ILya

Apr 022020
 

Flashlights is not something I write about a whole lot, but that is a mistake I am going to rectify going forward. I own a ton of flashlights and use them quite extensively and frequently. Some are weapon mounted and some are handheld. I have flashlights from Surefire, Streamlight, Inforce, 4Sevens and a few others. When preparing to write this I did a quick inventory and realized that easily more than half of all flashlights I have are from Fenix, some hailing from quite a few years ago and still going strong. I think the only Fenix light that gave me any problems at all was an older model that had an alkaline battery leak inside. I was able to get it open and working after replacing the tail switch. That was hardly the flashlight’s fault and since then I only use lithium batteries in my flashlights. I am fairly certain I have another three or four Fenix lights squirreled away in different bags, but these are the ones I could assemble for a brief photoshoot quickly. They are not in any sort of chronological order here, but you can see a silver P3D on the right and a couple of E15s that live in my various travel bags. An old headlamp and LD20 are always in my car (if you have ever had to change a flat tire in the middle of the night you’ll understand why I have these in the car). Old TK11 has been to a good number of night classes. The rechargeable UC35 V2.0 was recently purchased and intended to be sitting in the drawer of my bedside table. The PD35TAC might replace it and will be going on all my regular travels. To be clear, I have a ton of other flashlights as well, some for handheld use and a bunch mounted on weapons of all sorts. If Fenix had a better way to mount the flashlight to a rifle, I would definitely try the PD35TAC there. They do sell a picatinny mount for their flashlights and an extended pressure switch, but after a ton of experimentation, I decided that I strongly prefer to mount flashlights closer to the handguard via KeyMod or Mlok at either 1 o’clock or 5 o’clock positions. In terms of brightness, PD35 TAC with its 1000 lumen tactical mode would do quite well on a rifle, I think.

While the subject of this review is the Fenix PD35 TAC, toward the tail end of this article I’ll go into a bit more detail of what I am looking for in a tactical flashlight and lament profusely that such a thing does not exist. PD35 TAC almost gets me there, though.

This is officially the first time I got a flashlight partially because it is pretty. To be fair, I was going to pick up the regular PD35 Tactical flashlight anyway and then I stumbled onto the Patriot edition. It is one of many patterns Fenix makes as a part of their Elite Cerakote Series and I happened to like this one. The American Flag cerakote coating on this Patriot PD35 is excellent and seems to be quite durable. Aside from vanity, there is a practical reason why I ended up with the cerakoted version: it stands out a little from all the rest of the stuff in my messy workbag. This has been my EDC light for a few weeks now and it still looks exactly the same as it did when I got it despite being slipped in an out of a bunch of different pockets, pouches, rolled around on the floor of the workshop and subjected to all sort of other daily abuse. It even survived my pre-teen kids who press every button eight million times per second simply because they are bored. I have been using it in both Tactical and Outdoor modes with reasonable success in different lighting conditions and for different purposes. It is a really good general purpose light and it works quite well for tactical applications in a pinch. If you look at the UC35 V2.0 and PD35 TAC next to each other it may not be immediately clear why I got both. A brief look at the specs will clear it all up.

Here are the UC35 specs I pilfered from Fenix website:

UC35 V2.0 specifications
PD35 TAC Specifications

Look at how the output in lumens and intensity and candela differ between the two. For example, when both are set to 1000 lumen output, UC35 is rated for 17,700 candela, while PD35 for 10000 candela. Candela and lumens are related: candela is lumens per steradian (solid angle). Number of lumens represent the total amount of energy that comes out while candela also takes into account how that energy is distributed. That essentially means that PD35 throws the light at a substantially wider angle and when you actually use the lights, it is clear that UC35 concentrates most of the energy in a comparatively narrow angle, while PD35 spreads it out a fair bit more. For reaching far out, UC35 is a better choice, but for tactical use where you want to minimize blind spots not very far from you, PD35 is better.

