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Precision Plinking

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The Long and Short of Rimfire Scope Selection

The 22 Long Rifle cartridge came on the scene in the late 1800s and has remained the most commonly used cartridge among hunters and recreational shooters alike. It’s often thought of as the go-to caliber for young or beginner shooters, but it’s so much more than that. Leaps in engineering and ballistics allow us to stretch the capabilities of this little cartridge to distances that were previously unimaginable, and with the NRL22 series kicking off in 2017, followed by the Vudoo Rimfire series in 2018, precision rimfire shooting is quickly gaining popularity. With virtually no recoil, not only are .22 rimfire rifles easy to shoot, they’re quiet, too. Add in affordability and the allure of the 22LR is obvious. You might think that if you’re already shooting precision rifle in the traditional sense, you could just slip the scope off of your trusty Creedmoor, put it on your .22, and be good to go, however, this isn’t necessarily true.

Normally, centerfire precision rifle shooting consists of engaging targets that range, on average, from 200 to 1,200 yards. When translating precision shooting to the .22-caliber realm, this window shifts based on rimfire ammunition’s ballistic capabilities. We’re looking at shooting targets as big as 6-inch steel circles to ¼-inch steel squares, ranging from about 25 to 300 yards. Previously, the market has been slim in the way of purpose-built precision rimfire optics, but with its growing popularity, more companies are getting on board.

There are five important factors to consider when choosing and setting up an optic for this discipline of shooting: magnification, focal plane, parallax adjustment, reticle, and zero distance. Additionally, if you plan to compete, careful consideration should also be given to which class you plan to shoot in; different shooting classes have rules dictating what kinds of rifles and optics can be used, particularly when it comes to the overall cost of your rig.

First, make sure your minimum magnification isn’t too high. With the potential to shoot targets as close as 25 yards, a scope that starts at 7x isn’t ideal. On the other end, you want a good enough magnification range to get you out to 300 yards, or so, but you won’t need 35x of magnification to make those shots. A good starting point for minimum magnification is 6x or less, with an ideal starting range of 2x to 4x. It’s OK to have extra magnification and not use it, so on the upper end just make sure you have enough to view your farthest targets clearly, and with a reticle that doesn’t obscure the target.

When choosing a scope for precision rimfire competition, focus on scopes with parallax adjustment that reaches down to at least 25 yards.

The term focal plane refers to the position of the reticle in relation to the magnification system in the scope. A first focal plane optic, also called a front focal plane optic, places the reticle ahead of the magnification assembly. A second focal plane optic places the reticle behind the magnification assembly. It helps to think of the scope as you would a rifle, with the muzzle end as the front and the breech end, the rear. This means that in a FFP optic your reticle size changes in relation to your target, and in a SFP optic your reticle remains the same size while the size of your target changes along with the magnification. This is important because it means that in an FFP optic the MIL or MOA hash marks on the reticle stay true no matter the magnification, while in an SFP optic they’ll only remain true for a specified magnification setting. For precision competition, FFP is definitely the best choice. With no changes in impact as the magnification changes, FFP makes much lighter work, especially when on the clock.

Parallax is one of the most important details to consider when selecting an optic for precision rimfire shooting. The term parallax refers to a situation that happens when your target isn’t on the same focal plane as the reticle. Your scope’s parallax adjustment allows you to see the target and the reticle onto the same focal plane. This gives you a clear and consistent picture of your target, which is pretty damn important. Most people know that parallax adjustments are important at long range, but parallax is also an important consideration for shorter ranges. The same situation occurs when shooting targets that are very close to you. So, when choosing a scope for this style of shooting, focus on scopes with parallax adjustment that goes down to at least 25 yards. You’ll find a lot of scopes out there that are FFP with the appropriate reticle and magnification, but the great divider will be finding scopes that allow close parallax adjustment.

As competition in the open classes of rimfire precision competition heats up, it's common to see guns with scopes that cost more than the guns they're mounted on.

