Mar 302019

I field a good number of questions here and there and I like the idea of making some of them as a blog post especially when they touch on something I get asked with reasonable regularity.

Here is a question I received today:

If I can bother you a moment, I do have a quick question on your thoughts about a few optics. As someone who’s been around awhile, I hate asking stuff like this, but with time being limited (you’ll see why in a sec), I was hoping to cut out some of the riff-raff and get right to things.

I’m looking to scope a small-frame (5.56mm) precision AR. I have a S&B 4-16×42 PMII that was supposed to go on it, but I need to free up some funds for career advancement training, so I need to downgrade. I’ll DEFINITELY be looking to replace it when I can, as it’s an amazing optic, but such is life!

Here’s where I’m at. I already have a 34mm Spuhr SP-4616, so I’m heavily considering sticking with a 34mm optic, BUT I’m not at all against snagging an SP-3616 if I opt to go with a 30mm scope. Here’s what I’m considering:

-Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50
-Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56
-Burris XTRII 4-20×50
-Bushnell DMRII
-Bushnell LRTSi/LRHSi
-Vortex Viper PST2 3-15×44
-SWFA SS 3-15×42

I have experience with the two Bushnells and loved them. The LRTSi/LRHSi has slightly better glass, but is a bit darker because of the small exit pupil at full power when I use it (not terribly often, but still a consideration). The DMRII doesn’t have glass quite as nice, but is a 34mm, and does have a higher mag range and is a bit brighter at the ranges I’d most often be in.

The SWFA is on the list because it’s a proven basic optic that would get me by. Stepping down that far is acceptable, but less than ideal coming from an S&B, haha. But if I needed to go that low, it would be my choice.

I’m unfamiliar with the performance (tracking/repeatability, brightness, clarity) of the PST2 and Steiner/Burris offerings. I’ve read your reviews on the P4Xi and am interested, but the lack of a sunshade is worrisome, as I live in AZ and shoot in bright sun quite often. The 5-25x T5Xi sunshade works, but I’m not aware of a way to source one by itself, and I don’t yet know if Steiner/Burris will make one specific to the scope. The 3-15x seems like the next logical option, but the DMRII can be had for less with greater mag range for the rare case it’s needed, but weight becomes a penalty. The XTRII is proven, but has a lower level of clarity and higher CA on average. But you sure can beat the hell out of them, from what I’ve read over the years!

If you have $1K to use, which would you use, or perhaps, how would you rank them? Primary uses would be local PRS-type matches, training, informal plinking, and some varmint hunting. Of utmost importance is tracking/repeatability, brightness, and low weight (I can probably find a used 3-18x Razor Gen2 for $1250 if I’m patient, but I’m not putting a lb+ optic on a small frame AR!). I appreciate your time and input, and hope you have a great day!

For this scenario, the short answer is that I would go for Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44. Now, onto the long answer.

Do you like mil-scale reticles like Mil-Quad, SCR or TMR? Or do you prefer some sort of a tree reticle like EBR-2D? In a market with a large number of fairly competitive designs, reticle choice can easily be the deal breaker. I do not like to compromise on reticles too much.

That out of the way, a lot depends on how you plan to use the rifle. I have an accurate small frame AR and it has a 3-15×50 optic on it. I find that to be an excellent magnification range for this gun, but I shoot offhand and from weird positions a lot, which I like to do on lower magnifications, hence the need for 3x on the low end. I really like to keep the low end magnification on gas guns at 4x or lower.

Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 on an accurate small frame AR

The best bang for the buck in the precision scope world right now is Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56 scope, but it is too big and heavy for a small frame AR in my opinion. If your AR is a dedicated heavy barrel setup, P4Xi would work fine, but based on how the question is phrased, I do not think that is what we are dealing with here.

Bushnell LRHSi was a nice design, but it is discontinued. LRTSi is similar and I like it, but 4.5x on the low end gives me pause. I like to have more FOV on the low end. It is different for everyone, but I would rather give up a little magnification on the high end that lose FOV on the low end in this case. 3-15x works better for me than 4.5-18x.

Bushnell DMR II 3.5-21×50 sounds like it would give you more FOV, but it doesn’t. This scope has some tunneling on the low end, so its FOV on 3.5x is almost the same as LRTSi on 4.5x. The two Bushnell scopes have FOV of around 24-25ft at 100 yards on the low end, while the PST Gen 2 has a hair over 41ft on low magnification. To me, that is a big difference.

Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is a compelling design, but I do not think that it is any better optically than PST Gen 2. The 3-15×44 is sort of a sweetspot of the PST Gen 2 line and it is good enough to my eyes that I effectively stopped recommending other scopes of this general configuration until we get over $2k. I think the 3-15×44 PST Gen 2 punches well above its weight class and I happened to like the reticle.

Now, when XTR 3 comes out, these two will something interesting to look at. Same for Optika6 3-18×50 when it gets here. Until then, PST Gen 2 is what I recommend in this price range.

SWFA SS 3-15×42 is an excellent and time proven design. There is nothing wrong with and if you want to save some money, it works well. However, PST Gen 2 is basically a better and more full featured scope for not a lot more money. SWFA SS has more of a track record and focuses closer though.

 Posted by at 11:40 am
Mar 162019

The text below was not written by me. It was, a blog post by a gentleman I have know for quite a few years now and I always pay attention to what he says. Admittedly, I do not always agree with him, but I always find his opinion well reasoned and driven by his personal experience. He prefers to stay anonymous. He posts as Rancid Coolaid on various forums. The text in italic is his. A few of my comments are at the bottom.

What began as an inquiry of utility has become a quick primer for pocket knives. Below is the first installment regarding automatic, semi-automatic, and purely manual pocket knives.

For most of us, it happened when we were boys. The first time we saw one, we immediately thought – or yelled – “I want one.” The switchblade is iconic, but is it practical or necessary?
But, before all that, a few housekeeping items.

1. Vocabulary. Every intelligent discourse begins with an agreement on vocabulary – else all the really important points get lost in the ambiguities.

For purposes of this post, we shall consider an “automatic” knife to be one that deploys a blade by way of a button not affixed to the blade. Whether “out the side” or “out the front” – also called “OTF”, these are automatic knives. 

In contrast, there exist now many “assisted open” or “semi-auto” knives with a spring assist, usually associated with a blade protrusion or extension used to overcome initial resistance. It is this resistance that keeps the blade closed and prevents its unintentional deployment. The “semi-auto” is spring-assisted rather than spring-deployed. In many legal respects, this is an important distinction, as is the means of deploying – button not on the blade vs. blade extension.

Finally, the old school manual deploy blade, whether by thumb stud or by 2-handed open, this is the knife we all did have, and we usually have a few.

2. Legal disclaimer. “Automatic knives” are illegal in many jurisdictions for most people; “semi-auto” are as well, though in far fewer jurisdictions. It is the responsibility of the one owning or possessing the knife to know local laws. I write from a free state (Texas), so convey no legal permissions on those choosing to live in a communist state (California) or other. You do the crime, you do the time.