While the 1000 lumen turbo mode sounds very impressive (and it is quite bright), the high mode with 500 lumen output is what caught my attention. There is a trend with flashlights to go brighter and brighter. It is great for marketing because bigger number is better, right? To support that, there is a whole brigade of internet authorities pontificating how their latest and greatest ultrabright flashlight can incinerate the intruder’s eyeballs from a mile away on a rainy night. I am beginning to wonder if they have ever tried to use those flashlights indoors. For defensive use indoors, I need a flashlight that has a nicely uniform output so that there aren’t any blind spots. It also has to be bright enough to temporarily blind an attacker when I pulse it on for a second and not so bright that it blinds me. Most indoor walls in the US are painted in some sort of a light color. Some time, for entertainment purposes, turn off all lights at night, let your eyes adapt to the dark, and flip on your 1000 lumen latest and greatest while standing in front of a white wall. Now, if you are outdoors, sky is the limit, without all that reflected energy coming back at you, there is a definite benefit to more light: you can see further and disorient an adversary from a longer distance. I use fairly powerful lights on my rifles, but on a handgun I tend to stick to something in the 400-500 lumen range. With a reasonably wide illumination field like on the PD35 TAC and other high quality tactical lights that’s about the maximum I can use without severely degrading my own ability to see at night. For the non-tactical version of PD35 and for the UC35, the High mode is 350 lumens and next step up is the 1000 lumen turbo mode. Another thing that is different in the PD35 TAC is the tactical mode. In the regular mode Fenix call “outdoor” the tail cap switched the light on and off, while the small button just behind the lamp assembly toggles through different modes in a sequence. The flashlight remembers the last mode you used, so if you turn it on again, it comes back in that same mode. That is exactly how I use it: I make sure it is on High and turn it off. Then a half press on the tail cap gives me that momentary activation I want and the light is off the moment I release it. For defensive purposes, I do not want the light to stay on any longer than absolutely necessary. The tail switch on the PD35 TAC, unfortunately, is of the press/click variety where a full press clicks the light on, requiring another click to turn it off. I would have much preferred a clickless button that is momentary on only. Permanent on can be achieved by some other means. The tactical mode has an abbreviated number of settings: 1000 lumen, 60 lumen and strobe. It does not really do anything useful for me, unfortunately, since in that mode repeated activation of the tail switch switches between outputs. That is the exact thing I do not want. I know there is a school of thought out there that you want to be able to switch between modes with the tail switch only. Perhaps, it works for other people, but that is not how I use tactical lights. Utility lights is a difficult ball game, of course.

There are flashlights out there that have simple momentary on tail switches, but with the obsession on the brightest possible output, small single battery lights usually spit out in the ballpark of 500 lumens, while longer dual cell ones are often double that. Therein lies another problem for the nitpicky and paranoid people like me. I want to be able to use the flashlight as a kubotan in a pinch. For that, it has to be five or six inches in length and single cell flashlights are all shorter than that.

PD35 TAC is nearly perfect size for me to use as an impact weapon if I have to and, in the outdoor mode, the tail switch only turns it on and off. It is not perfect, but it is close. 500 lumen high output mode is just about right for tactical indoor use. 1000 lumen turbo mode is available if I am outdoors and low output modes save battery and give me enough light for utility use when camping or looking for something at night.

PD35 Tactical is a really solid general purpose light that doubles as a tactical light better than most, so I am sticking with it for now.

If I were to design a perfect tactical light, I would have it roughly the same size as PD35 and equip it with a momentary only tail switch and three output modes: full blast for outdoor use, ~500 lumen for indoor tactical use and ~50 lumens for when you do not need to blind anyone. Mode switching would be done by some means other than the tailcap and permanent on by something else entirely. For example, you can have the lamp assembly rotate between three different settings corresponding to three brightness modes and tail cap can rotate to turn the light permanently on, leaving the tail switch free for momentary only operation.

 Posted by at 10:21 pm
Mar 292020
 

I get asked questions about different brands all the time and, recently, Hensoldt came up a few times.

Hensoldt is kind of an odd duck in the civilian market. The brand is very famous and has been around for a long time. It really gets a lot of the mystique from how deeply integrated it has always been with German military, but the part of Hensoldt product line that most of us see in the shooting world is kinda like a small pimple on the ass of an elephant compared to all the military stuff they do.

