Dec 112017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin

 

Revisited in December 2017: If I could Have Only One, Alternate Scenario

 

This is a follow up to the post I wrote earlier where I think my way through three weapons (handgun, rifle and shotgun) that are all supposed to do a bit of everything.

Now, I am going to change my boundary conditions a bit: this time around I am not looking to have everything do everything.  I like having some crossover, but I am not going to mandate maximum versatility for every weapon system.  Also, I am going to open the door to potential carry, concealed or otherwise, for the handgun.



When I was looking for maximum versatility for everything I settled on Remington 870 with ghost ring sights, AR-15 in 6.5 Grendel and long slide 10mm Glock.

I will leave my choice of a shotgun alone since I am not a shotgun guy and a pump gun with ghost ring sights covers defensive scenarios and hunting within a reasonably close range well enough for my needs.

The selections for handgun and rifle, however, change.

A handgun for me is primarily a defensive and plinking weapon.  Hunting with a handgun, while interesting, is not much of a priority, so if I have a different weapon system for hunting I can compromise on that.  Also, once you need to carry a handgun, a longslide Glock is less than ideal, and a 10mm cartridge in a smaller gun is a bit more pop than I am looking for.  I have experimented with it a little and the after shot recovery is slower than I like.

With that in mind, the choice of a handgun changes to a different Glock.  The ideal option would probably be Glock 19 with co-witnessed red dot and irons, but I do not own one of those (something I may rectify if I manage to get my hands onto a Gen 5 Glock).  So, in the spirit of trying to work with the guns that I actually own, I will settle on my Glock 17.  Mind you, it is a bit modified, which makes it very suitable for this.  The grip is made a bit smaller and shorter, so it can accept both Glock 19 and 17 length magazines.  It also prints quite a bit less when you carry (not that I can carry in public in California, but that does not prevent me from experimenting at my own house and where legal).  The slide is the Atom from Unity Tactical, which makes it fairly easy to mount a red dot, co-witnessed with iron sights.  At the moment, I have Insight MRDS on there, which is not an ideal choice.  It is a nice red dot, but it is bulkier than I like, uses a battery that noone else uses, and mine has a 3.5 MOA dot.  On a handgun, I use primarily for defensive purposes, I prefer a larger dot (7-8 MOA seems ideal).  With handgun mounted red dot sights, out of all I have seen, the two I like the most are Doctersight III and Shield RMS.  My Doctersight III also has a 3.5 MOA dot, but since it sits on a long slide 10mm that I built for hunting, I am OK with that.  Shield RMS sits on a Glock 43, which was one of my contenders for this and if concealed carry was the primary purpose, it would be my choice.  Hence, until such time as I get my hands onto another Doctersight or Shield, Insight MRDS it is.  I just took a class with it at Frontsight and it worked well enough, but eventually it will end up on a carbine of some sort.  I think it works better there.

The trigger is, again, Travis Haley’s excellent Skimmer design.  It is about as good as non-competition Glock triggers get.

A natural question, of course, is why I am going with a 9mm vs a host of other cartridges people like.  While cartridge discussions can go on forever, all data suggests that with modern bullets there is no practical difference between 9mm, 40S&W, 45ACP, etc for defensive use.  I’ll leave it at that.  I can shoot 9mm well, with rapid follow up shots and reasonable accuracy.  It does not hurt that it does not jam.  For basic defensive use, anything smaller than a 9mm seems to compromise effectiveness, while anything bigger compromises shot-to-shot speed.  With hunting out of the picture, 9mm seems to be the sweetspot.

With rifles, I am probably going to make the most radical change of all.  As much as I like my ARs, if I have a shotgun and a handgun aimed at home defense, my rifle becomes a bit more dedicated for hunting and precision shooting and that means “bolt action”.  Also, since the shotgun covers closer distances quite nicely when hunting is concerned, I want the rifle to be able to reach way out there.  If it was precision shooting only, the choice would be obvious: I have a DTA SRS bullpup precision gun that is freakishly accurate with both barrels I have (338LM and 6.5x47L).  It is, however, kinda heavy.  

My general purpose hunting rifle is an old Tikka M695 in 280Rem that sits in McMillan.  It is more accurate than any gun this inexpensive has any right to be, but the barrel is on a thin side.  While it is an absolutely superb hunting rifle (especially with the stunning Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 scope on it), it is not the best fit for target shooting since the barrel heats up pretty quickly.  It maintains accuracy well enough, but I do not want to overheat it.

Enter The Fix.  It is a new bolt action rifle designed by a company called Q out of New Hampshire.  It appears to be a very new take on boltguns and with their design I get a 7lbs rifle with a 20” 6.5 Creedmoor Bartlein barrel, AR-style ergonomics, compatibility with AR-10 magazines, fully adjustable folding stock and an excellent two stage trigger.  With the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 scope in an Aadmount and a sling, it will weigh less than 10lbs.  That is something I can use for both hunting and target shooting, with 6.5 Creedmoor taking me out to 1200 yards on targets and further than I need to on game.

 

The Fix has a very short lift bolt ( 45 degrees), so it remains to be seen how quickly I can manipulate it.  Another nice feature is that the barrels are easily user replaceable, so I plan to take advantage of that and add a 300WSM barrel/bolt combination to it for hunting purposes (and a wider, softer recoil pad…).  Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, The Fix is still sitting at my FFL, so I can not make any pronouncements on how well it really works.

Until I spend some time with it, my choice is the DTA SRS.  It is a bit on a heavy side, but the bullpup configuration makes it surprisingly well balanced.  Besides, I do a hell of a lot more target shooting than hunting anyway.  I have two barrels for it: 338LM and 6.5x47L.  While the  6.5x47L is a very pleasant cartridge to shoot, the 338LM is a bit of a handful, while still manageable.  The reach, power and stability at distance with the 338LM though is something you simply do not get with smaller calibers.  With a If I can see it, I can hit it.  With a 250gr Bulldozer bullet from Badlands Precision moving out at close to 3000fps, if I can hit it, I can destroy it.  Here is a picture of the DTA with the excellent VORTEX Razor HD AMG 6-24×50 on it:

 

While with a smaller caliber, I would default to the Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, with the 338LM, I want a bit more magnification.  On a rifle where weight did not matter, I would just step up to the Tangent Theta TT525T 5-25×56.  This is where the AMG 6-24×50 comes in.  It is barely an ounce heavier than the TT315M, while offering excellent optics and turrets.  On a gun where I want more than 20x of magnification and that might be carried into the field, the AMG is an easy choice.

 Posted by at 5:08 pm
Dec 102017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin

Revisited in December 2017: If I could Have Only One

I revisit this topic fairly regularly, usually inspired by a conversation with someone. Somewhere through the conversation, I get asked (usually by someone who thinks that he can buy one gun and not have the urge to buy any more) “what if you could only have one gun?” At that point, I ask for boundary conditions: are we talking handgun or rifle or shotgun? Are we talking home defense? or hunting? or armed resistance to an overbearing government? Do I have my own ammo supply or do I have to count on foraging for ammo? Etc.

Also, I update my choice of “Only One” when it comes to different optics categories once a year, which I did a few days ago. Now, it is time to think about guns.



First, I am going to set the boundary conditions (I am likely to go through a couple of different sets of these in follow-up posts, so bear with me).

Imagine that the government has really limited your 2nd Amendment rights. The whole country is subject to something akin to current California gun laws exacerbated by the fact that you are only allowed to have one item of each gun type: one handgun, one rifle and one shotgun. You have to be able to use them for anything and everything you may ever want to do. You have to be able to protect your home, hunt, etc. Since these are the only guns you have, they also serve to satisfy your hobbies (if firearms and shooting happen to be your hobby, as they are for me).  You are not expected to forage for ammo. Assume that the legal changes have been happening slowly enough, so you had time to stockpile enough ammo to last you for the rest of your life. The only time you have to carry your ammo is when you decide to go hunting. The rest of the time you can safely assume you are operating near your house or car, so there are means of ammo re-supply. You do not get to pick multiple sighting devices you can swap around. You can have a secondary sighting system on your gun, if you so choose, but you can not have eight different scopes pre-sighted in and ready to be swapped out in QD mounts. Since we are talking about California style gun laws, concealed carry is not a concern. My chances of getting a concealed carry license in Los Angeles are about as good as my chances of becoming a professional salsa dancer (for the record: I am big, fat and tone deaf).

