Choosing A Scope For A 3-Gun Rifle

Trijicon AccuPoint 1-4×24 with an Amber BAC with Triangle Post Reticle.  Your welcome.

Image result for Trijicon Accupoint 1-4x24 BAC

Seriously though, I did not put any thought into it when I bought this scope 7 years ago, but it has since proven to be my favorite.

I have dabbled here and there with a variety of variable magnification optics: Vortex PST 1-4×24, Vortex Crossfire 1-4×24, Leupold VX-R 1.25-4×20.

I’ve also dabbled with red dots or 1x magnification optics: Vortex Spirtfire, Vortex Strikefire, Eotech 512, Bushnell TRS-25, Trijicon RMR.

Oh and there’s the infamous video of me (painfully) running an Elcan C79… ugh…

Recently, I’ve tried mounting dual optics: a Trijicon 4x ACOG with a 45 degree offset Trijicon RMR.

That setup is fun to shoot, but in hindsight, it was a (costly) decision I ended up reverting to my AccuPoint.

The ACOG has collectors value. A CANSOF operator sold it to me, indicating it saw combat in Afghanistan, which seriously bumps up the cool factor big time.

While it is a good optic (although the eye relief is a bit short), it will end up mounted on my collectors Diemaco SA15.7 C8 carbine, just for bragging rights and collectors authenticity.

The reason I’m switching my competition rifle back to the Accupoint is with the fixed 4x power, shots under 25 yards are challenging to land fast.  Thus was the rationale for the offset RMR.

The problem with that is running a VG6 Epsilon compensator, I found it very noticeable that the recoil and muzzle rise attenuation forced the rifle into weird directions, almost down and to the right.

You have to think that these compensators are designed to be fired in an upright position, redirecting gas straight vertically up and at about 90 degrees to the side, working with gravity to help control the muzzle.

Cant the rifle 45 degrees to the left and all of a sudden gravity isn’t working with you anymore.

I could time compensator to account for the 45 offset, but I just can’t get around the idea of working against my equipment, especially since it is very obvious in training.

I’ll keep the RMR, maybe for another Roland Special project in the future.

Regardless, I’ll go back to the most important reason I thought to try to run the ACOG in the first place, and I think the most important consideration for selecting a scope: Reticle selection.

The ACOG has Ballistic Drop Compensator Subtensions on the reticle.

The ACOG was designed to be mounted on the M16A4, employed by the US military and has reticle with hash-lines that roughly equate to the necessary holdover to hit a man sized target at the specified ranges beyond 300 yards.

Image result for ACOG BDC

Never mind the fact that beyond 300 yards, most 5.56 bullets have the ballistics capability that match those of a .22 magnum to a .22 short.  I’ve heard from many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that the bad guys didn’t respect the 5.56 NATO cartridge, because they’d opt to fight at 300 yards and beyond with Combloc Milsurp 7.62mm weapons.

Can’t blame that rationale, while I’d prefer to never experience either, a .22″ hole is a whole other animal than a .30″ hole.

Side note: Under 200 yards, depending on barrel length and type of round, a 5.56 mm bullet has a very high probability to yaw in soft tissue and at shorter ranges has a very high probability of fragmenting.

If it yaws, it tumbles, causing a much larger permanent cavity in the target.

If it fragments, it basically explodes, leaving both a very large permanent cavity as well as a potentially enormous temporary cavity with catastrophic secondary injuries).

If it does neither, it leaves a .22 sized hole in it’s target (provided it doesn’t hit something like bone, soft body armor, or anything harder than soft tissue).

NSFW: Here’s some graphic images of why you don’t want to be shot with an M16 (5.56mm round) at short range.

All that aside, for 3-Gun, we don’t really care about terminal ballistics or stopping power (although for Match Directors, it might be worth noting that a 500+ yard shot might have a very hard time knocking down, swinging, or even being heard on a target).

For 3-Gun Shooters, however, all that matters is our ability to land hits on target.

Here is the conundrum.

As 3-Gunners, the majority of our rifle targets are under 100 yards.  Occasionally we’ll have targets at further ranges – maybe at 500 – 800 yards.

Those are very hard targets to hit.

In the context of 3-gun, shots under 50 yards are purely reflexive.  Point.  Shoot.

Shots under 300 yards, are more like point, control breathing, focus on the target, have a controlled squeeze of the trigger.  Shoot. (Applying classical principles of rifle marksmanship).

Shots beyond 300 yards are the same as midrange shots but seriously involve math, reading the wind, and maybe dumping mags and taking failure to neutralize penalties.  (I’m not going to talk about wind – because I’m terrible at it).

Enter scope selection.

While the ACOG has BDC subtensions that make it suitable for determining holdover needed for long shots, it’s fixed 4x power make it not so great at short range.

While the RMR is very fast for target acquisition, it’s useless beyond 25 yards.

A key thing to note with scope selection in trying to overcome these problems is that different scopes (and the number of scopes) land you in different divisions.

In the USPSA multi-gun rulebook, optical, magnified, multiple optics lands you in open.  An optical magnified lands you in Tactical.  Limited an optic can only be non-magnifying.

Different games have different rules, so it’s important to keep that in mind if you’re a serious competitor.

If you’re a LARP division mall ninja’s like me (who falls in “open”), just do whatever.

