3rd August 2011
It’d been a couple of weeks since I’d gone over to assist my mate Critter with some foxes that had been attacking his new intake of pheasant poults. We’d waited until it was dark enough for the NV, then driven around the estate in the 4×4 mule. One of the areas we’d particularly wanted to check over was a field that sloped off the top of a large hill – this had all manner of lumps and bumps for a fox to hide in, as well as a fair number of dashels (thistles) to disappear behind. We’d parked up a few hundred yards short of the spot and then walked across to the gateway.
Once there, we’d found that nothing fox-like was visible, so we’d got in next to the hedge and gradually worked our way forward. Stopping every now and then to scan around, we soon spotted a fox snuffling around in the grass. I had set the sticks up and got the rifle in place – as soon as I was ready, Critter squeaked the back of his hand, and when the Charlie looked up, I fired. It was only about 90 yards out, and I had what I thought was a stable shot. And yet I missed. I couldn’t believe it, but immediately reloaded, tracking the fox as it ran. Although it must have covered about a hundred yards, it had run around in an arc, so was still well within range – indeed, it was probably even closer than when we first saw it. I breathed a sigh of relief and when it stopped to look over its shoulder, I fired again. And missed again. ‘Yer missed it Paddy’, was Critter’s helpful comment. I was gutted. ‘Never mind’, he continued, ‘Yer can’t expect to get ‘em all the time’.
I went home both confused and hacked off. I do miss occasionally – everyone does, but not twice – and not on what should have been good solid shots at relatively close ranges. The next night I went out and checked the zero on the D480 NV riflescope. It had been more or less spot-on ever since I’d bought it some two and a half years ago, and had only had a couple of very minor adjustments in all that time. I was therefore somewhat surprised to find that it was shooting low and right, by about four inches at 100 yards. I adjusted it back to zero, and all seemed well – it was shooting very consistently with almost touching holes. A thorough check-over showed that everything appeared correct – the moderator was tight, as were the stock bolts, scope mounts, and so on.
A couple of nights later, I shot at another fox and for the third time in a row, I missed. A quick zero check showed that it had shifted POI once again. Completely confused, I gave the rifle another check over. In the end, I came to the conclusion that the diffuser stack in the moderator (a Wildcat Predator 8) – which had been showing signs of burning out for some time, was the cause of the problem. My local gun shop didn’t have a spare in stock, so I removed the stack and mounted it up in the lathe. I figured that by machining away all the burnt material until the bore was truly round again, I’d be able to prove whether it was the mod or not. This done, I had to wait until it was dark to test fire it. The first two shots showed that it was firing high and left. It was also quite a bit noisier, but then that was fully expected.
Once I’d readjusted the zero, I left and drove back home satisfied that all was well. On the way, I stopped in a gateway where there are often foxes nosing about. Sure enough – when I checked with the NV monocular, I could see there were two of them, both in range. I crept back to the truck and slid the rifle and sticks out as quietly as I could. There was no way I could climb over the gate without being sussed, so I set up the sticks, chose my moment, and fired. Instead of seeing the fox flip over, all I could see through the scope was a total whiteout. It took me a couple of moments to realise that the cause was the smoke from the shot being lit up by the laser illuminator. Now this had never happened before – I was used to a certain amount of it, but not like this.
What didn’t help was that where I was down in the bottom of a valley, there simply wasn’t enough breeze to disperse it. As a result, it was being lit up by the laser illuminator. I therefore had to wait about ten seconds for it to clear, but even then I still couldn’t see the fox. Normally I’d have heard the bullet strike, but due to the larger hole in the baffles, the bang was so much louder that I wasn’t able to. By this time, the other fox was staring right at me, so I quickly reloaded and fired again. The same thing happened – but this time I was ready for it and had the monocular in action in time to see the fox legging it over the hill. I spent the best part of half an hour looking for the first one in amongst all the thistles, but it wasn’t there. I left the scene totally dejected. By then I’d worked out that the bigger moderator exit hole was allowing extra smoke to escape, hence the whiteout problems. It would have to go.
The next morning I called James at the local gun shop (Blue Fox Glade) in Chawleigh and talked through the options. Luckily, I had a spare slot for a .22 cal moderator on my ticket, so we agreed that the best thing would be for me to pop over to see whether I liked any of the ones he had in stock. After looking at various models, I settled on an over-barrel PES. It was expensive, but being made from stainless, there wouldn’t be any chance of corrosion problems.
That night, I once again set up the zeroing target and got ready to get everything to my satisfaction. I took two shots and checked the target – I worked out what adjustments would be needed, returned to the truck and fired another two. This time the hits were close to the desired point, so I turned the turrets a few more clicks and got ready to fire again. When I turned the scope on, however, the tube suddenly went to full brightness, and no matter what I did to the gain control, it made no difference at all. This was very bad news – had the power supply in the tube gone wrong, I wondered? A replacement would be mega bucks, so I was seriously hacked off, and rushed home to see if I could find out what was wrong.
