A Beginner’s Guide to Rifle Scope Mounts

When considering mounting a scope to a rifle, there are lots of options on the market. Not all of them will be a great fit for your rifle and scope needs, plus certain models of firearms, like AK rifles, will be inherently harder to mount optics on them.

Thus, today, we’re going to walk through some of the types of scope mounts available.
For each type of scope, we’ll begin with a little bit of an explanation. Following that, the ideal use-case for each kind of mount will help you decide if it’s for you, as will taking note of some potential downsides.

This article will provide a basic overview and help you pick out the kind of mount that you need.
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One-Piece Rail Sections

A one-piece rail mount, as the name implies, is a section of rail, either Weaver, or, more commonly, Picatinny rail, that is mounted to the receiver, which has been drilled and tapped for this exact purpose.

Some rifles even come with such rail sections directly from the factory.

Mounting a scope to these rails is daily simple: all the shooter has to do is buy scope rings that will fit the scope’s diameter and are compatible with the rail.

After that, you’re just a few turns of a wrench away from having a scope correctly mounted to a rifle.

These work best for firearms that have a receiver that has a long enough section on the top so that you can mount the rail section without it interfering with loading, ejecting, or the action.
These days, this is a common system on bolt-action rifles, and it is growing in popularity since it makes the installation of the scope a breeze.

The downside here, then, is if you have a rifle that either feeds or ejects from the top: even if you can physically get a rail section to fit over the milled-out section of the top of the receiver, having the rail in your way will add a lot of unnecessary frustration, and could well induce malfunctions.

Two-Piece Rail Sections

If, as described above, your rifle feeds or ejects from the top of the receiver, then a two-piece mount might be exactly the solution.

As we’re sure you guessed, these rails come in pairs, allowing you to mount one section more rearward, and another more forward on the receiver.

The major benefit here is on rifles that are not already drilled and tapped, as it allows the user, or, more likely, a qualified gunsmith, to place the rail, and thus the scope rings, exactly where they need to be while still allowing the shooter to change scopes and rings later on.
The downside of this kind of scope mounting system is that it if the rails are not perfectly aligned with one another, then the scope rings might not fit on the scope.

This will, likely, simply mean unscrewing the rail and trying to get it to fit better, but if the holes in the receiver are the problem, these can turn into a major headache if not installed correctly the first time around.

With multiple-piece mounts, it’s smart to have a gunsmith take care of the mounting process.

Cantilevered Mounts

Once you have a rail, and in particular a single-piece rail, some scope mounts allow the shooter to have one of the rings over the rail itself, with the second scope ring cantilevered either forward or reverse of the rail section, depending on the rifle setup.

These mounts are ideal for a situation in which the shooter needs to get a scope further out for better eye relief. Cantilevered Mounts are most often found on the flat top upper receiver of AR15 rifles and lend themselves well to multiple types of optics.

Generally, these mounts, when attached to a single rail section, work well, and provide the shooter with a more intuitive aiming system. But, with that flexibility comes a very minor potential downside.

Because there is only a single point at which these mounts attach to a rail section, there might be a slightly higher potential here for the mount itself to move if, for instance, someone drops the rifle or picks it up by the scope.

This is a good time to bring up the fact that while many mounts look the same, the quality of the manufacturing process, testing, and material used for construction make a difference.
Spending a little more for a quality mount will pay dividends in terms of protecting and keeping the optic zeroed.

Side Mounts

For some more specialized applications, there are also scope mounts that attach to the side of the receiver and have either scope rings or rail sections to attach the optic to the rifle in a way that allows the top of the receiver to remain clear.

Historically, this was an option used by the US military on the M1D and M1C sniper rifles, as the M1 Garand loads from the top, meaning that mounting any scope above the receiver would not work well.

The Soviets made use of a side mount as well, so that it became possible to mount optics on the AK47, and later AK74, without relying on the dust cover to retain zero.
These are specialist applications, but when you have a rifle that needs one of these mounts, commercially available versions are often the best way to mount an optic.

This is especially true in the case of AK pattern rifles, but you have to start with a version that has the mounting bracket machined into the receiver from the factory.

Side mounts are, thus, relatively uncommon, but are a good option for folks looking to get an optic mounted on their AKs that have the appropriate bracket.


So, is there any one best scope mount?
In our analysis, we do not think so. Instead, the type of mount should fit the rifle and the needs of the shooter.

In an ideal world, it’s typically easiest if a rifle will allow for a single section of Picatinny rail. But, if that cannot be worked out, then two rail sections or a cantilever are great ways to make the most out of the real estate provided on a receiver.
Side mounts are great for AK style rifles and can work on a variety of platforms to provide an adequate optic mounting solution.

As an avid shooter will tell you, sometimes it is a matter of trial and error to find the right mounting setup for your rifle. And, like any other piece of equipment on your gun, selecting a quality mount will save you time and trouble by better protecting your rifle and your optic.

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