothing much wrong with that. But if you forget to turn it on, or if the batteries give out, your bright red dot is now a dull black dot. No crosshairs or anything, just a small black dot floating somewhere in the middle space of the lens. Guess what happens when you place a small black dot on a large black buffalo.
One other thing to remember about dangerous game scopes: they do not travel without backup. As reliable as scopes are these days, you will not see them in Africa mounted on slick, sightless barrels. These are not long-range varmint rifles. Just because you have a scope, and just because a scope is better than iron sights, does not mean you’re allowed to yank off your iron sights and throw them away. Au contraire. The reason so many scopes on African rifles are mounted with quick-detachable rings is so you can yank the scope off instead, if it should break or fog up or if you just want it instantly gone. So you can replace it with another scope waiting in its own QD rings which you have previously sighted in, or so you can use the iron sights which very seldom break and which you have also already sighted in. Redundant sighting systems are as mandatory on dangerous game rifles as Mauser-type actions. Dangerous game will not give you a second chance if you can’t see them well enough to shoot them when the time comes. Sorry excuses and pitiful pleas for mercy will not be accepted.
A final thing about scopes and iron sights. There are hunters who never use scopes, always use only iron sights. These hunters do so mostly because they feel an unfiltered view down their barrel establishes a more direct connection with the animal, a relationship they find satisfying on some deeper level. It’s a conceptual, aesthetic, emotional thing. When you use a scope, a certain separation from reality can occur. For an inexperienced hunter, this separation can be either bad or good. Bad because hunters have sometimes been known to gaze dreamily through the scope at a charging animal until the charge is consummated. Good because facing a dangerous animal inside a little round TV-like screen is easier on the nerves than facing the same animal at the end of your muzzle. Your aesthetics are your business.
There is only one place where, in my opinion, a scope looks and is out of place. That is between the barrels of a side-by-side double rifle. Scope-equipped over-and-unders are one thing, but side-by-sides ought to remain pure. I am clearly in the shrinking minority in this opinion. It seems that, more and more, dangerous game hunters just flatly insist on seeing what they’re shooting.