Image result for Larping meme

Side note: I dislike open division shooting (in the classical, IPSC sense) because too often the “open division mindset” revolves more heavily on equipment gimmickry and borderline unsportsmanlike gaming of rules.

It fosters a “pay to win” mentality that I think is toxic for the sport in that it focuses on gaining technical advantages independent of skill as opposed to promoting marksmanship through training and practice.

I’m not accusing all open division shooters of being technocratic, game boy, rulebook lawyers, dropping thousands of dollars on gear that out of the box will shave 0.1 off our splits (even though many of us are – myself included).

I’m saying I think doing so exclusively robs the sport of it’s element of fair play and sportsmanship, making it less fun, less respectable, and working against efforts to grow the sport and community.

Anyways… back to scopes.

Personally, I think the a 1-x variable power scope is the way to go, which is why I’m reverting back to my Trijicon Accupoint 1-4×24.

Regardless of what scope / optic you choose, another thing to seriously consider before hand is how are you going to manage hold-overs for longer range shots?

For me, I plan to memorize (or calculate) variable magnification needed such that the subtension holdover of my scope’s reticle get me as close (vertically) to the target as it can.

Here’s what I mean.  Consider the triangle reticle on my AccuPoint:

2018-11-01_16-17-44

“A” and “B” subtensions are 4.2 MOA when the scope is at 4x magnification, and it is Second Focal Plane (meaning the reticle stays the same size, no matter what the zoom is).

Now consider the ballistic data for the loads of ammo I’m running with my rifle (this varies from rifle to rifle, ammo to ammo).

At 400 yards, the ballistic drop is about 4.3 MOA.  With the scope at 4x magnification, the bottom of the triangle between the two legs is 4.2 MOA.  A difference of about 0.4″.

Not factoring in the wind, taking a shot at 400 yards, I’d set the magnification to 4x, and place the target at the bottom of the triangle, between the two legs (that’s my holdover).

If I had to shoot at 500 yards, where the ballistic drop is 7.61 MOA, I’d calculate out the magnification needed such that the subtension of the scope was equal to 7.61 MOA.

The formula for this is:

  • Magnification = (Reticle Subtension in MOA at Max zoom) * (Max Zoom) / Holdover

So for a 500 yard shot, this would be:

  • Magnification = (4.2 MOA x 4x zoom) / 7.61 MOA = 2.21x zoom

So, my best chance of getting the proper elevation on target are by setting my scope to about 2.2x power, and holding over the target such that it’s in the middle of the two legs, directly underneath the triangle.

Different scopes have different ways of handling this.

There are super busy reticles with Mildot or MOA hashes (such as the ACOG), but I find that business a bit overwhelming and distracting.

Honestly, what ended up driving me to this decision was looking at some of the reticles for the Trijicon AccuPower and concluding the AccuPoint is the right optic for the job.

With respect to scopes and First Focal and Second Focal Plane.  I think it boils down to personal preference.

I have always found FFP scopes unusable when the magnification is dialed down.

Busy reticles can become illegible at minimum power and seem almost overwhelming at max power.

My personal preference is definitely for a simple reticle and I’m enough of a nerd (and good enough at math) to be able to calculate things like ballistic drop.

One other thing to consider, both for Stage Designers and Shooters is the capability of a shooter to actually hit a target at mid-long range.  This factors into both design for the stage designer and strategy for the shooter.

My personal standard is 4 MOA supported with a 5 shot grouping meaning I am reasonably confident in 5 shots, I could land one hit on:

  • a 4″ target at 100 yards
  • a 8″ target at 200 yards
  • a 12″ target at 300 yards
  • a 16″ target at 400 yards
  • a 20″ target at 500 yards
  • … and so on

For a shooter, this might factor into a mindset of, “If I think I am able to hit this target, I am going to spend this amount of time trying before moving on.”

It’s worth noting the rules of the game your running, since mathematically, it might make sense for a shooter to attempt to engage a target to avoid a procedural and take the time penalty if they can’t hit it and move on.

It’s also a good idea for stage designers to keep the capability of their shooters in mind, since strings of long range shots can drain a lot of time.

I think the most important things when it comes to scope selection for 3-Gun are in order of priority are:

  • Divisional placement considerations
  • How well the optic performs at short range (under 50 yards)
  • How well it performs at mid range (100 – 300 yards)
  • How you plan to use it at long range (300 – 800 yards)

Having selected a scope (or multiple optics), it’s important to know and understand your limitations with your scope.  Not only your limitations at range, but also limitations in your ability to practice to become proficient with a scope/optic.

Ultimately, the reason I’m dropping the ACOG/offset RMR and reverting back to the Accupoint is that I don’t have the time to dedicate to mastering both platforms.

It’s not like Call Of Duty where you upgrade to a gun with a scope and instantly become a sniper.  It takes a lot of practice to become good with any piece of equipment.

That’s a good closing thought too.   You can drop a lot of money on optics – and you SHOULD purchase a quality optic (Trijicon, Leupold, and Vortex are ones I hold in high regard), but without time for practice or money for practice ammo, it doesn’t matter what scope you get.

Hope that helps, and hope to see you on the range soon!

4 thoughts on “Choosing A Scope For A 3-Gun Rifle

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