I’ve been asked on a few occasions about automatic knives, “do I need one”, “why should I carry one”, “how should I carry one”, etc.   The long answer is below, the short answer is “it depends.”

When I was a kid in the 70s, a pocket knife was usually a Buck or Swiss Army; they were opened with 2 hands and carried in a pocket, deep in the pocket, at the bottom of the pocket. By the 90s, Spyderco and the likes had introduced us to two new pocket knife features: the pocket clip, and the thumbhole, both paradigm shifts in pocket knife usage and carry.
By the 2000s, spring-assist was catching on, and today one is hard-pressed to not own a few and know of quite a few more options in edged tool/weapon options of the semi-auto type.

And this brings us to one very important practical point: with the advent of very reliable, very well-made semi-auto options, the automatic became far less advantageous. And this might be a good time to address usage, and why an automatic was ever needed (as to whether it still is, we shall get there in time.)

Most people are quite adept at highly dexterous tasks, but only with their primary hand. In normal daily life, that is more than adequate; however, in life-and-death circumstances, the need for a certain measure of dexterity in one’s weak hand can be the difference between surviving and not. For those that have carried a gun professionally, there is – almost universally – a constant companion on the weak-hand side, as well there should be. I’ve had a fair bit of arms training and have taught a bit as well, and the topic always comes up, and I address it in the same way each time: with a gun on your strong-side hip, take the strong-side hand and place it flat on the center of your chest, then prevent or discourage me from taking your weapon and/or your life. As an aggressor, the first thing I will do is immobilize your primary hand – I have trained to do this, I can do it quite efficiently, and will do so probably before you realize there is a threat. As a defender, that means having a plan that begins with no strong-side hand.

The uninitiated and untrained often don’t get that far. And this is why so many fail the first test, and die. Don’t fail the first test.

It is in exactly this circumstance that an automatic knife can literally save your life. Worn weak-side or in an accessible location, the knife can be used efficiently with the weak-side hand to regain control of the weapon or the use of the primary hand. This is why law enforcement and military can carry automatic knives, because they have need to control their weapon in defense of your liberties.

Prior to the proliferation of spring assisted knives, an automatic was the best choice – or a small, fixed-blade option.

On the automatic side, the pros are – in my estimation and experience – these:
1. Easy, no-fumble, one-handed operation.
2. Rapid deployment, great control.
3. These tend to be knives we don’t use to open boxes and envelopes, so they stay sharp by lack of use – or mine do.
4. On OTF knives in particular, the coolness factor is unmistakable. There is a reason John Wick carried an OTF, they are, in simplest terms, cool.

1. Legality. If it is on your side, it isn’t a con, but it is seldom on the side of the masses.
2. If poorly designed or improperly carried, it can open unintentionally, and – given #3 above – create problems.
3. OTF in particular, they fail. They get gritty or get hit just right, and the blade does not fully deploy – sometimes not at all. This is the primary reason I own but never carry a few OTFs.
4. It is a mechanical device, and is often designed to not be deployable without working properly (no thumb stud, no designated place to grab the blade, blade locks in when button is not depressed, etc.) 

When you take the good and the bad and compare it to semi-auto knives, the shine on automatics does indeed diminish a bit. I own several semi-auto and have yet to have one catastrophically fail – I have had one OTF fail miserably, and another fail to deploy on many stress-free occasions.

So, highlights and take-aways:

1. Because – for me – the task almost always chooses the tool, I am usually carrying a semi-auto now. With reliable, rapid deployment on the weak side, I can carry with confidence.
2. I have shelved the OTF autos for any real-world use. They are great to pull out at social events, if only to show the normies what cool stuff some of us have. *A note of caution: OTFs can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. As the cutting edge shoots out the front, anything forward of and in the line of the opening will get cut. Ask me how I know…
3A. For hard use, I will almost always have an automatic tucked away on my plate carrier or duty belt. It is the insurance policy, and a well made one will stow better in a non-pocket than will a semi-auto built for pocket carry.

3B: Todays pocket knives, especially those with pocket clips, are usually designed for pocket carry. They are made to ride at the back of the pocket with the blade pressed firmly against the rear seam. If you are carrying on molle gear or in something other than in a pocket, they don’t always carry so well. For non-pocket use, be sure you know how it positions, how/if it shifts, and how it feels in the hand when you need it.

Finally, as it will come up: very pointy pens, always carry, be ready to use. And the TSA has yet to take one from me. I also have one of these ( which can be called a “stylus” if it needs to be, but is extremely useful as a tool of persuasion.

If you need recommendations, here are a few:

1. semi-auto, weak-side or strong-side carry: Zero Tolerance combat folder. 
2. OTF: Microtech. **Skip everything under $500 as these tend to have the weak springs and breakage-prone internals, but the higher dollar OTFs are close to robust enough for real-world carry.
3. “Out-the-side” auto: Protech, the rocking bolster design is my favorite as it takes an inexperienced user time to figure it out – in the rare event you lose your sidearm AND your knife. Their blades are very well made and come from the factory very sharp. Great craftsmanship and dependability. Additionally, the rocking bolster is almost impossible to deploy unintentionally, which is good, because they arrive very sharp.
4. Budget “out-the-side” autos: HK has a collaboration with someone to make some very good knives, their actions are quite robust, they deploy with authority, but the button design isn’t great – mine is rocker that passes through the handle and must be pulled down to release – either a locked in or locked out blade. Mine has deployed once, on a vest, when it was not supposed to. The blades are decent material but not usually the best. Most out-the-side knives have a safety to prevent accidental deployment (as does the HK) but that seems stupid to me, at least in real-world usage terms.

*The OTF that I blew up was a Benchmade, it not only malfunctioned, it came apart in multiple pieces, with the blade uselessly stuck in one of them. It is, in my estimation, a poorly made knife with inferior materials and workmanship.

*The OTF that malfunctions occasionally is a Microtech Troodon. When it deploys and locks up, it is rock solid; when it fails to deploy, a wrist-flicks gets the blade out and locked probably 75% of the time. For real-world use, I would kinda equate that to carrying a 6-shot wheel gun with 4 rounds loaded, and you only have time to draw and squeeze once.

I live in California for the time being and my knowledge of automatic knives is purely theoretical. In this state you can get lynched for just thinking about one. I do, however, have a long history with fixed blade and folding knives. I was interested in knives before I was interested in guns.

I am also a life long martial artist, most of it open hand, but some limtied knife training as well. I regularly practice to deploy a manual folding knife with either hand and can do so fairly well. However, RC’s point above about doing it under stress is important. I am right handed and I suspect that fine motor skills with my left hand will go the way of the dodo before they do on the right hand.

To me, a natural solution to that is a small fixed blade. When properly carried, it requires no manual dexterity to speak of: grab handle, pull out of the sheath, slice whichever portion of the assailant is closest to you. Even a small blade can be extremely effective in the right hands. What is even more important, a sharp blade is extremely effective even in marginally trained hands. Find a local Kali or Escrima school and train there for a few months. If the teacher is any good, you will get a reasonable grasp of the fundamentals of using knife and stick. They usually start doing more complicated things too early and most of them are useless in a real fight when adrenaline is pumping. However, that is still good practice and gets the basics properly grooved in. The rest is all mindset.

