Exclusive: Scoping Hard Kicking Handguns
Keeping The Glass
Where It Belongs!
By Mark Hampton
The Lovell mounting system is one-piece construction, with the rings
incorporated. It takes harsh punishment dished out from the Freedom Arms .454 Casull.
The long 17 hour plane ride was brutal. It was probably a good thing I don’t drink or I would have been totally wiped out when we arrived in Africa. After going through customs like a bunch of Zombies, we then boarded a charter aircraft and headed to a remote dirt landing strip in the middle of nowhere. We were picked up and escorted by Land Rovers to the camp where our outfitter wanted us to check our guns.
One rifle-toting chap uncased his long gun and proceeded to unleash lead at the target nailed to a tree about one hundred yards away. The first shot hit paper, second shot barely touched paper, the third and fourth shots were never to be found. Something went south as the puzzled hunter began to inspect his gun. It didn’t take long to discover the scope mounts were loose. As my dad would have said, “That’s a hell of a note”! It wasn’t exactly the ideal time to experience a malfunction especially one that could have been easily avoided.
We all have mishaps at times but it makes for less drama doing everything possible to avoid those unnecessary blunders. Frequently, many shooters and hunters are scoping hard kicking handguns these days. This is definitely not rocket science, but certain measures can be taken to ensure proper function. I guess before we dive in to this discussion it would only be fair to examine why we scope a handgun in the first place.
Cartridges like the .500 WE discharge a tremendous amount of recoil. Proper mounts and rings like the T’SOB shown here have a proven track record of withstanding bone-crushing recoil.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with iron sights whether you hunt, plink, or target practice. For hunting purposes, varmint shooting, competition, or recreational affairs, many prefer to scope their handguns for the same reason rifle shooters scope their long gun, to gain a clearer sight picture. It’s difficult to hit an object when you can’t see it very well. A scope enhances the target for my aging eyes and many, regardless of age, much prefer looking through glass. It is much easier to see any obstructions between shooter and target such as limbs, vegetation, or any thing else that might deflect the bullet.
Low light conditions are also another good reason to use quality glass. Hunting over food plots like many deer hunters do today, will find big, mature whitetail bucks usually waiting until last light to appear, if you are lucky. It would be very difficult to see open sights well enough to make an ethical shot under these conditions, especially if any distance is involved. Hunters who find themselves in timber, with lots of shadows and trees to contend with, will do well with the aid of a good scope. There are many valid reasons for scoping a handgun.
Back in 1983, a long time ago in Zimbabwe, I found myself close to a herd of cape buffalo. I had borrowed JD’s Contender in .45-70, which he had loaded with a maximum charge of powder under Hornady’s 500 grain solid. When the opportunity finally knocked, the view through the scope revealed the shoulder area of this big, black monster as the .45-70 roared not once, but several times. I don’t know who was hurt the worst, me or the buffalo. I guess the buffalo, because he finally expired. But I can tell you that every bone in my hand screamed like a junior high cheerleader. These kinds of handguns and loads, capable of dropping Godzilla in his tracks, create a lot of torque on mounts, rings, and optics.
This .375 JDJ is equipped with Warne Maxima base mount and three rings. The wide ring width provides more scope to ring holding surface. The Leupold 2 ½-8X has never failed.
This particular Contender I was using on the buffalo found an SSK Industries .45-70 barrel mounted with a T’SOB base mount, with four rings, holding a Leupold 2X scope firmly in place. If there is any litmus test for evaluating mounts, rings, or scopes, then 500 grain bullets from maximum loads out of a .45-70 will surely suffice. The T’SOB multi-slot Weaver style base will incorporate six screws instead of the standard four.
Any competent gunsmith can drill and tap handguns, including Contenders and Encores, for additional screw holes if the mount will accommodate them. I have always subscribed to the theory that if four screws are good, six is better. Same theory holds true with rings. It may not appear conventional but it sure works. In the case of this .45-70, two rings might have held the scope in place, but I slept better knowing four definitely kept the scope from shifting under recoil that would put a normal human being in a comatose of fear.
Today, one of my favorite handguns for large/dangerous game is the T/C Encore chambered in .375 JDJ. This is a cartridge capable of hammering an elephant or rhino and produces considerable recoil with full-house loads. The Warne Maxima steel base used on this handgun has a low profile design. This is a nice feature because it allows the use of iron sights when the scope is removed, providing the shooter with an option.