Hensoldt used to be a part of Zeiss, but since Zeiss Sport Optics has always looked at anything related to the military with the same kind of enthusiasm with which Bernie looks at capitalism, they sold Hensoldt to Airbus Defense. Airbus Defense spent a few years mismanaging it and then sold the entirety of they defense electronics business, including Hensoldt Optronics, to a private investment firm which named the whole billion dollar electronic warfare conglomerate Hensoldt. Today Optronics is one of the ten-or-so Hensoldt Group companies and day optics comprise a miniscule portion of Optronics and an even smaller portion of Hensoldt overall.

Why am I telling you all this? To make it clear how little the civilian market matters for Hensoldt. When they make a new product or a modification to an existing product, they do it because there is an opportunity somewhere in the military world. If the product happens to be something unrestricted, they will happily also sell it to civilians. That is not a bad or a good thing. It is what it is and if you are looking at Hensoldt products you have to keep these things in mind. If your Hensoldt product requires warranty service or repair, it will take a while. If you are thinking about contacting the company in Germany with questions… that may be hit and miss.

On the plus side, while Hensoldt in the US is only available through one distributor, Eurooptics, they are friendly and very customer focused. If you have Hensoldt questions, you will have much better luck with them.

Hensoldt makes several riflescopes and a couple of spotting scopes. I have tested some of the riflescopes over the years and generally liked them. In many ways they were really ahead of the curve: they were the original short overall length designs with large objectives and absolutely exceptional eyepieces. In terms of optomechanical designs the 3-12×56 and 4-16×56 are still very competitive and exceptionally easy to get behind. However, the reticles are kinda outdated by modern standards. They still work fine, but it is a competitive marketplace and the competition has been moving rapidly. The 4-16×56 was updated at some point to incorporate locking turrets and a couple of Horus reticles, but that pushed the price up to around $5k and for that amount there are other scopes I like a little more.

Most questions I get about Hensoldt pertain to their latest 3.5-26×56 design. I have not done a full test of it and do not plan to. There are several reasons for that. The most obvious one is that it costs nearly $8k and I can find better uses for that. If I wanted to drop a lot of money on an optic, I would buy N-Vision’ Halo or Halo LR thermal scope and probably have some cash leftover. For a fairly conventional dayscope, I really think that going over $5k is unwise and even at $5k you have to really want something. My primary precision scope is Tangent Thetat 5-25×56 that costs about that much and I really enjoy using it, but when people ask me for recommendations… you can do really well for less money. Now, in some ways TT is still better, but once you get past $2k-$3k, you really get into the realm of diminishing returns. The 3.5-26×56 Hensoldt was designed for a particular military tender that imposed strict limitations that to me are absolutely not worth it. I have seen several prototypes of this scope. The first two or three were optically atrocious. The most recent ones seem OK. 18 mrad per turn turret looks good on paper and was a requirement, but the clicks are close together and the feel is not very good at all. I have heard people rave about this scope, so I figured maybe they finally got it worked out and I should take a look. I took a quick look and I still don’t like it, so I do not want to spend the time reviewing it. My initial impressions could be wrong of course, but at $8k per scope I am not itching to dig into it.

I did like the prismatic 4×30 ZOi scope a fair bit, but I am not sure how many of these are out there.

Some Hensoldt designs are really unusual and do not really have a direct comparable among other brands. While all Hensoldt scopes are really good in low light, the 6-24×72 is absolutely exceptional. It has been out for a while and it is still the best dedicated low light scope out there (I have been diligently waiting until EuroOptics puts a demo or some other discounted version of it on sale).

Once we get to spotters, Hensoldt also marches to the beat of their own drum and in this case it is a good thing. They make two versions of the their 72mm objective spotting scope: 20-60×72 Spotter 60 and 15-45×72 Spotter 45 and both are exceptional. The only other difference between them is the reticle. These are folded light path scopes with ranging reticles and absolutely remarkable depth of field and overall image quality. They are expensive, but if you want the best spotter out there for looking at bullet trace, this is it.