There are some small fixed blade knives that can be carried in the pocket and some that can be carried on the belt or as a neck knife. Except that is, apparently, in California where they are illegal as well. I looked at the regulations and unless I am misreading it, a 3 inch fixed blade knife concealed is deemed more dangerous than a 6″ folder. Yes, I know. California is special in that short bus sort of way.

If it is legal where you live, consider a short fixed blade like Esee Izula or KaBar TDI for weak hand carry. Izula is an excellent neck knife and I have seen some pocket sheaths for it. TDI is angled in a way that makes it very viable for belt carry. Indonesian karambit style knives are also angled in a way that can make for some interesting carry options, but these knives require somewhat different training, so I do not recommend them for general purpose carry.

Lastly, please do not rely on me for legal advice: figure out what the laws are where you live.

 Posted by at 6:42 pm
Mar 032019

I have mentioned elsewhere that I am not a huge fan of large frame ARs. They are a little harder to shoot and there is a fair amount of mass cycling back and forth, so you kinda have to “manhandle” more so that I am sued to with small frame ARs.

Still, I have built a few and since a friend of mine has asked me how I would go about selecting components for one, I figured I should make a post out of this. First a little about nomenclature: I have only messed with building DPMS-pattern guns, so I will use the term “LR-308” throughout to mean a large frame AR.

My LR-308 is a somewhat specialized set-up since after many changes I settled on a heavy barreled 243Win gun that I use for testing scopes and will also use as a heavy varminter. Here is what it looks like in its latest iteration with a Dracos barrel and an inexpensive, but surprisingly decent Guntec handguard:

Large frame AR: VC Defense upper and lower receivers, Dracos 243Win barrel, Guntec handguard, Juggernaut CA-legal stock

One thing to keep in mind is that I was not looking to save weight with this gun. In the past, I ran it for a bit with an 18″ 308 barrel and had I stayed with that configuration I would definitely go for a somewhat lighter build. In this particular case, I was asked how I would configure such a gun for a use case where it would be utilized for home defense and for occasional hunting. First of all, I will freely admit, that for home defense I would be more likely to use a smaller AR platform with a smaller cartridge. 308Win is a bit of an overkill for home defense. However, if we extend this to “estate defense” and with hunting thrown in for good measure a large frame AR makes reasonable sense (although I have an AR-15 chambered for 6.5 Grendel for this purpose and do not feel undergunned).

Anyway, here are some component considerations:

  1. Make sure you get matched upper and lower receivers. There is no mil-spec standard for large frame ARs and I have seen some variations that do not fit each other. On top of that, I have also seen some fit issue with handguards and upper receivers from different makers. If I were starting a build now, I would probably get a matched kit from Grey Ghost that has a matched upper and lower receivers together with their handguard. Rainier seems to have it on sale right now and I happened to like the camo patterns they have. This pretty much guarantees that the pieces will fit together.
  2. If you decide to not get a fully matched up set above, you can get matched upper and lower receivers with Grey Ghost being a good option again, although Rainier’s own set is quite good too.
  3. Keep in mind that there are multiple DPMS standards out there, so if you buy a handguard separately make sure you pay attention to whether it is a high rail or low rail standard. I prefer to go with “Low rail” everything, but it does not matter too much as long as you stay consistent. Handguard aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder, so choose what works for you. I have reasonable mileage with different makers so this is where you kinda have to decide what fits your build. If you are looking for making the gun as light as possible, you may have to spend some money on a Brigand handguard. On the other hand, if weight is less of a concern, options really open up. Since I prefer to have the handguard go over the gas block, I would stick with something around 15″ in length. That all having been said, if I were doing a new build for myself, I would either go light with a Brigand or a little heavier with a Blklbl handguard that has an integrated bipod (or to minimize compatibility issues, see the Grey Ghost links above).
  4. Barrel is also a personal choice, but an important one. There are many good barrels out there and for a general purpose rifle, I would lean toward some light to mid-weight design with 18″ length. I have a Fulton armory 18.5″ barrel that is built on a Criterion blank in a light-ish profile. It is chrome-lined which makes it almost impervious to elements and pretty unlikely to ever be shot out with any normal use. Given the application, I would lean heavily toward either QPQ or chrome-lines barrel, so for a lightweight QPQ option, I think this pencil weight Faxon is one of the better “bang-for-the-buck options out there right now. For hunting/home defense gun, one of these would be my choice.
  5. Gas block: many people opt for an adjustable gas block, but for someone doing it for the first time, I would probably go for a standard low profile gas block, preferably of the clamp-on variety, but a well fitted set screw gas block works just fine. For something a little more dedicated for precision or for a gun that will have a suppressor on it, I might go for an adjustable gas block. However, since we are talking about something that has to be California legal (no suppressors) and used for home defense and hunting, standard gas block is fine.
  6. Furniture: in CA, you can’t have a collapsible stock or regular pistol grip, so this is the grip you have to use (for right handers). With buttstocks, I am a firm believer in using a rifle spring and buffer if you can’t have a collapsible stock. The recoil is going to be a little softer with a rifle buffer. There are a few buttstock options out there that will work fine, but I would probably just get Magpul’s MOE rifle stock and be done with it.
  7. Extension, spring and buffer. The extension is the same as on the AR-15, but buffer and spring are different, so make sure you pick the right ones. Standard weight rifle buffer from anyone reputable (like this one from Brownells) will work fine. With springs, I would go with JP’s tuned and polished spring (part number JPSOSR308 ).
  8. Last, but not least, you’ll need a trigger and lower parts kit. A couple of parts are different between large and small frame ARs, so make sure you get the right one, like this one from DPMS. Technically, this lower parts kit has everything you need, but in practical terms, you should really get a better trigger and an ambidextrous safety (ambi safety is key for California since you can’t have a proper pistol grip). There are many ambidextrous safeties out there and most work just fine. I am partial to the Radian Talon ambi safety, personally. Finally, we get to triggers. I tend to use Geisselle SSA-E in a lot of my builds and I have yet to regret it. I think it is the best general purpose trigger available for the AR Platform right now. It is not cheap, so for the budget conscious, ALG’s ACT trigger is a good option. It is, essentially, a GI trigger that is tuned and adjusted to be about as good as a GI trigger can be.

That takes care of the rifle, so we can spend a minute on optics. Home defense means red-dot or a scope that goes down to 1x. Hunting means low light and large objective. The two requirements are essentially mutually exclusive. Also, for any gun that is intended for defensive purposes I really like to have two independent sighting system.

If you want one scope that goes down to 1x, I think it is wise to start with Steiner P4Xi 1-4×24. It is exceptionally quick on 1x and quite decent on 4x. The reticle is intended for 5.56, but inside of 500 yards, the drops are almost the same.

If you want a little more reach, consider Hawke Frontier 1-6×24. Its reticle is mrad based, so it is not cartridge specific.

