Scopes, springers, and recoil

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dear Reader, there are a couple of things you ought to know about Your Humble Correspondent. The first is that I am a beady-eyed, unrepentant, not-in-the-twelve-step-program bookaholic. My wife claims that reading is my “real” hobby and that everything else springs out of that. I think she may be pretty close to the truth.

Second, I make most of my living as a writer by working with various high-tech and medical organizations. I have neither a high-tech nor medical background, and if there is a secret to my success, it is my curiosity. I simply want to know how things work, and I’m not afraid to admit my ignorance and ask “stupid” questions to get the answers I seek.

That same curiosity applies to accuracy sports, like airgunning. So the other day, hoping I could solve some of the mystery of what makes some airguns accurate and others not, I ordered a copy of Rifle Accuracy Facts by Harold R. Vaughn from Precision Shooting Inc. Vaughn was Supervisor of the Aeroballistics Division at Sandia National Laboratory until 1986, and he has an insatiable curiosity about why do some rifles shoot much better than others.

Chapter 5 in Rifle Accuracy Facts is devoted to “Scope Sight Problems.” In it Vaughn recounts how “A number of years ago I bought two expensive high-power variable scopes of a well-known brand that were identical. I noticed that my shooting accuracy suddenly deteriorated, and decided something had to be wrong with the scopes. The only thing to do was to mount the receiver in a rigid vise then jar the mounted scope and see if the reticule returned to the same aiming spot.” It didn’t.

He also noted in a table that the lower the recoil weight, the higher the acceleration in g’s that the scope would be subjected to. An experimental sliding-rail rifle with a recoil weight of 6.25 lbs was subject to 480 g’s, while a 13.2 lb. heavy varmint rifle suffered only 162 g’s.

Emboldened by this information, I called an advertiser in Precision Shooting that specializes in custom modifications to scopes for benchrest competitors. I explained to the owner of the company the problems that springer shooters (particularly those who are shooting high-powered springers with sliding rail anti-recoil systems like the RWS 54 and 56) sometimes have with shifting point of impact.

He said something that really surprised me: “I wouldn’t use a variable power scope for critical target work.”

When I asked why, he explained that in order for a scope to be variable power, there had to be some lenses within the scope that were free to move. When severe recoil hits those movable lenses, they can jostle around and disturb the point of aim. If the recoil is harsh enough, it is inaccuracy just waiting to happen.

So here’s the bottom line on all this: if you have been shooting a heavily recoiling springer (or gas ram), and you’ve been noticing your shots sometimes fall exactly where the gun is pointed and sometimes they inexplicably go elsewhere, it just might be your scope reacting badly to the recoil. As a result, you might want to consider changing to a fixed power scope like the Hawke Sidewinder Tactical 30mm 10X42 or the MTC 10×44 IRS. And if you are ordering a heavily recoiling springer, I heartily suggest purchasing a fixed power scope to go with it.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott


  1. Anonymous says:

    Would this be true for AO scopes as well? The AO element has to move to change the focus.


    1. james says:

      Does this gun eat scopes like I have heard. Heard that the 56TH eats em like great whites.

      1. Jock Elliott says:


        You will need a high-quality scope to use with the RWS/Diana 54 or 56. can provide you with one.

  2. Jock Elliott says:


    The scope modification guy that I spoke with was not concerned about AO scopes, but he did worry about variable power scopes. Apparently there are more parts to move with variable power.

  3. Esmitty says:

    Fixed power air rifle scopes are also vulnerable to being shaken apart. I have a BSA 4X32 that just failed after nine years. I had it mounted to my BSA Super Sport Magnum for all of the nine years. During a shooting session I started off hitting my targets just fine and then, suddenly, my shots were all over the place. I thought the scope mount had come loose and it wasn't until I checked all mounting bolts and then heard parts rattling around inside the scope that I realized what had happened. I guess nine years is a decent life span for a fifty dollar scope.

  4. Diane says:

    preverugI'm also a writer, I write mainly for motorcycle mags. The scope modification guy is right about adjustable power scopes. I have destroyed about 12 scopes ranging in price from $60.00 to $350.00. However, I now have 3 Leapers scopes mounted on my RWS 350, RWS 34 and RWS 48. For the first time in the 3 years that I have been in to airguns, I can shoot a 1 inch grouping at 50 yards time after time with any one of these guns. And the best part is, these scopes retail for only $49.95…Jack Jines

    1. lil bear says:

      which model is on your RWS 350?

