My first gun was a deer rifle my grandfather built for me when I was 12. I used that gun to kill my first deer and several others since. One part of the rifle that I outgrew was the scope, so I decided to upgrade. Through the process of replacing the original scope with the new one, I learned what tools make the job a lot easier.
Here are the tools that are needed to mount a rifle scope:
- Gun cradle
- Gunsmithing Screwdriver Set
- Ring Wrench (if applicable)
- Blue Loctite
- Reticle Leveler
- Torque Wrench
- Alignment Bars
- Lapping Bars
- Bore Sighter
Although you can get away with mounting a scope on a rifle just by using the Allen wrench that came with the rings, doing a good job requires a little more effort and a few more tools. The following tools will allow you to mount your scope as good as the pros. Having the tools and skills to do this yourself will help you never miss a hunt or trip to the range.
Tools Needed to Mount a Rifle Scope
Gun Cradle/Gun Vise
The first tool that you need to mount a rifle scope is a gun cradle. A good gun cradle will make mounting a rifle scope much easier and help you do a better job. Since they are designed to hold firearms without damaging them, they are less likely to mar surfaces or crush things than a regular bench vise.
A gun cradle is adjustable to give your rifle as good of a fit and as much support as possible. This will help you install scope mounts, level reticles, and bore sight much easier and with greater accuracy. They are also excellent tools to use for general cleaning and maintenance. Every serious shooter should have one.
Gunsmithing Screwdriver Set
The next tool that you will need is a good set of gunsmithing screwdrivers. Installing a scope on your rifle will always involve the use of screws. Because of this, you will need the right screwdrivers to attach the mount to your gun and tighten the rings around your scope.
Although many rings and mounts come with Allen wrenches, it is best to use a screwdriver with the appropriate tip. They will give you greater control, reducing the chance of the tool slipping and scratching your gun. Good gunsmithing screwdriver sets, such as the Brownells Magna Tip sets and those offered by Wheeler are excellent choices. The tips they come with are also compatible with torque wrenches, which I’ll go over later in the article.
Ring Wrench (if applicable)
If you are using rings that need to be rotated into position, you will need something to turn them. Using your scope for this purpose is a pretty horrible idea because it can damage it.
Usually, a 1-inch dowel rod will do the trick. Place the ring into its slot, run the dowel rod through it, and turn it into position. Spending a few dollars on a wooden dowel rod could save you hundreds by preventing scope damage.
Shooting a gun will cause it to recoil, which over time can cause screws to come loose. To eliminate this, you should always use a thread locker when installing a scope. The most popular type of thread locker is Loctite.
When using Loctite, be sure to use Blue Loctite. This is the formula that is designed for use with smaller screws, such as those found on firearms. Never use Red Loctite on firearms. If you do, you will never be able to remove or adjust the screw ever again.
*Note: There is some debate in the firearms community regarding the use of Loctite on scope rings and mount screws. Personally, I use Loctite. Just be sure to use the right kind. A little heat from a hairdryer will help you remove a stubborn screw with Blue Loctite if necessary.
When installing a rifle scope, you must make sure that your reticles are level. This will make adjusting your scope much easier and will help you gauge bullet drop. There are many ways to accomplish leveling a rifle scope. Here are some of the most common tools used to level reticles:
Line Levels: Line levels are originally designed to make sure twine and string are level when doing construction. Another good use for them is leveling rifle scopes. The ones with aluminum bodies are best for this application since they have flat surfaces and are usually 3-4 inches long. This will allow you to set them on receivers, mounts, and rings.
Segway Reticle Leveler: The Segway Reticle Leveler is another popular way to level rifle scopes. Horizontal lines on the body of the reticle leveler act as references that allow the user to determine whether or not their scope is level.
Wheeler Engineering Professional Reticle Leveling System: This is the Cadillac of reticle levelers. It features two bubble levels fit within precision-machined aluminum housings. It is designed to level a rifle scope faster and more accurately than any other tool available.
Screws used in scope rings and mounts should be torqued to specifications listed by their manufacturer. Doing this will prevent the rings or mount from coming loose and harming accuracy. It will also help ensure that uniform pressure is applied to the scope by the rings. The best way to ensure this is by using a torque wrench.
The torque wrench that you will use for your guns is much different than the ones used on cars. Regular torque wrenches, which are the ones most people are familiar with, resemble large ratchets. However, a torque wrench used with firearms is much different and looks more like a specialty screwdriver.
Torque wrenches that are used to mount scopes will either look like a T-handle ratcheting screwdriver or a chubby straight-handle screwdriver. The most popular torque wrench and the one I own is the FAT Wrench by Wheeler Engineering.
The FAT Wrench can be adjusted from 10 inch-pounds to 65 inch-pounds and accepts standard hex-shank driving bits. It also includes a nice plastic case to prevent it from being damaged when not in use as well as an assortment of drive bits.
Alignment bars are used to ensure that both scope rings are perfectly aligned with one another. This is important because improperly-aligned scope rings do not hold a scope as well and they can even damage your scope.
Although there are many variations, alignment bars are essentially spike-shaped rods that fit within the scope rings. The points face one another, and if they meet, the rings are properly aligned. If there is an alignment issue, they will help you determine if you simply need to rotate a ring slightly or if you need to lap the rings, which will be discussed below.
Lapping Bars and Lapping Compound
Lapping bars, while not necessary for many scope installations, will help you true scope rings that have improper alignment. Lapping compound is applied to the bar, which is placed into the scope rings and worked back and forth. This will remove high spots that could damage the scope tube and help ensure the rings fit evenly around the scope.
*Note: These are rarely needed if you use precision-machined scope rings.
After you have mounted your scope on the rifle, the next thing you need to do is bore sight it. Bore sighting will calibrate the scope so that it will be on paper when you take it to the range finish sighting it in. There are ways to bore sight a gun without tools, but they are time-consuming and could become frustrating if you have never done it before.
There are two main types of bore sighters that you can use. The first is called a collimator bore sighter. This is an optical device that attaches to the end of the muzzle through the use of metal “spuds” that fit inside the barrel. After the bore sighter is attached, look through the scope and align the reticles with the grid inside the collimator.
Collimator bore sighters only work with traditional optics that use reticles. They will not work with red dot optics and generally don’t work well with AR-pattern rifles. This is due to how high scopes sit on those types of guns in relation to the bore.
The second type of bore sighter that you can use is a laser bore sighter. These are useful when bore sighting holographic optics, installing optics on AR-pattern rifles, as well as installing optics on handguns. There are many types of laser bore sighters, many of which are caliber-specific. Others, such as the Site-Lite Laser Bore Sight are more universal.