If you are willing to consider a dual sighting system set-up, I would suggest something like Meotpa Meostar R1 1.5-6×42 with a micr red dot like Burris FastFire II set-up on an offset mount. Mestar is a great general purpose scope for hunting and all sorts of other use that happens to be quite fast on 1.5x. With an Fastfire mounted on an offset Daniel Defense mount, you ahve a red dot that can be in front of your eye by rotating the rifle just a bit.

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Feb 272019

Written in February 2019

As I was ready to publish this, I noticed that Doug from CameralandNY just put this scope on sale for $849. If you call him and mention Dark Lord Of Optics, you will get an additional $50 gift certificate for anything else from Cameraland (rings, caps, etc). That brings the price of the P4Xi down to a hair under $800.

I have been looking at this scope for some time now and I found myself liking it a fair bit.  It is a little bit of an oddball design in a sense that finding something similarly configured to compare it to.  The only other 4-16×56 scopes I found are the much more expensive Hensoldt and S&B. Most of the 3-15x, 4-16x and 3-18x scopes out there use a smaller 50mm objective (kinda like Steiner’s own T5Xi 3-15×50).  Meopta Optika6 will have a 3-18×56 design, but that is not here yet. In the end, I ended up looking at the Steiner P4Xi next to a couple of higher magnification scopes I have on hand with 56mm objective lenses to get an idea of how it stacks up.

Here is my conclusion in a nutshell: if you can find this scope for around $1K you should pick one up.  At $1500, it would be a bit of a harder sell, but around a grand it is a superb option. It tracked true.  The turret feel is very good and optical quality is very respectable. It especially shined in low light. There is enough magnification to get me pretty far out and the reticle is very well suited for precision shooting where you dial for elevation and hold for wind.

Here is my customary comparison table which is not really useful in this case because of the unusual configuration.

Steiner P4Xi
4-16×56 FF
3-18×56 (not out yet)
Eye Relief, in3.5 – 43.153.543.93.93.2 – 3.8
FOV, ft@
27.5-6.9 11.04@ 10x26.1-7.5 12 @
28.2-6.9 11.04@10x33.2 – 5.810.4@
24.5 -3.7
a9.5 – 3.18.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.9
mrad 0.1
Adj per
turn, mrad
14.5 14 10 10
range, mrad
E: 30
W: 16
22E: 27
W: 12
20.432 mradE: 30
W: 15
YesYesYesYes + DichroYesYes
50 – inf
25 – inf
23 – inf
Price, $~$1000$3200$3800$750$1200$1700

Looking at the numbers, nothing really sticks out.  The scope is reasonably sized for the class and on the light weight side for a 56mm objective design.

There is plenty of internal elevation adjustment available, but the turret is a double turn design, wo you get 20 mrad with proper mounting.  I had it mounted in a Aadmount with 20 MOA incline built in. With that configuration I go the two full turns.

In practical terms, since I do not shoot ELR (yet), I do not need that much adjustment, so most of my testing was over the first 9 mrad.  I did not do a shooting test for the entirety of the 20 mrad adjustment, but I did test on a gun out to 16 mrad with very uneventful results.

The scope spent time on two guns: The Fix with a 24” Proof barrel chambered for 308 and large frame AR with Dracos 243Win barrel on it (below).  Neither is a kicker, but I have spent some time shooting off the bench, prone and sitting with both guns to see how forgiving the scope is. The eye relief is fairly long and quite flexible.  This scope is pretty easy to get behind. That is one of the advantages of a large objective. Even at 16x, the exit pupil is a rather generous 3.5mm

Another nice feature is that the elevation turret does not go up and down when you dial.  It always stays the same height and there is a window at the bottom of the turret that serves as a revolution counter: white for the first turn and green for the second turn.

The numbers engraved on the turret are color coded to match the turn indicator.  0 through 9 are white and 10 through 19 are green.

Side focus adjust the image from 50 yards on out to infinity and infinity is actually infinity.  I was able to focus on some trees a couple of miles out. Depth of field is fairly generous, but still, for shooting inside of 50 yards, lowering the magnification helped.  On 4x, I could shoot quite comfortably and accurately don to 20 yards or so. There was some parallax, but it was manageable.

Reticle illumination control is a rotary knob integrated into the side focus turret.  The illumination level is calibrated to be just about perfect for low light. Only a portion of the reticle is illuminated, making an illuminated “T”, of sorts.  In the picture below, I set illumination on a rather bright level, so that the camera could focus on something. It looks much sharper when you look through the scope.

In general, the SCR reticle that Burris and Steiner use across a wide variety of different scopes is quite thin and well suited for precision shooting.  I think it is a little too thin on 4x, especially as light goes down, but that is where reticle illumination really helps. Here is what the reticle looks like on 4x, 8x, 12x and 16x.

From top left: 16x, 12x, 8x and 4x

Optical quality was very good given the price.  When I compared it next to the Delta Stryker which costs a fair bit more, Delta was the better scope during the day, with better resolution and better CA control.  However, at night, they performed very similarly with Steiner having unusually good flare control for the price range. Compared to Ares ETR, P4Xi had a little more CA and little lower resolution, but the contrast on the Steiner was better.  In the middle of the day Athlon Ares ETR looked a little better, but as the light went down P4Xi was the better scope. Its reticle illumination is also much better in low light than that on Ares ETR.

I think you are beginning to see the drift of my take on the P4Xi at this point: it is easy to get behind, seems solid mechanically and optically and it really shines in low light.  Its only really notable optical flaw is some visible CA on high contrast targets, but I am kidna picking at it a little since there isn’t much else to complain about. It really reminds me of the original Steiner Military scopes a little in terms of the feel of the image.  So many modern designs try to squeeze huge magnification range into a scope ro make it super compact and generally that is a good thing. However, with optics, everything is a compromise. If you are not ready to drop $3k+ for a modern ultrashort, I suggest looking at something with a design that is a bit more on the conservative side of things and this Steiner is exactly that.  If you really want a 4-16×56 Hensoldt, but don’t have the budget for it, consider the P4Xi. No, it is not as good as the Hensoldt. It would be silly of me to claim it was, but it costs less than a third of the Hensoldt, stays zeroed, tracks true and is very good optically.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Feb 212019

Harakiri, also known as seppuku, is a ritual suicide that used to be practiced by the samurai. Benchmade knife company, for whatever reason, decided to exercise the corporate version of it.

Apparently, they assisted Oregon PD in destroying some confiscated guns. I am sure that gun destruction was mandated by law and Oregon PD had no choice, but I am opposed to such idiocy in principle since a gun is a tool and I see no compelling reason to destroy one just because some moron used it in a crime. The gun, not being a person, does not bear responsibility for that.

Naturally, once that came out, someone looked into Benchmade’s political contributions and it turned out they were stupid enough to predominantly donate to anti second amendment candidates in the last few years.

Once the shitstorm started, they issued this official statement:


Benchmade is aware of the recent post from our local Oregon City Police Department.

