If you shoot and hunt with one of the new compact magnum cartridges, smaller, lower-powered scopes cosmetically match your rifle better.

That's because the compact magnums were designed to be utilized in smaller packages. In other words, the short-fat concept was conceived to get magnum performance out of shorter barrels.

Thus, you get the velocity and ballistic performance of a 7mm Remington Magnum or a .300 Winchester Magnum without the longer, unwieldy barrels these require to gain maximum effect from their powder loads.

As the short magnums became the ballistic equivalent of the taste of the day, everyone began offering (and consumers started buying) standard-sized rifles with longer barrels chambered for the new short designs. They were getting the same performance of the older cartridges, with none of the benefits of the new designs.

I didn't want another cartridge that fired from a 26-inch barrel - I wanted accuracy and power from a shorter barrel and a more easily carried rifle.

I found this in the Model 673 Remington Guide Rifle. Barreled with a 22-inch tube and sporting a laminated stock with alternating patterns of gold and honey-brown, it is a warm, gorgeous stock on a rifle that shoots 1-inch groups in Remington .300 SAUM (short action ultra mag.)

But being a compact and shorter rifle, I found the only scopes that really looked good were the smaller 3x9 compact variables. If I wanted to go to higher magnification, the scopes cosmetically overpowered the rifle and made it unwieldy and top-heavy.

I started running across Alpen Optics riflescopes at various outdoor writers' conferences a couple of years ago. I wasn't familiar with the brand, but noticed it attached to different rifles displayed for the writers.

At the most recent Southeastern Outdoor Press Association conference in Gatlinburg, Tenn., in October, CVA had an Alpen scope mounted on one of its muzzleloaders.

CVA is one of the largest manufacturers of primitive firearms in the country. If they had a scope on a rifle that was fired many dozens of times in a day at many events, obviously it had to hold up.

In addition, if the scope didn't maintain its zero, the bad groups would reflect poorly on the rifle, no matter how well it might shoot. The company representatives confirmed this.

"We've had that scope on that rifle for over a year now, and it's given great service," I was told.

I noticed the same brand on other rifles by other manufacturers, and became intrigued. These display rifles frequently are fired more in a year than most hunters shoot their own in 20.

When Vicki Gardner, wife of the founder and marketing guru/V-P of Alpen Optics, asked me to test and review some of their riflescopes, I was ready to do so, intrigued by this new product line.

"Tim (her husband) was a vice-president of Bausch & Lomb in product development," she said. "He knows optics, and he knows how quality optics are made. When we decided to start our own line, he knew what he wanted. Our products are manufactured in China, which keeps the cost down, but Tim knew where to get quality optics built."

The Model 4035 Alpen Apex 3.5-10x50 seemed just the ticket. When it arrived, I mounted it on my Remington Model 673 Guide Rifle, and found its compact 12.5-inch length matched the rifle nearly perfectly.

It also performed a heck of a lot better than a similarly priced scope would be expected to perform.

With a suggested retail of only $363, this puts it above some of the common and popular low-end names, but with a stronger magnification and a lot of the features of the pricier scopes.

I shot the rifle extensively while sighting in the new scope, and came away with some very favorable impressions.

I found its clarity to be extremely sharp. Edge-to-edge distortion was non-existent.

While this model did not have an adjustable objective feature to compensate for parallax (it is factory pre-set for parallax at 100 yards), it has a generous amount of adjustment on the rear focusing ring - as much focusing ability as any scope I have tested.

The lenses, as with all Alpen Apex scopes, were fully multicoated. This means all lenses in the scope tube have multiple coatings, which reduce reflection.

Reflections degrade light transmissions. We don't have to get into all the different ratings and descriptions here - suffice it to say fully multi-coated is a feature found only in higher-end product. It is one of the features that greatly increases the cost of a riflescope, and to find it in this price range indicates much consideration to quality.

One of the frustrating gremlins that can raise its ugly little head on the rifle range is adjustment consistency. The springs that move the crosshairs in the sight picture can frequently take a "set" and not move instantly when the adjustment knobs are turned. This leads to banging on scopes with plastic screwdrivers, empty brass or other makeshift hammers to get the crosshairs to move after adjustment.

Sometimes, a riflescope will "jump" into adjustment after the first shot jars it - a wasteful and aggravating experience.

Many reviewers "shoot the square" with a scope to see if it moves according to the adjustment knobs. A group is shot at point of aim. The knobs are turned enough to move the next group several inches to the right. The next adjustment is made "down," and the group should drop. The next adjustment is "left" and the new group should be directly under the first group.

The final adjustment is "up" and the last group should print over the original group. This test shows the scope adjusts properly to turns of the knobs without a "set" in the springs.

I didn't "shoot the square" with this scope, but after a couple of boxes of ammunition testing accuracy of various bullet weights in the rifle, I can say it adjusts promptly and precisely to any movement of the knobs. Move the knob four clicks right, and the bullet group moves 1 inch to the right at 100 yards.

My last test of the Alpen Apex was low light. An evening hunt found me staying on the stand late, and looking into the dark woods and shadows. This decidedly unscientific appraisal allowed me to see and identify shapes in the scope long after my naked eye could not identify anything but blurry blobs. Its 50mm objective lens allows you those precious extra minutes of low light when the deer move.

Alpen offers a full line of binoculars and spotting scopes that have won five different "Great Buy" awards in Outdoor Life Magazine's Gear Test. They offer four different riflescopes from 3-9x42 to 6-24x50 in the upper-end Apex series.

They have an even more diversified selection in their series of scopes named Kodiak. Slightly lower-priced, the product line jumps from four to eight models.

Alpen was founded in 1997, and introduced riflescopes to their line in 2004. Find out more about their products and locate a dealer by going to www.alpenoutdoor.com.


Read more guns, shooting, and politics at Gordon Hutchinson's new blog: www.theshootist.net.

Hutchinson's newest book, written with Todd Masson, is The Great New Orleans Gun Grab, a searing expose' of the scandal of gun confiscations in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It is available online at www.neworleansgungrab.com.

Hutchinson's first book, The Quest and the Quarry, is a coming-of-age tale of a line of trophy bucks and the youth of a farming family that hunts them. It is available at www.thequestandthequarry.com.

Both books have been chosen Outdoor Books of the Year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association, and are available from the publisher by calling (800) 538-4355.