By the time I’d parked up and unloaded the truck it was late and my Good Lady was already tucked up in bed. Since she had to get up early for work, I didn’t want to disturb her any later than absolutely necessary, but I really needed to know what was going on. I quickly unbolted the battery compartment and pulled it back a few millimetres to peer inside at the back of the gain control pot. An absolute nightmare presented itself to me. It looked as though whoever had done the soldering had been blind, drunk, and wearing boxing gloves. It was a complete train wreck. Amongst all the carnage, the sleeving had pulled back in one place leaving a bare wire touching the potentiometer’s outer case, causing a direct short circuit. At least I now knew where to start in the morning…
By this stage I’d checked and double-checked everything else I could think of – except that is, stripping the D480. The ammo was spot-on, the stock was tight, the moderator was good. I’d checked that no grit had managed to work its way between the stock and barrel – a piece of paper slid along its length showed that it was still completely free-floating. For obvious reasons, I’d been trying to avoid taking the riflescope to pieces, but there was clearly no other choice. Not only did I now have to cure the gain control problem, but I also had to find and fix the cause of the accuracy issues.
I should make it clear that this unit was not purchased from anyone who is still trading, so no criticism of any dealers is implied or intended.
The next day I got all my business emails and letters out of the way, then set to. I started by getting the necessary tools out and before beginning my surgical operation. The first thing I had to do was remove the mounting rail from the scope’s body. Bearing in mind that it was sold to me as a new item, I was not at all impressed to discover that the chap who built it had helpfully rounded off all the hexagons in the three countersunk Allen bolts. I managed to extricate two of them with a bit of fiddling, but the third one was a no-hoper. In the end, I had no choice but to drill it out. Fortunately, I managed to do this successfully, and when I drew the rail away, there was just enough of the threaded portion left for a set of aircraft lockwire pliers to unwind it.
One of the nice features of the Dedal D480 night vision riflescope is that it has a support leg that reaches down from the front objective bell to the mounting rail. This is designed to remove any significant flexure, and thus reduce the likelihood of any POI shifts. I was therefore rather surprised to see the spacer shim fall to the ground as the rail and body were separated. With the remains of the bolt removed, I turned my attention to this part of the assembly. My surprise turned to anger when I realised that the person who built the scope had never fitted the bolt to connect the support leg to the mounting rail. It wasn’t just that he’d left it out – he could never have fitted it as the holes didn’t line up. Rather than fix the problem, he’d quietly ignored it. I was absolutely furious by then – this was a very expensive piece of kit, and it would have been such a simple thing to sort out. Indeed, a quick trip out to my machine shop did just that.
The front end of the riflescope unscrewed without any problems. That was a bad sign – it
should have been very tight indeed. I then moved on to check the lock ring that retains the image intensifier tube, and made sure all was well there. I managed to tighten it a fraction, but was happy that nothing was moving around. I replaced the objective bell and bolted everything up tightly. The next stage was to check through the area behind the battery compartment. This was where my anger really racked up…
The battery compartment’s cover had been modified by the chap who built it to add a variable-gain control. This is a small potentiometer that just about fits in one of the recesses. Although the choice of location was excellent, giving me the ability to brighten or dim the tube in an instant simply by moving my thumb, the method of installation was dreadful. The pot had been glued in with some kind of hot adhesive – but only a small amount had been used, and it had completely broken away, leaving the controller floating around. The only reason it hadn’t gone very far was that the recess it had been fitted in was so small that all it could do was rattle about. The adjustment knob had been wobbling around more or less since I’d bought the scope – so now I knew why…
As I lifted the battery compartment away from the scope’s body, the solder holding one of the wires in place gave way, and the broken end sprung out towards me. What a dreadful mess. Wires that should have been carefully routed around all the obstructions had just been left to fend for themselves, and as a result had been crushed when the case was screwed tight. As I investigated further, it was clear that every single piece would have to be redone. I did, however, manage to prove that the tube and gain control were working OK before I began the long task of reassembling everything. Bolting the cover on should have been a two minute job, but every time I tried to fit it another damned wire broke away in a sudden bid for freedom. I suspect there are little old ladies at the other end of the village who learned some new language from me that day. It’s a good job that the chap who built it wasn’t around, as things might have got messy…
My anger was running close to the rev-limiter when I fitted the cover back on for what I hoped was the last time. When the scope flatly refused to turn on, however, the needle broke through the stops. I stripped it all out again for about the twentieth time and discovered that the thin twin-track copper strip running from the gain control to the tube was broken. It was clear that it had been like this when the scope had first been built, as the broken section had been jammed in placed and then glued together with some kind of adhesive. This left me with a real problem – how the hell do you repair ‘flat tape’ copper track? In the end, I used a scalpel blade to scrape the clear coating off the copper – once this was exposed, I managed to get a smear of solder onto to it – it was an absolute swine to do though, and I was raging by then. Once the tracks had been successfully tinned, I was able to solder two thin copper wires in place and I was back in business.
This time I got the cover on, and found that not only would the tube power up, but the gain control worked too… At this, my pulse rate and blood pressure began to subside and come back down to somewhere near survivable levels. It had taken me about five hours to fix the thing. By then I was so worn out that there was no question of me going out to zero the rifle that night – it would have to wait for another occasion.
Luckily, my sense of humour had improved somewhat by the following day, and I set off in the early evening to smack a few bunnies down with the HMR while the light remained. That done, I got the target board set out so that when it got dark I’d be ready to get the zeroing sorted out. I used the range finder to ensure that when I had the rifle on the bonnet of the Disco I’d be shooting at a true 100 yards. As the light fell, I wound the gain right off and fired two shots. On inspection, they were high and left. 12 clicks right and 5 down took me a lot closer, but it still needed another 10 to the right and 2 down to get the rounds spot-on. It had only taken six rounds – some of which had been touching each other, so I was happy with that. I took a wander about before leaving for home, but the shots must have scared everything away, as there was nothing to be seen. The question now, of course, was whether the rifle would hold its zero. But that, as they say, is another story…