We apologize for the confusion and concern that this post created. These were firearms that the Oregon City Police Department had to destroy in alignment with their policies. Oregon City Police requested the use of specialty equipment within the Benchmade facility to follow these requirements, and as a supporting partner of our local police force, we obliged the request.

Benchmade is a proud and unwavering supporter of both law enforcement and Second Amendment rights. These are commitments that we do not take lightly and will continue to support well into the future.

When asked for clarity from Oregon City Police Department, Chief Jim Band made the following statement: “When property is to be destroyed, it is the policy of the Oregon City Police Department to destroy property, including firearms, in accordance to our procedures and ORS. The Oregon City Police Department does not sell firearms.”

According a website opensecrets, here is how Benchmade has been donating to political candidates:

More details are available on opensecrets website linked above

Since I am a firm believer that stupidity should be punished by market forces, I will retire a bunch of Benchmade knoves I own and refrain from buying them for myself or recommending them to others.

When individuals donate to politicians I do not agree with, I could not care less. When a company does, that is like them saying: “we do not give a rat’s ass about those of our customers who disagree”.

In other words, I suspect that there is enough high-fiving at Spyderco, Kershaw, etc headquarters right now that their arms will be sore for a while.

 Posted by at 1:46 pm
Feb 052019

Every year I tell myself that I will look at spotting scopes more since they are interesting and since it is easy for me to look at them: set up a few tripods on the deck and go for it. This year, I am actually going to do something about it.

One thing that is of interest to me is looking at different spotting scope types, which is exactly what I did in the video below.

65mm Vortex Razor HD is a conventional spotting scope, albeit with a new wide angle variable eyepiece (I also have the absolutely excellent fixed power eyepiece for it).

Athlon Cronus 7-42×60 is built more like a regular riflescope inside except without the need for moving the reticle and with short eye relief. US Optics used to have a spotter like this and Bushnell’s LMSS is a somewhat similar design. There is an optical compromise there: spotters of this type usually have a little worse image quality (multi-lens erector system instead of the prism), but they have an advantage in magnification range. In the case of the Cronus, I can use it handheld on lower powers or off a backpack or tripod as magnification goes up. These are also comparatively rugged inline systems, so the Cronus lives in the side pocket of my backpack and does not seem to be adversely affected in any way.

Meopta TGA 75 is another in-line design except it is does use an erecting prism. The interesting part about this one is the collapsible body. There aren’t a whole lot of these out there, but I am pretty impressed with this one, especially with the 30x eyepiece that has a reticle in it.

This is not really intended as a comparison, per se, since these are very different designs, but looking at them side-by-side is interesting as they work best for different applications. There is a lot of personal preference in selecting the right ergonomics. For example, modern wide angle eyepieces are excellent, but they bump my nose, so I have to look through the scope sideways, which induces strain. In other words, there is no replacement for actually using these things. A wide angle eyepiece may look great, but it gives me trouble for prolonged observation. Generally, for a lot of what I do, I really find myself drawn to fixed power eyepieces with longish eye relief. Meopta with a fixed power 30x eyepiece is a little limiting since it is a little wider than I like for scanning, but it has good FOV, so it works well for me. Vortex Razor HD with a fixed power eyepiece is just a joy to use, but 18x is a little on the low side for a spotter. A good 15x “Big Eyes” binocular will give you about the same image quality with less eye strain due to using two eyes and you need a tripod for either of these. The same eyepiece with the larger 85mm Razor is a 22x and you can get it with a reticle. That is a very nice setup.

In terms of sheer flexibility though, Cronus with its 7-42x magnification range is really difficult to beat.

One of the things I have been trying to ascertain last year, is how using a high magnification binocular compares to using a spotter. There is a tradeoff between magnification and using two eyes. What I found is that exit pupil still matters. I played around with a nice 20×56 binocular and some 15×56 ones and found that for reasonably relaxed viewing with big binoculars, I need more than 3mm of exit pupil. I can see more with a nice 15×56 binocular than with 18-20x spotter with 50-60mm objective, for example. However, Vortex 18x eyepiece with a 65mm spotter has some significant advantages in low light even with only one eye in use.

One approach I have not spent too much time looking into usign a doubler or tripler with a “Big Eyes” binocular. That could be an interesting “jack of all trades” approach.

Here is a spec table for the spotting scopes I discussed in the video above.

Vortex Razor HD 65mm
22-48x or 18x LER
Athlon Cronus
7 – 42×60
Meopta TGA 75
20-60x or 30x WA
Length, in15.613.914.5 (w/o eyepiece),
10″ collapsed
Weight, oz56.846.644
Exit Pupil, mm3 – 1.45.2 – 1.43
FOV, ft @ 1000 yards138 – 84 (w/ 22-48x)
163 (w/ 18x)
284 – 47.6114 (w/30x)
943- 48 (w/20-60x)
Eye Relief, mm17 (w/ 22-48x)
31 (w/ 18x)
Close Focus, ft261014
Price$1200 – $1500$1000$1200 – $1500
 Posted by at 2:23 pm
Jan 262019

I am back home from SHOT 2019 and working on getting all my impressions and pictures processed. I recorded a few videos via Facebook Live already and uploaded them to Youtube already. They are linked on a dedicated SHOT 2019 page here. The page is accessible via menus up top and via this link:

SHOT 2019

 Posted by at 4:05 pm
Dec 302018

As 2018 draws to a close, I am in Hawaii with my family wrapping up with a few days of much needed vacation. In the past, every time I went on vacation, I had a camera bag with me. I am not a good photographer by any stretch of imagination, but I am definitely a camera geek and I have a fair amount of inside knowledge into the camera world having worked in it for a good number of years. I still maintain an interchangeable camera system (Micro-4/3) and also use an older Nikon DSLR that I pilfered from my brother. However, like most people these days, I take most of my pictures with a cell phone. This was the first vacation I have taken where I left my system camera at home. There are two reasons for that. One is that I have two fairly small children, so I have enough stuff to carry around. My enthusiasm for carrying an extra (camera) bag is a bit low. It is not like I can get the kids to pose anyway. Definitely not long enough to set-up a tripod. Another and probably more important reason is that my new Pixel 3 cell phone takes pretty remarkable pictures. Its built in HDR mode makes for stunning dynamic range. Night Sight mode does well in low light. Portrait mode does a decent job of blurring the background and a wide angle selfie camera on the front is responsive enough to capture my whole family. Primary camera is responsive enough to capture my kids when they are sitting still for a few microseconds.

Pixel 3 using Night Sight mode

Every time I take a picture, I get a very respectable JPEG and an HDR Raw that I can later dump into Skylum 3 (I just cancelled my Adobe Lightroom subscription) for some extra editing. Basically, as far as I am concerned, computational photography has arrived.

Do not get me wrong, the pictures I get from my Pixel 3 are not as good as the ones I was able to take with Leica Q (which I probably shouldn’t have sold), but they are good enough.

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.

Now, I am fibbing a little. I sorta have an interchangeable lens system for my cell phone since I use Moment’s excellent add-on lenses.