The Maxima fixed rings uses four t-15 Torx-style socket screws which holds the Leupold 2 ½-8X scope firmly. The ring band width is wide, providing more ring-to-scope griping area. Perhaps I should knock on wood, but I’ve never experienced a problem with this scope and system. It has seen some abuse!
The compact 10″ .44 Magnum Contender shown here can generate some pretty serious recoil with heavy loads. The Bushnell Elite 4X scope never shifts in the T’SOB mount and rings.
Revolvers can render a tremendous amount of recoil to mounts and scopes. Take the Freedom Arms .454 Casull for example. This is a popular hunting handgun, getting scoped quite often. I called Freedom Arms inquiring about their mount and rings used to hold scopes in place under heavy recoil.
Basically, the company uses three different mounting systems. The Lovell, T’SOB and Leupold all have a following. Freedom Arms revolvers use three screws in their base mount. The Lovell mount is a one-piece design with two rings incorporated with their base. Leupold’s base mount fits flush with the top strap of the revolver and uses two rings in a double dovetail design.
The T’SOB base is longer than the other two and extends over the barrel. It can accept three rings. Freedom Arms recommends and sells scopes; Leupold 2X and 4X models along with Bushnell’s 2X-6X 3200 series. When shooting cartridges like the .454 Casull or .500 Wyoming Express, the mount, rings and scope all have to be able to withstand severe recoil. Freedom Arms has found systems to perform and hold up in extreme conditions not to mention satisfy customer demands.
Bolt-action handguns can be chambered for just about any cartridge you can close the bolt on. This 6.5 WSM churns up some recoil while the variable Leupold scope rest safely in Burris Signature zee rings.
Bolt guns are another source subject to heavy recoil. One of my favorite long range hunting guns is an XP-100 built by Kirby Allen, (email@example.com) that has been customized and rechambered to 6.5 WSM. This cartridge is burning 65 grains of powder, so it produces some recoil. The Burris base mount and Signature rings have held up well. I like the zee rings with inserts inside the steel rings which cradles the scope and leaves virtually no ring marks.
Currently I am having a bolt gun made by Mac’s Gunworks, (firstname.lastname@example.org) in 7 SAUM. This will be a specialty pistol capable of dropping antelope or mule deer on yonder ridge. The gun will wear Evolution Gun Works tactical scope rings on their picatinny mount. There will be four mounting screws instead of three, converted to the larger 8-40 tapered head mounting screws offering better shear support to the rail base. This aids in holding the mount firmly in place even under harsh recoil.
Depending on what gunsmith you ask, some prefer coating all mounting screws with the blue, medium strength thread-lock formula. Regardless, if you use Lock-Tite or not, screw holes need to be clean, dry and free of oil or solvent prior to mounting. Scope rings should never have Lock-Tite applied, but screw threads and holes should be cleaned.
MOA manufactures their own custom base mount which incorporates two rings. This .308 Winchester is very accurate with the Leupold scope, never shifting position in the mounting system.
Special consideration should be given to scope height and weight as well. In my experience, lighter weight scopes mounted low stand a better chance of staying put than heavier optics mounted high. The higher the scope, the more the optic is affected by recoil stress created by high intensity chamberings. The heavier the scope, the more difficult it becomes to keep solidly in one position. Scope choice will be important when shooting modern day monster handguns.
The old cliché, you get what you pay for, certainly pertains to quality optics. I haven’t found a free lunch yet! Our editor-in-chief asked me to share any broken scope stories. Perhaps I am the luckiest man on the planet, but after years of shooting hard-kicking handguns, I’ve never experienced a scope blowout. Obviously I am long overdue.
Scoping hard-kicking handguns is nothing new. Hunters and shooters alike have been doing it for years. With a few precautions and a little gunsmithing ingenuity, it’s a piece of cake. As the old saying goes, prior proper planning prevents poor performance — or something like that.
When you are deep in the rain forest, in the middle of nowhere, and that once-in-a-lifetime shot is staring you in the face, the last thing you want is scope failure. This bongo was taken with a .375 JDJ using a Leupold scope in Warne mount and rings.
The T’SOB multi slot base mount allows for rings to be placed in a variety of positions. The Freedom Arms single-shot shown here has three rings installed.