ILya

Feb 232020
 

A few months ago, I stared compiling a list of video explanations I need to put together: http://opticsthoughts.com/?p=2574

Then, life happened and I did not get to do most of those. I did address some and over the course of the next few weeks I plan to do some more.

Please let me know if there is something specific you want covered. The Youtube playlist where these videos will be added is called DLO Explanations and all the videos are automatically copied onto the gunstreamer website as well.

The ones I am looking to do next are on the following topics:

  • Apparent FOV in riflescopes
  • Low light performance of LPVOs
  • Why is the exit pupil calculation breaks down on low power and some other general exit pupil considerations
  • Tube diameter. This lunacy comes up again and again, so it has to be revisited

Any other suggestions?

 Posted by at 3:17 pm
Feb 212020
 

It is official. Element Optics website went live and it looks like they have a good number of scopes out in the reviewer’s hands.

I had a nice meeting with these guys at SHOT and I really liked what I saw. The key people behind the brand are smart, well funded and full of energy. Most importantly, they are shooters so they understand the end goal. In too many optics companies there is a strong disconnect between shooters and engineers. I know this will sound odd, but I mean it as a compliment. The guys behind Element, while hunters and shooters, have enough of a nerdy streak to stay on top of the technical stuff.

In other words, I have high hopes that they will do it right.

The first scope available will be the Japanese-made Nexus: https://element-optics.com/product/nexus/. The rest will be along shortly, I am sure. A brief look at the initial dealer list seems to be taking advantage of the existing FX Airguns (FX is behind Element Optics) dealer network which is a pretty good thing. I am sure that will grow.

Given that NRL22 competitions now have an airgun, I have a hunch we will start seeing FX airguns with Element optics scopes on them. I have two small kids and NRL22 is where I want them to start shooting. Perhaps, I will start them with airguns. FX airguns are likely the most accurate long range air rifles on the market now, so perhaps that is a good place for my kids to start.

 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Feb 152020
 

This came up elsewhere, but it got my interest peaked, so I think I will look into that a little more.

I have a lot of experience setting up my rifles in a dual optic configuration. Usually, I go for a magnified primary (either prismatic or LPVO) and an offset small red dot.

Crimson Trace CTS-1100 with offset Hawke Micro RDS

I have also been messing a bit with a piggybacked red dot set-up. That has an advantage of being ambidextrous, but I find rolling the rifle a little bit easier than lifting my head up. I am still experimenting with the options though.

Elcan Spectre OS 4x with Doctersight III

With all that, the paranoic in me still wants some sort of a back-up sight that does not depend on batteries. I have played a little bit with fixed offset BUIS from Dueck Defense and they worked OK, but were a little bulky. The obvious solution to that is the folding offset BUIS made by Magpul, Troy, MI and several others. I have been planning to look at a couple for a little while, but one thing where I am sorta mixed is that folding sights are not “always on”. They need to be deployed. With RDS or fixed offset sights, all I need to do is roll the rifle a little and I am there. Just now I have accidentally stumbled onto the XS Sights’ XTI DXT/DXW setup that looks to be lower profile than the Dueck sights, but they are always there.

I will probably pick up a set and do some experimentation. Any of you have experience with these?

I have used the Big Dot sights from XS on handguns (back when they were still called Ashley Outdoors) and thought they worked quite well. The sight picture is styled off of old express sights used on large and dangerous game so it should be quite effective at close distances. I have used those old iron sights a little and liked them.

Honestly, I don’t need more projects, but this looks interesting.

 Posted by at 3:24 pm
Jan 262020
 

I’ll do a series of videos on my takeaways from SHOT and add all relevant links and pictures into this post.

The first video is up on Youtube.

Recording of the first FacebookLive session I did on this.
Part 2
Part 3
Tangent Theta 3-15×50 Hunter with MOA turrets and reticle
 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Jan 122020
 

I have a confession to make. I have quite a few AR-pattern rifles and my interests in them have always leaned heavily toward the latest and greatest. I have another confession to make. For the most part I still do. I am a techy guy and I like techy stuff.

