The Big Pipe

The Big Pipe

Today's trend is toward ever-bigger scopes. Maybe it shouldn't be.

The Remington, slim and taut as rifles used to be, wore a scope that was dropped from catalogs long ago. At the time, they seemed right for each other, joined not so much by vintage as by economy of line.

It was a 121 Fieldmaster, a .22 slide-action with an uncanny balance that brought squirrels and crows in front of the muzzle with speed and certainty. Clamped in a sheet-steel mount was a Weaver J4 with a 3/4-inch tube.


Since then, scopes have added girth. Me too. A little, in each case, has proven useful. But like people, scopes too big around the middle neither look good nor perform well.



Back when I was peering through that J4, you could also buy scopes with 7/8-inch tubes (notably the Lyman Alaskan) and with 26mm chassis (Lyman's Challenger and the Stith Bear Cub, plus European models). The one-inch scope, however, gained enough of a following to emerge as the new standard in the U.S.

By the time 30mm scopes appeared Stateside a couple of decades ago, they were upstaging 26mm models in Europe. Big has gotten bigger. Schmidt and Bender now offers 34mm scopes in its tactical line. And just as today's shooters are buying into higher magnification, they seem enamored with oversize tubes.


"A 30mm tube is stronger than a one-inch," an engineer at one optics firm told me. Then, perhaps to add something useful to the obvious, he leaned over, "That's all the benefit you'll see in a hunting scope, unless the erector assembly is also oversize."


He explained--after closing his office door--that many 30mm tubes feature the erector lenses used in comparable one-inch scopes, so there's really no optical advantage.

"You do get increased latitude in the windage and elevation adjustments, because the erector assembly has more room to move." That's jolly good news if you must dial up lots of elevation for very long shooting or correct laterally for a skewed mount. Otherwise, you might as well stay with the one-inch tube.

"Strength is an academic issue," he concluded. "Unless a horse rolls on it, or you drop your rifle off a cliff or drive over it, you'll never test the durability of a one-inch alloy scope body."

Many shooters believe that 30mm scopes are brighter than comparable one-inchers. They're not. Brightness is determined by exit pupil, a function of the front lens diameter and magnification--and, of course, by the quality of and coatings on the lenses.

A 4.5-14x40 scope set at 8X has a 5mm exit pupil, whether the tube is 30mm or an inch in diameter. Now, bigger glass improves resolution, so theoretically the one-inch erectors will play second fiddle to those built specifically for 30mm tubes. But given equal-quality lenses throughout the scope, any difference will be near impossible to see. I've tried to see it and can't.

My preference for one-inch tubes has some basis in tradition. I've grown up with them and think that diameter just looks right--like 16-inch rims on pickup trucks and 11/32 arrow shafts.

Beyond habit, I think the one-inch scope has much to recommend it. A one-inch scope of reasonable front-end dimensions doesn't appear to burden a featherweight rifle. Given longer barrels and beefier stock profiles, the one-inch tube again works because such rifles are typically designed for longer shooting, which dictates big front lenses to match high magnification. So the outfit looks balanced.

A bulky scope on a lightweight rifle looks awkward--like a tall pack on a short mule. It can also impair your marksmanship. Most 30mm tubes carry a big bell that necessitates high mounts and, with them, adds weight. A rifle saddled with a big, heavy scope carries its center of gravity high, and can feel "tippy."

Makers of fine shotguns work hard to put the center of gravity low, between your hands. Fast, accurate shooting results. Top-heavy scopes put weight where it's least conducive to good shooting.

More weight in the barrel can improve accuracy and help you steady the rifle. In contrast, weight high over the receiver does nothing but apply torque to the rifle; in wind it can also act as a sail.

While on ponderous rifles configured for varminting or sniping, the liabilities presented by large scopes are of little or no account, they do matter on rifles you carry up the mountain for deer and elk.

Given the predilection of shooters for bigger objectives, you might excuse bigger tubes as a more fitting platform for the oversize bells. Fair enough. I've yet to see the need for a 50mm front end on hunting scopes, but both they and the 30mm tube are becoming more popular.

The 30mm tube may well become a standard for another generation of shooters, just as the one-inch scope replaced the Alaskan and the Noske and other slim models of the World War II era. Some of us will leave heel marks in the dust along the way.

Recommended for You

When I decided to review three different rifles chambered in .22 LR and geared toward survival use, I was interested to see how they would stack up against each other. Rimfire

3 Great Takedown Survival Guns

David Fortier - March 19, 2015

When I decided to review three different rifles chambered in .22 LR and geared toward survival...

The new MSR 15 Long Range in .224 Valkyrie reaches out with authority. MSR

Review: Savage Arms MSR 15 LR

David Fortier - May 17, 2019

The new MSR 15 Long Range in .224 Valkyrie reaches out with authority.

Thompson/Center Arms rimfire rifles are available with Traditional Hardwood and Flat Dark Earth Black Grit finishes. Rimfire

Thompson/Center Arms Adds Stock Options to Rimfire Line

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 16, 2019

Thompson/Center Arms rimfire rifles are available with Traditional Hardwood and Flat Dark...

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

Springfield Armory Saint Victor

The SAINT' Victor Rifle delivers a lightweight and agile rifle solution while maintaining effectiveness at extended engagement distances.

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

Black Hills Evolution of Rifle Cartridge: .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match

David Fortier talks with Jeff Hoffman of Black Hills Ammunition about the evolution of the .308 Win. 175 Gr. Match bullet.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range accuracy. Bolt-Action

Browning's New X-Bolt Max Long Range Rifle

Rifle Shooter Digital Staff - April 11, 2019

Browning's new X-Bolt Max Long Range rifle is an accurate rifle tailored for long range...

Big game hunters in search of an accurate, long-range rifle need look no further than Browning and the new X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Speed Long Range McMillan. Bolt-Action

New Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Long Range McMillan Rifles

RifleShooter Online Staff - November 07, 2018

Big game hunters in search of an accurate, long-range rifle need look no further than Browning...

On June 2, 2014, Anschutz announced the start of a subsidiary branch in the United States. Industry

Anschutz Establishes U.S. Branch, Separates from Steyr

RifleShooter Online Staff - June 10, 2014

On June 2, 2014, Anschutz announced the start of a subsidiary branch in the United States.

See More Stories

More How-To

The stand was set against a stout oak a few hundred yards up a brushy ridge. It was a good spot How-To

Spitting Distance: Tactics For Close-Range Shooting

Craig Boddington - February 28, 2012

The stand was set against a stout oak a few hundred yards up a brushy ridge. It was a good...

Starting a collection of Curios & Relics (C&R) firearms is a rewarding hobby How-To

How to Obtain a C&R License

Chris Hendrix - April 04, 2014

Starting a collection of Curios & Relics (C&R) firearms is a rewarding hobby

          Everyone dry-fires, or at least knows they should, but how sincerely do you treat this How-To

Tubb's Tips: Serious Dry Firing

February 18, 2011

Everyone dry-fires, or at least knows they should, but how sincerely do you treat...

See More How-To

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

×