Rifle Scope Mounts—Optimize Your Optics

Rifle Scope Mounts—Optimize Your Optics

Rifle Scope Mounts—Optimize Your Optics

Rifle scope installation can be intimidating, but it's a simple task. They are just one accessory that can really help improve your aim. While there is other equipment you can add to your rifle to increase your accuracy (read more here), for the moment though, let's just focus on scopes. This post will give you a basic overview of mounting systems, with pros and cons of each.

I'll walk you through setting eye relief, and will discuss scope level and why it's important.

Follow these easy steps and you'll be ready for the range in no time!

The Basics of Scope Bases

There are three main types of bases for installing telescopic sights on your rifle:

  • Direct
  • Dovetail
  • Picatinny

Direct Mount

I showed you my direct mounts in the video above. As the name suggests, the scope ring bases are mounted directly on the action. They are super stable for keeping the scope riveted to the action (just kidding, they are screwed onto the gun, not riveted).

A downside of the direct mounting system-you can't switch your rifle scope quickly. But if you don't need to remove and replace the scope often, this is one of the best set-ups for your precision rifle.

Dovetail Mount

The picture at the top of this blog is a dovetail mount: a March scope on our Jay Young rail gun for the unlimited class. (I'll do another blog and show it to you-it's cool.)

Because you don't need to take the rifle scope out of the rings, the dovetail mount makes it easy to remove and re-install the rifle scope, you'd even be able to swap out your scope for a completely different optic such as this Holosun hs510c or similar, should you be going for shorter ranges-with no change in point of impact.

Downside to the dovetail mount: if you don't tighten the bases, the scope will walk forward with recoil.

Picatinny Rail

The Picatinny mount is standard platform with multiple slots / recoil lugs machined perpendicular to the rail, and similar to the earlier Weaver rail mount. The Weaver rail is based on the dovetail mount, with transverse slots.

The concept was adopted by the U.S. military and is the standard now in rail-grabbing optics mounts. The standardized mounting system is what makes this shine. Slots are numbered so you can re-mount a scope with no change in point of impact.

If you want to learn more about the history and features of the Picatinny rail, check out this Shooting Times article Rail Crazy: Picatinny Rail Basics:

Shooters could now buy one mounting system that worked on a myriad of guns. The 1913 rail brings peace and happiness to the lives of optics editors everywhere since they swap scopes and mounts as often as most folks change their underwear.

You can purchase a Picatinny rail with Minute of Angle (MOA) adjustment for long-range shooting. Many rifle scope set-ups will reach their limit around 600 yards and require additional MOA adjustment machined into the scope base. For more information I suggest you read this excellent blog post by Warne Scope Mounts:

Many shooters who want to shoot long range automatically assume they need a 20MOA base, without fully understanding what the base does, or how it can affect their rifle and scope performance.

BAT scope rings
BAT scope rings for Picatinny rail

To the left are Picatinny rail scope rings available from BAT Machine. The actions you see in my videos are made by Bruce Thom at BAT. As an aside, Bruce can machine direct-mount ring bases with MOA adjustment for long-range shooting.

These scope rings are machined from aircraft grade aluminum which provides strength, while being light and less likely to crush the scope tube.

The split rings are machined from a single piece-so don't mix and match the bases and tops. Some manufacturers like Kelbly's mark their rings to help you keep them matched.

Establishing Rifle Scope Eye Relief

Follow the instructions included with the scope base and rings for installation on your action, paying attention to torque settings.

Mount your rifle scope as far forward as possible. It's not fun to get hit in the forehead with a scope traveling at recoil velocity!

Tighten the scope ring tops so there is slight friction on the tube. The scope should slide in the rings, but be tight enough to stay in place after adjustment.

Set the rifle in a stable position, preferably on a bag rest. Shoulder the gun in a normal shooting position, and slowly move the scope to the rear just until you can see a full field of view.

Check Your Scope for Level

Without disturbing the optimal eye relief position, rotate the scope to true the reticle level (with the elevation adjustment dial at the top of the scope).

