Feb 262018
 

I answer quite a few questions via PM on different forums where I participate and every once in a while, I take one and make a blog post out of it.  A little while back, I received something I though was worth exploring:


Most comparisons don’t compare across price lines, except for your fun “if I could only have one” thread. Looking mostly at FFP 5-25 and I am trying to decide how much better a scope I am getting if I go with something in the Athlon Ares/PST GENII $725-$900 range versus jumping up to an Athlon Cronus/Sig Tango 6/Vortex Razor range at $1425-$1800, Athlons being new at the bottom of both those ranges. With several good deals popping up on here for Sigs and the dealers offering good pricing on Athlon, I am a little torn.

There is a reason why it is difficult to compare across price lines simply because quantifying what is worth the money is kinda complicated.

A basic rifle scope that you put on a hunting rifle really has two jobs:

  1. Stay zeroed
  2. Show the target and the reticle well enough to pull the trigger

If your scope of choice does not acomplish those two goals, you start going higher up in price until you stumble onto a product that does.  In this case, value for the money is obvious.  However, once you go higher up in price range in order to get additional features and performance, justifying that is not always straight forward.  Still, there is a reason I’ve got Leica Magnus on my 280Rem.

With precision scopes, there are additional baseline requirements, largely pertaining to the reticle and the adjustments.  However, once those are satisfied, how do you justify spending more?

Everyone does so in a different way and a lot depends on what you do with it.  For example, if you are putting your ass on the line, spend some money on reliability and track record.  The best warranty in the world is of no help if your scope craps out on you in the middle of nowhere.  Or in the middle of a competition if you are a serious competitor (that is far less traumatic than getting shot at in one of the “stans”, but still very disappointing).

However, outside of really challenging conditions and high risk situations, there is a lot to be said about mid-range scopes.  They are getting really good right now.

The stuff made in the Phillipines is maturing.  When Vortex made Gen 1 PST, it had issues, but a lot of those were resolved.  Gen 2 is much better.  Burris XTR II proved that you can have a very feature rich scope with dead nuts reliable mechanics coming out of the Phillipines.  PST Gen 2 is better optically, but not better mechanically.  It is newer though.  I am sure that Vortex is stabilizing PST Gen 2 mechanics (and the two I am looking at are very good), while I am similarly sure that Burris is plotting to improve the glass on XTR III or whatever the next one is (among other things).  Still, there is now some track record for mid-range stuff coming out of Phillipines and it is beginning to push Japanese products quite a bit.

For example, if you are in the market for a very full featured 3-15x scope for a fair price, I have a very hard time recommending anything other than PST Gen 2 3-15×44 right now.  To do noticeably better than that scope you really need to be stepping up to TT315M or something along those lines.

Athlon’s Ares is the highest end scope I have seen come out of China to date, so there is no track record to speak of.  If you buy an Ares riflescope you take a risk, but you also pay less than for the better Phillipine stuff.  The 4.5-27×50 Ares BTR I have been playing with is very good for the money, but not as good overall  as the PST Gen 2 (I have them side by side on my tripod fixture right now).  Is it worth the money? Yes, but until it has been out a little longer, I would be wary of putting it onto anything you plan to depend on.  Mind you, mine has been rock solid, but it is a sample of one.  Ares ETR that is coming out is an even more ambitious design, but if it holds up, the Phillipine-made scopes will have something to worry about.

Then there are the Japanese scopes, most of them made by LOW (except for a new Sightron that will be available mid year).  Most LOW scopes in the $1500 and up range are mechanically robust and the difference between them comes down to turrets, reticles and specific requirements from the customer.  Weirdly, the best I have seen so far from LOW in terms of optics is from a Polish company, called Delta Optical, but the rest of them are not far behind.  SigSauer’s LOW products are probably the most full-featured overall.  Vortex’ Razor Gen 2 have the best explored track record.  Athlon Cronus is probably the value leader among designs commonly available in the US.