Shotguns are not my field of expertise, but since I just took a shotgun class with a Remington 870, I’ll stick with that. My 870 is a very simple weapon with an upgraded recoil pad and Trijicon Front And Ghost Ring Rear Sights I installed years ago (they are a little crooked, but they don’t seem to be falling off). If I had to do it all over again, I would probably come up with some sort of a co-witnessed red dot/irons set-up, and I still might.  For the time being, I will simply say that my 870 as is, with ghost ring sights and a cylinder bore, is good enough for me. I spent some time shooting slugs, buckshot and birdshot through it to know at which distances I am comfortable with it. To my great surprise, slugs are accurate enough for me to take off-hand headshots on steel at 40-50 yards and center-of-mass shots at 75-100 yards.  Birdshot patterns adequately out to 20 yards and buckshot seems alright out to 35-40 yards. I am not a clay shooter, so this is good enough for me. Since I am not really a shotgun guy, I basically treat my shotgun as a very powerful short range rifle and use rifle style ghost ring sights on it.

With rifles and handguns, I have a bit more mileage and a little bit more training, so I am fairly specific with what I like and what works for me.  I re-iterate: for me.  YMMV

Obviously, there are many different rifle/handgun combinations that would satisfy these conditions, and practical differences between them come down to personal preference and training.  I am viewing this particular set of boundary conditions as requiring maximum versatility from each weapon system and caliber.  Since I removed any ammo commonality requirement out of the equation, the two calibers I converge on are 6.5 Grendel for a rifle and 10mm for a handgun.

As an aside, I have discussions like this with my friends once in a while as a thought exercise.  I recall that once a while back, we were having this discussion at my house with an American-born friend of mince.  Rather than go into a lengthy explanation, I walked him over to my gunsafe and explained that, me being a somewhat paranoid Jew with great appreciation of history and vivid recollections of Soviet Union where I grew up, I have thought about this before and have such a situation covered. In triplicate. And then some. I do not think he took my concerns particularly seriously (my American-born friends often don’t), but then again, he did ask the question.  I did not start that conversation.

Had I been forced to rely on external ammo sources, my choices would have been different: I would have a reflex sight capable 9mm handgun and a SPR-type AR chambered for 5.56×45. However, since I get to prepare my own ammo supply, I can diverge from that a little (besides, I am well covered with those firearms as well; naturally, in triplicate; and then some)

I am still going to go with a reflex sight capable semi-automatic handgun and a AR-type rifle. However, I am going to bump up the chamberings a bit.

Let’s start with the handgun. Fairly recently, I built myself a long slide 10mm Glock, ostensibly for hunting. I originally set it up to be able to accept a variety of red dot sights using a rear sight mount form www.sight-mount.com. After some experimentation, I decided that approach works well for testing different red dots, but for my personal use, I want a set up with co-witnessed red dot/iron sight arrangement.  So I have a second slide for it, milled for DOCTER sight III, Dot size 3.5moa.  In principle, if I lived in a civilized state, I would have simply bought a Glock 40 MOS and be done with it.  However, Gen 4 Glocks are not for sale in California (for reasons sufficiently idiotic I’d rather not get into them). When I decided to build this gun, I headed over to the store, and bought Glock 21SF chambered for 45ACP. As un-American as it sounds, I no longer shoot 45 (I sold my last 45, a Sig P220 a while back), so I took the whole slide assembly off and sold it on Gunbroker.  Then, I took most of the internal parts from the frame and removed them, since I wanted to build this gun exactly the way I like it. Then I headed off to Lone Wolf and GlockTriggers.com websites and did some shopping: 6” long solid top slide, 6” long barrel, and the rest of the parts I needed to build this thing.  The milled slide was done exceedingly well by a friend of mine who specializes on custom slide mods like this.  I highly recommend his work.  The trigger is Haley Skimmer which, to me, remains the best Glock trigger on the market. The iron sights I am going to put on are from Suarez International and they are still on their way.  WHat I am going for here is lower 1/3 co-witnessing.

Longslide 10mm Glock with Doctersight III.  6

Longslide 10mm Glock with Doctersight III. 6″ barrel and heavy slide do an excellent job of taming recoil

I am not a particularly good handgun shot, but I usually hit what I am aiming at. It also helps that I actually practice. With typical iron sights, longer shots become a bit of an issue due to the need for holdover. Even with a comparatively narrow front sight and a long sighting radius, proper holdover is hard for me. Well, that is where a reflex sight really makes a difference. Since everything around the aiming point is open, it is much easier for me to do simple trajectory compensation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not advocate taking unnecessary long distance shots with a handgun. However, it is nice to have that capability and it is a good idea to practice these shots even if you will never take them in the field. My 25 yard shooting seems to have gotten a fair bit better ever since I started practicing at 100 yards with my 10mm. In terms of terminal ballistics, a full power 200gr load out of a 6” barrel has about as much pop at 100 yards as 40S&W has at the muzzle.  It is not the equal of a proper longarm, but it is nothing to scoff at either.  I am also planning to experiment a little with ENDO Tactical TSA-G Gadapter and forearm brace.  Perhaps that will give me more stability for longer shots.

I originally built the 10mm as a hunting semi-auto, but once I got it finished up, I realized that I can still draw it pretty quickly and the recoil of the full house 10mm rounds is nicely soaked up by the long and heavy slide. Another useful characteristic is that it shoots 40S&W just fine without any modifications: same magazines and everything. That adds versatility (and I also have a 357Sig barrel for it).

In practical terms, I am a bit faster with the 9mm, but since I am requiring maximum versatility with this set-up, 10mm it is. A revolver in a larger caliber would undoubtedly be a better hunting handgun, but with slower recovery and slower reloading it would be not be nearly as good for defensive use.  10mm is neatly capable of both uses and, keep in mind that with a 6” barrel I get pretty good velocities out of it. This is pretty much the best semi-auto compromise I could think of between hunting, plinking and defensive use.

Anyhow, with the handgun selection out of the way, let’s talk about the rifle. A couple of things were apparent from the start. Since this rifle has to cover home defense situations, this requirement can not be compromised a whole lot. For example, for long range target practice that I enjoy and for hunting I might want to pick a fairly peppy cartridge, but for home defense situations, I want to keep rifle weight and recoil down while maintaining the ability to make quick follow-up shots. That basically narrows the choice of the rifle and of the caliber down to intermediate cartridges: 7.62×39, 300AAC Blackout, 6.8SPC, 6.5 Grendel and a few others. All of them work equally well for home defense situations, with a suppressed Blackout likely taking the cake. However, in my post apocalyptic California nightmare suppressors are likely going to be illegal anyway. For hunting purposes, all of these work about equally well at distances at which I am likely to take a shot. However, for target shooting, the Grendel is an obvious choice (I happen to own rifles in all of these calibers aside from the 6.8SPC, so I’ve exercised them pretty well). Now, many people I know prefer a larger frame AR or similar gun chambered for 308Win or some other similarly sixed or bigger cartridge. I think they are wrong and these guns give up too much, in terms of shot recovery, weight (with ammo), handling and muzzle blast. Then again, to each his own.

The rifle type would likely be either an AR or AK variant of some sort. I am very partial to bullpup rifles, so I’ve got my sights set one exploring Desert Tech’s MDR, and Keltec’s RDB-C which forgoes the pistol grip (and is weirdly comfortable that way while complying to California’s lunatic laws). It is on my list of guns to get and test once it becomes available, but as of now, I stick with the AR platform. For most uses there isn’t really any practical reliability difference between AK and AR, but a well built AR is usually more accurate and can be configured for the Grendel. My version of this gun, sports a medium weight 18” barrel that is accurate enough to take me out to 800-900 yards in a pinch, while keeping the weight manageable for everything else. I took this rifle hunting with me and, while I am not a huge fan of humping up and down the hill out of general principle, the rifle weight was manageable. That is where I think it has a pretty notable advantage over large frame ARs. I have a similarly configured AR10 chambered for 308Win, and it is notably less maneuverable. It is not just the weight, but also the balance. That balance is really the reason I am so interested in bullpup rifles. My precision bolt gun is a bullpup Desert Tech SRS and it handles far better than a gun that weight ever should.