However, when I was working on a couple of optics articles for Guns and Ammo’s Retro magazine, I took a closer look at Vietnam-era M-16s and there is definitely some nostalgic appeal there. Now, the articles I did were on the Occluded Gun Sight (OEG) like the ones made by Armson and on the first night vision scope. The original night vision is out of my reach, but Armson OEG is in production, so I started conceiving a retro build.

At around the same time, I decided to review Brownells’ new 3-18×50 MPO scope, which is really growing on me. That is when I discovered that Brownells really put some time an effort into supporting the retro replica market. They have a bunch of AR variants that seem to be rather faithful reproductions of many originals including some prototypes that I have barely heard of. To people who are into retro builds none of this is news, I am sure, but it was news for me.

Also, it turned out that Brownells sells a re-incarnation of the original Colt 4x scope made by the original manufacturer. Me, being a nerdy optics guy, I kick off gun reviews based on what optics I want to look at, so between Briwnells’ Retro and Armson OEG, that was enough for me to start making detailed plans.

Brownells Retro 4×20 (Butler Creek’s tini bikini scope cover did not come with it, but fits perfectly)

Originally, I was going to procure the pieces and build one up from scratch, but now I am sorta questioning that plan. As much as I like working on guns, I am not convinced I can do better than Brownells has done and if I procure good quality components, I am not at all convinced it will be cheaper.

To be entirely honest, the variant I am really curious about the the BRN-PROTO Rifle with its vertical charging handle, but that will not work with carry handle mounted optics, so I will file this one away into the “some day” folder. For a bit there, I was just going to buy one of Brownells’ retro builds and be done with it, but then I stumbled onto something that changed my mind.

The original M16 had a 1-14″ barrel twist. Most of Brownells’ retro models utilize a 1-12″ twist to make the bullet a little more stable at distance. All of the complete 5.56 rifles they have are bult with that barrel twist.

However, as it turned out, one of the complete uppers they have utilizes a 1-7″ twist. While it is not historically accurate, it is imminently more practical for me since I have quite a lot of 5.56 ammo of all manner of bullet weights and I would like to be able to shoot whatever ammo happens to be on hand with this retro build.

With all that in mind, my plan is as follows:

  1. Get a complete upper assembly from Brownells with 1-7″ twist when it is back in stock.
  2. Get retro appropriate grip and stock
  3. The rest I can procure locally. I’ve built enough lowers over the years that I probably have enough pieces in the spare parts bin to complete a couple of lower assemblies. All I need is a mil-spec stripped lower receiver.

I think that will be retro enough for my purposes.

Lastly, Brownells is not the only game in town for this kind of stuff, but they seem to have the most extensive assortment of relevant pieces. JSE Surplus seems to be another good source and, of course, a few minutes of searching the web will yield a ton of information on different retro builds.

Generally, there is so much information out there on AR-15s and how to select the right components that it is sometimes difficult to filter through the BS. If you are new-ish to ARs, I strongly recommend checking out the AR-15 article series on Everyday Marksman website. Matt knows his stuff. Except for those time when he disagrees with me. Then, he is just plain wrong.

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Jan 052020
 

One of these scopes is about to go onto my list of recommendations. Somewhat unusually, it is about to land there before I fully finish with my review, so I figured I should qualify that a little.

Here is the qualification: I really like this scope.

MPO stands for Match Precision Optic and that is Brownells’ house optics brand. They are starting out with two models aimed at general purpose precision shooting for people who are not inclined to drop upwards of $3k on a really fancy scope. The two models they have are 3-18×50 and 5-25×56, both built in Japan on 34mm tubes.They had sort of a soft introduction earlier on, but now both models are available.

Before I move on, apparently Brownells also sells a retro 4×21 scope that fits onto an AR handle. I never quite paid attention to that, but I have a retro AR project that I am conceiving. I think that will be a perfect opportunity to test Brownells’ Retro scope.

Getting back to the MPO…

The model I have been testing is the 3-18×50 with the N-OMR reticle. Honestly, for a general purpose scope under $1k, this is probably the one to beat. By going directly to the OEM and being the only retailer, Brownells is able to keep the price lower that similarly configured competition. I started talking about these a little since the MPO is part of a 50mm Precision Scope article I am working on.

