Back to what is the best power scope for Western Elk hunting:
The answer depends on two things, what kind of terrain will you be hunting and how accurate your rifle is. The answer to both questions will help to fix a maximum ethical distance.
First, if the terrain doesn’t allow shots much over 200 yds, like in dark timber or oakbrush, then 4x will do and 6x is plenty (I do just fine with a Leupold VX-1 1-4x20mm on a .300 Savage). If the terrain offers shots across sage flats or cross canyon, then you’ll need to reach out on average from 300 yds to 400 yds, and want to stretch the distance farther when you see that huge 6×6 and can’t get closer… you’ll need 15x to 18x to handle those situations, although 9x will get you to 300+ yds, you’ll be wishing you had more beyond 400 yds.
Second, I wouldn’t put an expensive, feature-rich, high magnification scope on a rifle that could not shoot close to a 1 MOA group. The rifle runs out of accuracy before the scope does. At 2 MOA it isn’t ethical to be shooting much beyond 300 yds, especially when you throw in wind drift, and you don’t need more than 9x for that distance, or parallax adjustment, or even the bullet drop compensation or other fancy ballistic features … just zero for 200 yds and you are good to ±3″ in elevation out to 250 yds … hold on the top of the back at 300 yds.
The .30-06 Springfield is what I call a 600 yd Elk gun; with a 180 or 200 grain SPBT, it runs out of bullet terminal performance and minimum recommend KE for Elk at about 600 yds or slightly longer. If the rifle shoots 1 MOA or less, then with 15x or 18x you are good to about 600 yds, and the bullet reaches its maximum ethical kill and terminal performance (1900 fps @ 1500 ft-lbs for Elk) at about the same time as the scope with the high-magnification, parallax adjustment, etc. reaches its limit. If you want to shoot Elk farther away than 600 yds, you’ll need a .300 Win Mag or better and more magnification … along with magnification comes larger objective lenses, larger tube, and bigger price.
My pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 shoots consistent .7 MOA groups and I hunt where 400+ yd shots aren’t uncommon. I put a Swarovski Z5 3.5-18x Ballistic Turret with 4W reticule on it, and handload 200-gr Sierra GK SPBT (.552 BC) and can hold 4″ groups at 600 yds using the parallax adjustment. If I were shooting 600 yds frequently, I would have moved up in magnification, and price.
Now back to what brand scope:
Here are some facts. At one time Meade Instruments owned Simmons, Weaver, and Redfield scopes. In 2008, Meade got into a financial bind and sold off the rifle scope business.
Bushnell owns Simmons … made in Asia … Simmons line has been substantially upgraded to Bushnell’s more expensive scopes, yet cost is kept down by overseas manufacturing, hence my comment that dollar for dollar the Simmons is a better buy than a Bushnell.
ATK owns Weaver (again) … made in Asia … ATK has focused most of the upgrades in the Grand Slam line. Price point is rising in the other lines like the T, K, and V series, but still good value for the dollar.
Leupold owns Redfield … now again made in the USA … Leupold moved production back to the US and has substantially upgraded all the Redfield line to Leupold quality. The clarity and brightness of my Leupold VX-1 1-4x 20mm puts my old Weaver 4x 38mm to shame.
… hope this helps.Helped me. Thanks Brian!"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learnt something from yesterday." John WayneFWIW, you’ll need more than just a scope for a Western Elk hunt, here are some things to think about. I mention this because it can add up to another $600 easily if you don’t already have some of the stuff or if you aren’t using a guide that provides the shooting stick and rangefinder. I believe WY is one of the states that requires out-of-state hunters to use a licensed outfitter.
- You’ll need a way to steady the rifle
- a rangefinder
- and ballistic ‘cheatsheets’ for wind drift.
Precision shooting extended ranges takes practice (read, ammo $$$$ here) … honing skills to estimate crosswind (mid-range and terminal crosswind is the most important) and finding how much the bullet is affected by crosswind is just as important as having the bullet drop/range.
I use a wind speed baseline that gives me a .5 MOA at my zero range (200 yds). That sets 1 MOA at 300 yds, 1.25 MOA at 400 yds, 1.5 MOA at 500 yds, 2 MOA at 600 yds. For my loads, a 6 mph crosswind is the base line … easy to remember in the field, although I have ballistic cheat sheets attached to the rifle stock. Example: 500 yard shot with a 9 mph estimated crosswind is 1.5 times the 6 mph baseline, which is 1.5 x 1.5 MOA or 2.25 MOA, or just over one ‘tick’ on the Swaro 4W reticule, which is about 11″~12″ offset. You can print cheatsheets from Hornady’s ballistic calculator using the advanced mode. The cheatsheets are a starting point for practice on the range, and should be modified by range results.
I use a Primos Trigger Stick tripod to steady the rifle…I got tired of looking for a handy tree or grabbing a handful of brush. Some guys like a bi-pod on the rifle, I like the Trigger Stick tri-pod because I can mount my camera for the all important selfie, steady my rangefinder or binoculars, and use it as a walking stick. At 600 yds, holding a rangefinder on an elk to get the range is almost impossible offhand.
I use a Leupold RX-1000 TBR, which computes range for up/downhill shots. Although it will only range elk to about 450 yds, by ranging on nearby rock formations, etc., it can get out to 600 yds. If an Elk can’t be ranged at those distances, taking a shot is mostly a Hail Mary proposition because of the bullet drop…about 3″ every 10 yds.