In terms of terminal ballistics, despite all sorts of fanboy commentary out there, the Grendel is not a match to 308 and larger cartridges, but with reasonable shot placement it is sufficient for typical big game in North America: pigs, deer, etc. Once distances start opening up, 6.5 Grendel is closer to 308Win than it is to 5.56.

Let look at drop velocity and energy for three bullets that I regularly shoot: 77gr in 5.56, 123gr in 6.5 Grendel, 175gr 308Win. I am going to look at drop in mrad, velocity in fps and energy ft-lbs. All data is from Shooter app on my phone. I am assuming 2000ft altitude, 60F, 50% humidity (which is very different from where I live, but clsoe enouhg for everyone else).

I am assuming that the 308 has a 16” barrel, while the other cartridges have 18” barrel. This keeps overall length of the gun about the same, although in terms of weight the large frame AR will likely still be a bit heavier. I am also assuming that the velocities are 2700fps for 5.56, 2525 for 6.5 Grendel and 2500 for the 308Win. These are the velocities I have actually chrono’ed. All barrels vary, so yours might be doing something different. Personally, I think I am being a little generous to the 308 since most 16” barrels I have seen were slower, but I like round numbers.

Also, keep in mind that I am only looking at one particular bullet for each caliber and these are not really hunting bullets. However, I like looking at SMKs for cross-caliber consistency reasons. With 308Win, I need to explore a little bit how well modern 155gr bullets do out of a 16” barrel. They are fairly efficient and go faster.

Drop, mrad

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 0 0 0
300 0.8 0.8 0.9
400 1.7 1.8 1.9
500 2.8 2.9 3
600 4.1 4.1 4.4
700 5.7 5.5 5.8
800 7.5 7.0 7.5
900 9.6 8.8 9.4
1000 12.2 10.7 11.6

 

Velocity, fps

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 2269 2217 2174
300 2069 2073 2021
400 1879 1933 1873
500 1698 1798 1731
600 1525 1668 1594
700 1360 1541 1462
800 1206 1420 1335
900 1078 1303 1215
1000 1017 1192 1106

 

Energy, ft-lbs

Distance, yards 5.56:

77gr SMK @ 2700fps

6.5 Grendel:

123gr SMK @ 2525 fps

308Win:

175gr SMK @ 2500fps

200 880 1343 1837
300 732 1173 1587
400 603 1020 1363
500 493 883 1164
600 398 760 987
700 316 649 831
800 249 550 693
900 199 464 574
1000 177 388 476

Simply looking at the numbers a few things are apparent. In terms of energy and stopping power, 308WIn is undoubtedly the better cartridge. However, in this case, I am mostly preoccupied with good enough within a certain weight/size envelope. Otherwise, there is no limit to how far you can go. 300 WinMag is better than 308Win, and 338LM is better than 300WM and so on.

Looking at the energy, the 6.5 Grendel should be good enough for me to use for hunting out to 400 yards, which is further than I have any business shooting at an anumal from field positions. Hunting is where 5.56 is obviously very marginal. 308Win would give me extra couple of hundred yeards over the Grendel in terms of energy, but to be honest, if I ever take a shot at an animal at 600 yards, it will not be with either one of these cartridges.

For target shooting, with these fairly short barrels, the Grendel is actually a little flatter than the 308Win and drifts a little less (this would change with longer barrels as 308Win benefits mroe from a longer tube).

There are of course other cartridges to look at that are in between like the 6.5Creedmoor and others, but after looking at a bunch I ahve basically concluded that for me, 6.5 Grendel is what I judge to be good enough. YMMV.

As far as the actual rifle goes, to each his own. The bulk of my training has been with an AR paltform, so I choose to stick with that. Since I tend to follow what I preach, I own an AR-15 chambered for the 6.5 Grendel, built on VC Defense upper and lower receivers, BHW 18” barrel, 15” Lancer carbon fiber handguard and, CA-compliant FRS-15 stock (which is fugly, but comfortable enough). I have a rather excellent Geissele DMR trigger in that gun, and I often use it to test scopes since despite reasonaby light weight (7lbs without optics) it is very shootable and sufficiently accurate with both factory ammo and handloads.

Since in my scenario this is a rifle that might be used for self defense, I must have the ability to run it 1x or similar with a very visible aiming point. If I could have only one sighting system for it, it would have a Tangent Theta TT315M on it with a compact red dot sight mounted at a 45 degree angle. As it is right now, I am messing with Elcan Spetre TR on it. Spectre TR gives 1x, 3x and 9x and the ability to switch between them extremely rapidly. I took it to a carbine class and at 1x it functions virtually ike a red dot sight. Switching magnifications with Spectre TR is faster than with any other riflescope I have seen to date. However, at 9x, while very serviceable, it is not a match to a proper precision scope at distance. On the other, it is not too shabby either. The reticle is set-up with BDC holds for 7.62×51 and they work exceedingly well for the Grendel. Also, if you are looking for a riflescope that is sturdy enough to club baby seals with any of the Elcans should be on your list.

Elcan Spectre TR on a similar AR-15 (this is not on my Grendel, but this is the only picture I can find right now).

Elcan Spectre TR on a similar AR-15 (this is not on my Grendel, but this is the only picture I can find right now).

 Posted by at 11:59 am
Nov 232017
 

I usually do not talk about customer service very much since it has generally been getting better for most brands even the ones that were not known for this in the past.

For example, in years past Burris was not famous for great customer service, but they have really stepped up in that department (and my personal experience with them last year was excellent).




 

As far as Leica goes, I was never aware of anything being wrong with their customer service, partly since Leica riflescopes and binoculars I used never needed any.  I did have a Leica camera that needed to be repaired and Leica took care of that quickly and with more courtesy than I expected (or deserved).  It broke right before a trip I needed to go to and after sending it I called an begged for them to move it up the line.  I really did not expect anything, but they stepped up, replaced the lens on my Leica Q and got it back to me in time.

With this as background, I was talking to a friend of mine a little while back and he said he would not buy a Leica scope because of customer service concerns.  Rather than do forensic analysis on the history of their customer service, I reached out to my contact at Leica and politely inquired how they are going to go about fixing that reputation.

Frankly, I liked their response.  They did not offer any excuses and did not spend any time admitting or denying anything or discussing whether that reputation was deserved or not..  Their basic response boiled down to a very simple acknowledgment that they pay attention to the market and they recently made an investment in beefing up their service department both in terms of personnel and resources.

It takes very little effort to get bad publicity and a lot of hard work to regain your good reputation.  I will keep an eye on how Leica does moving forward, but I like what I am seeing from them so far.

 Posted by at 2:48 am
Nov 122017
 

written in November, 2017

A couple of links to where you can buy this sight on Adorama and Amazon are at the bottom of this post

This will be brief: I finally got the UH-1 onto a rifle and headed to the range.  The rifle in question is a comparatively light weight carbine with an ARP SOCOM profile midweight 16″ barrel with matching bolt, Brigand Arms handguard, Voodoo integral bolt carrier, Ace UL stock and an excellent TriggerTech trigger.  Naturally, the whole thing was neutered with a finned grip to make it California legal.





Together with the UH-1, this combination weighs 7.2 lbs, which is handy enough for my purposes.  The UH-1 itself, together with the an adjustable QD mount weighs in right around 12 ounces, which, while heavier than small red dot sights, is perfectly manageable.  Still, if you are trying to build a 4 pound AR, this is not the sight for you.

If you are reading this, you have probably heard of UH-1, but for the sake of being thorough…

UH-1 is Vortex’ new holographic sight.  To he best of my knowledge, it is only the third holographic sight to hit the market.  For years, EOTech has been just about the only provider of holographic sights.  Bushnell had Holosight XLP for a little bit years ago.  Now, Vortex jumped into this holographic pond with the UH-1.  Vortex’ timing is quite good since EOTech is going through all sorts of PR problems with their weapon sights and Vortex is likely to be a beneficiary of that.

I’ve owned a few EOTechs over the years and also owned Bushnell’s Holosight XLP some years ago.  I’ve always had some reservations about the way the optical system of the EOTech worked, but they have clearly done well enough with that.  Still, I have been sort of on the fence about the whole holosight business.

