I hate mounting scopes. From applying the proper torque weight to finding the proper eye relief to lapping the rings, installing a scope drives the type-A perfectionist in me insane. The worst part? Leveling the reticle. By the conclusion of that process, I’m more likely to have pulled an eye muscle squinting through the scope than I am to have aligned the reticle perpendicular to the bore’s X-axis.
Fed up with eyeballing and Home Depot bubble levels, I finally reached out to Wheeler Engineering and Straight Shot, LLC. Both companies have designed devices that, ostensibly, take the guesswork out of reticle leveling. These aren’t the only options on the market: Badger Ordnance and Arisaka Defense offer similar products. But the Level Level Level, the Professional Leveling System, and the Segway Reticle Leveler are among the most cost-effective options and, in my experience, the most ubiquitous.
Does Leveling a Scope’s Reticle Really Matter?
The short answer is, “It depends.” Within about 200 yards, a very slight cant to your reticle won’t dictate whether you take down a whitetail. Beyond that, and especially if you’re shooting for precision accuracy, even a small cant will throw off your point of impact.
The science is simple, and I’ve found no better explanation than the video below from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and former Army Ranger sniper team leader Ryan Cleckner:
Cleckner’s tutorial highlights the importance of a level rifle, but the same principle applies to the scope. If a shooter levels the reticle for a shot, but the reticle isn’t perpendicular to the bore of the gun, any shots beyond the zero distance won’t correctly compensate for bullet drop and will fly to the right or left. The magnitude of error will depend on how many degrees the scope departs from the level, but anyone shooting for distance needs to get as close to perfect as possible.
The products below represent three different price points, but none are more expensive than $50. For $13.99 on Amazon, Wheeler’s Level Level Level is the cheapest of the three—and the one most dependent on a suitable firearm.
The Level Level Level works using two levels: the action level and the scope level. Users place the action level in the action and the scope level on the elevation turret to ensure that both the gun and the scope are level with one another.
The problem? The action level only seems to fit in certain firearms. I tried installing it on a Ruger 10/22, a .308 Weatherby Vanguard, and an AR-15, and the action level didn’t fit in any of them. Furthermore, even if the action level did “fit,” I wouldn’t have any real way to confirm the level of the gun’s bore.
To get around this issue, the action level can also be placed on a picatinny rail. This isn’t ideal, as the magnet on the level doesn’t adhere to aluminum, and it won’t work if the scope is mounted too low. But it’s not a bad solution for, say, an AR scope mounted on tall rings. It’s certainly better than nothing.
The second product I tested, the Segway Reticle Leveler from Straight Shot, LLC., costs only $6 more than the Level Level Level, but it represents a far greater value.
The Segway Leveler works on any scope mounting system that uses a level base. Users place the device’s metal alignment bar under the body of the scope, then align the scope’s reticle with the bars on the ears of the device. The package also includes a rubber band that can be attached to each ear and ensures the bar stays flush with the rail.
The system is simple and easy to use, but, more importantly, it doesn’t rely on the reticle being in perfect alignment with the elevation turret. Both Wheeler products I tested use a small level placed on the top of the scope’s elevation adjustment knob. This method assumes that 1) the turret has a flat surface on which to place the level and 2) the reticle inside the scope is in perfect alignment with the knob.
On the scope I used for this test, neither of these assumptions turned out to be true. It isn’t a nice scope (by any means), but why would you purchase a device that can only be used on certain kinds of scopes? The Segway Leveler’s design can be used on virtually any scope that mounts to a Picatinny rail or other level surface.
Of course, this system relies on the base being level with the bore, but so do most scope leveling systems, including the more expensive Wheeler product below. I also found that focusing on both the reticle and the Segway’s lines simultaneously is more difficult than I expected. Not impossible, but the perfectionist in me couldn’t be 100% certain the reticle’s lines were aligned with the Segway’s.
The Wheeler Professional Leveling System is the most expensive product I tested, running around $45 on Amazon. Its strength lies in its ability to find the bore level without having to fit anything in the action or underneath the scope. Users begin by attaching the barrel level clamp to the barrel and placing the reference level on a flat surface on the gun’s receiver. The reference level ensures a level bore, and the barrel level clamp can be adjusted to match. Now the reference level can be removed, and as long as the barrel level clamp isn’t bumped, it can be used to keep the bore level as the scope is installed.
The directions instruct users to place the reference level on the scope’s elevation turret. This works, again, if the turret is flat and you’re confident it’s aligned with the reticle. With my scope, I decided to use a plumb line. I found a piece of string, attached it to my doorframe, tied a heavy object on the other end, and aligned the Y-axis of my reticle with the string. I checked the barrel clamp to ensure the bore was still level and cinched down my scope rings.
While you can find other ways to level a scope, the three products I tested all help take the headache out of the process. The Level Level Level is cheap and easy to use (provided it fits in your rifle), the Segway Leveler is portable and versatile, and the Wheeler Professional Leveling System is thorough and ultra-reliable (especially when confirmed with a plumb line).
If you’re planning to range out that new 6.5 Creedmoor, be sure your scope is dead level before running through 100 rounds trying to hit your range’s 1000-yard target. And a level scope isn’t just important for long-range nerds. When that twelve-point buck walks across the pasture in November, you want to make sure not to let him get away, and that starts with a proper scope installation.