Aug 092019

A few months ago I got a list of assignment from Guns and Ammo SIP (Special Interest Publications) folks, which are not all completed and as they release the magazines I post an update or two.

As I had mentioned before, writing for these guy turned out to be unexpectedly trouble free. The editing was extremely unobtrusive and was mostly restricted to grammar corrections and changes related to the pictures used. Sometimes they used my pictures and sometimes those taken by their professional photographers (it is pretty easy to tell the difference). Since I like putting references to pictures into the text of the articles as all nerdy people do, they had to remove those if they used different pictures. Aside from that, they changed almost nothing and that is the way I want it. In other words, I hope they’ll have some more stuff for me to write since this was a very enjoyable experience.

That having been said, until they come up with something else, I’ve got a couple of scope tests to finish and a few other things that are in the works.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a long list of assignments, but when we originally talked, I wasn’t planning to do anything for their Retro magazine. I had plenty of things to do, and older riflescopes is not something I know a ton about. I have some mileage with them, but not too much.

Well, I get a call from one of the editors just before the 4th of July while I am in Nevada for the Night Carbine class at Frontsight with a somewhat unusual request. It went something like this: “We need a couple of short pieces for the Retro magazine. We’ve got this picture of an old Sniperscope IR, what can you do based on that? oh, and how about the Singlepoint sight that was used in the Son Tay raid?”

Well, it so happens that I know a little bit about night vision and thermal imaging products since I work with these things for a living. Most of the stuff I have worked on will never be available to the civilian world (most of it is either in orbit or airborne a little closer to the ground), but I have worked on some small arms stuff. It was unexpectedly a lot of fun to look into the very first night vision scope which is sorta how it all started:

I have been involved with this kind of stuff 50 years later and never really gave much thought to how it all started.

Same with the Single Point Sight used in the Son Tay raid. Today, nobody cares much about these since inexpensive and decent red dot sights are everywhere. I have seen the Armson OEG and I often use regular scopes with illuminated reticles as OEG (Occluded Eye Gunsight) at close ranges, but Son Tay was really how this started.

I know how all this stuff works pretty well, but doing some light research on the history of these was a lot of fun and I should probably pick up one of Armson’s products just for the history of it.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm
Jul 182019

I get a lot of ideas on what to address in future videos and articles from the questions I get here and on different forums where I participate. I am on a bit of a hiatus right now as I relocate my family to a different state (and my dayjob to a different, different state), so I figured I should start making a list of questions that are worth addressing when my life is a bit more settled down again. Here are a few that I recently ran into on SnipersHide:

  1. Tube diameter. What does it really give you?
  2. Exit pupil. How come the math does not work on low power? what changed with new high erector ration riflescopes?
  3. More on exit pupil. Are we really wasting light with larger exit pupil? Compromises between eye fatigue, field of view and magnification.

Please comment or send me an e-mail with other ideas and I’ll add them to this post to keep a running tally. I am sure I have touched on some of these in earlier videos, but I’ll be happy to go into more detail if there is interest.

 Posted by at 8:59 am
Jun 092019

Father’s day is almost upon us. A bunch of products are on sale and I am getting hit with questions on whether something is a good deal.

Then there is a whole slew of question along the lines of: “I want to give my dad a nice optic (riflescope, bunocular, etc) for under $100, what would you recommend?”

Well, I have some bad news for you. If you look at a list of recommendations I have, there really isn’t much in terms of optics that you can get around $100 that is actually worth it.

If that is all the budget you have, I can still come up with some recommendations, but they are not really going to have much of anything to do with optics. For that stuff I mostly draw on my quirkly lifestyle: I travel a lot, so I pay a lot of attention to thinks that make my travelling life easier.

If you have budget flexibility and you are set on getting some optics, peruse my list of recommendations and see if there is anything there that might work for you: riflescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes. If you see any of the products I mention there on sale for Father’s Day and within your budget, that’s your best bet.

For those on a $50-$100 or thereabouts budget, here are some ideas.

First of all, I know I talk a lot about riflescopes, but I will not list a whole lot of riflescopes here. If Dad wants a riflescope for a hunting/plinking rifle of some sorts, your viable options start in the $150-$170 range with Sightron S1 3-9×40 or 1.75-4×32 versions and Burris Fullfield II 2-7×35. These are simple, but fairly robust scopes.

With binoculars, interestingly, there are more options, but I do not like most of them. With budget options usually less is more, so I’d be taking a good look at Leupold Yosemite 6×30 and Kowa YF 6×30.

With spotting scopes… this is the wrong price range. Decent stuff starts a bit higher up (above $300) which is a bit outside of the scope of what I am looking to cover here.