Are these scope worth the price premium over the PST Gen 2?  Are PST Gen 2 and XTR II worth the price premium over Ares?  For that matter, are the alpha brands worth the price premium over the better Japanese scopes?

Then there are occasional products that really throw a monkey wrench into this by offering reliability and track record with fewer features (yes SWFA SS scopes, I am looking straight at you).

If I could afford it, I would have Tangent Theta or Leica Magnus on every rifle.  I can’t.

I have two rifles on which I refuse to compromise:  My primary hunting rifle (re-stocked Tikka M695 in 280Rem) has a Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 and my general purpose boltgun (Q’s Fix) has Tangent Theta TT315M.  ZCO is coming up to compete with Tangent Theta and others, but they are not here yet, so they do not enter this discussion.

I am probably going to sell my Desert Tech when I am done testing the Vortex Razor AMG I currently have on it, but the primary scope on the SRS is SWFA SS 5-20×50.  It is as reliable as anything out there and I can not afford to put a $3k scope on everything.  And it hasn’t skipped a bit on 338LM for a couple of years now.

In sub-$2k world, if I am looking for a scope with 20x or higher magnification, I think I am still going to lean toward Japanese designs.  For now.  That means, SWFA SS 5-20×50 or Delta 4.5-30×56.  Or Cronus if that reticle rocks your boat, but Delta seems better optically despite being a clearly related design.  If you can find Razor Gen 2 for that money, go for it.

In the 3-15x range, it is PST Gen 2.  That is clearly the cherry of the PST line-up.  Here, I would have a hard time justifying the cost of anything until you get to $3k and scopes that offer minimal compromises.

In the 2-10x range, it is XTR II 2-10×42.  It needs more reticles, but Burris did an exceptional job with this design.

If you want to go lower in price, you get to pick between the track record of SWFA SS 3-15x42FFP and the featureset of Athlon Ares BTR, and I can’t make that choice for you.

 Posted by at 8:32 am
Jan 312018
 

As I plan what to test in 2018 a few things come to mind.

Generally, I would like to do a careful overview of different 1-8×24 scopes priced in the $1k to $2k, so I will be doing that more or less continuously as I go along.  Besides, I do not yet know which scopes I will be able to get my hands on, so I will have to adjust on the fly.  This is a market segment I am interested in, so I plan to explore it thoroughly.  The products that come to mind right now are as follows (I am itnerested in FFP or DFP 1-824 scopes):

Burris XTR II 1-8×24 (I have this one and I plan to compare it to competition)

Trijicon 1-8×28 (I know where it stands, so I am not sure I will seek one out again)

GPOTAC 1-8×24 (I am very curious what they did with the illumination on this one)

Primary Arms Platinum 1-8×24 (I really liked the Griffin Mil reticle, so I want to test it)

Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (the compactness of this scope is very appealing)

I know there will be one or two new designs, but I am not sure whether they will be here mid year or for next SHOT, so that remains to be seen.  I am comfortable extending this into next year if it means covering more products.

Am I forgetting any interesting offerings in the $1k to $2k range?  The only one I can think of is the Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5×24 and I am still a little mixed whether I want to test it or not.  It is another scope that has been out for a bit, so I know how it stacks up.



Another question is whether I should consider looking at some of the similarly priced 1-6x scopes out there.  When you increase the magnification ratio, one of the things that really has to be looked at carefully is performance at 1x.  It is easy to introduce distortion and make eye relief less flexible.  I expect that in the over-$1k price range, it is paid attention to, but it may worthwhile to see how performance on 1x compares between similarly priced 1-6x and 1-8x designs.

If you would like to make any suggestions or comments, please do so here on my Facebook page.



 Posted by at 5:55 pm
Jan 172018
 

This was prompted by a question I received on the Hide in this thread.