Finally, finding the right bullet takes some research. Don’t underestimate the importance of this … a ‘good’ bull can take a .30 cal hit and not miss a step, they are a very tough animal to bring down. You’ll need a bullet that with satisfactory terminal performance from 2500 fps down to 1800 fps. Some popular bullets perform great at 2500 fps to 2300 fps, but only punch clean holes at 1800 fps. You’ll want a bullet that doesn’t ‘blow up’ at 2500 fps, yet still has good expansion at 1800 fps. Lots of good bullet info found by browsing this website.
Hope this helps …the one and only time i had the privilege to punch a nosler partition thru an elk..was 2007.
i had shot jackrabbits for years and years. big 300-400 yard shots..the early (re: dumb) days, i used my cheap bushnell binoculars as my “bipod”. DUMB!!
like G..i had winny M70 in 30/06. so accurate with my handloads. rifle was topped with a 3-9 VX2..i upgraded to a 3.5-10x VX3..but essentially the same thing.
elk bugled at 200 yards..stepped out and i laid prone. i looked thru that scope at full power and was blown away how big it looked…wah..after shooting rabbits all those years..it was a chip shot. boom! it died on it’s feet..but stood there..i had just enough time to put a second round an inch away from the 1st bullet hole. ruined a tad of meat.. bummer.
i think a 3-9 or so is a fine choice. the scope is still small and relatively light. i like that. shooting somthing the size of a VW bug at my range limit isnt a huge task for my scope.
Joined: 9/8/2008Thanks guys for all the input. I do have a great deal of gear as I’ve been on a handful of western archery hunts, but this will be my first rifle hunt. The rifle I have is a hand-me down from my step father (who will be on this hunt – camp cook). It is a Remington Woodsmaster 742 (30.06). The gun is fairly heavy even with the cheap 1×4 Redfield scope. I was told the country is pretty open with a common shot being in the upwards of 250 yards. I have a quality rangefinder, shooting sticks, binoculars, and such – but I will need to get a ballistic guide. Just looking to dial in my summer practice sessions with a quality scope. I’m primarily an archer and will be looking for the bow more often than the rifle so keeping the cost down is important. I’m leaning more towards a 4×12 powered scopes now.Tactical Heli-M 27" / 62# - Trophy Taker Smackdown Pro - HHA Optimizer Ultra Lite w. 3rd Axis extension - Victory VAP 1's - Grim Reaper Razortips - Team Torquless " Thanks Dave " - KTech Multi rod 8"250 yards? i would forget the ballistics chart.
i’m like you..more bow nut, than gun nut.
i sight my 30.06 hitting 2″ high at 100 yards. IIRC, that puts me dead nuts even at 300. i dont like to muddy my water with too much info. either way, 100 – 350 yards..that bullet will hit a lung.
(disclaimer: it has been since 2007 since i pulled the trigger on a rifle..so i might be full of it due to memory loss )Inside 250 yds, when zero’d for 200 yds, the ballistics chart is more for wind drift than bullet drop. Beyond 300 yds, the ballistics chart helps with both wind drift and bullet drop.
#1 A 165-gr SPBT bullet with a .477 BC and 2800 fps muzzle velocity, zero’d at 200 yds, at 300 yds in a 12 mph cross wind will hit 7″ low and 6″ left/right.
#2 A 180-gr RN bullet with a .280 BC and 2700 fps muzzle velocity, zero’d at 200 yds, at 300 yds in a 12 mph cross wind will hit 9″ low and 11″ left/right.
A ballistic chart is cheap, especially when free, and I wouldn’t be without one, at least not in open Elk country.
FWIW, a 4x power enlarges the image to twice its size in length and height. A 12x power enlarges an image 3.5 times its size in length and height. A 12x is not 3 times more powerful than a 4x scope, only 1.75 times as powerful. An 18x scope is twice as powerful as a 4x scope. a 25x scope is 2.5 times as powerful as a 4x scope. Something to consider if you want to shoot beyond 300 yds.ballistic charts have a column for windage? man, i didnt know that. been out of the game for way too long
long range guys carry wind meters?
…long range guys carry wind meters?
No, that’s for some benchrest shooters and for close targets. Besides, the wind at the shooting position has hardly any influence on the impact point 300 yds to 600 yds downrange. Mid-Range and Terminal wind has the most influence … and the hardest to judge. A good reason to have a high-power scope to see the mirage at various distances, and practice reading movement of grass, leaves, trees, dust, etc.
A typical Western Elk hunt may be a cross canyon situation. While the wind at your position on a shaded downslope may be moving down and across, on the other side of the canyon where the sun shines, the wind may be moving upslope and across in the opposite direction, totally opposite of your position. Or, standing on a sunny, warm Mesa rim in the early morning shooting down into a shady, cold basin.
Learning to read mirage, grasses and leaves downrange, etc. can be essential for a good shot. Can you ever be precise … No. But with a little knowledge, the right scope, and some practice, you can easily cut your error by 75% or more. While the calculations are technically complex, after enough practice it is like bowling for a strike, you just get a feel how to curve the bullet’s path into the target…ballistic cards and cheatsheets help.
FWIW, this is my setup Win M70 .30-06 Sierra GameKing 200 gr SPBT mv 2636 and two ballistic cards that cover wind from 6 mph to 24 mph.
These videos are a good tutorial on wind estimation for practical long range shooting.
Next lesson for long range Western hunting is to estimate bullet drop for angled shots, a good rangefinder like a Leupold TBR-series really helps … however, the wind drift is always calculated on line of sight distance.
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