The Unertl rifle scopes are something most shooters know about today thanks to the web and videogames. Few of them know much about them otherwise. They know Hathcock used one on his sniper rifle during his first tour in Vietnam. They know it’s “old” and they know it looks ancient and complex. And if you ever looked into buying one you know they are expensive and no longer made. So this week we will take a closer look.
John Unertl Sr. worked in the optical field while in the service with the German army in WW1. In 1928 he and his family immigrated to the US. He was hired by the J.W Fecker telescope manufacturing company in Pitssburgh, PA where he later became the superintendent. In 1936, Unertl left Fecker to start his own company.
During WW2 Unertl provided the USMC with the 8x rifle scopes most casual observers are familiar with then post war continued on with new models. In 1960 John Sr. passed away and his son John Jr. took over further expanding the line and company. Commercial production for rifle optics ended in 1985. I doubt many shooters would realize the external adjustment Unertl scopes were made as late as 1985. Maybe even later as various people bought the left over parts from the shop and turned out a few more, Then various people bought the rights to the company name and things get really muddy and fuzzy there and I won’t go into it.
Now lets finally get to taking a look. The Unertls set on target blocks common in the past. Basically target blocks are various sized and drilled metal blocks with a dovetail that the mounts on the scope slide over and secure to. The mounts have a bolt that tightens onto the block and the dove tail keeps it from coming out of place. Picture below shows a target block. The target blocks worked on iron sights and optics mounts.
Above is the rear mount with elevation and wind and below is front mount. Both are aluminum and came in a variety of styles I won’t go into here but will in comments if asked.
Also in the above picture you will note the spring.
The body of the scope set suspended between the two mounts. This allows the scope to travel freely during recoil as its adjustments are external. That is, they move the rear of the scope up.down/ left/right. The spring is set depending on recoil force of round used. and the tension of the spring will return the scope to its full forward position. If not you have to do it by hand. Not all Unertls came with this feature as it was an optional add on. You will have noticed the USMC 8x sniper scopes do not have these as the Marines feared sand would get between the spring and body and score the tube. At the front of the mount is a clamp that holds it all in place of course. This can be adjusted if you want the eye piece of the scope to come back further or to move it away from you. Unlike modern optics you can also notice the rib that runs on the top and through the mount. This makes sure the scope and crosshairs stay straight up and not canted.
Below is the rear mount. Here you can see the external adjustments and how they move the rear of the tube. The micrometer turrets are very precise and repeatable. And very tough.
On this model the objective lens can be focused by a pretty nifty system. Not as fast to use as modern systems but very precise.
The other setting are made on the eye piece. At one time a piece was sold to replace the rear of the scopes that would allow you to boost the magnification by a few Xs.
The glass on these optics are outstanding. Even with all the modern advances in modern optics, a full 2 inch ultra varmint model Unertl is super clear and sharp. The crosshairs on this model are the pretty standard fine crosshairs. I really regret that I did not have the right camera set up to show you just how clear and sharp a Unertl in good condition can be.
Lastly the scope come with a front and rear metal screw on protective caps.
Needless to say, these scopes are fine quality and old craftsmanship. Everything about oozes quality and I am not kidding. They were made to last.
The down sides now. The price for any of these is going up by the second. The internet has made more people aware of these and of course the price goes up. Also, unless you are close to a gunsmith, you are not going to be able to pop one on most factory guns made after the mid 1980s. And that is if you are lucky. Old Remingtons, Winchesters, and target guns will most likely have the correct hole spacing in the places needed to mount one. The down side is, most of those companies making factory guns in the 70s and early 80s also were prone to have barrels not straight and receivers not drilled in line and all manner of problems. If you over come that, you need to find the correct target blocks. They came in a variety of heights and thickness to account for barrel contour and hole spacing and models. Charts are out there people have scanned and put online and some small companies make blocks new. I don’t mean to discourage you, just do your research carefully.