Hensoldt does not make any low end products. Everything they make is expensive and very good… for their specific design purpose. If that design purpose matches what you are looking for, Hensoldt is a good option. Otherwise, there are other alternatives.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Mar 282020
 

By ILya Koshkin

Late last year I somehow managed to convince my wife to go take a rifle class with me at Frontsight.  The class is basically a close range carbine class that focuses on the fundamentals of aiming and presentation with vast majority of the shooting done within 50 yards off hand.  There is some positional shooting done (prone and kneeling) and some shooting from 100 and 200 yards. Given that the class has a huge emphasis on the fundamentals of gun handling and safety, I thought it was a good class for her to take and I was right.  She learned a lot and had a sense of accomplishment by the end of the class. I even managed to convince her to go take another class with me, but the whole coronavirus situation put that on a temporary hold.
I have a bunch of ARs, so I simply gave her one of the lighter ones I had that was equipped with a collapsible stock.  Before we went to Frontsight, she shot an AR-15 exactly once in her life and the class was perfect to give her some basic proficiency.  I can teach someone to run an AR just fine, but convincing her to practice when we are home is tricky. However, once we got to Frontsight, she was pretty much captive audience for two days and I let the instructors do their job.  The progress she made in those two days of class was really tremendous (I was learning to properly operate my AK, so I stayed all four days, while she did the first two days and then flew home to go back to work).


I am 6ft tall and weigh around 270lbs (if weighed before dinner. After dinner all bets are off, but I am not subjecting my scales to that kind of abuse).  My wife claims to be 5’4” (since she started going to gun classes with me I stopped debating that point) and weighs quite a bit less than half of what I do.  
When she agreed to go to that Frontsight class last year, I picked out the lightest AR I had that was set-up with a collapsible stock and figured we are good to go.  That same rifle worked well for my 15 year old nephew a couple of years ago, so I figured it should work fine for her. Let’s just say I did not think that through really well and upon returning home I kicked off a new build specifically for her.  I picked up most of the components during Black Friday which saved me a ton of money. A few remaining pieces have been slowly trickling in and now that I am home because of the whole corona silliness, I finished the build. The only thing left to do is tune the gas system, which will have to wait until local ranges open again.
The AR-15 she used back in November is the top one in the picture and the new one I built for her is on the bottom.

The new build is as follows:

  • Odin Works Zulu 2.0 stock 19.7 oz
  • Odin Works O2 15.5” handguard 9.7 oz
  • Faxon 16” Match Pencil barrel 19 oz
  • Smith Vortex (I think) flash hider 3 oz
  • M4E1 lower receiver  8.61 oz
  • Voodoo Low Mass Carrier 9.5 oz
  • Bravo Mil-Spec Upper 7 oz
  • Crimson Trace CTS-1400 Red Dot Sight 3 oz

That adds up to 79.5 oz or almost exactly five pounds.  With all the small parts, TriggerTech adjustable AR trigger, Defiance grip and a sling, it adds up to 6.8  lbs. I used all standard lower parts except for the adjustable AR trigger from Triggertech and Strike Industries pins that make disassembly a touch easier.

The rifle she used for the class last year weighed almost the same.  In its present iteration it has Crimson Trace’s excellent 3.5x Battlesight, so it weighs 8.1lbs with the sling, but during the class she used a HiLux MM2 red dot sight.  The prismatic scope weighs 13 ounces more than the red dot, so as configured during the class it was right at 7.3lbs.  

I built it several years ago and it has worked flawlessly since:

  • AR15 Performance Scout profile 16” barrel  28 oz
  • Double Star forged lower 8.6 oz
  • Standard LPK with Geissele SSA-E trigger
  • Mil-spec upper (Bravo, I think, but it has been a while)  7 oz
  • Bravo KMR Alpha handguard 10.2 oz 
  • MilSpec BCG 11.4 oz
  • Carbine buffer extension tube 3.8 oz
  • Mission First Tactical Buttstock 6.2 oz (this is easily my favourite inexpensive furniture)

There is only half a pound of difference in overall weight, but there is a huge difference in swing weight since that extra half pound of weight is all in the barrel.

She finally got the hang of it toward the end of the class, but the weight and, most importantly, the weight distribution, of the rifle gave Lea a ton of problems.  There was just too much weight up front for her to be comfortable with the gun and we did a LOT of presentation drills. While recoil did not bother her too much when the rifle was mounted to the shoulder properly, she did manage to get a black eye after being bumped with the stock: it was too low on her shoulder and there was no cheek weld so she got hit with hard plastic.  She took it like a champ, this being a freak accident, and only made fun of me a little. However, some other family members (my brother mostly) had way too much fun at my expense, and I did not enjoy explaining that there was no spousal abuse here.