“A close parallax setting is helpful on optics used for precision .22 for a couple reasons, says Nick Laufenberg from Vortex Optics. “Having a parallax adjustment that comes down to 25 yards or less aids in providing image focus, as well as removing parallax error for better consistency from shot to shot. The second reason a close-range parallax setting is useful comes down to practice. Dry-fire practice is becoming more and more common due to rifles such as the Vudoo Gun Works V-22. This allows the shooter to train indoors and refine their skills without going out to the range.”

Choosing a reticle for precision rimfire shooting isn’t unlike choosing a reticle for traditional precision rifle shooting. In general, look for a reticle that has marks for elevation and wind holds. This will make holdovers and target transitions smoother and faster. Whether or not to use illumination is a personal preference, but illumination isn’t generally needed for this type of shooting.

If you're planning to compete in rimfire precision matches, look up the rules before you buy a scope if you're trying to stay in a base class. Classes are based on combined cost of rifle and scope, so paring an expensive scope with an inexpensive rifle will still force you to compete in an open class.

When choosing the appropriate distance for zeroing your rimfire rifle, or any rifle, it’s important to consider how far you’ll be shooting, the size of your targets, and the capabilities of your optic. Based on average shooting distances and target sizes at precision rimfire matches, zeroing at either 25 yards or 50 yards makes the most sense, depending on the specifics of the matches you’re shooting. If the match has a lot of targets from 25-50 yards then a 25-yard zero might be a better option, versus a match with targets that start at 50 yards where a 50-yard zero might be a better option.

If you plan to attend precision rimfire matches, you may want to do a little homework on the rules and regulations before setting up your rifle. Let’s look at the NRL22 series for an example. The NRL22 league is comprised of five different shooting classes: open, base, air rifle, ladies, and young guns. Participants in the open class are able to use any 22LR-chambered rifle and optic combination, regardless of cost. The base class caps the combined manufacturer’s suggested retail price of the rifle and optic at $1,050. Ladies and young guns can choose to follow either open or base class rules. All this to say, if you plan to compete, your shooting class is the first decision you need to make as it dictates the cost of your rifle and optic combination.

Whether pushing the limits on a hunt, competing at a match, or using your 22LR as a more cost-effective training tool, choosing the right scope for this type of rifle makes all the difference. Not only do some of the most reputable scope makers in the industry offer scopes that are perfect for precision rimfire shooting, but fortunately they also offer them in a wide range of price points. This allows any shooter to find an appropriate optic in their budget and take their precision plinking to the next level.

Bushnell Forge

Magnification: 3-18x
Objective Lens Diameter: 50 mm
Reticle: Deploy MIL
Minimum Parallax Adjustment: 25 yards
Focal Plane: First
MSRP: $900

The Forge scope by Bushnell is probably my favorite of the bunch, and for several reasons. With a minimum parallax adjustment of 25 yards and a magnification range of 3-18x, this scope is just enough, but not too much. The Christmas tree-style Deploy MIL reticle is great for this application and the $900 price tag offers a lot of value without breaking the bank.

Nightforce NX8

Magnification: 2.5-20x
Objective Lens Diameter: 50 mm
Minimum Parallax Adjustment: 11 yards
Focal Plane: First
MSRP: $1,950

If you're ready to go all in, the Nightforce NX8 is a great option. When it comes to image quality and durability, Nightforce has a proven track record, so right out of the gate you know the quality will be nothing short of high end. The NX8 features the shortest parallax setting on this list, a mere 11 yards, and an ideal magnification range of 2.5-20. The first focal plane optic has several reticle options, as well. The quality is worth the $1,950 price tag, and this is, arguably, a very reasonable price tag for a scope of this quality.

Vortex Diamondback Tactical

Magnification: 4-16x
Objective Lens Diameter: 44 mm
Reticle: EBR-2C
Minimum Parallax Adjustment: 20 yards
Focal Plane: First
MSRP: $450

The Diamondback Tactical is a perfect choice for those just getting started in precision rimfire shooting and for those on a budget. This scope checks all the boxes when it comes to the specs. With short parallax adjustment range and a magnification range of 4-16x, this first focal plane scope has a lot to offer at a low price. Add in the EBR-2C reticle, and you’re ready to go. Additionally, for those wanting to compete and shoot in the NRL-22’s base class, the $450 price gives you a lot of wiggle room when it comes to choosing a rifle.


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