GunTech Special: Installing a “Malcolm” Scope on a 1903 Springfield
The Hi-Lux/Leatherwood 8X USMC sniper scope is an exact replica of the one used by Carlos Hatchock, legendary sniper and sniper trainer from Vietnam, who had 93 confirmed kills with his Winchster Model 70, as well as 1903 Springfields and even a .50 cal. Browning BMG. He used a scope on all those rifles just like this.
There are no internal adjustment turrets on this scope. These external turrets control those two pins, that cradle the scope tube.
You may recognize this scope from the tower scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan, where the sniper uses the incorrectly mounted Unertl to take his last shots.
The difficult thing about this scope is mounting it. This requires a competant and experienced gunsmith. Jack Landis from the American Gunsmithing Institute graciously agreed to make a video on how to mount this scope. It is a feature on their Gun Club of America DVD magazine called GunTech, and it is free here from their Youtube, above.
Just be aware that whoever is doing the work should watch the video from beginning to end before drilling your rifle. The instructions incorrectly tell you to mount that rear base you see against the rear sight base. This is incorrect.
You can see here that the base will not center on the mount, and this important because there are notches inside the base that are supposed to line up. We shot this rifle successfully the way it is, and it won’t be a big job to grind the front of the base off, but you should be aware of the descrepancy.
Jack explains in the video how to deal with the recoil spring. We were told that CMP matches don’t allow them for whatever reason, and the front eyepiece and reticle have to be removed in order to assemble and take off the spring. It sounds crazy, but this scope actually slides back and forth when you shoot, yet maintains perfect zero.
Jack also explains how to safely route the front handgaurd without cracking it. It will save you having to buy a new one.
The scope held zero perfectly through over a hundred rounds of surplus .30-06 from Greece bought from the CMP.
The Malcolm 8X USMC sniper scope from Hi-Lux/Leatherwood is a really nice piece of gear, and each scope is serial numbered. Their aren’t a lot of them out there, and they will dry up. If you want one use the links above to buy them from the retailers we found, then find a competant gunsmith to mount it for you. It’ll get your old rifle out shooting again for sure.
American Gunsmithing Institute: http://www.americangunsmith.com/
$521 On Optics Planet: http://www.opticsplanet.com/leatherwood
$549 Creedomore Sports: http://www.creedmoorsports.com/shop/Hi-Lux
Carlos Hathcock is probably the most famous sniper of all time. He had 93 confirmed kills in Vietnam, and until recently held the world record for a sniper shot at over 2500 yards, using a Browning M2 .50 cal. machinegun. During his entire career as a sniper, Carlos Hathcock used a U. S. Marines version of a Unertl precision riflescope. This was standard issue on his Winchester Model 70 sniper rifle, and he even used the same scope on the .50 cal. for his record shot. It is an odd scope by today’s standards. There are no internal adjustments to zero these old style Unertls. The scopes adjusts with turrets integral to the rear scope mount, and the tube of the scope floats inside adjustment pins. To buy an original of this USMC scope today would cost you thousands, but Hi-Lux/Leatherwood this past year released an exact replica, called the 8X Malcolm USMC, and the scope really great, but hard to mount. It has an MSRP of $549 and the internet and street price is slightly below that. Hi-Lux sent us one, with the mounting hardware, and we were able to have it mounted for a full range test. Our friends at the American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) agreed to help us and you by making an instruction video on the difficult mounting process, included here, in the style of their monthly magazine and DVD subscription called GunTech that is available to their Gun Club of America gunsmith student members. If you have any interest in mounting this scope, the video will save you or your gunsmith a lot of headaches.
We mounted our Malcolm USMC scope on a mismatched mutt of a 1903 Springfield that had been languishing in the safe for years. It is a perfect choice for this project, because this style of scope was standard issue for Army snipers throughout much of World War II, mounted on the 1903 platform sniper rifle. Many of these guns also saw service in Korea, and some even returned for the battlefields of Vietnam. Apparently the Marines by that time had moved to the M70 platform, and this is why Carlos Hathcock is nearly always but not exclusively seen with a Winchester. If you watch the movie Saving Private Ryan, as we mentioned in our previous article on a “no drill” scoping of the 1903 Springfield, the sniper character in the movie, who is left-handed, uses the Unertl scope on his right handed 1903 Springfield at the end of the movie, in the tower scene where he is killed. That scope is mounted incorrectly, in standard scope mounts, but the moviegoers didn’t seem to mind at the time. It shows you that the producers wanted at least the look of a scope that was actually used in these famous battlefields, and that scope was more than not the Unertl.
As you can see from the pictures and the video from AGI, the forward mount for the Malcolm scope is supposed to mount not in a standard scope mount set up, but instead toward the front of the rifle, drilled and tapped into the barrel. This is how all of these Unertls used to mount, and it does give a wide and stable base for the scope. The only problem is, you really have to cut up your gun. Some may have a problem with this, because theoretically every gun has a “history,” but that really isn’t true. This rifle had been re-arsenalled at least twice by the government, and not one part matches. It has also been completely re-parkerized, and we paid $295 for it on GunsAmerica a few years ago from one of the regular sellers here. It was bought specifically because it wasn’t a collectible gun. Granted, the various parts of the gun all have a history, but each part has a different history, and not one part on the gun besides possibly the receiver could ever be documented to have done anything. Drilling and tapping the receiver and barrel don’t remove the history from the gun. They give the gun a new life. It used to languish in the safe. Now it will be shot regularly and probably will take a deer or a coyote in the coming year. A used gun is a happy gun, and this makeover made this gun happy.