Here is the actual question: “Ilya, just curious, what could be the optical or opto-mechanical compromises associated with super short scopes like this, if any?”

I figured that it may take a little effort to write down, so instead, I talked into the camera for a few minutes.  I forgot to fix the focus distance, so the focus is hunting all the time.  My apologies.

I will try to re-record this at some point.

 

 

 Posted by at 3:11 pm
Jan 132018
 

Elcan Spectre TR is a very unique riflescope. Elcan generally seems to march to the beat of their own drum and it seems to work out pretty well for them. I generally like Elcan products and have a lot of mileage with them. Some people like them. Some hate them. Few are ambivalent. I am generally in the former category since all the Elcans I have seen to date really agreed well with my eyes.

Elcan Spectre TR on a California-legal AR (yes, this state stinks so so much)

Elcan Spectre TR on a California-legal AR (yes, this state stinks so so much)

Interestingly, a lot of the complaints I have seen about Elcan center around their use or ARMS mounts.  While I  have not had any problems with the ones on my Elcan Spectre OS, but I still upgraded them to the new adjustable levers.  Spectre TR, however, eschew ARMS hardware entirely and instead utilize two simple nuts (that look like they are around 1/2″ or similar metric size; I didn’t bother to measure exactly).   The windage and elevations adjustments are external as is the case on most Elcans and were exceedingly robust in  my practice.

Generally, I really liked this scope and it is a strong contender for my “if I could only have one” crown. I spent a few minutes talking to the camera and here is the video. Let me know if there is something you are interested in, that I havn’t touched on.

Three magnification levels really extend the flexibility of this site beyond what you get with a single or dual power option. Generally, for a regular 5.56 carbine, my go to set-up is Elcan Spectre OS 4x with an add-on miniature red dot sight. Spectre TR functions basically as a red dot at 1x, offers optically excellent 3x for general purpose use and allows you to flip up to 9x for extended range.



I would have preferred a mrad-based reticle, to the BDC Elcan uses, but that is my complaint with many riflescopes. It appears that the military insists on the BDC set-up and companies who really focus on military sales simply go with what their customers ask for. Personally, I think that is a mistake, but to each his own. If you use something long enough you can get used to almost anything.

While the reticle in the Spectre TR is available in 5.56 and 7.62 versions, I really think the 7.62 version is a bit fit for this scope. It is a bit on a heavy side and makes a better match to a DMR style rifle than to a lightweight carbine. I had it on a lightweight carbine and took a class with it. While it worked well, it had a significant effect on the balance. There, my Spectre OS 4x is a much better fit.

On the 18″ Grendel that I shoot a lot and on the AR-10, it was a much better fit in terms of balance and the reticle worked reasonably well with both 123gr Hornady Grendel load, and with precision 308 ammo in the AR10.

 Posted by at 10:58 am
Dec 302017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017

One of the goals I had for 2017 was to take a break from the stratospherically priced precision scopes I have been spending so much time on and take a closer look at products people can actually afford.  Also, since I have been shooting my various ARs a lot, I decided to look a little more closely at red dot sights and low range variable power (LRVP) scopes.

Looking at the changes that have been happening in the LRVP market, I can make a pretty good case that development-wise it is the most active segment in the riflescope world at the moment and has been for a little while.  First, decent 1-4x designs became available for not too much money. Now, you can get a very respectable 1-6x scope for under $500 (see my Burris RT-6 impressions here).  Next step is a proliferation of rather capable 1-8x designs.  Now, when I say “capable” 1-8x designs I am not referring to the inexpensive Chinese OEM design that a bunch of people use, retailing in the $300-$400 range.  It is apparently quite popular and I am sure I am not making any friends when I say this, but it is barely serviceable at best.

