Despite what the guy at the big-box store says, there are no real shortcuts to properly mounting a rifle scope. And it might just be the most-important aspect of hunting-rifle preparation you do, other than regular care and maintenance. 

“Trust me, because I know, since I have made just about every mistake one can make in the process of mounting rifle scopes —and I have mounted a bunch of them over the eons,” said Chris Howard of Frago Arms Gunsmithing in Ridgeland. “And I have hunted in Mississippi enough to know the challenges of shooting game at long ranges across big fields and pastures.”

Follow the following tips to help you mount your next scope correctly:

Scope selection

“My first piece of advice is to spend as much on optics as you did the rifle in the first place,” Howard said. “I mean are you actually going to pay $500 to $1000 or more for a high-quality hunting rifle and put a $50 cheapie scope on it? Get real.

“You don’t have to buy a $2,000 European-made scope to get good service, but do yourself a big favor and don’t buy a low end piece of junk, either. There are many good brands of quality scopes out there, so pick one in a reasonable price range that will provide years of good service under normal use conditions. I say buy a scope in the $350 to $800 range, at least.

“Pick a brand, then choose the model. Most deer rifles can use a 40mm objective lens scope, but the bigger 50mm is extremely popular these days, offering extra light-gathering capabilities under cloudy or low light conditions.

“Now choose the power range, with 3x-by-9x being the standard. Other good choices include the 3.5x-by-10x or similar combinations in a variable power scope. I imagine that nearly 90 percent of deer rifle scopes these days are variable models, but some like a fixed power say a 4x or 6x power.”

You need to pay attention to more than just the size of the objective bell, however.

“Also consider the tube size of the scope — the traditional 1-inch or, now growing in popular use, the 30mm sized tube,” Howard said. “This larger scope tube will offer a bigger picture and more light-gathering, but they increase the weight and sometimes the mount and ring options available are limited.”

Pre-mount prep

“Now, before you go putting screws through the mount holes and tightening them down, do a couple prep things first,” he said. “I use a Q-tip with rubbing alcohol to twist down into the mounting holes on the rifle’s action to clean out any grime, grease or oil. I do the same with the flush surfaces on the mounts themselves, as well as the mounting screws.

“This cleans everything up so the screws will mate well.

“Some gunsmiths like to use a screw adhesive to add a measure of security to the mounting screws to help keep them from vibrating loose with use; that is not a bad idea. I use Loctite Thread Adhesive in a little squeeze bottle. Add just a tiny drop to each screw as you tighten down each mount and also for the rings, if so inclined.”

These steps will help lock down the mounts, rings and the scope to the rifle.

Mounting the scope

“After installing the mounts … attach the rings to the mounts per mount instructions,” Howard said. “Always remember in advance to buy rings that will allow enough mounting height for your chosen scope so the front objective bell will clear the barrel. Usually medium to high rings will get the job done, but sometimes extra-high rings may be required.”

Be sure to clean out the inside of the rings, too, to remove oil or factory grease. 

“Take the ring tops off to sit the scope down into the cradle of the rings,” he said. “Put the tops back on the rings over the scope tube, but do not tighten. Now is the fun part.

“Before the top rings are finally tightened down, you must move the scope front to rear to adjust for your own particular eye relief, or distance from your eye to the rear of the scope. Three to 5 inches of eye relief may be needed to be sure the scope won’t kick back into your eye from shooting recoil. Also, make sure the lens circle with crosshairs is full, with no black edges.”

“Next, while holding the rifle up to your shooting shoulder in the normal manner, look through the scope to adjust the crosshairs to be sure they are square up and down, with no cant. Rotate the scope, if needed. Once the crosshairs are set, then begin the final tightening of the ring screws.

“Move from one screw to another, matching the space between the upper half of the ring and the lower half. Some scopes will recommend a torque value for securing rings, and if you have a torque wrench device, that is fine. Otherwise just securely tighten the rings down on the scope. The scope should not move front to rear or rotate once secured down.”

This should complete the scope mounting process to make it ready for bore sighting.

If you really get into scope mounting a lot, then there are other tools and gadgets to help make the process quicker and easier.

Check out such products from Brownells or Midway USA in brand names such as Wheeler Engineering. Brownells has excellent gunsmithing screwdriver and tool sets, as well. 

This whole scope mounting process might seem overly detailed, but trust me and my gunsmithing friend: This is a project you don’t want to skimp on or take any shortcuts.

Do it right and you shouldn’t have any problems so you can concentrate on deer hunting.