Get a grip on your scope
Photos by P.J. Perea
Scope mounting can be as simple or elaborate as you make it. It's hard to ignore the KISS principle — keep it simple stupid — but some more elaborate measures can benefit you in the long run.
Such is the case with ring lapping, the process of smoothing and leveling the metal on the inside of the rings that contact your scope. Though some critics say it's unnecessary and a product of Internet marketing, I'm a believer in ring lapping for two reasons.
Guns, scope mounts and rings are all manufactured to allow for a range of tolerances while still keeping within specifications. Alone, a variance of a couple thousandths of an inch doesn't make much difference in accuracy, but if multiple components — each with its own tolerances — are combined, these variances add up quickly and can have a negative impact on your firearm's accuracy, or the ability to properly align and hold your optics.
Is sub-minute-of-angle accuracy necessary for a turkey gun shooting two ounces of No. 6 shot at 40 yards? Probably not. But for an elk hunter, who may take a 500-yard shot across a valley, it's critical.
A reason more germane to turkey hunters is that scopes and rings withstand a lot of force during firing, especially when shooting hard-recoiling magnum and super-magnum turkey loads. The last thing you want to happen is for your scope to shift in the rings, possibly throwing off your zero or damaging an expensive optical sight.
It's common for mass-produced scope rings to offer about 10 to 20 percent contacting surface to hold your scope firmly in place. When you can increase the contacting surface area to 80 or 90 percent, the rings will hold more securely, preventing slippage and marring of your favorite scope, and ensuring your zero is maintained for follow-up shots.
Lapping also squares both rings to each other, providing a truer platform for scope mounting and reducing torque on the scope's tube.
A $37 Wheeler Engineering lapping kit from MidwayUSA and a set of high-quality steel rings are pretty cheap investments for increasing the grip on your scope and potentially sweetening your gun's accuracy. The process, while somewhat time consuming, is easy to add to your scope mounting regime.
Follow these instructions for lapping rings that will hold your scope like a pit bull and prevent damage to your optics investment.
- Secure your gun in a sturdy, stationary vise.
- Attach your scope mount to the receiver using the pre-drilled and tapped holes in the receiver. If your gun's receiver isn't tapped, a saddle mount is a secure option that doesn't require gunsmithing. Remember to use a thread-locking compound on the screws attaching the mount to the receiver and ensure the screws do not protrude into the action where they can inhibit the function of the bolt.
- Loosely attach the bottom halves of both rings and check to make sure they are spaced correctly for the scope, leaving some wiggle room for eye-relief adjustment if needed.
- Use either the ring alignment tool in the Wheeler scope lapping kit, or the lapping rod, to align the rings. Mount the tools in the rings as you would your scope, while leaving the base screws slightly loose. If using the ring alignment tools, align the points of both halves of the rods, then tighten the base screws. Make sure nothing moved while tightening. If using the lapping bar, mount it like your scope, tightening the tops of the rings so that everything is secure, then tighten the base screws. Remove the alignment tools from the rings and replace with the lapping bar.
- Apply a generous amount of 220-grit lapping compound to the lapping bar in front of, inside and behind the rings. Tighten the top strap of the rings so that you can barely move the bar.
- Grasp the handle of the lapping bar and turn it from side to side in the rings, while letting it drift forward and backward as you work. As the rod becomes easier to move, tighten the top strap of your rings to increase tension. Continue this process for 4 or 5 minutes.
- Remove the lapping bar from your rings, and wipe the residue from the ring components to check your progress. A perfectly lapped surface should show no differences in color. Blued rings will be lapped to the white metal, with no bluing showing on the contact surfaces of the rings. If there is bluing left, repeat the lapping process to eliminate all high spots.
- Cover the action and stock of your gun with an absorbent cloth, being careful to protect the bolt and ejection port. Thoroughly clean the rings and mount to remove any residual lapping compound. I use a degreasing solvent such as Gun Blast by spraying it on a clean cloth then wiping the components down. To irrigate the ring's screw holes, spray directly into the holes and capture the liquid and grime with a cloth held under the holes.
- Since the bluing has been removed from the contact surfaces of the rings, they need to be protected. Use a cold-bluing chemical to re-blue these surfaces to prevent rusting. Birchwood Casey makes a bluing pen resembling a Sharpie marker that works great for touching up small surfaces, and the cleanup is much easier. Coat the rings with a thin layer of gun oil and you're ready to mount your scope.
- Use a torque driver to seat the screws properly.
Lapping a scope mount may seem like a lot of work, but the difference in accuracy is startling when shooting targets at longer distances. Precision shooting is not an accident; using techniques such as lapping will make you a better hunter. — Matt Lindler
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