Compared to the more ubiquitous reflex red dot sights, holosights have some advantages in terms of reticle patterns and parallax correction, while reflex sights have a substantial advantage with battery life and size.  For combat purposes, one important feature of the UH-1 is that it has effectively zero forward light signature.  By definition, none of the red dot sights can match that.

At the heart of reflex sights is an efficient LED.  At the heart of a holographic sight is a laser.  Lasers need a lot more energy, so the battery life of the UH-1 is a few hundred hours, while battery life of a modern red dot sight like the Shield SIS, that I consider to be the best of the breed, is thousands of hours.

With that out of the way, my initial impressions of the UH-1 are very positive.  I mounted it on the rifle, set up on the bench and sighted it in at 100 yards.  To be more exact, I sighted it in to be about two inches high at 100 yards, which gave me a chance to make sure that the adjustments are reasonably accurate and the sight stays zeroed.  They are and it does.

The rest of my first shooting session with the UH-1 was spent shooting off-hand.  Since I absolutely stink at offhand shooting, I make it a point to practice.   UH-1, in this role was absolutely spectacular.  I shot at paper at 100 yards and steel plates at 200 yards.  The sight picture was extremely easy to acquire and, the fairly classic at this stage, circle/dot reticle is very quick.  Vortex added a secondary CQB aiming point to the reticle in the form of a triangle at the bottom of the circle.  Here is what the reticle looks likes (image shamelessly stolen from Vortex’ website):

I have not yet had a chance to speed up and shoot at anything closer, so I do not yet know how quick the triangle will be to pick up at speed.

I have slight astigmatism, so conventional red dot in reflex sights do not look round to me.  I’ve learned to deal with that, but the reticle in the UH-1 makes precision a little easier for me.  The reticle is slightly pixelated, but that has never bothered me before and doesn’t bother me here.  The 1 MOA (or rather, single pixel) dot allows for good precision.

I see no obvious forward light signature, so that claim seems to be true.  From what I can deduce of the internal design, it seems reasonably robust, but ultimate reliability can only be determined by time and multiple units in the field.

I will keep running the UH-1 side by side with Shield SIS and see if I can form some opinions on how what seems to be the best of the holosights compares to the best of the reflex sights.

Stay tuned.

Link to the UH-1 on Adorama

And on Amazon:

 Posted by at 1:10 am
Oct 222017
 

written in October 2017

Since I was putting together a progress report of sorts, I also realized there are several scopes I have wrapped up with, but havn’t yet written anything about.  Among them are the two Styrka S7 scopes that I looked at late in 2016.





First, a couple of words about the company.  Styrka is, apparently, a Swedish word for “strength”.  It is also a Russian word for “laundry”.  Since I do not speak Swedish, but do speak Russian, I find the name highly amusing.  If you visit Styrka website, it is positively littered with the word “strong” and its various conjugates.  However, all I can think of when when I visit their website is “strong laundry”…  That is probably my personal failing.

Since I mentioned their website (https://styrkastrong.com/), I might as well give a little background on the company.  From a marketing standpoint, they are very good.  Considering how young the Styrka brand is, they have an unusually clear and coherent message aimed at the hunting market (and it is probably quite effective since most people do not think “laundry” when they hear Styrka; OK, I will wrap up with the whole laundry business).  The reason their presentation looks so polished is that Sytrka is, apparently, Celestron’s new attempt to play in the hunting market.  With Celestron behind them, Styrka has every opportunity to do well.  I have not tested their binoculars and spotters, but I suspect they are very well worked out since Celestron has been marketing those forever and a day.  My interest was with riflescopes and their, Styrka has some work to do.

I looked at two of their higher end scopes, both from the S7 product line: 1-6×24 and 2.5-15×50.  I tested the 1-6×24 on my 10mm carbine and on a fairly conventional AR.  The 2.5-15×50 spend some time on an AR and on a 308Win bolt gun.  Neither scope came with exposed turrets, so I did not spend a whole lot of time exploring tracking.  I did a rough check and since nothing objectionable was found, I did not dig into that further.

The 1-6×24 had their plex reticle (non-illuminated), while the 2.5-15×50 had Styrka’s BDC-style reticle.

Optical quality was quite respectable and good for the money.  Both scopes, once zeroed, stayed zeroed.  However, I did not do an extremely thorough test and the reason for that is reticle design.  Best I can tell, Styrka does not have  a whole lot of people with background in sighting devices, so whoever makes the decisions there really does not understand reticles.  For the record, I explained all of that to the very nice gentleman who was my contact there during SHOT 2017.  I have not heard a peep from them since, so I can surmise that they are either hard at work re-working their reticle or they got all poochy-faced because I dared to tell them they made a few mistakes.  Either way, I am too lazy to fig into what they are up to further, so I will keep checking on them every few months to see if they did anything about their reticles.

As they are right now, their reticles are what I would call “designed to fail”.

The plex reticle in the 1-6×24 has a very wide opening and is way too thin for a low range variable.  You can’t really use the thick bars for bracketing anything and without illumination, the reticle really vanishes in low light.  On the flip side of the coin, during the day, it does not stand out either so it does not aid in speed.  If you look at a veritable horde of 1-6x scopes out there you will notice that everyone does something to aid the visibility of their reticle.  Styrka decided to go with a simple hunting reticle (it seem like they are trying to avoid the AR market like the plague, which in itself is a huge mistake), but then they sized it wrong for a scope of this type.  Illumination helps a bit, but not enough.

The reticle I looked at in the 2.5-15×50 is their SH-BDC and, comparatively speaking, it is even worse. It has a few holdover hashmarks, like many modern holdover reticle, but it skips on the thick outer bars entirely.  You can imagine what it does to low light visibility and speed of acquisition.  With all lines being about the same thickness, the eye is not naturally drawn to any spot, so it is not built for speed.  Line thickness is cleverly selected in such a way that it is too thick for precision shooting, but too think to see in low light.

I have been looking at riflescopes on a fairly consistent basis for about 20 years now.  One of the biggest differences between now and 20 years ago, is the evolution of and ever increasing sophistication in reticle design.  Styrka went ahead and soundly ignored these last twenty years of practical experience and decided to go their own way (most likely drawing on expertise of people who have never fired a gun).

All that is the bad part, and, as you may imaging, I do not think I made any friends at Styrka headquarters.  Frankly, I can live with that.  Be that as it may, there is a silver lining.

First of all, while the S7 scopes are made in China, they appear to be made exceedingly well.  Best I can tell, the S7 deisgn is related to Athlon Midas and Hawke Frontier which appear to be made by the same OEM.  That is not a bad company to be in.  If my guess on the OEM is correct, basic optomechanical quality of the S7 scopes should be quite good and my impressions from using the scopes support that.  Now, that also means if you want a scope like the S7, but with a more modern reticle design, you can go to Hawke or Athlon.  That is generally true, but not for all situations.  Athlon’s reticle designs are at their best in FFP scopes (so consider Athlon Ares if you want a more sophisticated reticle in FFP from the same OEM).  Hawke reticle in the 1-6×24 Frontier is excellent, while the LRD dot in the 2.5-15×50 Frontier is also a very good hunting reticle.  What is worth noting though, is that both Athlon and Hawke supply their 1-6×24 with fixed parallax.

The Styrka S7 1-6×24 is one of the few low range variables with adjustable parallax.  While generally adjustable focus is not necessary on low range variables, it is a pretty good idea if you want to a scope of this type for a rimfire or an airgun.  For that application, it is a very respectable option, just make sure you get the model with illuminated reticle.  I am considering one for my 10/22.

With the 2.5-15×50 S7, while the BDC reticle is basically useless, Styrka makes a version with a low tech, but very familiar classic mil-dot reticle.  To be entirely honest, I do not like complicated holdover reticles in SFP scopes.  As much as I like Athlon’s APLR in FFP Ares, I do not think the SFP Midas is a good platform for it.

Simple mrad-graduate reticle, like the classic Mil-Dot, on the other hand, is quite usable if you know what you are doing without being particularly complicated.  Also, since this reticle is pretty well established, Sytrka’s crack engineers did not go to town on it.  It is a bit old school, but it works and works well for a variety of applications.  Here is a link to the specific model on Adorama.

