The snow is finally receding here in Fairbanks, and that means one thing: time to get ready for spring bear hunting. I've still got a lot of gear preparation to do, but first on the list was getting optics set up on a couple of my rifles.
The first order of business was mounting a scope on my "brush gun." I carry this Marlin 1895 lever action chambered in .450 Marlin. It's a variation of the extremely popular Marlin Guide Gun, and is perfect for fast shooting at short range. We will be baiting black bears on the Yukon River this spring, and I wouldn't dare go into a stand or track a bear that's been hit without carrying a heavy hitting rifle that I trust.
You can't put just any scope on a hard-recoiling rifle, but this Zeiss fits the bill perfectly. It's a varipoint 1.1-4x with an illuminating red dot reticle. Most of the action during a bear hunt occurs in low light situations, so the illuminated reticle and fast target acquisition will make all the difference.
With a setup like this, mounts and rings are equally important. Junk rings are likely to fail under repeated heavy recoil, but these Warne QD rings are solid and dependable.
Many shoulders and wallets have been battered by sighting in magnum rifles. The first thing I always do when mounting a new scope is bore sight it. Bore sighting is NOT sighting in your rifle, but it can save you a lot of expensive ammunition and can help keep your shoulder in working order. There are several types of bore sighting tools like this one from BSA which is affordable and gets the job done.
The principle of bore sighting is to adjust the scope so the bore and scope are aiming at the same point at a given range. This is the initial sight picture once I installed the scope. I want to line up my crosshairs with the center of the grid.
This is a quick, easy process. Simply click the scope's elevation and windage adjustments until you're all lined up.
Now it's ready for the range. If you're without one of these handy tools, but can remove the bolt of your rifle, simply look down the breach and center a target in the bore. Without moving the rifle, adjust the scope until both the bore and scope are pointed at the same target. It's not quite as refined, but it usually works well enough to get the first shot on paper at 100 yards.
My Remington model 700 in 25-06 will also be getting some action on this bear hunt. This rifle has already brought home some meat, including 5 Dall sheep, but I've been in the process of giving it the works. Here, I'm installing a Warne one piece tactical base. Putting loc-tite on the base screws will ensure that they won't come loose at an inopportune time.
These one-piece bases have become pretty popular in the long-range shooting community. Although they aren't absolutely necessary in my opinion, their precision and rigidity leaves no doubts, and there is a lot to be said for that when hunting in Alaska.
I have mounted a lot of scopes by resting my rifles on sand bags, cardboard boxes, or whatever I could find, and I've got to say that a rifle cleaning/maintenance setup like this Tactical Range Box from MTM Case-Gard makes life much easier. This one has rifle forks as well as a magwell mount for AR-15's. It can also carry range gear, tools and cleaning supplies. For all the shooting I do, it's one of the most versatile that I've used.
A Leupold is the only scope that has ridden on the back of this rifle, and I'm excited to try out the VX 3 with their CDS turret system. You'll be hard pressed to find anything wrong with even their lower end VX 1 (mine has performed flawlessly on many sheep hunts), but the VX 3 offers an even higher level of precision, including solid ¼ MOA click adjustments as opposed to the smooth adjustments of the VX 1.
All set and bore sighted, this rig is ready for some range time. The CDS turret system has become very popular and I've seen how well it works first hand. Several companies including Leupold, Vortex, and Zeiss all offer variations. The principal is that you get an elevation turret custom made for your rifle's ballistics, eliminating the need for "hold over" at longer ranges if you've got a good range finder.
The mercury finally hit 60 degrees, making it a pretty pleasant day at the range. My elation was kept in check however, as I quickly found out that snow down range was sitting on top of about 6 inches of water. My tennis shoes needed cleaning anyway.
Most of us have probably walked miles back and forth just checking targets over the years, but my wet feet were thankful that I brought a good spotting scope. At 100-300 yards, it's usually pretty easy to see bullet holes with a good scope. Judging wind value by reading the mirage is also much easier with a quality piece of glass.
All set to send the first rounds down range, we'll see how that bore sighter did. You'll notice my trusty set of Butler Creek scope caps. I've tried using scope coats and covers of all different types, but these are my favorite. You can't lose them and they are very easy to pop open quickly.
Not too bad for a bore sighter. I usually make my own targets just out of a piece of printer paper, and mark at ½" increments. This way, I can look through my spotting scope and know almost exactly what my adjustments need to be. 3 clicks left, 5 clicks down, and I've got my 100 yard zero.
Now for the .450, which leaves a gaping hole as you can see. The Zeiss scope has adjustments at 1/3 MOA per click, so about 5 left, and a handful of elevation will get me where I want to be at 50 yards. Most encounters with this rifle will be up close, so if I am 2" high at 50 yards, the bullet should be between -1.5" and +2" from 0 to 50yd. Having these marked targets really helps save my shoulder and wallet, as it usually takes just a few shots to get a good zero.
I was pretty impressed with the accuracy of Hornady's Leverevolution ammo. 1 click left and I'm ready to go. This should be ideal for stopping anything in Alaska. What I like about these 325 grain bullets, as opposed to say the 400 grain hard cast dangerous game bullets, is that they expand better on black bears that aren't all that dense.
A small 200-pound bear can still tear you up in a hurry, so expansion is crucial for transferring more of that stopping power. I know guys who have shot bears with heavy hard-cast bullets and never recovered them because the bullet just punched right through and didn't do enough damage.
The spring bear season is coming up here in Alaska and it's time to dial in my rifles. Here's how I get it done.