As a general aside, if you want to see a super positive review on everything, buy any gun magazine.  Every once in a while, I ruffle through a few pages and my blood pressure goes up every time I get to an article on optics.  I could swear that half the time they do not even use the scopes they claim to test.  They mount them on a gun, take a couple of nice pictures and proceed to rehash whatever is in the marketing literature.  As riflescopes get more sophisticated, the basic technical illiteracy of an average gunwriter becomes more and more apparent.  Some time, I should do some audio recordings from the press room at SHOT show; you hear all sorts of interesting things there…

Going back to the matter at hand… another factor to consider is that once we get into a rather broad magnification range designs, fairly long shots are very viable and reticle plane needs to be considered.  With 1-4x and 1-6x scopes, I am perfectly comfortable with either FFP or SFP, as long as it is done well.  However, once we get to 8x at the top end, I really start leaning toward FFP.

However, FFP makes it difficult to have a day bright reticle illumination, which can be important on 1x.  One way to offset that is with a sophisticated reticle design, but there has also been a lot of improvement in reticle illumination technology.

To me, the king of the hill with 1-8×24 scopes in the last couple of years has been Minox’ ZP8 1-8×24 (with the new Nightforce ATACR being the most recent challenger), but it is expensive and out of reach for most people.  With that in mind I decided to restrict myself to the sub-$2k range and gradually look at whatever is available as time allows.

That’s how we get to the Burris XTR II 1-8×24.  It runs for right around $1100-$1200 and seems to be a very well built scope.  Another reason I was curious was that I tested the 2-10×42 version of the XTR II and liked it immensely.  However, while all the other XTR II scopes are made in the Phillipines, the 1-8×24 is made in Japan by LOW.  That was an interesting enough development for me to get my hands on one.

I ran out of one piece mounts, so the XTRII ended up in a set of Kelbly's 34mm rings. It worked surprisingly well.

I ran out of one piece mounts, so the XTR II ended up in a set of Kelbly’s 34mm rings. It worked surprisingly well.

Here is my customary table of all the 1-8×24 FFP scopes I could think of in the sub-$2k price range:

Burris XTR II 1-8×24

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

(new)

PA Platinum 1-8 X 24 Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5x 24

Length, in

10.75 10.8 10 8.75 10.7 10.8 10.5
Weight, oz 24.3 25 22 17 27 26.45

23

Main Tube Diameter

34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 34mm 34mm 34mm
Eye Relief, in

4 – 3.5

4 – 3.9 4 3.75 3.54 3.98 – 3.83 3.5
FOV, ft@1000yards

105 – 12.5

109 – 13.1 114.8 – 14.5 106 – 13 107 – 13 105.8 – 13.25

105 – 14

Exit Pupil 12 – 3 11.8 – 3.5 16.6 – 3.2 7.9 – 3 24 – 3(???) 11.7 – 3

13.2 – 3.2 (???)

Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.2 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

Adjustment per turn

10 mrad

10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad
Adjustment range 30 mrad 29.6 mrad 30 mrad 29 mrad

17.5 mrad

Zero Stop

Yes Yes Yes

Yes

Reticle Location

FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP

FFP

Price $1100 $1400 $800 $1800 $1000 $1300

$1700

Two of the scopes I list are not yet out in the wild: Nightforce NX8 and GPO TAC, so all I know about them is limited to the published specifications.   The exit pupil spec for the GPO TAC has got to be a typo.  NX8 seems to be impressively compact and light for this category.  Both GPO and Nightforce are supposed to have truly day bright reticle illumination.  I’ll be sure to test both designs.  The exit pupil specification for the Bushnell SMRS is definitely a typo.  You can’t get a 3.2mm exit pupil with a 24mm objective and 8.5x magnification.  I’ll need to look at this scope a bit more carefully we well.



