scopelevel1

Is a Scope Level Necessary

In Blog by Rich0 Comments

The often debated scope level! Are they necessary or not? We’re going to discuss what the purpose is and whether or not you really need one of these gizmos when you head out to shoot at stuff a long ways off. Some folks swear by the use of a scope level and some seem to attribute it more to a gear nerd kind of item. As usual the truth tends to be somewhere in the middle. We’ll get started by making sure everybody knows what a scope level is and what it’s for and then we’ll look at some ballistics, some research and some personal experience. As usual it will be up to you as the reader to determine whether or not you think its worth spending your hard earned money on!

What the hell is a scope level?

A scope level is just what it sounds like, a small bubble level that is mounted to the gun or the scope to allow the shooter to determine whether or not the rifle is level when they fire it. They come in many shapes and sizes and a pretty wide array of price points. The reason a level is even worth talking about has to do with the effect of canting the rifle to either side of perfectly level and what that means down range. Gravity only pulls in one direction, straight down. Your scope has an erector mechanism in the middle that moves the reticle up as you dial on additional elevation. Assuming you have your scope properly leveled on your rifle, if you cant the rifle to either side, what have you just done?

While gravity will pull the bullet straight down no matter what angle the rifle is sitting on, your optics have been zeroed and function as a frame of reference in the vertical and horizontal planes. If you cant the rifle, and the scope, to the right for example, and then dial on elevation…it’s all goofed. As the reticle moves up, its also moving to the right in your sight picture. Since the reticle is moving at an angle, the amount of vertical adjustment you have dialed is going to be less than the actual vertical movement of the crosshairs. You’ve also added extra windage to your firing solution which is likely to mess up your wind hold.

How much cant makes a scope level necessary?

Good question! The answer is, unfortunately, not much. You can cause significant error in your firing solution with only a few degrees of cant on the rifle. We ran some ballistics coming up in a second and we only used three degrees of cant to illustrate the effect. I used three degrees for two reasons. For starters, 3 degrees out of 360 is not much. 3 degrees might be small enough that some shooters might not even notice they are doing it. This is particularly an issue when the targets aren’t on level ground and neither is the shooter. You may feel flat and level but if you’re on a slope how level are you in relation to gravity? I want to show you the ballistics next so you can see how much of an effect this can have, then we’ll discuss the necessity of the levels themselves.

Below I ran some ballistics for a common cartridge and muzzle velocity at the standard atmospheric settings. If you want to mess around with ballistics, you can do it for free over at JBM Ballistics! I highly recommend them as they provide a very full featured and function ballistics engine, and it’s free! I ran this using a 175gr Sierra HPBT Matchking at 2600fps. My 308 will push 178s to 2705fps so I figure this is a realistic projectile and muzzle velocity to use for this. I’ve highlighted the drift in inches at 500yds, 750yds, and 1000yds to illustrate the effect of the rifle being canted towards the opposite shoulder. This first set of numbers is with zero cant built in. Then I will run the same setup with 3 degrees of cant added.

Cant and the Ballistics behind Scope Levels

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 0.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 16.318 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
500 -0.0 -0.0 24.0 1.3 1770.5 1.586 1217.8 0.699 123.0 6.8

 

Same setup but with 3 Degrees of Cant built in…

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 3.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 16.078 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
500 -1.4 -0.1 28.3 1.6 1770.5 1.586 1217.8 0.699 123.0 6.8

 

A difference of 4.3″ at 500 yards. Now lets see how it looks at 750 yards this time…

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 0.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 28.153 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
750 -0.0 -0.0 60.3 2.2 1426.3 1.277 790.3 1.172 206.2 7.6

 

Here comes the 3 degrees of cant!

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 3.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 27.751 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
750 -3.5 -0.1 71.6 2.7 1426.3 1.277 790.3 1.172 206.2 7.6

 

That’s a difference of 11.3″ at 750 yards, last example next at 1000yds!

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 0.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 44.397 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
1000 -0.1 -0.0 119.1 3.3 1167.1 1.045 529.2 1.756 309.1 8.6

 

You can see where this is going, right?

 

Trajectory
Input Data
Manufacturer: Sierra Description: HPBT MatchKing™
Caliber: 0.308 in Weight: 175.0 gr
Ballistic Coefficients: 0.485 [0-1800], 0.496 [1800-2800], 0.505 [2800-5000] G1 (ASM)
Bullet Length (Library): 1.240 in Plastic Tip Length: 0.000 in
Muzzle Velocity: 2600.0 ft/s Distance to Chronograph: 10.0 ft
Sight Height: 2.20 in Sight Offset: 0.00 in
Zero Height: 0.00 in Zero Offset: 0.00 in
Windage: 0.000 MOA Elevation: 0.000 MOA
Line Of Sight Angle: 0.0 deg Cant Angle: 3.0 deg
Barrel Twist: 10.0 in Twist Direction: Right
Wind Speed: 10.0 mph Wind Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Speed: 10.0 mph Target Angle: 90.0 deg
Target Height: 12.0 in
Temperature: 59.0 °F Pressure: 29.92 in Hg
Humidity: 0 % Altitude: 0.0 ft
Vital Zone Radius: 5.0 in
Std. Atmosphere at Altitude: No Pressure is Corrected: Yes
Zero at Max. Point Blank Range: No Target Relative Drops: Yes
Mark Sound Barrier Crossing: No Include Extra Rows: No
Column 1 Units: 1.00 in Column 2 Units: 1.00 mil
Round Output to Whole Numbers: No
Output Data
Elevation: 43.802 MOA Windage: 0.000 MOA
Atmospheric Density: 0.07647 lb/ft³ Speed of Sound: 1116.4 ft/s
Maximum PBR: 324 yd Maximum PBR Zero: 276 yd
Range of Maximum Height: 156 yd Energy at Maximum PBR: 1622.8 ft•lbs
Sectional Density: 0.264 lb/in² Stability at Muzzle: 2.400
Calculated Table
Range Drop Drop Windage Windage Velocity Mach Energy Time Lead Lead
(yd) (in) (mil) (in) (mil) (ft/s) (none) (ft•lbs) (s) (in) (mil)
1000 -6.9 -0.2 143.0 4.0 1167.1 1.045 529.2 1.756 309.1 8.6

