The Los Angeles Handgun - Rifle - Air Pistol Silhouette Club

Return To The

Ranging Shot Index
Or Go To The
Feature Article Index
The "Ranging Shot" Is A Regular Column In The IHMSA News
Published in The IHMSA News, the Official Publication of The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association
Published monthly except November/December - January/February
IHMSA on the web at
Volume 14, Issue 2 March
  The Ranging Shot Email Todd:
  With ( Comments or questions? )
Todd Spotti

      In the rarefied world of rifle bench rest shooting, a five shot 100 yard group in the 3ís (.3 of an inch) is considered to be rather ho hum. A group in the 2ís is decent. Groups in the 1ís are usually match winners and a group in the 0ís is pretty rare and is considered outstanding. To achieve these results, only the very best in equipment, components, and technique are used.

     Among the benchrest equipment super stars are the aluminum Panda actions made by Kelby. I would guess that the Panda action has probably won more benchrest matches than any other over the last 20 years. Although Kelby actions have several design features which make them the popular and consistent winner that they are, the thing that fascinates me the most about them is the fact that they have a dove tail scope rail milled right into the top of the aluminum body. As you would expect, Kelby also sells dovetail aluminum rings made specifically for their actions.

     Now think about this a little bit. In most shooting disciplines, dovetail scope rails and aluminum rings aren't regarded very highly. This is because theyíre usually associated with inexpensive, poor quality products. Yet, here we have the premier accuracy shooting sport using dovetail scope rails and aluminum rings extensively. Why?

     Alignment. The fact of the matter is that the scope mount points on most sporting actions are misaligned with each other. Itís just one of those ugly little facts of life. This is especially true on older guns and actions. Additionally, when scope mounts are attached to the action by the shooter, they can be canted or turned slightly one way or another from each other. Clamp a scope into rings that are out of alignment and you are now twisting and/or bending your scope and the optical system inside. The result is degraded performance from your expensive and somewhat fragile scope. To remedy the situation, the various custom reloading centers will now be very happy to sell you a lapping tool and the necessary abrasives to polish the inside of your steel rings into proper alignment. On the other hand, a high quality dovetail ring system mated with a dovetail rail will avoid these problems.

     When it comes to aluminum dovetail rings, there are none better than those made by BKL Technology of Brownsville Texas. Ask any airgun competitor, no matter what the discipline, and theyíll tell you BKL rings are the very best. (Remember, quality air guns are THE most accurate guns in the world and can put the most accurate bench rest rifle to shame 7 days a week.) Besides air guns, these rings are also perfectly suitable for any 22 Long Rifle firearm equipped with with a dovetail rail. In fact, I recently mounted these rings on my Anschutz Exemplar and my custom Volquartsen Ruger Mk II silhouette guns.

"Double BKL rings on Anschutz dove tail make double sure the Burris scope won't move"

"Ruger MK II - offset BKL rings provide additional versatility"

     BKL even has an adapter dovetail rail that can be mounted on any TC Contender, making the number of guns that can use these rings even greater. This immediately raises the issue of whether dovetail rings are going to slide around during recoil. For a TC chambered in 22 RF, absolutely no problem. For a TC 22 Hornet, 270 Ren, or similar chambering, absolutely no problem. For most 7 TCU or similar loads, I prefer to use BKL rings with two clamping screws such as the model 263 and model 278 offset rings shown in the photos for a little extra insurance. Actually though, the possibility of aluminum rings slipping in an aluminum rail isnít as high as some might think. It turns out that the coefficient of friction between the two is fairly high. As mentioned before, benchrest shooters use them all the time without the slightest bit of slippage in their 6 PPC rifles. The fact is that aluminum dovetail rings on a aluminum rail can be be extremely stable and also offer the advantages of high strength, low weight, and precise scope alignment.