In a nutshell, the MPO 3-18×50 I have here, is as good as or better than any similarly configured and similarly priced FFP scope I have seen to date. To be clear: I have probably seen all of them, so do not take this statement lightly. It is not the shortest, nor the lightest. Size-wise, it is decidedly midpack and given the moderate price, I am very comfortable with that. I am leery of excessively ambitious designs on a budget. Everything in this scope just works. Image quality is very good. Turrets track as they should with a zero stop integrated into the elevation turret and windage turret covered. The reticle, while looking somewhat unusual with its double lines, works very well across the entire magnification range. Illumination is well calibrated to keep the reticle visible even in low light. In other words, the MPO 3-18×50 is both intelligently configured and well executed.

To be clear, it is not going to outperform most $3k+ scopes. As much as I like the MPO, it is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta 3-15×50 or March-F 3-24×52. These are better than the MPO, but at triple the price, they better be. When people ask me whether the ultra high end scopes are worth it, the answer is usually “Yes, No and Maybe”. When I am about to drop $3k on a scope, I typically have a specific application in mind where something less expensive will probably not do. The March 3-24×52 is the lightest FFP crossover scope on the market with the broadest magnification range while maintaining excellent image quality. That’s why I have it. Tangent Theta is the best optimized 3-15x scope I have seen to date and it is lighter than everything similar other than March. TT315M is the perfect scope for a precision gas gun and that’s how I use it.

However, if someone comes to me without a very specific application in mind, I will usually steer them toward something less expensive that works well overall. Brownells MPO is exactly that and I can buy three of these for $3k. If, for example, I was getting into PRS-type shooting, for $3k I can equip three platforms: 5-25×56 for the bolt gun, 3-18×50 for a precision semi-auto and either one for an accurate rimfire. Add some appropriate rings and you are good to go. Most importantly, the sight picture you get is exactly the same on all three platforms and you are likely to manage it without mortgaging your kidneys to finance the whole thing.

The MPO punches above its weight class. Looking at what is out there, I am not sure what I would take in the under $2k market over the MPO. I think MPO 3-18×50, Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50 and SWFA SSHD 5-20×50 are the 50mm objective precison scopes under $2k, with an honorable mention going to the EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 that I am also impressed with due to how compact it is.

Here are a couple of videos from my Youtube Channel that touch on the MPO among other designs:

Here are some through the scope videos as well. I will probably redo some of these to get better focus, but for now they will do.

 Posted by at 11:26 am
Jan 052020
 

This is a topic I keep on coming back to since I like accurate rimfires, especially when it is cold outside and I am strongly inclined to shoot indoors.

If money were no object, I’d pick a fancy Anchutz and be done with it. My buddy Brian, on the other hand, swears that when the Lord created rimfires he meant the Vudoo. Based on the accuracy Brian is getting, he may be onto something, but that is still more money than I want to spend. FOr the longest time, I have been aiming at Volquartsen Summit with its straight pull biathlon-like action. That is still in the $1300-$1500 range. While cheaper than the Vudoo, I am having a hard time dropping that much cash all at once on a rimfire rifle. Money is always an object not just for me, but also for people who have been peppering me with questions lately on what is the best rimfire rifle on a budget.

Historically, I would send the tinkerers into the 10/22 land which provides for ample opportunities to rebuild your rifle multiple times. Many people enjoy the tinkering process (and I do have a 10/22 just for such occasions).

For people who just want to shoot tiny groups, my sorta standard recommendation was always CZ. I have a lot of mileage with a CZ452 that is more accurate than any inexpensive gun has any right to be.

However, apparently gun companies noticed that there is a market for accurate rimfire rifles and options abound. CZ is easily one of the bigger players there with the new-ish CZ457 line. Ruger has introduced their Precision Rimfire RPR. It is styled right, since it kinda looks like a chassis gun and seems to be adequately accurate. However, it feels a little too plasticky to me and the accuracy results, while good are not as consistently good as from some of the competition. Honestly, when trying to line-up behind it, there is something about the RPR that feels off to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is there. Maybe it is the grip or something else, because the stock is very adjustable.

