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A mathematical nightmare, classic sniper scope adjustments

I’ve found that most people I talk to don’t like doing math.

So let us imagine the nightmare scenario where you had to quickly convert from System International (AKA Godless Commie Metric) to Imperial (Freedom) units on the fly.

Convert 3.22 cm to inches. 1.65 cm to inches. 4.33 cm to inches. Etc.

Now imagine your life and others relying on your ability to do this math quickly.

If you practiced it, you could get quick and efficient at doing it. BUT, very few of us are practiced at this. I know I’m not. Don’t feed bad, NASA and Lockheed Martin lost a $327 million dollar Mars space probe due to mistake in which units of measure it was using.


I’m a big fan of the Nightforce NXS 2.5-10X24 scopes. I have a few of them. I just recently picked up a rarer “RECON NAV-SPEC” marked scope.

I would much prefer the scope mounted farther forward in a cantilevered mount. But I’ll have to make due with these rings for now.

I’ve written about these NXS scopes before so I’ll omit most of the details. They are a compact, lightweight, extremely durable scope. Major downsides are that they are second focal plane, unforgiving eye box, and have poor performance in low light. They are an older design that has been discontinued. The new NXS 1-8X scope has far better illumination and is slightly smaller. Also you can tend to find a used 1-8X for cheaper than a used 2.5-10X, so it would probably be the better choice to buy.

Still I bought this one. Why? Because it is a rarer mil-spec model.

Each Nightforce scope undergoes harsh testing that would break some lesser scopes. The military contract scopes get additional testing on top of that. Thus there are some “NAV-SPEC” and “ARMY-SPEC” scopes floating around out there. These tend to command a premium among collectors and I’ve seen them sell in a $2500+ range. I wouldn’t pay that, and I paid about the same amount as I paid for a brand new commercial unit (back when they were available) with a set of rings (this scope came with a set of nightforce lower height rings I’m not using). While this unit has been used hard, I’m very happy with it for what I paid.

The Army spec scopes have 1 MOA elevation knob adjustments, and 1/2 MOA windage adjustments. The Nav-Spec models have 1/4 MOA elevation and windage adjustments.

These older NXS scopes have illumination, they are not “daylight” bright.

Until relatively recently, it was common for a “sniper” scope to have a mildot reticle and MOA adjustments. While the Metric system technically uses minutes of angle for angular measurements, having a scope with this setup has the adjustment clicks and the reticle in two different forms of measurements.

How that ever become standard I have no idea. I wonder why people didn’t just use reticles with MOA hash marks. Nightforce has a nice reticle with 2 MOA hash marks. So it would be 8 clicks between reticle subtensions.

But no, this is a mildot with 1/4 MOA adjustments. One mil is about 3.4 MOA. So somewhere between 13 and 14 clicks of adjustment per mildot.

I put this scope on this rifle and go to zero it in. Starting at 25 meters I am impacting about 3.5 mils high and about 1.6 mils right from my desired point of impact for a 100 yard zero.

Well shit. How many MOA is that?

Um. . . about 3.4 MOA per MIL, so 3.5 mils high is about 3.4+3.4+3.4+ one half of 3.4. Eh. . About 12 MOA. 12 MOA means I need 4 clicks per MOA so 36 clicks down.

1.6 mils is. . fuck it, I’ll go downrange with a ruler and measure it on the target in inches.

There is a reason US military sniper carried calculators.


Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating. It isn’t really that hard if you think about it. But that seems to be the problem. I talk to so many shooters who just don’t want to have to think. I understand wanting something simple, but I want gun owners to be people who conscientious and thoughtful about the actions they are performing.

My first scope like this was a Super Sniper fixed 10X. That was a great, cheap, and mid-sized scope. I sometimes kind of miss it, and have considered picking up another. Back then, they had a web site where you could practice measuring a target using the mildot reticle, finding the distance. Sending off a shot and then, if necessary, making an adjustment to make the hit. I spent a lot of time playing with that trying to get fast and proficient with mil-ing targets. I tried to see if I could find that site but it doesn’t seem to be around any more. I think SWFA scrubbed it when they rebranded the Super Sniper line to SS.


I’ve had people tell me that the mil dot reticle was only meant to be used in range estimation. Well, you could range estimate with a MOA reticle. Others told me that it was intended that once you sighted in, you would only hold over with the reticle and not touch the turrets. For one, the military used scopes with this configuration at ranges beyond what you could have held over in the reticle. Another argument against this would be why are the turrets be exposed? If that were the case that only hold overs were to be used they would have ordered the capped turret option. Set it and forget it. You see some of the newer military scopes have capped Windage knobs for this reason. Windage would be held over instead of adjusted in combat.

Simply put, not that long ago it was expected that the professional sniper could would work with a mildot reticle and MOA turrets. That was just considered normal.

Since then we have moved from second focal plane scopes to first focal plane scopes. These new FFP scopes allow the reticle markings to be correct no matter what magnification the scope is set at. We switched to mil adjustments with the mil reticles. Now many of the newer scopes are forgoing the mil reticles for reticles that show drop charts and windages holds. We are trying to make things work faster and smoother. But still it takes practice and proficiency with this equipment to be effective with it.

Plinking Time

I’ve been drooling over some high dollar precision rifles lately. Like, cost of my car high dollar.

Then I remember that I don’t really do precision rifle shooting because I suck at it. I suck at it because I don’t do it.

I decided I needed to get out to the range and shoot my Ruger Precision Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. The long distance range near me eliminated their 1000 yard range, so I’ve only shot it twice since then.

I also decided to change the scope on it to a different one. Since I had good zeros on ALL my guns, I figured it was about time for the quarterly move ALL my optics to different guns and have to rezero them all.

It gets worse. I get to the range and there is NO wind, NO mirage, perfect shooting conditions. Damnit. What am I suppose to blame my poor performance on now?

I started at 25 yards and it is good that I did as I would have been completely off the paper had I been farther away. Fired 2 rounds, made an adjustment, fired another to check the adjustment was right. I figured I should be impacting 1.5 mils low at this distance. (actual calculation was 1.4, but 1.5 is plenty close enough for the rough zeroing at 25 yards).

Took the target to 100 yards and started with the 3 shot groups. Had to do a little fine tuning, reset the turrets on the scope for the new zero. Etc.

I hate to admit it, but most of the time I’m trying to shoot precision I am about a 1 MOA shooter. That is provided I am using a gun and ammunition capable of better than that. I find that level of precision suits my needs and I can usually do it on demand. I don’t practice precision shooting enough to be consistently better than that.

I’ve heard some of the consistent quarter-MOA shooters have to practice every week with their setup or their skills dull. That is with regard to the tactical sniper types, not the gun in vise benchrest type which have their own discipline to practice.

My first 100 yard 3 shot group of the day clocked in at exactly 1 inch measured with a machinist rule. My second was about .68 inches.

.050 inch graduations on this steel rule! I hate that number. I don’t like trying to count in 50 thous at a time. That is why this ruler stays in my rifle case and not my Gerstner.

I want a flexible 6 inch and 12 inch and a rigid 24 inch steel rule graduated with 1mm and .2mm on one side and 1/64 and .010 inches on the other. But no one seems to offer that. Maybe someday I will make me some.

After 12 shots I was bored silly and ready to call it quits. Packed up the rifle and then did some pistol shooting.

Look at that shameful shooting. Two of the three shots didn’t even hit what I was aiming at.

Guess I’ll leave the precision stuff to Shawn.