     So what makes the BKL rings so great? Well, for one, theyíre beautiful. After CNC machining, theyíre tumbled to remove burrs and to take off all the sharp edges that can bite into and mar a scope. This tumbling process also gives their silver rings a soft satin like finish that is just absolutely gorgeous to the eye and silky to the touch. The visual effect is especially enhanced when contrasted with the black, oversized, #8-32 clamping and cap screws. Most others use a #6 screw which doesnít have anywhere near the 78 inch-pounds of torque or the 1960 lbs of yield force that these screws provide. Believe me, when these fellows are locked down, theyíre not moving.

     The scope bases are also very precisely machined to insure a very accurate fit on the rail. The rings will fit both standard 3/8" rimfire rails and 11 mm airgun rails. The fit is so precise that on some non BKL rails you might have a just bit of trouble sliding the rings on the gun. No problem. Just reverse the clamping screws, and the base of the rings will be spread apart for easier mounting. Once on the rail, lapping is never required.

     Another nice feature that these rings have is a stress relief slot cut in the "stem" or body of the rings. When clamping scope rings on a rail, considerable force is being applied to the base. This force can distort lesser rings and affect alignment. However, the stress relief slot on the BKL rings lets the bottom of the base move without it affecting the ring above. A very nice engineering feature.

     The rings are also unique in that theyíre hard coat anodized. This is a process thatís used to harden aluminum pistons, cylinders, hydraulic gears, and even turbine blades. It provides a super long life span, is very abrasion resistant, is almost totally impervious to outdoor conditions, sports an extremely hard surface, and is heat resistant to the melting point of the aluminum (1,221 degrees F). Cheap aluminum rings are sometimes anodized to give them color, but theyíre never hard coat anodized.

     So how hard is hard coat anodizing? Well the anodizing will penetrate the metal around .003" and will typically run 60-65 on the Rockwell scale. How hard is that? The metal file you have on your workbench is about the same hardness or maybe a little softer. The point is that these are very tough rings. In fact, theyíre more scratch and ding resistant than many scope rings made of steel.

     Bottom line - BKL rings are the best you can buy and the prices are in line with lesser scope rings made by the majors. Visit the BKL web site at ( or call at 877-255-2001 and request a catalog. By the way, they will also make custom scope mounts to your specifications.

Choosing a Tripod - In previous articles and columns Iíve written about the importance of having a good quality tripod, especially when using a large spotting scope. 80mm scopes are all the rage now, and thereís no doubt that they provide very bright images and impressively wide fields of view - qualities that are very important to do the best job when spotting silhouette targets during a match. However, all of the advantages of those expensive optics can be effectively reduced when a big, heavy scope is mounted on a flimsy tripod.

     Itís another one of those mysteries when you see someone on the line with a tricked out XP-100 that cost around $1,200 and a high quality 80mm spotting scope that costs around $700 or more, and theyíre using a tripod that is selling down at the local Wal-Mart for around $59.95 - tops. Iíll never criticize anyone for trying to save a buck, but in this instance, itís a clear cut case of downright false economy. Why?

     Stability, or the lack of. Put a large heavy scope on a wimpy tripod and the result is shake and vibration, and the consequence of that is you wonít be able to clearly see what you want to see. I canít tell you how many times when Iíve been spotting for various folks and the scope has been bouncing around all over the place because it was mounted on a Blue Light Special. Every time I put my hand on the scope to adjust the focus, it would jump and shake and sometimes would continue to do so even after I removed my hand. In one instance, the tripod was so wobbly, that just the small movement of air created by someone walking by would move the scope. Really - Iím not kidding. Trying to call the shots under those circumstances was very difficult.

     All scopes deserve a decent tripod, but the large objective, quality scopes particularly need a quality tripod because of their size and weight. So what kinds of features should we be looking for when we go shopping for a quality tripod?

Portability - First we have to decide on just how portable the scope has to be. The tripod that we take into the field is going to be very different than the tripod that we take to the range. A field tripod should be as light as we can find for an easy carry over long distances. On the other hand, a range tripod only has to be carried from the trunk of the car to the firing line. The heavier the tripod, the more stable itís going to be. So weight, rather than being a negative quality, is a highly desirable feature for a range tripod. In fact, weight is THE most important factor in determining how stable a platform your scope will be sitting on. Some light weight tripods will feature a hook under the center column to hang a weight from to make it more stable. This works, but is a hassle to deal with when moving the tripod from position to position as the weight will start swinging around and induce movement into the tripod. Just shop for the heaviest tripod you can afford without the necessity for a hanging pendulum.