 

That’s a whopping 23.9 inch difference! Two feet off the side of the target just by canting the rifle a few degrees to one side. 3 degrees is not much guys, it might even be hard to see it if you are looking for it. I ran these numbers up against a chart that was found in Bryan Litz’s book, Accuracy and Precision for Long Range Shooting. They were almost a dead even match. The few tenths of an inch difference between my results and his I’m sure are due to differences in environmental inputs when he ran his numbers and I ran mine. So I’m not just manipulating data to try and sell you on a point. You can run the numbers yourself or read the book, which I highly recommend! If you do run the numbers yourself, make sure the zero distance is the same as the distance you want to measure the cant effect on.

ABbook

There is a lot of good info in here, I suggest you read up!

 

Is the Scope Level Really a Must Have Item?

I’m not selling the things so I am not really out to convince you one way or another. Some people like scope levels and use them on all their rifles. Some guys don’t and have a good feel for when the rifle is level or canted and they can do it even on ground that is sloped. Whether or not a scope level makes sense as a purchase for you depends on where you shoot and your own personal feel and experience with regard to keeping your rifle level. I will offer a few points for your consideration though to aid in deciding whether or not this is something you wish to purchase. I’m going to start with the guy who wrote the book I mentioned above, Bryan Litz. He’s a pretty well known and respected ballistician and knows a lot about the science behind shooting at long range.

I’m not going to tell you that you should buy one just because he says its something you should have. I will say that it bears consideration. My own experience with different little widgets throughout a number of years of shooting long range has led me to believe that for me, the scope level is worthwhile. Particularly because I find that frequently when I glance with my left eye up at the level, the rifle is canted a few degrees. I glance at it frequently as part of my pre-shot checklist. Some guys may not have much of an issue keeping the gun level. Better functioning inner ear perhaps, I dunno. The science certainly says that canting a rifle is significant. The question becomes, is a level necessary for you to keep the rifle from being canted? That’s a question only you can answer.

If I Want a Scope Level, What Should I Get?

By far the cheapest options out there are the super chincy rail mounted scope levels. I don’t recommend them. If you want a scope level, I suggest a level that is offset, and mounts to the tube of your scope. I say this for a few reasons. For starters, you can calibrate the level. Some people shoot with the rifle canted because it feels more comfortable. That’s okay. You can cant the rifle, and set the scope, and the level up, to be plumb and calibrated to the fall of gravity. If that feels comfortable for you, do it! You do want the scope itself level, and you want the scope level to show level when the scope is level with the fall of gravity. Whether the rifle is canted or not doesn’t matter, so set that up however it feels best.

scopelevel1

I recommend the ring style, scope tube mounted, levels like this Vortex level I have on my Nightforce scope

 

When you have the scope level mounted, using it is a snap. This is also why I suggest the offset type level. If you get a scope level that mounts to the scope tube, and it sits right on top of the tube, that’s really not that great. It blocks your view of the scope turrets and it is harder to see with your non dominant eye. Whereas the sight picture with an offset level is much simpler and easier to use. You just glance up with your left eye and look at the level while your right eye sits waiting to take over for the actual shot.

scopelevel2

Easy to use, glance up with the left eye at the offset scope level!

 

If you decide to get a rail mounted level, you really need to make sure it’s a quality unit. It needs to be machined precisely so that it reads level when the rail it is mounted to is actually level. A lot of cheaper options will actually move off level as you tighten it down on the rail. For this same reason I suggest you avoid anything that flips or swings from one position to another. If any slop develops in the mechanism that allows the level itself to swing or flip out you will not get an accurate reading off of the level. An inaccurate scope level is a useless scope level. You would do better to avoid the purchase altogether than buy something that will betray you when it’s time to take the shot.

scopelevel3

This is the only rail mounted scope level I trust, and I’ve checked it against a second level placed on the rail at the same time! SPUHR makes great stuff!

scopelevel4

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but you can see the scope level built into a SPUHR mount very easily with your off eye

 

 

Wrapping Up on Scope Levels

So that’s my schpiel on scope levels. I won’t tell you that you have to have one. I will tell you that a canted rifle is going to screw up your shot for you. So make sure you are good at keeping it upright. You can quarter your targets and keep an eye on the horizon and a lot of guys have great success and never need a level. However, I see a lot of levels on scopes at tactical rifle matches. Its definitely not a goofy item only the gear nerds use. There’s definitely some science to support the use of a scope level. I use one. Bryan Litz of Applied Ballistics uses one. Whether or not you need one is up to you. If you aren’t sure, buy an affordable one and try it out. See how good a job your eyeball does judging how far you cant the gun and if you don’t need it, I think you can get it sold pretty easily.

Owner and Proprietor of AccuracyTech, LLC. Rich is a Firearms Enthusiast, Precision Rifle Competitor, and Writer. He is committed to bringing readers quality reviews and articles related to the Precision Shooting Sports. If you have any questions for him, please use the contact form on the site.

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