Determining the scope has gone buns up is not all that difficult if you have the scope mounted on a rifle of known accuracy, provided you have very similar range conditions for testing and have the patience of a saint. Recently I had a Legend returned to have its current scope replaced with a Swarovski Z5. 3.5-18X44mm. Let me state up front that I feel Swarovski makes an excellent product and I have installed very few that have been problematic.
This particular Z5 featured a come up ballistic turret that featured hold off hash marks for windage and offered a crystal clear image up close and way down range. This scope was replacing a Leupold V-3 4.5-14x40mm counterpart that my friend/client had used for years but he had also experienced some mechanical problems with this V-3 as well. While the V-3 had been had been on the rifle for many, many hunts here and abroad he decided to replace it with the Z5. The owner is a passionate Black Tail deer hunter and has a couple of hot spots where the shots can be at a minimum of 350 yards and then knocking on the door of 600 yards. From what he tells me there is no way to get closer without tipping your hand to the bucks so he and his hunting partner engage in a lot of practice out to 600 yards. I get more than a few pics at the end of each season with some damn nice Black Tails so they have their game plan wired pretty tight.
This Legend is chambered for 300 H&H, and hits the scale at just under 9 pounds scoped and loaded. This rifle has seen a lot of use but like a Land Cruiser is very dependable . With a number of loads this rifle will shoot well under an inch at 100 yards if you can control the rifle and recoil. So I removed the old scope and installed the Z5 leveled the reticle accordingly with a tool and procedure I have developed and snugged it down.
It took just a few rounds to zero the point of impact at 200 yards and set the zero stop. This zeroed 3 shot group was approximately 5/8". Then I cranked up the turret to the maximum allowable come up limit, reversed the turret 2 clicks to remove any backlash and fired another 3 shot group. The point of impact should have landed approximately 20" higher and directly 12 O,Clock above the 200 yard zero in a nice little cluster. However this was not the case. This new group was 20" higher as anticipated but was now just under 3" and strung in a horizontal line and a shade to the right. Hmmm?
Now don't get me wrong I can flinch just as well as anyone and really now is a 3 shot group valid anyway? I wasn't feeling off my game that morning, range conditions were ideal no, perceptible wind, the flag on the frame was hanging vertical, what the ????? So I reversed the turret back down to the 200 yard zero, allowed the barrel to cool and fired another 3 shot group. This group was once again 5/8" at the same 200 yards and was for all intents and purposes superimposed directly on top of the first group. I allowed the barrel to cool off again and then cranked the turret back up to the maximum, removed the backlash and send 3 more rounds down range. This elevated 6 shot group was now horizontally elongated to just under 4"?
As I knew the rifles accuracy history I did not pull out my test scope or continue shooting any further. I documented the groups with my Camera, wrote up a description of my findings that explained why I felt that the scope was having issues. Then contacted my Swarovski area rep and requested a return authorization # so the Z5 could be diagnostically checked by the repair department. The request was met with "by all means send it back" reply. In a weeks time the Repair Department concluded that yes there was mechanical malfunction with the ballistic turret and that the problem was now corrected. In short order the scope was returned, remounted, leveled, zeroed and then put through the same paces when the problem was detected. This time the scope operated as designed 100%. It is now in the field and will be put to good use when called upon to do so. An isolated incident you ask? Keep reading.
The very next scope I installed was to follow a similar MO in the field. This scope was a Zeiss Conquest HD-5, Rapid Z-800, 3-15X42mm. It was fit on an almost completed 700 chambered for 7mm Remington Magnum and bedded into a Shrike stock. Once finished this rifle was headed to the FTW SAAM Hunting Preparation course in Texas. The course is set up to allow the shooters to engage targets from spitting distances out to 700 yards. The Rapid Z reticle unlike the Z5 Ballistic Turret was developed to use a series of Stadia lines for hold over and windage to 800 yards eliminating the need to crank the turret. I have used both systems and understand completely the limitations and advantages of each. After the SAAM course the rifle and this Zeiss Conquest were to be used on 3 western hunts beginning in mid September. That is if I could get it all assembled as this project was being done after normal hours and weekends. The time line was a little tight.
