You may have heard the term before. It is often some variation of “getting kissed by the scope” or some other anecdotal reference, but they typically all mean the same thing. It is caused by the eyepiece of a scope hitting the shooter in the eyebrow or nose area. The impact of the scope is caused by the recoil of the firearm, and that can cause anything from a red spot, outright bleeding, or a black eye.
What Causes It?
The cause of this phenomenon is a simple result of physics. As a firearm fires a projectile from the muzzle, it produces recoil that pushes the whole weapon back towards your shoulder. The force of this recoil depends on multiple things, but the biggest factors are usually the size of the cartridge and the energy it produces. The more force that is being pushed forward by the cartridge, the larger the force will be coming back at you. This can be mitigated somewhat by other factors, such as the weight of the firearm in question.
Why Is It a Ritual?
Probably the biggest reason “getting scoped” occurs is due to a lack of practice. Proper shooting practices include recoil management, such as holding a rifle or shotgun properly in order to control the recoil as you pull the trigger. For many gun owners, shooting a scoped and heavy-recoiling gun may be less familiar than plinking with their preferred firearm. A very typical case is this one: A person can shoot frequently and in high volumes with one rifle, but then hunting season rolls around each fall. So, they pull out their preferred hunting rifle, which may be of a larger caliber and is frequently lightweight.
Since many hunters only shoot a few rounds a year (at least from their hunting weapon), they run the risk of being unfamiliar with its recoil. When you couple that with a heated hunting moment, where you have worked hard to get into place and have to make a quick shot, it’s easy to forget your recoil management or to hold the gun in just such a way that it kicks you right in the eyebrow. We’ve all seen the hunting pics where a grinning hunter smiles behind a set of antlers with blood running down their nose.
How to Avoid It
As mentioned above, proper recoil management is the best way to avoid getting scoped. Properly seating the rifle against your shoulder in the correct position will greatly reduce your chances of redecorating your eyebrows.
There are other ways you can protect yourself from the shame of “scope eye,” such as using mechanical aids like a muzzle brake. Brakes reduce felt recoil by redirecting the high-pressure gasses from the muzzle to a deflecting angle. Some folks also use gun vises, something I don’t encourage for good reason. A gun vise holds a rifle and takes up much of the felt recoil for the shooter. But in doing so, they affect the way the gun recoils and can change your point of impact when compared to shooting without the vise. This could easily cause a miss in the field when you least expect it. So, unless you plan on hunting from your gun vise, it is perhaps more harmful than helpful.
Another good option to avoid mockery by your shooting companions is to avoid some monster caliber in the first place. Much of the hunting done in North America takes place inside 300 yards. For animals like white-tailed deer and comparable fauna, you do not need a .300 Ultra Magnum to effectively and ethically take them in a hunt. There are plenty of softer-shooting cartridges with more than enough power to take game animals without rearranging your face.
The way your firearm is configured can also greatly affect the way it recoils. A heavier gun will require more energy to push it back, so a heavier gun will recoil less than a comparable gun of lesser weight.
You can apply any or all these methods to avoid getting scoped, but recoil management is the most important. It is part of the foundation of good shooting, so don’t jump immediately to mechanical aids until you master the basics. Stick to a good hold that is tight in your shoulder pocket with a good cheek weld. That will keep the gun from recoiling more than the distance your brow needs to stay safe.
We should also mention length of pull and scope mounting. Your firearm should be setup with a proper-length buttstock and proper eye relief to keep your eye a safe distance from a recoiling scope.
If you’ve made it this far in life without getting scoped, chances are you are doing things right. And if you are one of those in the exclusive “split-brow” club, you probably learned how to avoid it the hard way. If you’re somewhere in between these two groups, I encourage you to employ the tactics we’ve discussed here as you continue your shooting endeavors. That way, perhaps, someday your unscarred face might grace this publication.