Check to be sure that the vertical hair of the reticle is in alignment with the vertical axis of the firearm. You can do this with a bubble attached to the scope, but it's easy to trust your eye to plumb the scope.

To confirm, slowly move the rifle stock backwards and forwards in the rest while looking through the scope. The vertical reticle should run up and down without canting. If the reticle is at an angle, the bullet point of impact won't be consistent. If you need further tips on scope adjustment you can click the following link: https://riflescopescenter.com/adjust-elevation-windage-parallax/.

When you're satisfied with both eye relief and level, then tighten the ring screws evenly and securely. Use a pattern, like you would when tightening lug nuts on a wheel rim, and don't over-tighten the rings (you risk crushing the scope tube).

Considering scopes for you firearm, then you should take a look at the best night vision scopes as reviewed by Outdoor Empire. Night vision scopes make hunting, target shooting, security and tactical work at night a breeze.

Now you're ready for the range!



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  • Tactical Survivalist June 26, 2016 at 10:00 am

    Custom scope mounts are essential for competition shooting as they are machines and polished allowing the scope tube to seat correctly. I have come across some cheap mounts that had micro burrs on the edges that required some finishing. Always get matched pairs where possible.

    • Vera Author June 26, 2016 at 3:16 pm

      Hi, great advice, thanks for your comment!

  • Randy Johnson August 3, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Never thought about this until now, but it’s actually so important. Great post, really interesting read xxx

    • Vera Author August 16, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Randy!

  • John J. Rosen July 5, 2017 at 5:34 am

    Which red dot scope comes with this package? You show 2 versions. Which of the 2 is the newest version? How is it better/different?

    • Vera Author September 2, 2017 at 8:56 am

      Hi John, great question! Leupold has several red dot offerings, see the review at http://www.opticsplanet.com/leupold-red-dot-sights.html. I don’t think March has a red dot version, but they have a great selection of hunting and tactical scopes – see https://www.bullets.com/shop/brand_march-optics. Both the scopes in my video are high-power (45-50x) fixed power scopes for benchrest target shooting (think mounting a spotting scope on your rifle 🙂 I prefer a fine cross-hair but these have 1/8 moa dots at the center of the crosshair. The March is later vintage but both are mature in the marketplace. March turrets have more positive detents, but I actually prefer the easy turning of the Leup turrets. The March is also a little heavier, which is of concern only for shooters trying to meet weight restrictions in target competitions.

  • Tom October 20, 2018 at 2:08 am

    Hey Vera, it explained great in the video about mounting. Its really important to mount a scope on a rifle. Otherwise it would not be possible to be success in hunting or shooting. Thank you for the great post.

  • Jerry Gonzalez March 11, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Great post, really interesting read…Thank you for what you are sharing very helpful!

  • Alfred Daw October 13, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for the tips! This is so interesting and helpful. Your posts are right on target. Pls keep up the good work

  • Glenn Ashcroft November 2, 2020 at 4:34 am

    Hi Vera, what size dot do you use on cross hair reticle when Rimfire Benchrest shooting 50 yards? (1/16, 3/32 or 1/8?). I was worried that 1/8 might take up too much centre space on targets. Do you use turret covers on your scopes or do you use tactical set ups (no covers)?

    • Vera Author March 1, 2021 at 1:33 pm

      Hi John, you shouldn’t have any issues with a dot when shooting 50y rimfire, the dot won’t obscure your aiming point. Personally I prefer fine cross-hairs, but I also have a 1/8 dot on my current scopes and got used to the dot quickly. My husband prefers a dot because a fine cross-hair can wash out in some light conditions. Our competition scopes have turret covers. Once I’ve sighted in for the day I rarely adjust the scope since it changes the sight picture, but rather I hold off to compensate for windage. Tactical shooters often prefer to dial for windage each shot so turrents are impractical, although I think holding is faster. I’ve also had my rifle accidentally knocked off the bench during match change, and the turret cap was dented by the fall (ouch) but the scope was undamaged. So I keep the turret caps on.