Moving a bit away from things optical, there are some tricks of the trade I learned from all the travel I do. One is to have a very thin wallet. I switched to a front pocket wallet after travelling in Europe where they will brazenly steal anything you put in your back pocket. It is also worthwhile to not have anything in your pockets that will make your life even more uncomfortable than a 15 hour flight already does. However, most of the ultra slim wallets I have tried have flaws: no space for cash, no ID window, fragility. This one from All-ett is very slim (although not as slim as some really tiny ones I have seen), and it addressed the three issues I listed above. It is a good compromise.

And now for something way into the left field… I am a life long martial artists, which is simply a nicer way of saying “aging martial artist” who does not practice enough. As I got older I learned the value of working on the fitness of some parts of your body that you pay no attention to when you are younger. One of them is the whole foot and ankle structure. As you get older, this is one of the parts of your body that really takes a beating and starts getting injured. Once your ankle is beat up, everything else you do gets even more tricky and even as you heal, you can have balance issues that effect your other joints. There really isn’t a lot out there specific for foot and ankle strengthening, so after some research I stumbled onto the AFX. If you are worried that your Father’s Day gift is too passe and same thing as everyone else gets, this one is for you. I bet noone else will be getting one of these:

Lastly, something I found on Kickstarter, but have not yet seen. It will not get there for Father’s Day, but since I am touching on subjects normally do not address, I figured I should mention it. Here is what my typical travel week looks like:

-five hours on the plane in an economy seat that is designed to be uncomfortable for people half my size and downright torturous for.. hmm, let’s just say full-size people (you do not want to be in a seat next to me; I take a lot of space).

-five nights in hotel beds that are engineered to closely replicate Soviet gulag experience

-many hours in a rental car going from place to place.

-another five hours on the same plane flying home

By the time that is all done, if you do not have back pain, you are tougher than I am. In principle, going to a massage therapist would help, but I do not like anyone other than my wife touching me and there is no chance she can work through any of muscle aches (I am close to 300lbs, she is 120lbs on roller blades; she can pretty much practice tap dancing on my back and not wake me up). Exercise helps, but I am always looking for something else and this weird back massager from a company called Backmate caught my interest. That will be interesting to try. Given my weight class, it will also be a good stress test for my door frame.

And lastly, as far as I am concerned, you can’t have too many folding knives. One of the reasons I, specifically, can’t have too many folders is that I end up occasionally losing them, and I have (and had, unfortunately) some really nice ones. I tried to use cheaper knives for general purpose daily carry, but most of them were not particularly comfortable in the hand and used cheap blade steel that either dulled or rolled far too quickly. While I have used ESEE fixed blade knives quite a bit over the years and had nothing but good things to say about them, they are folders are new to me. They got my attention because they are inexpensive and some use D2 steel for the blade. D2 has been around forever and a day and is still one of the better general purpose steels (I have been collecting knives with different blade steels for solid 25 years, so I have tried them all). I just started carrying these, but my initial impressions are extremely good. ESEE Avispa is a little larger with a 3.5″ blade, while Esee Zancudo blade length is a hair under 3″. Both are under $50, while sporting intelligent geometries and durable materials. I bought both and will be using them as my EDC blades for the next few months.

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Jun 062019

This is not going to be a very long review.especially since I’ve got a video up where I talk about this scope. It is embedded a bit further down and there is also a link there for the same video on if you prefer that platform to YouTube.

LPVOs (Low Power Variable Optics) are getting increasingly more competent across the board. The original idea behind riflescopes of this type was to provide good performance on 1x, with performance on top magnification *first 4x, then 6x, 7x, 8x, etc) being almost an afterthought. However, recently I am seeing more and more riflescopes that are increasingly well optimized across the entire magnification range with the Blaser being, potentially, the best of the bunch in terms of optomechanical quality.

I do not think Blaser intends to market this for tactical/AR-15 use, especially since their sister brand Minox already has an excellent ZP8 1-8×24. However, they really should consider it. I think they can grab a nice slice of the market by simply adding a couple of reticles with holdover points and, maybe, some sort of an AR compatible mounting solution (although I will freely admit that the Zeiss rail on the bottom of the scope is a very flexible mounting options as is). I used Recknagel rail mounts on top of the 22MOA Badger riser and the optical axis was at just the right height.

The reason I tested the scope on my AR-15 is mostly that I wanted to spend some time shooting offhand on low power which burns a lot of ammo and 25.56×45 is comparatively more affordable.