"Big 80mm scopes like this Nikon require good quality tripods for the best viewing"

Rigidity - Besides weight, rigidity is what keeps a tripod stable. High rigidity is the result of several factors. The first is the diameter of the legs. On my good quality tripod, the legs are round tubes 1.25" in diameter. Iíd consider this to be the minimum for a quality tripod. The thickness and type of the metal used for the legs is important as well . Are the legs anodized or chrome plated steel, stainless steel, or are they thin aluminum box tubing. Steel legs are heavier, stronger, and more stable. Carbon fiber is the "in" material for tripod legs now. The advantages are strength and light weight. Theyíre a good material for a field tripod but for a range tripod we want all the weight we can get. Carbon fiber is also very expensive.


     The legs should also have some way of being locked in place when spread open. Most tripods will use folding internal braces for this purpose. If so equipped, make sure the braces have some kind of locking mechanism and then use it to get the max in rigidity that the tripod is capable of delivering. Some more expensive tripods will use locking clamps at the top of the legs that then snap into place when the legs are moved into various positions. With this arrangement, the legs can be spread out even further than normal for even more stability and locked in place.

     Rigidity is also determined by how many leg extensions are available. Tripods will have either three or four telescoping leg extensions. This is another situation in which more is not necessarily better. In some cases, having four short leg segments will allow the manufacturer to produce a tripod that when telescoped together, is very compact in relation to its extended height. In other cases, if the four leg segments are very long, the tripod can reach a very considerable height. However, the longer the legs and the more segments in the legs, the less rigid a tripod will become. When using a tripod, never extend the bottom leg segments unless itís absolutely necessary. This is because theyíre the thinnest and the least strong and will therefore make the tripod more shaky than when not used.

     The leg segments these days will usually feature a locking lever to clamp them in position once theyíre extended. Some tripods use a threaded collar for the same purpose. The threaded collar is stronger and more rigid while the locking lever is more convenient. Occasionally youíll see a tripod that has large, plastic handled, side mounted, screw in bolts to secure the legs. These are normally used only for very large tripods used to mount really heavy instruments. If you choose a tripod with the standard locking lever arrangement, make sure theyíre strong and beefy. I had a cheap tripod once where the flimsy plastic levers wore out after only a year and the tripod had to be discarded because it cost more to repair than it was worth. Over the long run, cheap is very expensive.

Heads - More expensive tripods will offer a variety of heads while less expensive types will be limited to one which is permanently attached. A quality head will be made strong and heavy. This is important as this is the place where your expensive scope will be attached to the tripod. Cast metal is best. If plastic, make sure itís very thick and rigid. On the cheap tripod I mentioned before, the head would bend and flex when I hung my chronograph sensor bar on it. The 2í bar couldnít have weighed more than 2-3 lbs. Look for lots of strength in this area. Itís important.

     The most common head is the the tilt and pan. This is controlled with a single handle, and will allow you to move the scope up and down and to swivel from side to side. Another of this type will have a second handle and will move the scope or a camera from the horizontal to a vertical position. If you use the tripod for both range and photography work, this could be an advantage.

"Make sure locking levers don't protrude where they can be snagged and release the scope"

     A fluid head is designed to move a video camera in a very smooth, seamless fashion so there is no jerkiness or bouncing when panning a scene. Spotting scopes really donít need this type of head.

     Then thereís the ball head. This is like a ball joint on a car and it is the most flexible and useful of the three types. With this one, you can point your scope in any direction or angle that you want. Itís also the easiest to use. Once in position, you lock it in place with a lever. Itís usually found on only professional quality tripods however.

     The head should also have an attachment plate as well. This is a small removable plate that screws into your scopeís mounting point. It should be thick, heavy, and strong.