So with the Zeiss reticle leveled and zeroed on the 7mm I began doing load development for the rifle before sending it off to be blued and the stock painted. Like the Z5 the quality of the Zeiss optic was excellent and as I began to shoot the 7mm I felt this particular scope was a good choice for the shooting course and the hunts ahead. This Rifle was a drill from the first group I fired and with less than 40 rounds down the barrel I settled on one particular load for the SAAM course and then one other load for the later Elk Hunts. Both loads shot at or under a 1/2" at 100 yards. With the load work complete I pulled the rifle apart one last time and sent the metal off to Glenrock Blue (firstname.lastname@example.org) and contacted my painter to have the stock primed and painted. When everything returned the rifle was assembled and the Zeiss re-installed. To get this rifle to the shooter going to the SAAM course and allow him adequate time to practice the rifle had to be shipped in the next 3 days, this is precisely when the bottom fell out of the Zeiss. Better now than at the SAAM course or on one of the hunts.
At about shot number 41, 42, or 43 I started to have horizontal and diagonal fliers, Hmmm ?????. This condition worsened as I shot more rounds. Instead of nice little triangles in the 7/8" range the groups were now in the 3" to 4" at 200 yards and growing. Well @$%^)!&% !!!!!!!!! Having seen this movie more than before I did not tear the rifle apart, did not check for loose base screws, did not increase or decrease the powder charge.
To confirm the crime beyond a shadow of doubt I removed the 12X, reinstalled the Zeiss and as I had anticipated shot another 4" plus group with the next 5 rounds also at 200 yards. Then once again removed the Zeiss and installed the 12x and shot another 7/8" 5 shot group at 200 yards. Time of death for the Zeiss 2:43 PM.
Having been a Zeiss dealer for over 2 decades I know that their Repair Department will fix whatever issue has gone south in this Conquest. To date I am not aware of what they have found.
For those of you that think this post was written to spot light a particular product or manufacture for ridicule you are very sadly mistaken as nothing could be further from the truth. Optical manufactures are working as rapidly as they can to bring to market the "next best" version that we the shooting public think that we should have? It's a wonder that they all haven't tossed in the towel and reverted their technology to making soda bottles or mayonnaise jars. We the public must shoulder some of the responsibility for these mechanical hiccups as we the public have requested our scopes be filled with everything under the sun and the kitchen sink. The next time you have a few spare minutes take a scope apart on your kitchen table, then reassemble it, I dare you! What I wish to illustrate is that any product can have a bad day and require technical support. Frankly I have lost count as to how many optical cave-ins I have witnessed over the years. I have mentioned this to a number of rifle makers in the past with many more years at the bench that I and they have stated emphatically that they have "never" in their careers had an issue with a rifle scope. Usually when I hear this reply my eye lids begin to twitch and hair on the back of my neck stands up.
Some of these gentlemen have been and are still very active builders and swear that they really do shoot their rifles before they are shipped. Makes me wonder what sort of trouble I've created in a past life when I hear these glowing reports for everything optical, however I do not live under that same umbrella.
So we have 2 new scopes, back to back, out of the box that have given up the ghost in a short amount of time. Neither rifle could be considered a "Heavy Caliber" neither rifle was fit with a muzzle brake or any other scope bashing devise, none of the testing was done off hand with me wearing a blindfold. Why then did this occur ? Rather than try to analyze the exact cause it might be best to accept the fact that mechanical failures do occur in the best of products no matter their price or their pedigree. Any decent manufacture will clearly stand behind their product and resolve what ever issues occasionally surface. The same anomalies can happen with your toaster, 4 wheeler or your lap top. I of course have never had a single rifle I've made develop any problems what so ever.
Sometimes I just crack myself up, OK maybe a few needed some additional tweaking.
I ask you, what ever happened to the simple fixed power scope ? Life was simpler then. Lead core bullets didn't bounce off deer, you were not required to shoot at 1100 yards to secure elk meat and everybody knew how to clean their guns and use a sling. Those were the days.
As a followup: The 7mm Magnum did make the SAAM course, being fit with a Nightforce 2.5-10x32mm Compact just before the course was to start. It has stayed zeroed, nothing has fallen off, no hydraulic leaks seen, nothing has gone south. This combination of rifle and glass were then put to good use a month later in Utah and Colorado. When you come into the possession of a good, honest, reliable scope heed my advise and treasure it.