Another option is one of many Savage B22 variants. I looked at a few and for the money they have a lot to recommend themselves, but the ones I have seen did not have the slickest feel. Accuracy-wise, they seem to be broadly comparable to Ruger American (which is the basis for the RPR).

Then, more recently, I discovered that Tikka has a T1X rimfire in 22LR and 17HMR. Tikka makes some tremendously accurate and reasonably inexpensive barrels, so that got my attention. Naturally, I did what all nerdy people do in situations like this and read every shred of published information available on the internet.

These seem to have remarkably consistent barrels, so if you really want world-class accuracy on a budget, it seem to come down to Tikka T1X and CZ457. CZ has an edge with user swappable barrels, but honestly, I just want an accurate 22LR. If I want an accurate 22WMR or 17HMR, I’ll just buy another gun. Tikka is available in 22LR and 17HMR, but the barrel are not user replaceable.

If you like traditional wooden stocks, there is a CZ out there with your name on it. CZ457 Varmint runs a bit under $500. If you prefer synthetic stocks, T1X standard stock fits my six foot tall frame exceedingly well. T1X in either 22LR or 17HMR is also right under $500 like the CZ.

If you want a chassis or a fancier stock, there are good options out there for both CZ and Tikka. CZ can be had from the factory in a Manners stock, but then you are right at $1k. MDT, Oryx and KRG all make chassis systems for both CZ and Tikka, with the most affordable being the KRG Bravo for Tikka T1X which costs right around $350.

Another weird thing I found is that most CZ 457 models are not threaded for suppressor use. Several models are, but to get one of those you are looking at extra $150 or so. Both T1X models have threaded muzzles.

Ultimately, it is kind of a coin toss, but I think I will pick up Tikka T1X in 22LR, slap a picatinny rail on it and a nice FFP precision scope, and head over to the range. I’ve been kinda itching to try some sort of a precision rimfire competition, so perhaps I will eventually add a KRG Bravo chassis to it as well.

 Posted by at 1:09 am
Dec 092019
 

A while back I wrote a little bit about two articles I did for the Guns and Ammo Retro magazine: http://opticsthoughts.com/?p=2577

I just stumbled onto one of them available online.

If you havn’t had a chance to see it in the magazine, here is the link: https://www.gunsandammo.com/editorial/single-point-dot-sight/368936

I am now thinking about doing a retro AR-15 build with an Armson OEG on top. I think Brownells has a several models of retro ARs, so I could probably just pick up one of theirs.

I’ve built a ton of ARs for myself and they are all fairly modern in appearance and design: free floated handguards, nice triggers, updated stocks, etc. The one variety I do not have is a classic Vietnam era configurations with fixed sights, fixed stock and plastic handguards. Maybe it is time I pick one up, put an ArmsonOEG on it and be an entirely different kind of a poseur…

 Posted by at 2:07 am
Nov 272019
 

Nice optics are really nice to play with. My review choices lean toward the high end simply because I like nice scopes and because I have the opportunity to use them. However, sometimes it is nice to come back to earth and consider scopes that normal people can afford (or are simply willing to pay for).

Earlier today I got a message from a friend of mine asking for my take on Sig Whiskey3 scopes. I was a little surprised because Ted, like me, likes and appreciates high end optics. Most importantly, since he is an avid shooter and hunter, I know that he is willing and able to spend money on high end stuff. I told him that Whiskey3 is a very serviceable scope, but not as good as the more expensive stuff he normally uses. It turned out that there was a little bit of a backstory there.

Apparently, a son of his friend won an inexpensive 243Win Howa 1500 boltgun in a raffle. The gun came with some sort of an el cheapo Nikko-Stirling scope. Since the rifle was going to get shot at most 3-4 times per year, they figured the scope will be good enough. Well, it was shooting 7 inch groups at 100 yards and the zero was moving around. Now, if it was a Remington, I could certainly see this kind of performance as not abnormal, but Howas are very decent rifles and I have never seen one shoot that badly. Still, they did not want to invest money into a rifle shot so seldom, so they stuck with it, and the kid kept on missing his deer during hunting season.