Blaser 1-7×28Minox
Nightforce ATACR
Length, in12.511.61010.710.711.9
Weight, oz22.824.521191918.2
Main Tube Diameter34mm34mm34mm30mm34mm30mm
Eye Relief, in3.53.53.743.53.543.74
FOV, ft@1000yards123 – 18
21 @ 6x
112 – 14.4 19.2 @ 6x96 – 13.1
17.5 @ 6x
122 – 19.320.2 @ 6x107 – 13 17.4 @ 6x127.5 – 15.9
21.2 @ 6x
Exit Pupil10 – 410.3 – 311 – 312.4 – 3.811 – 38.1 – 3
Click Value0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad
Adjustment per turn10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad
Adjustment range18mrad10 mrad30 mradE: 20 mradW: 14 mrad29 mrad20 mrad
Zero StopNoYesYesNoNoYes

Looking at the spec table above, a few things jump out. One is that the Blaser is expensive. Another is that it easily the widest FOV of the available FFP low power scope. It almost matches the FOV of the second focal plane Swaro Z8i, except it does so with a larger exit pupil and front focal plane reticle. Rather importantly, when you are trying to go fast with the scope on 1x, the exit pupil on low power matters. I experimented with a bunch of different scope and it seem like for optimal performance I need an exit pupil of 10mm or more. If it gets smaller on 1x, that is not a huge deal, but I can feel the difference especially from suboptimal shooting positions.

Also, Blaser is the only 28mm objective in this group and, while I have not seen all of these side by side, I am pretty confident it will do better than any 24mm scope in low light. It is not a huge difference, but it is there.

Here is a brief video review:

Here is a short video shot through the scope using a Skoped Vision adapter. It is not nearly as good of the image as you get looking directly through the scope, but it is a good representation of what the reticle looks like.

Keep in mind that the physical reticle is sized so it does not stand out much on 1x. That is where the large illuminated dot is supposed to really stand out for a shooting experience close to that of a red dot sight.

Below 4.5x, the dot is 1 mrad in diameter (right around 3 MOA). Above 4.5x, it is 0.25 mrad in diameter for precise aiming.

Blaser calls the technology IVD: Intelligent Variable Dot. I really like how it works and I hope it extends to different products and applications.

 Posted by at 10:04 am
May 312019

I have talked a little bit about this on a couple of forums, but I figured that I should not neglect my own website and tell the story of what I am doing with G&A and why.

If you have followed my various ramblings for a while, you may remember that a bit over a decade ago, I had a brief interaction one of the gun magazine publications (admittedly not Guns and Ammo) and in order to write for them, I would have to severely change how I talk about things. They were so afraid of upsetting their advertisers, that I chose to not have anything to do with that. I am not out to slander anyone, but sometimes you have to cal a spade a spade, so to speak. If the product is crap, I have to be able to say it is crap.

Earlier this year, the folks behind the Guns and Ammo specialty editions reached out and asked if I am interested in writing a few pieces for them. The specialty edition magazines are the issues that are published once or twice per year focusing on a particular topic. The specific one that they had coming up was the inaugural Red Dot issue and they asked if I am interesting in writing something that goes over the most common misconceptions people have about reflex and holographic sights.

Red Dot magazine cover (at the newsstands now)

Naturally, the very first question I asked was on the restrictions I would have if I agree. That turned out to be a much shorter discussion than I anticipated. They do not want me to use bad language. That’s basically it. In other words: say what you want to say, but don’t be rude about it. I figured I can do that without sacrificing my journalistic integrity.

I wrote a piece for that Red Dot magazine and they liked it well enough that they asked me to do a couple more articles for the other publications they have coming up. The next one out will be the G&A Rimfire issue that will hit the newsstands toward the end of June.

Upcoming Rimfire magazine cover. This one will be at the newsstands on June 25th.

Probably the weirdest thing about print media for me is having a word budget. Vast majority of my writing has been on the internet where I can be as wordy as I damn well please. Brevity is not one of my virtues, so everything I have written for G&A so far started out as a much longer piece. So far, it takes me more time to pair down to 2000 words than it takes me to put together the original piece. I hope to get better with practice. I always knew I was wordy, but until now, I never realized how really wordy I am.

Beyond the Rimfrie issue, I have written a couple more and as they wrap up with editing and layout, I’ll post updates. For the first two pieces I wrote for G&A, their editing is very light handed, which I am pretty happy with. They move pictures around, obviously, to fit on the pages, but aside from that they just fix my occasionally random capitalization and punctuation.

If you happen to see one of these on the newsstand somewhere, read the article and let me know what you think. I will do a few reviews for them going forward, but most of the topics they want me to address or either educational or overview in nature, which fits me just fine.

 Posted by at 4:28 pm
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