Musical Scopes

Remember first grade and the vicious, competitive game called Musical Chairs?

The rules of the game: children marched to martial music in a circle around an array of chairs, and when the music stopped they had to scramble to find a seat. The catch was that there was one less chair than children, so someone was denied a seat and was eliminated.

The music started again, one chair was taken away, and the children marched until the music stopped, one child was denied a seat, and was eliminated. On the game went until only two children competed for one chair, and whoever claimed it was declared the winner.

It was our introduction to capitalism, I think. An instructive example of how the system works, that there could be only one winner, everyone else was a loser, and you had to fight for your share of the capital – the ultimate chair. (Sometimes actual fistfights broke out among the boys, and that was seen as a healthy, spirited outcome.)

This seemed a ridiculous game to me, and I sought to be the first child eliminated so that I could sit at my desk and read for 10 or 15 minutes without interruption. (I did the same thing during the Spelling Bees that seemed equally inane). My parents were probably cautioned that I did not have the proper cutthroat attitude and would never amount to much unless they took action to increase my covetousness and selfish greed. But they failed to inspire those admirable traits and so I failed in life and became a writer.

More than 60 years later, however, I discovered a version of musical chairs that I play at least once every winter. I call it Musical Scopes – as in telescopic rifle sights. Around and around the scopes go, and when the music stops I mount them on different rifles. There is an important variation in the rules of the game, however. Instead of taking away one “chair” – one rifle scope – I add one.

Bored on a rainy day, I ordered online a 2-7 x 36 scope: a variable 2 through 7 magnification power scope with a 36mm objective lens. It was intended to be a replacement for the 1.5-4 x 20 scope mounted on my Marlin Model 1894 lever action rifle in .44 Remington Magnum.

Replacement was required because on a cloudy evening last fall the 20mm objective lens did not admit enough light for a well-defined sighting image. I focused that scope on a stump in the dark of the woods and could not see it clearly. What if it had been a deer? Not that a deer actually wandered by on that overcast night, but it might have, and I would have been unable to shoot. Proof enough of my need for a different scope.

I was not ready to shelve the 1.5-4 x 20 scope because it was a Leupold and was the perfect complement for my Marlin Model 39A in .22 rimfire. So I removed the Bushnell 1.5-4.5 x 28 scope from the Marlin 39A and replaced it with the Leupold 1.5-4 x 20 scope from the Model 1894. Because it looks really cool and the Marlin 39 is a true classic lever action and every classic rifle should have a Leupold scope. I’m sure you can see the logic in that and will agree.

The Leupold scope looks great on the Marlin 39. Just the right size, and it has that classy gold band around the scope tube.

I attempted to mount the 2-7 x 36 scope onto the Marlin Model 1894 rifle but soon discovered that the low-mount scope rings caused the magnification adjustment ring to pinch against the mounting rail. Well, this was an unexpected annoyance. But I had a solution. Or so I thought.

I took some measurements with a caliper and determined that the mid-height scope rings from my Savage Model IIB bolt action in .22 rimfire would work. Those higher mounts would allow the magnification adjustment ring to turn without interference from the mounting rail.

Just to make sure, I removed a 3-9 x 42 scope from the Savage Model IIB and as a precaution mounted it on the Marlin Model 1894. And made this discovery: the 3-9 x 42 scope fit just fine on the Model 1894. And it admits more light than the 2-7 x 36 scope, and it is only an inch longer. Maybe this is an even a better solution for the low-light in the woods problem?

I experimented with the new scope. Even with the lower mounting rings the 2-7 x 36 scope fit the Savage Model II bolt action perfectly. It was a heavy duplex reticle scope originally intended, of course, for the Marlin 1894, but for a squirrel rifle that might be fine.

The Marlin Model 1894 was now equipped with the 3-9 x 42 scope, which was not the Musical Chair that I expected it to land on. The Leupold 1.5-4 x 20 scope landed on the Marlin Model 39, also unintended. And the new 2-7 x 36 was unexpectedly seated on the Savage Model IIB.

A great game of Musical Scopes, and I had a Bushnell 1.5-4.5 x 28 scope that went back in the box and onto the shelf for some future game.

Naturally I did some sighting-in and plinking on the 25-yard range with the rifle rest and some sandbags. The Marlin Model 39A shot a 1/4-inch, 5-shot group with CCI high velocity ammo. How cluelessly clever of me to mount a Leupold scope on that wonderful little rifle.

The Savage Model IIB shot a 3/8-inch, 5-shot group with CCI high velocity ammo and a 1/4-inch, 5-shot group with CCI standard velocity ammo. Plenty good for a thick reticle scope.

The Marlin Model 1894 shot a 3-shot 3/4-inch group. Although the 3-9 x 42 scope looks rather big atop that rifle. Maybe if I tried the 1.5-4.5 x 28 scope. Then the 3-9 x 42 scope could go back onto the Savage Model IIB, and…


More essays and stories about life in the North Country are published in my six collections of essays, available through at  Jerry Johnson Author Page


About Jerry Johnson

Curmudgeon. Bird hunter and dog trainer. Retired journalist and college public relations director. Former teacher, coach, mentor. Novelist and short story writer. Husband, father, grandfather.
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