Considering how harshly I spoke of Styrka earlier, you are probably wondering why I am providing product links.  The answer is simple: I usually see the S7 priced lower than Athlon or Hawke offerings from the same OEM.  If you can live with the options I outlined, this is a pretty cost effective way to get your hands on a very nice scope from the standpoint of optics and basic mechanical quality.

 Posted by at 10:10 pm
Oct 192017
 

October 19, 2017.

 

I popped the safe open to do an inventory of sorts of the stuff I have on hand that still needs to be written up.
This somehow creeped up on me, but there is a lot of stuff in there. I will stop accepting new review items for a bit, until I clear this out.
Here is a rundown with some brief comments, in no particular order.




1) Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44. I am basically done with this one. I like VX-6HD a lot and if Leupold made a version of this scope with FFP reticle and mrad adjustments for similar money, I would own at least two or three. It tracked true, the low profile turret had a good feel and optical quality is commensurate with the price.

2) Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50. This is the best general purpose hunting scope I have ever tested, bar none. Swaro Z8 is in the same league, I think, and both are really expensive. Zeiss V8 is in the same price range, but from a cursory look, Leica and Swaro are better. Anyway, the image of the Magnus really agrees with me. FOV is superb. Ballistic turret is accurate and the reticle illumination is world class. The reticle is mrad delineated, so I do not have to learn new BDC dimensions. If you want a hunting scope with no compromises, this it. It is sitting on my Tikka M695 in a McMillan stock. I took it out to 600 yards with zero issues. I’ll take it out to 1k next.

3) Leica ER5 2-10×50. Optomechanical quality seems very good. I am a bit mixed on the magnum Ballistic reticle, but I will admit I have not spent as much time with this scope as I wanted to. I got it at the same time as I did the Magnus and I have to admit, I spent more time with the Magnus than with the ER5.

4) Athlon Ares 4.5-27×50.  I’ve spent some time with this scope already and so far I like what I see.  It offers a lot for the money, but as the design is new, I want to spend some more time with it before I decide whether I will recommend it or not.

5) HiLux Phenom 5-30x56FFP.  Same general comment as on the Athlon above.  These two scopes cost about the same customer.  I like the design overall, but there is some field curvature that I need to see if I can dial out.  HiLux Phenom and Athlon Ares go directly against each other, so I am looking at them side-by-side.  These are very featured rich design for not too much money.  These are also among the most ambitious designs I have seen come out of China so far.  Naturally, they peaked my interest.

6) Hi-Lux Uni-Dial 5-30×56.   This is sort of a SFP version of the Phenom above and it is looking quite good so far.

7) Vortex Razor Gen 2 spotter.  I am done testing the variable eyepiece and I am now looking at the fixed eyepiece.  This spotter rocks and it is easily going to end up at the top of my list of recommendations.  Vortex should really get a reticle in there.

8) Leica Noctivid 8×42 binocular.  This is the best general purpose binocular I have seen to date.   Now, you can make a reasonable claim that other similarly priced designs are as good, but they all have their own character.  I have looked at Zeiss, Swaro and Leica at reasonable length and while all three are excellent, Leica agrees with my eyes the best.  It has spectacular microcontrast and the most relaxing image I have ever seen in a binocular.

10) Shield RMS miniature red dot sight.  I’ve got this thing incorporated into the slide of my Glock 43 and it is likely to become that sight of choice for my handgun use on smaller handguns.  Generally, I have been looking at a variety of miniature red dot sights recently and for handgun use, I am converging on Shield RMS and DocterSight III as my favourites.  RMS has the lowest sightline of them all, but it is not waterproof.  However, I accidentally tested that feature and it is definitely splashproof.  I will avoid going swimming with it though.  RMS easily lands on my list of recommendations that I will be updating shortly.

11) Shield SIS is to ARs, what RMS is to handguns.  I am extremely impressed and it moves to the top of my list for carbiine use.  The SIS has really impressed more than I thought it would.  There is an interesting (to me) aspect of it that I hadn’t really thought about earlier.  Everyone is trying to make red dot sights with minimal visible housing, so that all you see is a bright red dot surrounded by as little as possible.  With the SIS, at first blush, the window is comparatively small, while the housing is pretty prominent.  However, it does not seem to have slowed me down in the slightest.  However, when I did some house clearing drills, I realized that at these close ranges, that housing is really helpful.  I do not have to worry about the red dot at all.  The moment I see something that needs to be shot through that window, I can pull the trigger and hit it.  At longer ranges it works about as well as most other red dots.  I have a little astigmatism, so the dots are not terribly sharp, but I can still use the holdover reticle well enough.  I have not yet tested it to see if it works well with a magnifier, so that is next.

12) Vortex UH-1.  I will have it in my hands next week, so a First Look article is forthcoming.

13) Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44.  It is arriving next week.  When I looked at the new PSTs briefly earlier this year, I thought the 3-15×44 was the best one of the bunch.  We’ll see how it holds up.

14) Docter QuickSight.  This is mostly a shotgun sight, but I fashioned it to a handgun to see how a short/low window will work.  It is an interesting design, and I’ll have more to say about it shortly.

15) Vortex AMG 6-24×50.  Almost done with this one.  It is currently sitting on my 338LM and working great.  EBR7 reticle is not my favourite, but it works.  The horizontal has a bit too much happening on there for my taste, but it is undoubtedly a functional design.  The scope itself is excellent and I fully expect to buy it from Vortex when I am done.  There are a couple of tests I still need to finish, but I am really impressed with what I see so far.

16) Burris RT-6.  Almost done with this one.  This is my favorite budget 1-6x.

17) Hawke Frontier 1-6×24.  I am surprised with how much I like this scope.  Excellent reticle design and overall a very solid product.

18) Burris XTR 2 1-8×24.  I think the reticle needs a little work, but it is functional.  I suspect this the best overall 1-8x scope under $2k

19) HiLux CMR8 1-8X24.  I helped design the reticle for this one, so I like it a fair bit. The scope itself is quite respectable and seems to stay zeroed.  This is likely the best FFP low range variable to come out of China to date.

ILya

 

 Posted by at 5:52 pm
Oct 132017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, October 2017

Earlier this year, I found myself heading over to Colorado to visit a customer (I do have a dayjob after all) and since it looked like I would have a couple of hours to kill, I reached out to Burris to see if I can stop by take a look at the factory.

To be honest, I fully expected that they will politely suggest I take a long walk on a short pier, so imagine my surprise when asked me what time I would like to stop by.



Armed with two things I always have with me, a camera and an attitude, I showed up on their doorstep and got a rare (for me) look at how they do things.  Considering what I do for a living, I have seen a few optical manufacturing facilities, but not too many that make riflescopes, so this was interesting.  For a variety of obvious reasons, I am not going to talk a whole lot about how they do things, but I will post a few pictures I took inside and mention a few things here and there.

Generally speaking, I liked how they go about it.  The factory is intelligently set up.  I did not see any obvious signs of negligence which is extremely rare, frankly.  The production flow made sense and people knew what they were doing.  Most importantly, I got to ask them a few questions as we walked along and, most refreshingly, no one tried to BS me.  Some things they answered; on some they were not sure what the answers were and said as much.  In a few cases, they declined to comment since it involved something proprietary to them and a couple of questions that they answered, they asked me to not talk about (and I won’t).

I had recently had a chance to use Burris’ customer service (I sent in one of my old US made Burris scopes for repair) and my experience was excellent.  However, in years past, Burris did not have a stellar service reputation.  Naturally, I brought that up.  I do not think that scored me any brownie points, but they pretty much said that mistakes were made.  However, since then, the service department has been significantly beefed up.  I had a nice chat with the gentleman who runs it and he knows what he is doing.  Naturally, I asked about support for old scopes, so they showed me this:

Spare part for old products

Spare parts for old products

Apparently, they have diligently sorted through their inventory and organized all the old parts they had (there are a couple of cabinets like this one).  When they take an old scope in that can not be repaired, they pull whatever parts they can and keep them.  I have a couple of old Burris scopes, so that made me feel a lot better.