      1. Jock Elliott says:

        Lil bear,

        To be honest, I don’t remember which scope I used for the test. You will definitely need a drooper mount, however. As the good folks at for the recommendation for a scope.

  5. Jock Elliott says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    I've had good luck with the Leapers/CenterPoint scopes too.

    1. It was encouraging to read your comments on fixed power scopes. My RWS 48 seems to destroy scopes. Now on my third scope. First scope was an RWS 4 power which lasted less than 50 shots. Next scope was a Hawke 3-9 variable($130 at Pyramid Air) which lasted less than 150 shots. Crosshairs broke in both scopes. Current scope is an RWS 3-9 variable which hasn’t broken yet, probably because I haven’t shot with it yet! Will go to Leapers fixed power next.

      1. Jock Elliott says:


        Thanks for your comments. Hector Medina has had good luck with the Vortex Diamondback.

        Check this out:×40-ao.html

  6. Jock Elliott says:


    Sounds like you got your money's worth with that BSA scope!

    I honestly don''t know what contributes to failure like that after such a long time . . . many cycles of recoil, expansion and contraction caused by heat and cold perhaps?

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. Esmitty says:


    I agree, nine years probably is a decent life for that BSA scope. Now I need to decide what to mount on the gun next. The Leapers scopes sound like a good choice but I'm also playing around with the idea of a red dot. If anyone has a good recomendation for a red dot with fine dot and durability, let me know.

  8. Jock Elliott says:


    I have had very good luck with the Bushnell Trophy red dot. It's expensive, and you may need to buy 30mm airgun rings or an adaptor (it comes with Weaver rings), but I've had one for years and haven't killed it yet.

  9. Esmitty says:


    Thanks for the input. Can you tell me the particular model of Bushnell Trophy you have? I did some searching and found a few different Trophy models to choose from. I just want to make sure I purchase one that has a nice fine dot. I already tried a $40.00 BSA but took it back due to the dot being too large and not very pinpoint.

  10. Jock Elliott says:


    Go here: and scroll down until you see the red dot under "Trophy."

    This is the model that I have. It has four different reticles. I have the one in red.

  11. Scott298 says:

    Scott298–I shoot a Diana 350 springer in .177 from a bench rest-why, I'm lucky enough to have a father-in -law that has a basement big enough to have a 25 yard shooting lane. I love to shoot and not being able to afford two rigs i use this gun for plinking and small critters. I see the sence in a single power scope but it is not accable for my needs. I have been using a Leapers higher end scope and with over 2500 rounds thru her I will get the occasional "flyer" but at 25 yards I can still get 5 shot groups that can be covered by a nickle!

  12. Scott298 says:

    Jock Elliot–Scott298. I was wondering if you could tell me what ever happened to the Diana or RWS 300? I recieved one when I had ordered my Diana 350. The 300 had been shipped by mistake and it went back. If I'm not mistaken it was an underlever springer. Not being able to find out anything about this air rifle has peaked my curosity. Thank-you, Scott298

  13. TomPier says:

    great post as usual!

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Thanks for saying so!

  14. Walt Burkett Jr says:


    What evidence do you have to conclude that variable power scopes are not suited for high power springers ? Following an email thread with Mike at Hawke there is no doubt he disagrees with you. I’m sure all the other air gun variable scope manufacturers would disagree also.

    To be fair and balanced, you failed to mention that your opinion is not widely agree upon. Correct?


    1. Jock Elliott says:


      The evidence for my conclusion is presented in the blog: first, Harold Vaughn’s research, and second, the custom scope technician who I cite later in the blog.

      I’m unaware of the email thread that you are talking about and honestly I don’t know if my opinion is widely agreed upon or not.

      I would be happy to hear from anyone shooting a heavily recoilling springer such as the RWS 54 or 56 with a variable power scope and who has not had POI shifts or outright failure. I noticed that my groups tightened up when I switched from a variable power scope on my 54 to a single power scope.

      It makes sense to me that when you mount the scope on a recoilless springer, where the action is free to slide independent of the stock, the scope mounted on that action is going to take more punishment because there is less mass to absorb the recoil. Further, it makes sense to me that the fewer moving parts there are within that scope, the less oppportunity for failure there will be.