Aside from having a little bit too much weight up front for her, there were a couple of other things I simply did not think about.  One was the plastic stock, so for the new build I used Odin’s Zulu stock that has a soft recoil pad and neoprene sleeve on the buffer tube.  It adds a little weight, but that weight is right by the shoulder and I was not really going for an ultralight build in order to keep the recoil soft.  Zulu stock also has a small secondary spring in the buffer tube which softens the vibrations of the buffer slamming into the back of the tube and lowers felt recoil a little bit.

The biggest reason I ended up getting a lightweight bolt carrier was that Vuduu (Adams Arms) were discontinuing it and it cost me less than a standard BCG would.  The bolt has Lifecoat on it, so it should be easy to clean and I like this carrier’s integral gas key. No need to worry about staking. The carrier is not quite THAT light, so I do not anticipate reliability issues once I get the Superlative Arms gas block properly tuned.  Worst case, I will switch to a heavier buffer, which keeps with my theme of keeping weight toward the buttstock of the gun.

I did try to shave off a lot of weight up front, so I used Odin’s rather svelte O2 handguard, especially since they had a bundle on sale that included the handguard, stock, endplate, mag button and charging handle with matching anodizing.  I did want to make this build look good. I chose a long 15.5” handguard to make sure there is no chance of touching the barrel.  

The barrel is Faxon’s Match Pencil profile.  It is reputed to be fairly accurate owing to the Wylde chamber and 5R rifling, and I will test that.  I have used their less expensive NATO chambered pencil barrel and had good luck with it. Given how thin it is, it will heat up and I wanted to give it plenty of space to dissipate heat.  This handguard is very lightweight despite the length and not ultraslim. With slim handguards and small hands, it is possible to get too close to the barrel and the gas block for comfort at the end of a long shooting string.

The flash hider is fairly beefy and I might switch it out to something else later, but I already had it so I used it.  Years ago when California decided to outlaw flash hiders I took them off of all my ARs, so I still have a few here and there.  Now that I left the People’s Republik of Kommiefornia in the rear view mirror, I can use them again.

Another problem I had not anticipated was the grip.  Trigger reach with MFT beavertail grip turned out to be too long and the little gap at the back of the trigger guard was uncomfortable even with the little rubber spacer from Ergo.  For all of the malfunction clearances, where you support the gun with your right hand and manipulate the controls with your right hand, After a little digging around I stumbled onto Aero Precision’s M4E1 lower that has an integral trigger guard and smoothed out edges.  Kriss’ Defiance grip matches it perfectly, so that there is no gap to dig into your finger when supporting the rifle one handed. The Defiance grip seems to work really well for small-to-medium hands, so both of us find it comfortable. I might get another one and experiment a little on other rifles.

I’ll post an update once I finish messing with the gas block and get a good grasp of what the barrel can do.  Many pencil barrels have significant POI shifts when they heat up, but the lower grade pencil barrel from Faxon was pretty decent.  I do not mind groups opening up. It is a very thin barrel after all. However, I want the aggregate POI to remain the same. I have high hopes for this Faxon barrel, but time will tell.

Stay tuned for the shooting report.  Once I get an idea of how the rifle does, I may also re-visit the optics choice a little.  For now, it will stay with CTS-1400 red dot from Crimson Trace. It has good collimation quality and has held zero flawlessly so far.

 Posted by at 10:48 pm
Mar 062020
 

I stumbled onto this excellent piece by The New Rifleman. That right there is an excellent does of reality:

Also, the Everyday Marksman started looking at the Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 with my reticle in it. I value his opinion, so I am really happy to see he likes my reticle:

On an unrelated note, just got an e-mail from Palmetto that they have a bunch of Chinese SKS rifles for $350 until March 9th. Milsurp rifles are really drying up, so if you are in the market, this is a good price.

Palmetto generally has some really interesting daily deals that are worth checking. I never paid a ton of attention to Palmetto Armory in the past, but I was researching different weir ARs and stumbled onto their KS47, which is basically an AR that takes AK mags. So far, it has not skipped a beat with any ammo I was able to throw at it. Next step will be some accuracy testing. I ordered a few different ammo types, so I will chrono them and check accuracy.

 Posted by at 10:42 am
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