A beanfield rifle is no place to try and save a few bucks on your riflescope. You need a variable scope with a top-end power of at least 10X, but most guys prefer an upper end magnification of 12-16X. The glass must be clear as a bell in all light conditions and the scope must be impervious to weather and typical field abuse.
Today many major riflescope manufacturers are producing – and vigorously promoting -- reticle scope designs that feature a ballistic grid or Mil-Dot-marked reticles that purportedly allow you to make long shots with ease. Each manufacturer – and these include well-known companies like Burris, Bushnell, Nikon, Swarovski, Trijicon, and Zeiss – has their own system, but all are based on computer programs that factors in specific caliber, bullet weight and muzzle velocity, with the different marks on the vertical crosshair indicate bullet impact at various ranges, usually in 100-yard increments from 100 to 500 yards (Bushnell) and 200 to 600 yards (most everybody else.) On some, the various horizontal hash marks also supposedly tell you how far the bullet will drift in a cross wind. Many veteran deer hunters have done a fair amount of range work with several of these scopes to try and answer the basic question -- Do they work? The answer is – yes and no.
Here are some things you have to know before you go shopping for one of these scopes. First, you must zero the top crosshair where the scope maker tells you. In Bushnell’s case that is dead-on at 100 yards; with most others, it is dead-on at 200 yards. Not doing so negates the system. Second, because reticles in American scopes are located behind the second focal plane – put there so when you adjust scope power up or down the size of the reticle remains the same – the ballistic compensation system will only work when the scope is turned up to its highest power. Third, you must know the exact range to the target, which means using a precision laser rangefinder before settling in for the shot. All this takes time.
Say you’re deer hunting a huge bean field in the Deep South. A dandy buck walks into the beans on the opposite side of the field. You quickly evaluate him with your binocular or spotting scope, then have to use your laser rangefinder to find out exactly how far away he is – 400 yards. Now you have to settle in behind your rifle (and for long shots you must be shooting either prone or from some sort of bench rest-like sitting position) and find him in a scope that is cranked up to maximum power, pick the right crosshair or circle or dot on the vertical crosshair, and make the shot – hoping all the while the deer hasn’t moved much from the 400-yard mark. To make these scopes work, you must be shooting one of the cartridges for which they have been designed – and while they are designed for many common cartridges and bullet weights, there are more for which they have not been designed than those for which they have. For example, while most work with our deer hunter’s .300 Win. Mag. and 180-grain bullets, none have been designed to work with his .257 Weatherby Mag. Also, you need to know what the muzzle velocity of your rifle is. That means shooting through a chronograph, not assuming what an ammo maker tells you.
Our hunter tested several of these scopes. Currently his custom Brown Precision Pro Hunter in .300 Win. Mag. – and extremely accurate rifle when fed Winchester Supreme ammo with the 180-grain Nosler AccuBond bullet -- wears a Nikon Monarch 3-12x42 BDC scope. He sighted it in to be dead-on at 200 yards, and found that when using the 300- and 400-yard crosshairs, his bullets hit right where they needed to. At 500 and 600 yards, though, the bullets hit a bit low. That’s OK, because after shooting at those ranges he now knows where the bullets will hit, and can adjust his sight picture accordingly. And that’s the key. You must shoot enough at longer ranges to both become a proficient shooter at distance with a specific rifle/load combination, and learn where your bullets strike when using the multi-crosshair system. These systems were originally designed for military snipers who have a skilled and trained a spotter who calculate the range and wind for them and call their shots.
You must make a commitment to finding a load/bullet combination that produces minute-of-angle accuracy or better in your rifle. This holds true if you shoot factory ammo or handloads. For example, our hunter’s pet beanfield rifle is a Weatherby Vanguard chambered for the .257 Weatherby Magnum cartridge. This rifle shoots his own handoads using a 115-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet at 3500 fps and gives him a 3-shot, 100-yard group of about ¾-inch all day long. To get to that point, however, he burned up several boxes of factory ammo and tested about 20 different bullet/powder combinations built at his loading bench. To date he has also shot about 100 rounds on the range from 300-500 yards to learn exactly how much bullet drop there is.
You do not have to be a handloader to achieve the required accuracy. Today’s factory ammunition is the best ever produced, and unless there is something going on the odds are you should be able to find a factory load that gives minute-of-angle accuracy in one of today’s fine deer rifles. Our hunter’s .300 Win. Mag. is a prime example. He has put perhaps 20 different factory loads through it over the years and found two that shoot the lights out. No handloading is needed there!
The Skill Set
Just because you have an accurate rifle loaded with ammo that can produce sub-MOA accuracy does not mean you are ready to start blazing away at deer at extended ranges. Being able to make these shots every time require a lot of range time. There is no way to fake it. You must make the commitment to burn a lot of powder to both hone your own shooting skills – and shooting is an athletic movement requiring lots of practice – as well as learn the nuances of your rifle and trajectory of your load. You must also spend some time shooting in the wind to fully appreciate how much even a light 10 mph crosswind can move even a fast a bullet to the side.
Such skills will not only help you be able to make the shot, but also tell you when the conditions are such that you should not chance it. Knowing when not to shoot and chance missing or, worse, wounding, a deer is perhaps the most important skill of all.
In a Nutshell
If the thought of owning an accurate beanfield rifle piques your interest, here’s what you need to remember:
- Flat-shooting cartridges between 6mm-.30 caliber are the ticket.
- Variable-power scopes with objective lenses of at least 44-50mm and top-end power of somewhere between 12-16X are a good idea.
- Do not scrimp on scope mounts; buy only top-end bases and rings.
- Do not be afraid of rifle weight. More than likely you’ll be shooting off a solid rest from either a chair while rested over a bench or the window of a shooting house, or off the rail of a treestand. Getting there will likely not require much of a hike. More weight equals better stability.
- Make sure the trigger breaks clean and crisp. If it doesn’t, replace it with an aftermarket trigger.
- Always use a laser rangefinder.