Moment Amazon Page

I use a Moment case with telephoto lens fairly frequently, but I also have some mileage with their similarly excellent wide angle lens. Effectively that gives my phone camera an equivalent focal length of 18mm with tthe wide angle lens, native 28mm and 60mm with telephoto lens. However, since google started offering super-resolved digital zoom, I get pretty good performance at a good range of intermediary settings as well. Moment lenses are tiny, so I can shove them into my pocket and barely know they are there.

To re-iterate, if you are looking for ultimate image quality with seamless control of the depth of field and perspective, get a proper camera with proper set of lenses. Lugging all that stuff around will save you some money on weight lifting equipment. In my case, I do not need one for 90% of my photographic needs.

With that in mind, I figured I should examine the situations where I do still need to take a standalone camera with me. Of course, there will be situations where I will take a proper camera with simply because I like to take pictures

The first and most obvious is harsh environment use. We did some of that during this vacation and I did not prepare quite adequately for it. In retrospect, I should have bought a proper low light capable ruggedized and waterproof camera. Notice, I said “low light capable”. That limits the field considerably. There are plenty of waterproof and ruggedized cameras out there (like Olympus TG series) that are quite decent if you have enough light. If you need a camera for your ski vacation or to take pictures in a well lit pool, one of these will work fine. If you are more interested in video than stills, you can also consider various action cams like the latest GoPro. I gave one some serious thought, but my basic problem is handling. These are really designed to be mounted on something (helmet, bike, small gymbal) rather than be handheld. I have a camera with such a form factor (Z-Cam E1) and it is really not ideal for handheld use without some additional hardware that makes it a lot more expensive and quite a bit bulkier. However, it is a much large image sensor than any action cam and it takes the same interchangeable lenses I use with my regular Micro-4/3 camera. It was recently replaced with a much better Z-Cam E2 which is more than double the price. Neither of these cameras is easy to use, but if you are willing to put in some work, you can get good results.

During our stay in Hawaii, we went on a night snorkle to see manta rays. I do not own a proper underwater camera, so I bought an underwater housing for my DXO One camera. It has been discontinued, unfortunately, but it takes good pictures and uses a large-ish 1″ image sensor. The basic problem with using it underwater is that I can not change shooting modes, like switching between stills and video without opening the waterproof case. It gave me OK results and was much better than nothing, but I really missed having a proper camera.

That is something I will need to investigate a bit further, but unless you are willing to shove your system camera into a waterproof housing, your options are slim. There is the DC2000 from SeaLife which use the same sensor as my DXO One, but it seems to have focus issues. That leaves me looking at the two year old and very expensive Leica X-U. I have looked at it before and balked at the price, but now I wonder if I should just bite the bullet.

The X-U is a couple of years old now, but it takes good pictures and average looking videos. However, the lens on it is very sharp and it is good in low light. As far as price goes, if I get a waterproof case for one of my system cameras, the total price will get into Leica territory as well and the whole package will get a lot bigger. Another factor to consider is that Leica X-U is small enough and ruggedized enough to be use for general purpose outdoors photography where I would not be able to take a proper system camera with me, like skiing.

Another use case where I still need a standalone camera is anything requiring long reach. Once you get beyond 100mm equivalent, even with add-on lenses, a cell phone does not really do it any more. Perhaps that will be resolved in the future with some folded optics, but not quite yet and that is where I still use my Micro-4/3 camera with an inexpensive telephoto zoom and a F/1.8 prime where I need a little more reach in low light.

With all that, as I said, this was my first vacation without a dedicated camera and I really enjoyed the convenience.

Pixel 3. Cook Bay.
 Posted by at 9:23 am
Nov 232018

If you have been following my random ramblings for any length of time, you will note that my preferred mode of operation is to pick a particular configuration and approximate price range and compare a good number of scopes that fit those two criteria side by side.

This is not going to be one of those.

The sorta undisputed king of the tactical hill in the 1-8x scope world in the last year or two was Minox ZP8.  March 1-8×24 with side focus has been out for a bit, but it seems to appeal to a somewhat different customer.  Last year, Nightforce released their 1-8×24 ATACR going largely after the same crowd.  S&B now also has their FFP/DFP 1-8x scope and I have a suspicion some other companies are going to join the fray.  I intend to gloss over this group almost entirely since I do not see myself spending in the neighborhood of $3k for a low power variable optic (LPVO).  Do not get me wrong, these are excellent design, but somehow it is easier for me to spend that kind of money on a long range precision scope and even that is getting to be a more difficult decision as mid-range stuff keeps getting better.  Now, as we get into the sub-$2k range, I sorta perk up.  I really want to be in the $1k range, but I am willing to pay a little more if it gets me a little more.  When I set out to put this article together, I wanted to explore this $1k to $2k range and since I was not able to get my hands on everything I wanted, I suspect I will revisit it again in 2019.

I saw the new March Shorty 1-8×24 at SHOT and thought it was an interesting idea.  The guys from March were adventurous enough to loan me one. I have a lot of mileage with their larger 1-8×24 that has side-focus, so the Shorty without the side-focus was really interesting to look at.  I am really impressed by March engineering, although there are some questionable decision there from product configuration standpoint (in other words I am very impressed with what the technical people at Deon accomplished, while being a little mystified by some marketing driven decisions).

Same for the GPOTAC 1-8×24 from German Precision Optics.  They really should know better than letting me loose on a new product, but I think that bravery will ultimately work out well for them.  I think they’ve got a good thing going there. As always, I have some things to complain about, but overall, it is a very solid scope.

Burris XTR II 1-8×24 has been my go to scope in this category since I can actually afford it, so I added it to the mix.

HiLux CMR8 is a lot less expensive, but I have it, so while it does not really belong in this group, it was interesting to see how it fits in.  I also had Hawke Frontier 1-6×24 on hand, so you will see it in some reticle pictures. It is a SFP scope, so it is an entirely different animal, but it is an exceptionally nice scope for the money and it was useful to have it as sort of a counterpoint: “if you do not need FFP, you can save some money” sort of thing.

Nightforce essentially told me to go F myself when I asked them for a loaner of the NX8.  That was unfortunate since it would have been interesting to test next to the March. Usually, a manufacturer tells me to take a hike if they are afraid of bad publicity, implying there is something wrong with the product. However, I am not aware of any major NX8 issues, and I did have a brief hands on with it on someone else’s gun. I will have to get my hands on one for a thorough review at some point via other means.

I am familiar with the Trijicon Accupower and PA Platinum, which is why you see them in the table below, but I did not have them on hand for this comparison.  With the PA, they have a new reticle I was impressed with coming out (Griffin Mil), so I will secure one when it is available. Accupower is not my favourite design, so I am not going to spend more time on it.