      I would be happy to hear from anyone who has empirical data that supports or contradicts that position.

  15. Walt Burkett Jr says:

    It seems to me either you have an agenda here or have done very limited research. Maybe a little of both. You reference Chapter 5 in Rifle Accuracy Facts and the authors issue with two hi-powered scopes and accuracy but that hardly qualifies your conclusion. How would you or he respond to the fact that many of our special forces snipers use variable power scopes?
    Many field target and hunter field target air gun competitors do too.

    Also, as I mentioned, Hawke stated to you they disagree with your position and they manufacture variable power scopes. Did you discuss any of this with other manufactures besides Hawke? Leupold? Nightforce?
    They would probably laugh at your position.

    You are certainly welcome to your opinion however it would be nice if you were able to back it up with verifiable facts.

  16. Brad Hoyes says:

    Sir,I am 67,new to air guns.Since the 50’s,have hunted,shot some comp. and reloaded since the mid 60’s.I am looking at the 56TH,probably in 22 cal…I have several questions,because of being new to air guns but for now,only wish to pass on some info. that I got from a Hawke (tech.).His comment was to buy the Eclipse 30-S.F. variable. The reason being that it does not have “cross hairs”, it has a solid etched glass !!! Any comment would be appreciated……Also any comments on HW97’s and Air Arms TX200,I may be getting to hung up on “velocity”,Max. shooting will be 50/60 yds. on birds playing havok in my gardens

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Welcome to airgunning! It’s a lot of fun.

      I am very keen on the 56TH, so keen in fact that I bought one for myself. You should have no problem connecting with birds at 50-60 yards.

      As to the etched glass reticle, it appears to be a very good idea and should help to improve the reliability of the scope.

      The HW97 and TX200 are both fine, accurate air rifles, and I am sure you would enjoy either one, but my personal preference is for the recoilless action of the 56TH.

  17. Alan Ellisor says:

    I think my new 56 TH is tearing up my Leapers Scope.
    I really like the Beeman/Sportsmatch adjustable mount, they don’t make it in 30mm. I can’t find any 30mm adjustable mounts- when I find one they are discontinued. Can you suggest a fixed power ao scope in 1 inch? Or do you have a source for a 30mm adjusable mount.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      I suggest the Vortex:

  18. Pedro Ruiz says:

    to anyone, I recently purchased a RWS 54 that came with a RWS 300 fixed 4X32 scope and a 1 piece scope mount. After about 200 shots the reticle started rotating. I thought the rings had come loose, but after inspection, they were still tight. Does this sound like scope failure? Any suggetions on what may be causing this problem?

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      That definitely sounds like scope failure. The cause is most likely the recoil of the RWS54, which transmits a lot of shock to the scope. If you bought it from a dealer, I suggest contacting the dealer about your problem. Otherwise, I would contact

      1. Pedro Ruiz says:

        Thank you for the response. Very good info on these posts. Keep up the great work.


  19. Bushnell Elite 6500 says:

    This article is well-written. It gives more idea to improve the reliability of a scope. I like it when you recommend a product that answers their need. Your thoughts are appreciated.

  20. tjschweg says:

    I am considering getting a Talon SS as a squirrel gun. I do not have much experience with airguns but I like the idea of a quiet .25 cal. Any other ideas? Thanks

    1. Jock Elliott says:

      Talk to the good folks at They will talk to you about your needs and help you with recommendations.

  21. Eric Gracka says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your logic. Why do hunters usually use 3×9 – 40? I would only use a fixed scope, and, the above mentioned is for me. Now, to find a good vendor like Vortex and Hawkeye.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Thanks for the kind words.

  22. Dallas Jones says:

    Great posts. I recently acquired an RWS 54 (1994- 1996 model according to the serial numbers). 2 or 3 shots dead on and then three or four flyers. I need a new scope mount, mounting plate and a new fixed power scope. Recommendations for the mounting hardware? Thank you.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Check with the good folks at for their recommendatino.

  23. Jeff Rice says:

    Own a 54. deadly accurate. 2 Gamo’s Hunter 1250(Jake) n younger brother (Elwood). Red dots n them. took time 2 work those 2 out.. A 98. Boring. Deadly accurate. N rx-2 n .20. boring. Deadly accurate. Wondering about people who can’t cock the Gamo’s. I’m 5’11” 157. Ur very informative, Jock.

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