Shooting the ART-1000: A Classic Long-Range Tactical Rifle Scope

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The Leatherwood ART M-1200 scope autoranges and adjusts for bullet drop for targets from 250 to 1200 yards.

This Leatherwood ART M-1200 scope autoranges and adjusts for bullet drop for targets from 250 to 1200 yards.

“A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five,” said Groucho Marx, in one of his classic spoofs. My first experience with a long-range tactical scope was a lot like that — like something out of a Marx Brothers routine. I was completely out of my element when it came to using the thing.

The ultra-fine turret adjustments were better suited for benchrest competition than real-world tactical or hunting applications. The ¼ MOA turrets made field shooting a complex and time-consuming affair. It involved math. Lots of math.

The ARTII Automatic Ranging and Trajectory scope is the military version, which was installed on M14s during the Vietnam war. It is still in use by the U.S. Army today.

The ARTII Automatic Ranging and Trajectory scope is the military version, which was installed on M14s during the Vietnam war. It is still in use by the U.S. Army today.

After the second revolution of the turret and counting what seemed like hundreds of clicks, mere mortal men like me begin to lose count and get lost. Try doing that — while maintaining all the Mil Dot calculations in your head — while under stress. And hope the damn target doesn’t move.

U.S. Army 2nd Lieutenant James Leatherwood understood this problem. Before he entered the Vietnam War, he had been working on a scope called the ART (Automatic Ranging and Trajectory) in the ‘60s to simplify and bring together range finding and bullet drop compensation. It came just in time, as the U.S. military found itself losing servicemen to Viet Cong snipers who had the home field advantage in terrain that was, to say the least, difficult.

Under stressful conditions like those, it needed to be simpler, faster.

The result was the ART — and later the ARTII — scopes developed by Leatherwood, which solved the bullet drop and ranging problem for the military. The scope was installed on M14/M21s, and U.S. snipers began to gain advantage on the battlefield. They were unorthodox and they were deadly.

It works by combining a variable power zoom ring locked to a caliber-specific cam and hinged base. In addition to a standard Mil Dot reticle, there is a rectangular bracket representing 1 meter (with 18-inch or ½-meter subtends) surrounding the crosshair. The power ring and adjustable cam are synced to the scope base — which raises and lowers compensating for bullet drop. You can fine-tune the cam based on changes in elevation or temperature.

It sounds complicated; but it takes all the computations necessary for range acquisition and bullet drop compensation off the shooter’s plate and does them automatically. It’s a load off the shoulders. And best of all, your eye never has to leave the scope: You can literally engage any number of targets from close up to 1000 yards (1200 yards with the M-1200 version) with a simple turn of the knob.

The Leatherwood "No Math" Mil-Dot reticle. Simply fit a 36-inch object into the center bracket using the scope's zoom ring and fire.

The Leatherwood "No Math" Mil-Dot reticle. Simply fit a 36-inch object into the center bracket using the scope's zoom ring and fire.

Using the power ring you “frame” an object of known measurement (say an 18-inch deep chest of a deer) in the bracket found in the scope’s reticle. The scope base adjusts appropriately. Aim. And shoot. You don’t really need to know what range the target is; all the computations are internal.

However, the one exception to that is for wind compensation or shooting at angles. For these more advanced requirements, after you’ve bracketed the target, the range is spelled out on the near side of the zoom ring. Once you know that, you can either use the turret to make an MOA-based wind adjustment, or — since you hold crosshairs dead-on with this system, a distinct advantage — you hold over right or left using a Mil holdover.

Interestingly, these auto-ranging scopes were so effective in Vietnam, they are the only optic from that era still in active duty today. In fact, the U.S. Army’s FM 23-10 Sniper Training Manual still covers operation and maintenance of the scope. Today, a firm called Iron Sight, Inc. builds and repairs the military ARTII.

The ART M-1000 is a civilian version of the concept, produced by Leatherwood Hi-Lux, under the direction of Leatherwood’s son Corbett Leatherwood. It is nearly identical to the military version save for the fact that it sits slightly higher than the military ARTII. Other differences include the cam being adjustable for cartridges ranging from the 17 Remington to the .50 BMG. Its turrets are unique, too, with the ability to save five different zeroes for a multitude of rounds (target and hunting ammo, for example). It’s also considerably more affordable, with an MSRP of less than $500 (used ARTIIs are fetching $1000-1500).

The M-1000 optic is 2.5-10 X 44 mm, while the M-1200 is a 6-24 X 50 mm scope. Both have 1-inch tubes.