Burris XTR II 1-8×24 Trijicon Accupower 1-8×28 HiLux CMR8 1-8×26 Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (new) GPO TAC 1-8×24


PA Platinum 1-8×24 March 1-8×24 “Shorty”
Length, in 10.75 10.8 10 8.75 10.7 10.8 8.4
Weight, oz 24.3 25 22 17 19 26.45 17.1
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 34mm 34mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 4 – 3.5 4 – 3.9 4 3.75 3.54 3.98 – 3.83 3.4 – 3.9
FOV, ft@1000yards 105 – 12.5 109 – 13.1 114.8 – 14.5 106 – 13 107 – 13 105.8 – 13.25 105.8 – 13.2
Exit Pupil 12 – 3 11.8 – 3.5 16.6 – 3.2 7.9 – 3 12 – 3 11.7 – 3 9.6 – 3
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.2 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adjustment per turn 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad
Adjustment range 30 mrad 29.6 mrad 30 mrad 29 mrad 56 mrad
Zero Stop Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Price $1200 $1400 $700 $1800 $1700 $1300 $1980


Looking at the specs, NX8 and March Shorty really stand out for their compact size and light weight, although GPOTAC is also pretty good with weight.  Other than March and CMR8, all the other scopes here are made in Japan, buy LOW. I am guessing the NX8 may have some US assembly in it. GPO adds the illumination module to their scopes in Germany.  March is made by Deon in Japan and CMR8 is a HiLux product made in their factory in China.

Right off hand, CMR8 is not as good optically as the rest of these.  It is pretty decent for the money though. I mostly added it in to show what you get for your money.  I will say that mechanically, CMR8 is working quite well including a stint on my 458 SOCOM that has killed a few scopes here and there.  Generally speaking, all of the scopes here were tested on a 5.56 chambered AR-15.

Before I talk about each individual design, I would like to spend some time on reticles.  I mounted the scopes on a tripod and took some pictures through them. The pictures are handheld with a cellphone, so they are not designed to tell you anything about image quality.  The church in the background is more than 700 yards away. They are all variations on “primary aiming point inside a circle” theme which I happen to like. CMR8 has a floating dot and a mrad grid inside a circle along with some choke style rangefinders around it.  The whole arrangement turned out a little busier than I would have liked, but I like it conceptually and if I had a chance to re-design it, I’d keep the grid, but make it thinner.

March has two concentric circles (they also have another reticle that has only one circle) and an aiming crosshair inside the smaller circle along with the a mil-scale outside it.  For some inexplicable reason, the lines in the primary aiming crosshair are quite thick. I am guessing it has something to do with how they illuminate it, but in practice, I would have preferred a small floating crosshair or a dot inside the circle (the scope I used had FMC-2 reticle; their FMC1 has liens that are twice thinner, so the reticle I would want is a combination of the two: FMC-2 circles with FMC-1 crosshair).  One of the reasons to get a LPV scope that goes up to 8x is to extend the engagement distance a bit, so a smallish primary aiming point is a good idea. Basically, you want the circle for speed and the dot or crosshair for precision. The reticle in the GPO hets the precision part right, but the circle is fairly small (it is a little hard to see in the 8x picture below, but in real life it is nicely visible at higher mags). GPO’s illumination is continuously variable, so it is excellent in low light.  On the scope I had it did not get very bright (I played with a prototype illumination module that did not get as bright as production models).  XTR II reticle is very well done in terms of line thicknesses and is the only design here that has a BDC reticle inside a circle. I would prefer a mrad-based design, but it works well enough (as I said this is sort of my reference standard in this category in terms of bang for the buck).

Here is what they look like side by side.  With CMR8, the larger circle is outside the FOV at 8x which I like.  With March, I think the two circles inside the FOV at 8x is a bit much, but the reticle is quick to use and very visible without without illumination.  Other than the thickness of the center crosshair, I really like this reticle. Also note the tapered bars that really help as you go down in magnification.  

The next picture below shows the same four scopes at 4x, 5x and 6x.  I am also showing the reticle of the SFP Hawke Frontier for comparison.  On the CMR8, the large outer circle gets into the FOV and blocks quite a bit of it.  With March, the tapered bars start looking more prominent, but the dual circle center arrangement looks to be about the right size for quick target engagement.  GPOTAC reticle again looks thinner in the picture than it really is, but in general, as you go down in magnification, it has to rely more on illumination than the other scopes here. XTR II’s 10 mrad circle remains a really good compromise between precision and speed.

As you go further down in magnification, the GPO scope becomes harder to use without illumination. I talked to them about it and the basically said that the 1-8x is more of a general purpose design, while the 1-6x is going to be a little more optimized for speed and AR use with a bolder reticle.  Honestly, I think they should add some other reticle options to the 1-8x, but even with the pre-production illumination module it worked pretty well for me in anything but the brightest light, so I am not going to complain too much. WIth March, as you get to 1x you begin to really see why those tapered bars are there.  Wisely, the guys at March kept the bars from going all the way to the edge on 1x. That leaves the aiming structure floating in the center and it really works well. With CMR8, that big outer circle keep the reticle visible, but I still think it is thicker than it should be.  Also, keep in mind that the XTR II reticle is perfectly usable without illumination on 1x; much more so than the picture indicates.

Now, let’s talk a little about how these scopes compare in other ways.  First of all, I have not spent a whole lot of time checking tracking. I did some minimal elevation tracking checks and they all seemed to do fine.  Generally, with scopes of this type, I prefer to not mess with the turrets, so I want them either covered or locking, which all of these were, except for March.  The Shorty came with March’s excellent low profile tactical knobs. These are some of my favourite turrets, but I think they are a little out of place on this scope. I would feel more secure with a covered design. I brought this up with my March contact, but he disagreed and said that he has never heard of their turrets being bumped.  Personally, I think March marketing people needs to spend more time with 3-Gunners and other AR people. That would give them a better grasp of this side of the market.

All of the scopes here stayed zeroed once zeroed and I really have no complaints about the quality and feel of the physical controls.  Subjectively, March has the crispest feel to the mechanics here, but I have always liked how March does the mechanics, so there is no surprise there.

In terms of optical quality, this ended up being a bit of a tricky comparison because of parallax and depth of field.  First of all, the CMR8 is clearly the weakest product here, but also the least expensive. The guys at HiLux said that they are working on fixing some of the distortion, so it should get better and at the time of this writing, it probably is (I need to check).  Most of the side by side was done with the Burris, GPO and March.

Before I talk about optics, note how short the March is.  It is difficult to make very short optics and the complaints I have about March’s optical system are a direct consequence of making it very short.

As an optical system, overall, I probably like GPO the most in this group.  However, if you stay in the 75-200 yard range, March has better resolution at a similar contrast.  Between 200 and 400 yards, the optical performance of the three scopes is pretty close. Once you get beyond 400 yards, the Shorty falls a bit behind the other designs here.  At closer distances, the Shorty also suffers if you stay at 8x, but dialing down magnification really helps and at closer distance with scopes like these, I always dial down anyway.  Basically, if I never shoot beyond 350-400 yards, Shorty is the better optical design. However, if I never extend the distance, I might as well save some money and get a 1-6x. All three of these scopes have fixed parallax at 100 yards or so.  Because it is so short, the March Shorty has really shallow depth of field, so it loses some resolution at longer distances as you get further away from its optimal focus. For the same reason, it seemed to pick up parallax error faster than the other two.  Significantly faster. At longer distances, both Burris and GPO were a lot friendlier. Interestingly, while XTR II and GPOTAC are both made by LOW and are likely related designs, GPOTAC had better DOF (depth of field) and less prominent parallax error at longer distances.  Still, XTR II acquitted itself rather well.