"Attachment plates should be heavy and made of strong materials"

     A lot of people like to leave the plate on the scope for easy removal and mounting. When the scope is mounted, the attached plate is locked in position with a lever. Make sure the lever doesnít stick out so it canít be snagged open on a shirt cuff or such and send the scope crashing to the ground. On better quality tripods, the attachment plate is secured by both a locking lever and a release button.

Extension Column/Center Column - Almost every tripod has one of these. The purpose is to extend the height of the tripod beyond whatís available from the legs alone. Cheap tripods usually have short legs, even with all the leg segments fully extended. This then forces you to extend the center column when youíre using the scope in a standing position.

"Scopes on tripods with the center column fully extended can be easily knocked over"

     Generally speaking, you donít want to use this feature. Use the tripod legs only to elevate the scope. In turn, this means that you should buy a tripod that will be as tall as you are with the legs extended. The reason I say this is that the further you extend the center column, the higher the weight of the scope will be elevated above the tripodís center of gravity and the more unstable it will become. Iíve seen the wind blow over scopes and tripods when the center column has been extended way out. You donít want that to happen to you.

     On some tripods, a gear drive operated by a crank is used to extend the column. This is a good feature as it lets you easily elevate the scope in a very precise manner. On other scopes, even some expensive ones, the column is elevated by unscrewing a locking collar and pulling it out to the desired position. Whether a gear drive or pull up type, make sure that the locking mechanism is firm and positive. Also make sure the diameter of the center column is at least the same as the legs for the best stability.

Where To Shop - There is a tremendous amount of competition in the camera, video, and optics industries, and that applies to tripods as well. Shop the internet and also check out e-bay for used, high quality tripods. Check out the camera stores, but stay away from the mass merchandisers. They usually deal with bottom of the line models and/or "value" type tripods. Youíve invested the big bucks in your 80mm scope, donít diminish its capabilities by strapping it on a shaky tripod.

Accessories - Quality tripods do have a variety of accessories available. These range from specialty kinds of feet for the legs (spikes, rubber, extra wide, adjustable, etc.) to slow motion attachments or even leg protectors. Probably the most useful of these accessories are aprons with lots of pockets for odds and ends. These tie on to the legs. Also thereís carrying bags which keep your nice tripod from getting dinged up in the trunk of the car and clip on carrying straps.

     So how much should you pay for a quality tripod? In my area, the Slik 700 DX has established a loyal following. Itís heavy (8 lbs), strong, rigid, made with the minimum of plastic and lots of metal castings, and is easy to use. By shopping on the internet, you can get it for around $150 which includes shipping. However, thatís only one example. There are a lot of choices out there. So shop around and consider the characteristics weíve discussed here and Iím sure youíll be happy with your selection.

Fred Smith - Just found out that Fred Smith, owner and operator of Bullberry barrels is down with a bad case of pneumonia. Hopefully heíll be recovered by the time this is published, but I know that pneumonia can take a while to beat. The business is still open and going strong so donít be concerned about your orders. Everything is operating as usual. If you have some time, it wouldnít be a bad idea for those of you who know Fred to drop him a card addressed to the business. Iím sure heíd appreciate it.

CCI 17 Hornady Rimfire Mag - CCI is coming out with its own version of the wildly popular new cartridge.

     The main thing distinguishing it from the Hornady version is thtat itíll have a hollow point bullet instead of one with a plastic tip. Velocity should be the same. By the way, Savage is coming out with a Sports Striker pistol chambered in the little HRM. The 17 Hornady snowball keeps getting bigger and bigger.

Good luck and good shooting. Todd

Top of Page

Warning: All technical data mentioned, especially handloading and bullet casting, reflect the limited experience of individuals using specific tools, products, equipment and components under specific conditions and circumstances not necessarily reported in the article or on this web site and over which IHMSA, The Los Angeles Silhouette Club (LASC), this web site or the author has no control. The above has no control over the condition of your firearms or your methods, components, tools, techniques or circumstances and disclaims all and any responsibility for any person using any data mentioned. Always consult recognized reloading manuals.