Here is a box with a bunch of reticle cells for old scope:

Notice how in the picture below, there is a bunch of small windows in the wall on the left.  In front of each window there is base where a scope can be clamped.  Outside the window, there is an unobstructed few to targets that are, I think, about a 100 yards away.  That’s an inexpensive way to check if the scope is working and to adjust focus as necessary:

One of the assembly benches:

And another:

Here is where the scopes are purged:

And tested for leaks:

And here is a recoil testing fixture, where the scopes a clamped and tortured.

It sits inside a chamber that baffles some of the sound that this fixture makes when it slams up and down.  Here is another fixture that REALLY makes for some serious impact when it slams down.  It makes some serious noise, so they try to not use it when the building is full of people:

Final inspection area:

None of the Burris scope currently for sale in the US are made by Burris facility.  The scope that are made their are mostly Steiner products, which are higher priced and are better suited for US manufacturing costs.  However, the scopes that are made for Burris by OEMs, do go through an inspection at the US factory.  Some lines for through a complete check (XTR II, for example), while others ae spot checked.

Finally, I made my way to the warehouse where all the ready-to-ship products are:

I made a valiant effort to “accidentally” walk out with a few boxes, but they were watching me pretty carefully…

 

I usually have some parting thoughts at the end of every post and frankly, this time, I do not have much to offer.  I have been pretty happy with what I have seen from Burris lately and a walk through their factory simply confirms that.  With Beretta owning several optics brands (Burris and Steiner being most prominent), I am very curious how they plan to develop Burris further.  However, any brand development starts with solid products and Burris seems to be doing quite well in that regard.

 

 Posted by at 5:58 pm
Jul 252017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, July, 2017

Docter V6 2-12×50 Riflescope

Up until recently I mostly regarded Docter as one of those obscure German brands that predominantly play in Europe and do not do much in the US.  In principle, that is still accurate.  Docter does not have a very large presence in the US and, honestly, that is a bit of a shame.  Docter definitely has more of a name recognition that brands like Nickel AG and Kaps, and that is largely due to their miniature red dot sights.  I do not know if they had the first tiny reflex sight (they market it as DocterSight), but it was definitely among the first to the point that several times I heard people refer to their “Docter”, when the actual reflex sight they had was from a different manufacturer.  I own and use DocterSight III consider it excellent.  Since I liked it so much, I decided to take a look at Docter’s other products.

Docter’s conventional riflescopes and binoculars are not terribly well known in the US although they have been around for a while.  I have seen some of their riflescopes about fifteen years ago and was sorta ambivalent about.  Docter has made some improvements since then, so I dug through their catalog and decided to take a look at the V6 2-12×50 riflescope.



There are a few scopes that compete in the same general $1500 range with the most obviou direct competition being Meopta Meostar R2 2-12×50.  Unfortunately, I did not have the Meopta immediately available to me, so I made do with what I had.  In the table below, I list the scopes I had on hand in bold.  I was also looking at the Leupold VX-6 HD 3-18×44 at the same time, so I looked at them side by side while I was at it.  In terms of price and target audience, Kahles is also a fairly direct competition, although the one I have is a 1” model no longer imported to the States.  It is, however, still available elsewhere as Helia 3.  The two Leica scopes showed up at about the same time as Docter and sorta gave me the means to bracket the V6 with more expensive and less expensive models.  Before I get lynched, I do not expect the V6 to compete with the Magnus that runs an extra grand and, indeed, the Magnus blows every other scope here away in terms of performance.  However, once you get past a grand or so price-wise, you start getting into the world of diminishing returns and the V6 held its own well enough.

 

Docter V6 2-12×50 Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50 Leica ER5 2-10×50 Leica Magnus

1.8 – 12×50

Meopta MeoStar R2 2-12×50
Length, in 14 12.6 14 13.4 14
Weight, oz 23 16.6 22 24.7 21
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 1” 30mm 30mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.6 3.54 3.8 >3.5 3.75”
FOV, ft@1000yards 56 – 9

10.8 @ 10x

33.6 – 12 54.25 – 10.75

10.75 @ 10x

67.5 – 11

13.2 @ 10x

55.8 – 9.6

11.52 @ 10x

Exit Pupil, mm 11.1 – 4.3 14 – 4.7 16 – 5 12.4 – 4.2 11.2 – 4.3
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.1 mrad 0.25”
Adjustment range E: 26 mrad W: 16 mrad 48 MOA 100 MOA ~ 51 MOA 70MOA
Parallax 100m 100m 50yds – inf 100m 100m
Reticle Illumination Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Price $1500 $1400 $990 $2550 $1400

Looking at the table above, the V6 seems to be spec’ed out in line with the competition.  6x erector ratios that were very new just a few years ago are now fairly common, although to get a very wide field of view with a high erector ratio, you are still looking at a hefty price tag along the lines of the Leica Magnus.  Lastly, another direct competitor that I did not list is Minox ZEi 2-10×50.  By all accounts, it is a very nice riflescope, but have not had any hands on time with it beyond seeing it at SHOT.  Hence, I am not very comfortable talking about it.

Compared to its closest competitor, the Meopta, the specifications of the V6 are very similar and are largely commensurate with the price tag.  One interesting to note is that the similarly priced Kahles offers a fair bit more FOV, but only has a 3x erector ratio.  Now, Kahles is sorta known for wide FOV scopes, but generally, if you are looking for wide field of view on a budget, high erector ratio scopes may not be your thing.

 

Moving on…

I did most of the testing of the V6 on my Tikka M695 in 280Rem.  It is a hunting scope and I thought the right way to test it would be on a hunting rifle:

Docter V6 2-12x50 on Tikka M695 in 280Rem

Docter V6 2-12×50 on Tikka M695 in 280Rem

 

The rifle is freakishly accurate with just about any ammo I throw at it, so it makes for a decent test platform.  I mounted the scope using high Warne rings that clamp directly onto the dovetail machined into the receiver.  That left a reasonable amount of space between the objective bell and the barrel, so I could slip a cover onto the scope, but not much more than that.  

 

The shape of the objective bell is sorta unique with a machined step instead of a smooth transition like we see on most scope.  I am not sure whether it is simply a cosmetic feature of if there is technical reason for it.  My best guess is that they did it this way to maximize the available mounting length.  The turrets are covered and the scope is really designed to be used in a “set and forget” mode, where you only use the turrets to sight in and never touch them afterwards.  However, I sorta ignored that and spent a fair amount of time ‘touching” the turrets, which turned out to have a good feel and reasonable repeatability.  I did not do an exhaustive tracking test, but based on what I have seen so far I would not hesitate to dial a shot in.  The turrets, once you get the covers off, are easy to grab and have a nice tactile feel:

Docter V6 Turrets

Docter V6 Turrets

 

Once the scope is zeroed the turrets are re-settable and, honestly, if I were Docter, I would consider coming out with a version of the scope that has a covered windage turret and an exposed adjustable elevation turret.  They already have the feel worked out, so it wouldn’t be too difficult.

 

The parallax setting on this scope is fixed at 100m and the setting looks to be accurate.  I experimented with parallax at different distances and it never got too egregious.  Still, without parallax adjustment, this is not intended to be a long range precision scope.  That having been said, I did not have a whole lot of difficulty hitting metal plates of varying sizes (12”, 18” and 24”, I think) out to 600 yards.  At 12x, once you get far from the preset focus distance, the image fidelity does suffer a little, so, somewhat oddly, when shooting past 400 yards, I dialed it back to around 9x or so.  I would be able to make the same shots at 12x, but greater depth of field at lower magnification made the picture more pleasing.

 

As far as getting behind the scope goes, I think that is one of the strengths of this design.  The eye relief is fairly forgiving and there is good latitude for eye placement behind the scope even at the highest magnification.  It was not as good as the Magnus and a little worse than the Kahles, but better than ER5.  If my recollection of the Meopta R2 is accurate, Docter is a touch better in that regard, but it is difficult to say without a side-by-side.