Flare was not very prominent with any of theses, although March had a bit more of it than the other two.  It comes with a sunshade that really helped, but it does make the scope longer (picture a bit further down).

With scopes that go down to 1X, the ease of getting behind the scope and a wide flat FOV (Field Of View) are really important and all three of these are quite good.  March has just a touch more distortion than Burris (and GPO is slightly better still) toward the edges as you move your eye laterally behind the eyepiece, but it is very reasonable.  I spent a fair amount of my time with these scopes shooting off hand and shooting quickly. I can see the differences between when I carefully look for them, but in practical terms there wasn’t enough to worry about or make a difference.  Whatever difference was there likely was driven by reticle variations more than anything else.

GPOTAC 1-8×24

Overall, I am pretty impressed with this scope, except, as previously mentioned, with reticle visibility at 1x.  I would have liked to see some tapered lines and thicker horseshoe or something similar that would make the reticle stand out more at 1x.  Also, since the scope I looked at is a prototype of some sort with illumination that is not as bright as on production models, I should probably revisit it with a full production illumination module some time.

It is really a very good general purpose 1-8x design and its only real weakness is performance on 1x in bright light which is reticle related.  Most scopes of this type have discreet illumination steps. GPOTAC illumination module is continuously variable, which I like a fair bit. In low light, it can be set extremely low, so it does not disturb night adapted eyes.  

Another thing I liked was that it was really easy to get behind (same as the XTR II).  Eye relief was quite flexible and parallax stayed in check very nicely out to 600 yards which was the extent of how far I took it.

I do not fully understand the need for exposed turrets on a scope of this type, but since they lock in place, I do not have a problem with it.

All in all, GPO 1-8×24 is a pretty good fit for a lot of applications, but for going fast with an AR, there are better reticles out there.  Outside of that, I really like this one, although for an AR-15, I do not think I’d be willing to dish out extra $500 for this scope over the optomechanically similar Burris XTR II.

In terms of direct competition price wise, GPOTAC goes head to head against the very popular Nightforce NX8.  That is some tough competition. While I am not a Nightforce groupie (there are some Nightforce groupies on every internet forum confidently stating that the reticles of the NX8 is woven from unicorn hair and illuminated by little elves living inside the tube among other nonsense) by any means, NX8 looks impressive on paper being nearly as compact as the March and equipped with extremely bright reticle illumination.  The little time I spent with the NX8 suggests that it is a better scope than the GPOTAC on 1x, while GPOTAC seems to be better at 8x. Reticles are in the eye of the beholder. One thing I dislike immensely about the NX8 is the exposed elevation turret. Interestingly, for some inconceivable reason they offer a version with covered turrets, but for LE/Mil only. Still, it costs the same as GPOTAC and is enjoying immense popularity.


March Shorty 1-8×24

As I mentioned earlier, from a technical standpoint, I really like what March has accomplished here and, if you are staying inside of 400 yards, this is an excellent option.  The things I take issue with are primarily related to the decisions made by product planners, not by engineering. As a general disclaimer, I took all of my concerns to March before publishing them and while they got a little defensive, they were fairly mature about it.  That’s a good thing. I’ve seen people really get their panties in wad after much milder criticism.

Most of my criticism has already been mentioned, so I am not going to rehash it too much: depth of field is shallow and the turrets should be locked or covered.  Reticles are in the eye of the beholder.

Interestingly, I really liked this scope as a 1-6x.  As a general purpose design, March’s larger 1-8×24 with side focus is a far superior option since adjustable parallax takes care of the bulk of my concerns.  

Also, with March scopes, reticle illumination control is a large rubberized button inside the parallax turret. With the Shorty, they use essentially the same turret housing, except it does not rotate since parallax is not adjustable.  However, on a tactical scope, a large rubberized pushbutton is not an optimal solution since it is really easy to press accidentally. In addition, March has two illumination modules: Hi and Low. Each has four brightness settings.  I have used both and the low module works well in low light, but is not nearly bright enough for anything else. The Hi module is too bright for low light, while still not being bright enough for daylight. It is just right for the dusk.  All twenty minutes for it. The saving grace here is that March has a third illumination module that they never talk about for some reason. It is a six position module where the rubberized button is just ON/OFF and there is a rotary lever that lets you choose between six settings.  This module has a lot more dynamic range and March should really be shipping the Shorty with it. You can probably request it in this configuration if you are so inclined.

When I summarized my take on the Shorty for the guys at March, it became apparent that while we agree it is a niche product, we disagree on what that niche is.  I am perhaps criticizing the Shorty a bit too unfairly, but I think I have to make clear that with all my reticle and DOF complaints, if I could get it with covered or locking turrets, I would have bought the Shorty on the spot with either of the two available reticle (FMC-1 which I slightly prefer is on the left) and with the six position illumination module as pictured below.

FMC-1 Reticle

FMC-2 Reticle

March 6 position illumination module


Overall, the scope’s strengths really outweigh its limitations and the only thing that is a real deal breaker for me is the exposed non-locking turret.  I know how to deal with the rest of it and I can think of many applications for this design.


That having been said, while I do not think they will listen to me, I would really love to see what March engineers could do if they were tasked with making and ultra compact and light weight 1-6x or 1-5x design.  For an ultra light AR carbine with a good barrel, I would comfortably sacrifice a little bit of top end magnification for better DOF, light weight and compactness.

I also like the mounting solution: a single wide ring which makes positioning the scope on the rail very easy.  The scope March sent me had the sunshade, covers and cat tail included. I am not sure how it is configured for retail, but if I were to choose the right configuration, I would leave the sunshade in the box and keep the scope short.  The more time I spent shooting with the scope the more I appreciated its strengths and ignored the weakness, although I did stay inside of 400 yards for the most part.


Burris XTR II

I have already written about this scope in a different article, so I am not going to say too much here.  In the field of 1-8x FFP scopes, this is sort of a “goldilocks” product. It is well priced, very robust, optically good, and comes with a very serviceable reticle.  It is my go to scope for an accurate AR-15 carbine that I want to use across the course for everything that the 5.56 cartridge is capable of this side from varmint shooting.  It is $500 less expensive than GPOTAC and $800 less expensive than the Shorty, while giving up very little in performance. At some point, I will get it side by side with the Nightforce NX8 to see if the compact size and nuclear bright illumination of the NX8 are sufficient to make me pay the extra money it requires.  Maybe there will be something else announced at SHOT that peaks my interest. Until then, the XTR II sits on my AR.  The most direct competition for the XTR II comes from Primary Arms Platinum which is likely the same basic scope with a more mall ninja friendly reticle.  However, PA does have a mrad based version out and a better Griffin Mil reticle is coming out too.  I look forward to testing it side by side with the Burris.


 Posted by at 9:22 am