There is a persistent belief out there that in order to get a decent scope, you have to spend a significant amount of money. What is considered significant varies, but it can be anywhere between $800 and $2000 depending on who you talk to. That may have been true at some point, but the overall quality of available riflescopes has really gone up in recent years. Now, if you are looking for a long range precision scope with repeatable turrets, sophisticated FFP reticles, etc, it will still cost you some money (although there are several decent options now under $1k). If all you are looking for is “set and forget” type scope for general purpose hunting you can easily get something in the $200 range that will work quite well. It may not have all the latest features or the best optical quality, but it will be perfectly serviceable. To be clear, optical quality will be quite good, just not as good as the much more expensive stuff. Whiskey3 is one such design. Being in a time crunch (the kid had a hunt planned for a couple of days later), Ted headed over to a local gun store not far from his deer camp, picked up a 4-12×40 Whiskey3 for a bit over $200 and mounted it on a rifle. That is all he did. No bedding, accurizing or any other tricks. The results are in the picture below.


243 Win, 5 shots at 100 yards from bone stock Howa1500 with Sig Whiskey3 4-12×40 on it

Here is what the rifle looks like now:

I think he even used the same cheap rings that came with the rifle. Now I would recommend switching to something a little sturdier eventually, but the rifle clearly shoots fine as is.

I am going to add a bunch of affiliate links below for various scopes that are along the same basic lines: moderately priced, sturdy and reasonable optically. However, there are more of these out there than I can easily list and I have not tested all of them. I can only comfortably recommend the designs I do have personal familiarity with. Therefore, here are some general guidelines in terms of the configurations to look for if you shopping for a inexpensive hunting scope.

Stick with moderate magnifications: 2-7x, 3-9x, 2.5-10x, etc. Basically, you want something that does not require some sort of side focus or adjustable objective. Stick to moderate objective sizes. Something in the 40-44mm range is a good bet. Tube diameter does not matter for this. 1″ is fine. 30mm is fine. Larger tubes usually command a premium because public perception allows for it, but for this application it does not matter.

Burris Fullfield family of scopes is a good example of fairly simple and serviceable scopes as are Vortex Diamondback. I also like Sightron S2 and aforementioned Sig Whiskey3. Sometimes you can find Meopta MeoPro 3-9×40 in this price range. It is definitely a step above and a really nice design. If you want to do some turret twisting, SWFA SS Classic 6×42 is rock solid for around $300 (a lot less than that during Black Friday). There are, of course others and if you are looking at something I did not mention, add a question below.

 Posted by at 5:18 pm
Nov 222019
 

I was having lunch with a friend of mine earlier today and, as it often happens, the conversation turned to guns. We talked about politics prior to that and a fifteen minute conversation was all it took to solve the majority of world’s problems. We had a little time left, so we figured we should tackle something substantially more complicated: what gun he should buy next. He used to be a LEO, so he has had a lot of training with submachine guns. However, now that 300 Blackout is here, I do not see a ton of value in that. A 300 Blackout SBR would be kind of cool. In a perfect world, he would just get a HoneyBadger SBR from Q and be done with it. Except you have to deal with NFA and there is a six month backlog on the gun itself. Next best thing, I figured, would be a Honeybadger pistol. With that approach, you do not have to deal with NFA, but apparently the folks at Q are doing something right, since the backlog for that one, as of today, is around 15 months or so. I am a big fan of Q’s guns, so I checked to see the situation with the Sugar Weasel pistol. That is also backordered. Sugar Weasel uses the same barrel and gas system as Honey Badger, but the stock is a little less sophisticated and the receiver set is essentially mil-spec. It is very slightly heavier than the Honey Badger, but it kicks ass otherwise.

He knows that I’ve built a few AR style guns over the years, so he asked me for some recommendations on what components I would choose if I were building a 300 Blackout AR pistol, so here we are. Generally, I do have one of these that I built a while back and I learned quite a bit about working with a 300 Blackout cartridge in a short barrel from it. However, the one I built has a folding stock from LAW Tactical and Dolos takedown barrel system. Altogether, it is kinda heavy, so I figured it is worthwhile for me to go through the exercise of building another one that is a lot lighter. I think I can shave a couple of pounds off of the weight of the one I have. Ultimately, I am going to go through a set of considerations for a 300 Blackout build that is mostly designed to replicate Q’s Sugar Weasel, given that my chances of finding one are fairly slim with their crazy backlog and all. I will explain why I suggest using Q’s components where possible and why. The links to most of the components I mention are at the very end, although I will link to a few things in the body of the article as appropriate.