Bottom line is that I found the V6 to be a very user friendly design.  Part of that user friendliness is the illumination control which is extremely well executed.  Like many recent designs I have seen, there are two setting you can maintain, one for low light and another for bright light.  The illumination turret is one when you pull it outward a little from the scope body and from there you can flick it either up or down to choose either low light or bright light setting.  Both setting, naturally, are easily adjustable, so you can finetune your preference.  The dynamic range of the available settings is extremely large and it works beautifully both in very low light and the middle of a sunny day.  The illumination technology, best I can tell, comes from the same Swiss company that a bunch of high end scopes use (Swarovski Z6, etc).  Incidentally, that is the same illumination technology that is used in Meopta Meost R2, so in that regard they are more or less equal.

 

The reticle itself is a fairly simple wide #4 pattern with a small floating dot in the center.  That dot is the only part of the reticle that is illuminated (as it should be on a hunting scope).  The reticle itself is fairly thin, so without illumination, it does not do all that well in low light.  Here is what it looks like at high magnification (I do not recall if this was 12x or something a little lower):

Reticle at High Magnification

Reticle at High Magnification

Ignore the greyed out portion of the reticle, it is an artefact of taking a picture with a cellphone.  In actual use, all the reticle stadia stayed perfectly black.  The target is 100 yards away.

 

On low magnification, you can easily see the barrel in the lower portion of the image, but I did not find it terribly distracting:

Reticle at Low Magnification

Reticle at Low Magnification

Thick outer bars are quite visible as the light fades, but thin center lines disappear quickly and the thick bars are spaced to widely to help with aiming (in that regard, I think Meopta’s somewhat similar but bolder 4c reticle works a little better).

 

Since I was curious how well the reticle illumination works, I did some speed drills at 2x and it worked very nicely.  I suspect, that the 1-6×24 version of the V6, which uses the same illumination is very fast on 1x.  If Docter was interested in making an optic to address the burgeoning AR-15 market, the V6 could be a very nice foundation for it.

 

As is, all the reticle options they have are really aimed at the European hunting market.  The center dot in the 2-12×50 subtends around half inch at 100 yards, so it makes for a fairly fine aiming point.

 

As far as overall optical quality goes, I liked the V6 quite a bit.  Like many traditional Euro optics, Docter really seems to emphasize low light performance, kinda like Kahles has historically done.   In that regard, there are some similarities between the Kahles KXi and Docter V6.  While both are quite good in low light, they do not stand out quite as much as you would expect.  However, when the light gets low, they really come alive.  During the day the V6 performed very nicely, but I do not think it incorporates any ED glass in the design and while it is very nicely optimized, there is some chromatic aberration at 12x that is pretty easy to see on high contrast objects (yellow and purple fringing is what I saw).  I could see two colors of CA and while they are not terribly prominent, they are there.  Since this is a fixed parallax design, it is entirely possible to see CA when you are far away from the parallax free distance.  I went and carefully examined how CA shows up at different target distances and made sure I examine it carefully where the parallax error was minimized (turned out to be right around 120 yards).  At that distance, there was very little CA while my eye was on axis, but any slight movement off axis would result in colored fringing.  I do not think that is a particularly major problem, but in this price range, most of the competition has better CA control (Leupold VX-6 HD and Meopta Meostar R2 come to mind).  Color balance of the image is fairly neutral and colors looked true.  Contrast is very acceptable during the day and is downright excellent at night.  In other words, this is a very good low light scope.  What really helps it in low light is excellent flare and stray light control.

I mounted several  scopes including the V6 on my tripod fixture and spent a lot of time looking at them side by side:

Side-by-Side

Side-by-Side

 

 

From left to right, the scopes are: Kahles KXi 3.5-10×50, Docter V6 2-12×50, Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50, Leupold VX-6 HD 3-18×44, Leica ER5 2-10×50.  All the way on the right is the new HiLux Phenom 5-30×56 which was not a part of this comparison, but was already sitting there from something I was doing earlier (pretty decent scope, by the way).

 

In a direct comparison, as I expected, Leica Magnus blew everything else a way, as it should, being a LOT more expensive.  In terms of basic image quality, Kahles and Docter were the closest, with Kahles being a touch better in low light, largely owing to its larger field of view.  The difference is small though and Docter compensates for that by a much broader magnification range and a more sophisticated reticle illumination control.  

 

Compared to the less expensive ER5, V6 was comparable in daylight and a touch better in low light.  Here, ER5 is helped by its adjustable parallax.  Side by side at 10x, while V6 seemed to have a bit more contrast, the ER5 had less color fringing and similar resolution.  ER5 does not have reticle illumination, which is probably one of the reasons it costs less.  Still, the optical quality you can get for around #1k is getting pretty impressive.

 

One of the more interesting comparisons was with Leupold VX-6HD 3-18×44.  It is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, since the Leupold has a 44mm objective.  However, with street price of around $1600, both 3-18×44 and 3-18×50 version of Leupold VX-6 HD compete in this market segment.  Honestly, during daylight, I thought the VX-6HD was generally equal to the Docter, except with better CA control.  Leupold is obviously intended for a broader range of shooting distances (due parallax adjustment and more sophisticated reticle options).  In low light, V6 had a bit of an edge (I took care to do this comparison at lower magnifications where I could equalize exit pupils), but the Leupold was no slouch and it’s wider FOV helped.

 

Finally, the question I always have to ask myself is whether this is the scope I would recommend to others, and whether I would recommend it over the competition.  That is not a simple question to answer.  I liked the scope quite a bit and thought it was a very good general purpose hunting scope. 2-12×50 is a very versatile configuration.  The eyepiece is very easy to get behind.  Illumination design is excellent.  Mechanical quality in my experience has been excellent.  There was no POI shift I could see across the entire magnification range.  All SFP scopes have it  to a certain degree, but it was small enough to where I could not detect it while shooting (I measured it on the collimator in the lab and it is indeed very small).

 

There is nothing really wrong with the scope, and it is fundamentally a very solid design.  However, to make onto a list of recommendations I maintain, it needs to be updated a little and the most important part of that is the reticle.  There is nothing wrong with the #4, but it is too wide, in my opinion.  And I would really like to see additional reticle options become available.  Reticle development has been a pretty big deal in the last few years and that is where Docter seems to lag behind the times a little.  If they offer additional reticles and correct CA a little better, this becomes an easy pick.

 

 Posted by at 11:24 am
Jul 162017
 

Written by ILya Koshkin, May, 2015
This was originally written for a product blog of a now defunct company called TechEyes. Their website seems to be down, so I figured I’ll post it here. I thought of this because of an article I just saw on Trijicon’s IR Hunter thermal sight.  As thermal sight get out there more and more, I figured I should start talking about them a little. There is so much incorrect information on these, that I am inclined to clear a few things up.

FLIR RS32: Thermal Scope in a Texas Blind

I have spent the bulk of my professional career working in and around thermal imaging and I have used all manner of thermal sights in the past. However, my familiarity with thermal riflescopes available to the consumer has been fairly limited, so when I had a chance to borrow a FLIR RS32 and take it with me on a trip to Texas, I jumped at the opportunity.

One of the things I plan to do is an overview of several commercially available thermal riflescopes and I will do so in a different article, but for now I am only going to discuss the FLIR sight and use it as the groundwork for the next article.

Thermal sights have some advantages and some limitation. Those advantages and limitations apply to all thermal scopes, so keep that in mind while I discuss the FLIR sight.