If you watch the video, AGI instructor Jack Landis takes us through some basic drilling and tapping tips, and he explains how the measurements need to line up between the bases. But beware, there is a correction at the end when Jack discovers that the sparse manual that comes with the scope is actually incorrect, and that the rear mount should not be butted directly against the rear sight base. You can see on our test rifle that the base overhangs the mount slightly, and that the base on our rifle will eventually need to be ground and polished to fit correctly. Jack also explains how you must route out the top front handguard to accommodate the barrel mounted front base, and how to not only line everything up correctly, but also cut it to the right depth so as not to mess up your rifle.
If you have any interest in actually purchasing this scope, the AGI video is gold. They discovered all of the issues for you by experimenting with our test rifle, and you should be confident that your gunsmith can do the work now. Otherwise it would have genuinely been a crap shoot. The directions that come with the scope are poor and confusing and all but a master gunsmith would screw this job up for sure on the first pass. If you are yourself a gunsmith or tinkering addict, you should sign up for the AGI Gun Club of America. GunTech is the monthly publication and you get a DVD with several features and a video gunsmithing column like this every month. We can’t suggest this enough. All of the AGI stuff is extremely well done, and by experts in the field. We would have boogered this rifle with a local quasi-gunsmith, and it was an undertaking for them to help us with this project for which we are grateful.
The scope itself is fantastic. This is our third scope from Hi-Lux, and yes, blah blah blah they are made in China, but the quality is as good as any German or Japanese scope we have tested in these pricepoints. Complain to your politicians about EPA and OSHA and maybe we’ll see more of this stuff made in the U.S., but for now we can enjoy inexpensive scopes made by those fools in China working for three bucks a week. We did have to test this scope with the rear mount not centered on the notch, as Jack explains, but it didn’t seem to matter. With no Loctite and only hand screwdriver tightening, not one screw on the scope loosened after more than 100 rounds of surplus .30-06 from Greece sold through the CMP. In informal shooting at 50 yards the rifle easily held into an inch using the surplus ammo, which puts it at roughly 2 MOA, perfectly acceptable for informal shooting matches and hunting. This was from a HySkore Black Gun Machine Rest on a patio table, using surplus ammo, so most likely, with match ammo or careful handloads, from a solid rest, you can do much better. You may ask, why do we sometimes shoot at 50 yards? It is hot here in Florida! You try walking back and forth 100 yards.
The important point is that the scope held zero perfectly, and it was repeatable. You will find the Unertl system a little freaky the first time you see it in person. It will make you wonder how it could possibly have withstood battle conditions, but it must be tougher than it looks. On this scope it certainly is more stable than it looks. You will see in Jack’s video that the scope actually slides back and forth on that spring when you shoot it. If anything so far has made us want for a high speed video system, it was this scope. Note, however, that Hi-Lux told us that the spring is not legal for CMP matches. Why? We have no idea, except that the somehow the geezers decided that it somehow gave someone an unfair advantage and ruined the fun. As Jack explains in the video, our guess is that you just move the scope back after every shot. Geezers! Go figure. But be careful to watch Jack’s explanation of how you get that spring on and off the scope, because it doesn’t come with the spring mounted on the tube.
I am not sure that the original Unertl had crosshairs like the Hi-Lux replica. Back then the most popular reticle was a post. Many people still prefer this, but we can’t find an answer to what came on the original scope. The crosshairs on the Malcolm are serviceable at 8X, and the eyepiece is adjustable to your vision somewhat. On the far end of the scope is a focus ring with ranges on it, up to 200 yards. In Saving Private Ryan you can see him twist the front of the scope to adjust to his shot. Some would call this a parallax adjustment, but it isn’t really that on this scope. You do need to adjust the focus between near and far shots for the reticle and the target to be in focus. Many modern scopes eliminate this by setting the focus on infinity, so close shots are always blurry. With the older scopes you at least had a choice.
The only other real quirk of our test scope was that it doesn’t have a lot of adjustment left to right. It just made it to the zero point on the target using the side adjustment turret. It is difficult to drill and tap scope mounts exactly in line with the bore, so I would put your gunsmith on notice to take extra care in this regard so you don’t end up dead stopped at the end of your adjustment range, wishing you had four more clicks to get to point of impact. We didn’t, by the way, test to see if the clicks were actually 1/4 or 1/2 MOA. But they do work well and are 100% repeatable, which is more than I can always say for many of the internal adjustment scopes in this price range from the usual suspects.
The decision to drill and tap a rifle that is in many cases close to 100 years old is a hard one. Ultimately your responsibility to preserving history is no greater than the government that has cut up and mismatched almost all of these rifles ad-nauseum, but the decision is up to you. A rifle that sits in the safe and isn’t shot is an unhappy rifle, and no collector is ever going to want an undocumented mutt of a 1903 Springfield. There really isn’t a huge loss in giving your rifle a new life and purpose. The Hi-Lux/Leatherwood Malcolm 8X USMC riflescope has waaay too long a name, but it is a pretty long scope, and a good scope for the money. It is an authentic replica of the scope Carlos Hathcock used to make his career as the greatest sniper of all time, and to set the long distance sniper record that held for decades. History is what you make it, and Hi-Lux is making history with this really nice scope. Thanks to Jack Landis and AGI for the sweat equity and the great video. It made this article the most useful you will find on this unique scope.