Because 300 Blackout was designed to work with both supersonic and subsonic loads, you are dealing with very different gas volumes and pressures. If you also use a suppressor (and you should), you add some additional concerns. Basically, you end up with four distinct possibilities:

  1. Subsonic unsuppressed: least amount of gas volume to work with, so the gas port needs to be the most open in this case
  2. Subsonic suppressed: suppressor adds back pressure, so the gun will cycle with a smaller gas port opening
  3. Supersonic unsuppressed: a little more gas volume, but basically this works at a fairly similar gas port opening as subsonic suppressed
  4. Supersonic suppressed: even more back pressure, so if you use one of the earlier settings you will be overgassed.

With short pistol barrels, tuning the gas system can get kinda tricky and getting it to run reliably with every load is not likely if you do not pay attention.

The sorta standard recommendation from many manufacturers is to pick one scenario and run with that. I appreciate why they suggest it, but I think there is a way to work around it.

In principle, most short barrel 300 Blackout pistols end up using an adjustable gas block. However, switching between gas block settings with most of these is not something you can do on the fly. They are really designed to be tuned once and left alone. The two exceptions to that I am aware of are Collar Adjustable gas block from Strike Industries and Select Gas Block from Seekins. Both of these can be adjusted with a simple tool through the opening in the handguard. I have not used either one of these myself, but I might. I do know people who have used them.

With conventional gas blocks, I like the idea of using them together with a Bootleg adjustable bolt carrier. The bolt carrier has four gas settings, so you can adjust the gas block for the most lowest gas pressure situation (subsonic unsuppressed) and then experiment with the bolt carrier gas settings to make sure everything works with other loads. Unlike the gas block, the bolt carrier adjustment is easily accessible without disassembling the rifle.

With barrels, if I manage to find one in stock, my preference would be to get the Honey Badger barrel assembly from Q. I know I talk about Q a lot, but they make good stuff and there are a couple of things about their barrels that are rather unique. The barrel assembly linked above comes with an adjustable gas block secured by a jam nut and faster than usual 1-in-5″ twist rate. Both are a good idea. Also, their barrel comes with a machined taper up front for mounting a suppressor. If you eventually add one of their direct mount suppressors to the mix, that tapered surface makes sure proper suppressor alignment.

Aside from that, most barrels in the 7″ to 10″ length will work fine, but it worth your time to check with the barrel manufacturer what the had in mind when selecting the gas port diameter. For example, Noveske’s barrel are designed to run with subsonic suppressed and supersonic unsuppressed. There is a good chance that subsonic unsuppressed will not cycle.

I have had good luck with Seekins barrels and I know they can be tuned for all four scenarios. There are, of course others that work well from Odin and Rainier.

Handguards are kinda in the eye of the beholder. There are a lot of them and they mostly work. Some people like long handguards that are virtually as long as the barrel, but with a short firearm like this, I am concerned about accidentally sliding my hand in front of the muzzle. I’d go with something in the 6″ to 8″ length range depending on which barrel you end up using. Q’s excellent 6″ handguard is, naturally, out of stock right now, but it is certainly a good option. Lately, I’ve used handguards from MI for a couple of builds and I think they offer a very good combination of performance and cost.

As far as receivers go, I kinda like somewhat lightened receiver sets like Palouse from 2A Armament. There are lighter ones out there, but they get really expensive. Something like Palouse is not bad, but a standard mil-spec receiver set from someone like Aero Precision is not a bad option either.

Charging handles are also kinda personal. I have had good luck with ambi charging handles from BCM and Raptor, so I would go with one of those.

Lastly, we get to the arm brace. There are quite a few out there now, but I think SBA3 is your best bet for flexibility of use.

Lastly, I want to touch onto the subject of triggers. There very many good AR triggers on the market. If you already have a preference, go with that. Personally, I’d probably just go with Geissele’s SSA or SSA-E and be done with it. It is a know quantity and I have yet to have a problem with one.

 Posted by at 10:12 pm