Here is the spec table for all of the FLIR R-series riflescopes that I copied directly from FLIR website:

 

Model RS24,

1x

RS32,

1.25-5x

RS32,

2.25-9x

RS32,

4-16x

RS64,

1.1-9x

RS64,

2-16x

MSRP $3,499 $3,999 $4,499 $7,499 $6,499 $8,999
FPA 240×180 VOx 336×256 VOx 640×512 VOx
Frame Rate (Hz) 30 Hz 60 Hz 30 Hz
Lens Focal Length 13mm 19mm 35mm 60mm 35mm 60mm
Lens HFOV 20° 16° 18° 10°
Focus Fixed Manual Fixed Manual
Electronic Zoom N/A Up to 4x Up to 8x
Color Pallets Black/White/InstAlert™ Black/White/Sepia/Iron/Red/InstAlert™
Eye Relief 3 inches (76.2 mm)
Dimensions 8″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8.5″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″ 8.5″ x 3.3″ x 2.9″
Weight <1.8lb <2.4lb <1.8lb <2.4lb
Reticles Duplex, Fine Duplex, German
Reticle Colors White, Black, Red, Green
Diopter Adjustment +/-6
Operating Temperature -4° to 122° F (-20° to 50° C)
Storage Temperature -40° to 140° F (-40° to 60° C)
Ingress Protection IPX7, Submersible 1m for 30 min
Weapon Interface MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny Rail
Battery Life >4 hours of use
Battery Type Internal Li-ion
Battery Charging Standard USB interface with included wall charger
External Battery Pack Compatible, not included
Display Active Matrix LCD
Display Resolution 640×480
User Interface Simple four button interface
On Screen Symbology Battery charge, ezoom state
Weapon Compatability MSR semi-automatic up to .308 Cal.
Video Out No Yes
Warranty 2 Years Standard, 3 Years (with registration), 10 Years (thermal sensor only)

 

Digital riflescope makers try to describe what you see through them in the same terms as are used for conventional riflescopes: magnification. However, that magnification number (the thermal scope I used is listed as 1.25-5x) does not tell you the whole story. The variable zoom is purely digital: when you zoom in you do not really see a whole lot more detail since all that happens is the increase in pixelation. Now, it does have the reticle blocking less of the target, since the reticle is generated on the rear projection screen, but that is the extent of the advantage.

Affordable thermal imagers do not have very high resolution yet, so unless the zoom is optical, it does not do much and variable zoom infrared lenses are quite expensive. If you want to figure out how far you can shoot something, you have to look at the resolution of the imager and the field of view (FOV) of the lens.

As an example, the FLIR RS32 I used has an imaging sensor that 336 pixels wide and 256 pixels tall. Horizontal FOV is 16 degrees, which means that each individual pixel subtends 0.0476degree or, to stay with terms that most gun enthusiasts are familiar with, 2.857 MOA. That translates to approximately 2.99 inches at 100 yards. For the sake of this discussion, we can safely round that up to 3 inches.

In order to identify your target, it has to be large enough to subtend at least a few pixels. This is where military purposes differ from those of a hunter. In the military application, you do not have to identify exactly each part of your target, so as long as you can figure out the silhouette of what it is you are looking at, you may be justified in pulling the trigger (and modern thermal scopes used by the military are typically of higher resolution anyway). If your target subtend 5-10 pixels, you might have enough information.

For a hunter, in order to make an ethical shot, you need to see a lot more detail than that. A hunter needs to be able to clearly resolve the outline of the animal and get enough information to land an ethical shot into an animal’s vitals.

When I took the FLIR RS32 with me to Texas, I was after a pig, so naturally, deer were all over the place. They came out into a clearing between our blind and the feeder and I spent some time roaming all over the place giving me an opportunity to see how they look in a thermal scope at varying distances.

The feeder was 175 yards away from us (I had a nice Leica LRF binocular with me, so I ranged distances quite carefully), and at 175 yards, using the thermal scope I had, i would not have been able to take a shot at a deer-size animal.

Here is a picture out of the blind taken with my cellphone. The feeder at 175 yards is the small white spot out at the distance.

The blind is 175 yards away

The blind is 175 yards away from the feeder

We had a camera with us, but with an unstabilized lens, the images of the deer turned out to be a little blurry. We had a dozen or so deer roaming between us and the feeder at different times, so here are a few cropped images taken with a 300mm lens on a Nikon DSLR:

Since this was not deer season, they were everywhere

Since this was not deer season, they were everywhere

I think they were simply messing with us...

I think they were simply messing with us…

Posing and everything...

Posing and everything…

If you think of a chest size of a deer or a pig to be 18” or so, at 175 yards it subtended less than 4 pixels. That was not large enough for me to take a confident shot.

With that thermal sight, I would have been comfortable taking a shot out to 50-60 yards, I think. In order to be confident of taking a shot at 175 yards, I would need a different model from the table above.

The same 18” target size at 175 yards would subtend:
-6 pixels with the RS32 that has 9 degree FOV or RS64 with 18 deg FOV
-11 pixels with the RS32 that has a 5 degree FOV or RS64 with 10 deg FOV

Personally, based on my experience, I would say that I want the chest area of an animal to subtend more than 10 pixels for me to be moderately confident in the shot and more is better.

That was a fairly interesting conclusion for me. I have a lot of mileage with thermal sights, but most of that has been in non-hunting applications where hand-held or weapon mounted thermal sights were used at closer ranges.

Another interesting experiment was the use of a thermal sight in broad daylight. Going out to the blind we had two guns: one with a thermal sight and another with a regular daysight. We headed out there before sunrise and stayed out until the late morning. One of the things I wanted to see was how easy it would be to see the screen on the thermal sight when it is bright out. The answer to that is that it was not that easy.

With a conventional scope, the image coming through the riflescopes is typically brighter than the ambient light coming at your eye from around the scope. The reason for that is simple: whatever energy hits the objective lens is condensed onto a smaller (typically) exit pupil of the scope. With a thermal scope, what you are seeing is a small viewfinder screen on the back of the sight. Making that screen super bright is technologically challenging and power hungry.

That is one of the reasons why sights like this are primarily used at night when ambient light going into your eye is minimal. Still, thanks to the eyeshield FLIR provides with the RS32, I did not have a whole lot of issues using it during the day.

Do keep in mind that thermal sights are generally not designed for hard kicking rifles. Aside from the whole recoil tolerance issue, there is the eye relief to worry about. The rear screen is recessed somewhat, so you basically end up keeping your eye very close to the sight housing. The rubber eyeshield helps with recoil mitigation, but after some experimentation I decided to keep the FLIR RS32 on my AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel. It is a fairly soft shooting gun, that is still peppy enough for most hunting:

6.5 Grendel with the FLIR on top of it

6.5 Grendel with the FLIR on top of it

Sighting the thermal scope in took a little thinking, since a conventional target is somewhat difficult to see in the infrared spectrum. On a bright sunny day, the black circle on the conventional target is at a slightly different temperature than the rest of the target paper. It can be seen with a thermal scope, but I did not trust that, so I took one of those disposable handwarmers and taped it to the back of the target. That made for a nice bright (i.e. warm) spot for me to aim at.

Aside from that, sighting in was pretty straightforward. The FLIR RS32 uses buttons for control, so to move the reticle to match the POI, you have to press some buttons. The buttons are rubberized and fairly large, so they are not difficult to use. They do make for a fairly streamlined package, but they are not as intuitive as turrets. They sight offers several view modes: White-Hot, Black-Hot, etc. They all work well depending on the situation, but the one I chose to use was the mode where most of what you are looking at is in greyscale, with warmer objects showing as lighter tones than colder objects. However, this mode also made objects significantly warmer than the environment, show up in red. For hunting, I think, this is a better way to go. That way, I can spend some time observing the scene and getting used to the way it looks in infrared, but when an animal shows up, it really stands out. That is the mode FLIR refers to as InstAlert and I found it very useful. Virtually all controls are done with those four large buttons on top of the scope body and after a little experimentation, I had no issue using them by touch:

Control buttons

Control buttons

The same buttons are used to select the reticle style. Between the two different versions of the duplex and a German #4 reticle, I chose the #4. All are perfectly serviceable though.

Aside from what is in the picture above (scope, covers and eyeshield), the FLIR sight comes with a complete set of accessories: cables, chargers, recorder, etc.

I played with them very carefully and, other than the charger, left everything at the camp. FLIR provides a pretty nice recorder that can be affixed to the buttstock of the rifle and connected to the sight via a miniUSB-type cable, but I do not like to hang unnecessary things on the rifle, so I largely ignored it. It works well and is a good accessory for those who want to record their shot. However, personally, I would rather have a card slot for the recorder incorporated into the body of the scope. That is just a personal preference though.

Battery life of the sight was better than I expected. I was worried about and left the auto shutoff on. That ended up costing me a shot, since the only time I saw a pig during my trip, the sight was shut off and while I was turning it on, the pig ran off. Technically, I do not know if I would have had the time to get a shot off, but I like the idea of blaming the sight rather than myself.

Having had this experience, I think I would have rather set the rifle up with a clip-on thermal sight than a dedicated thermal scope. For night time use at reasonably close distances, this thermal sight is a great option. However, for longer distances or daylight applications, I would have rather had a conventional scope.

 Posted by at 10:46 am