Best I can tell all of these designs other than the Hi-Lux are either entirely or partially OEM’ed by LOW in Japan.  I will talk about Hi-Lux’ CMR8 in another article, since that is a different story.  Between Burris, Trijicon, PA and Bushnell, there is a lot of similarity in specifications and I suspect they are related, though not identical designs.  None of these offer fully dayr bight reticles, so I expect that to be compensated by reticle features.  Burris reticle has a large(ish) circle that serves that purpose.  Here is what it looks like on 1x with and without illumination:

1x, illumination OFF

1x, illumination OFF

I probably would have preferred a somewhat thicker circle for visibility, but it worked quite well as is.  The circle and the bars really draw the eye to the center and at closer distances.  Here are a few pictures at different magnifications:

2X

2X

4X

4X

6x

6x

8X

8X

The photos are taken with a handheld cellphone and are not intended as a measure of image quality.  The are only meant to give you an idea of what the reticle looks like.  The circle inside diameter is 10 mrad and the thickness is 1 mrad, which is a little on the thin side for my purposes.  It works though.  10 mrad is very easy to use for some rudimentary rangefinding.  The beauty of the mrad system is that at any distance 1 mrad subtends exactly one thousandth of that distance. Well, that means 10 mrad subtends exactly one hundredth of the distance.  In practical terms, if you are looking at a target that is 100 yards away, the circle subtends 1 yard.  At 100 feet, it is 1 foot.  At 50 yards, it is 0.5 yards (or 18 inches). And so on.  For me, it is pretty intuitive and I can make quick range estimation using the circle at moderate distances.  Here is a drawing with the rest of the subtensions that I grabbed from Burris’ website.  Unless specifically noted, they are all in mrad.

Holdover points work well for typical AR cartridges and the horizontal hashmarks subtend 18″ at 300, 400 and 500 yards.  I am not a huge fan of BDC reticles and of this type of rangefinding, but it works in a pinch and Burris keeps things consistent between different models.  I am reasonably well used to it, but I would have preferred a mil-scale on the vertical axis.  Perhaps, I will talk Burris into putting one in (it is unlikely, but I keep trying).

Before I wrap up with the reticle discussion, it is worth mentioning that this is a very streamlined reticle design that is very quick to deploy.  Most of my complaints about the reticle are really a matter of personal preference, so YMMV.  I held back this review for a bit in order to spend some time with the reticle and do some more shooting in different lighting conditions.  I can honestly report that the reticle did not hold me back in the slightest.  For use on ARs of all sorts where you want to cover everything from CQB to 600 yards or so, it worked great.

If I want to push it further, I can use the turrets, which are well weighted and very repeatable.  The scope comes with Burris’ MAD system, which basically means that you can switch between an exposed turret with a zero stop and a simple covered turret.  It came from the factory with an exposed turret and the covered turret is in the box.  For scopes of this type I generally prefer covered or locking turrets, but a zero stop is very helpful as well.  Since I am planning to take this scope out to 1000 yards soon, I have not yet switched the turrets.   Windage turret is of the covered variety, which works great for me.

Exposed elevation turret and covered windage turret

Exposed elevation turret and covered windage turret

The illumination control knob is on the left of the turret box and offers a pretty good range of brightnesses from very low that is suitable from low light use to fairly bright conditions.  As I mentioned before, it is not quite bright enough for broad daylight, but close.

In terms of physical size, it is marginally bigger than some 1-6×24 designs, but the difference is small.  Here is a snapshot where you can see four scopes sorta next to each other: Hawke Frontier 1-6×24, Burris RT-6, Hi-Lux CMR8 1-8×26 and Burris XTR II 1-8×24.

The magnification ring is reasonably well weighted and is knurled so it is easy enough to grab.  Same for all the other controls.  The scope came with a couple of lens covers that do not seem to be Butler Creek.  I am not sure who makes them, but they appear to be holding up alright.  If they break, I’ll update this.  The eyepiece is of the fast focus variety.  It did not take long to set up and I did not see any obvious hysteresis in the adjustment.

Generally, setting up the eyepiece for scopes that go down to 1x is a little different than that for higher power scopes.  What I usually do is get it focused at the highest power first in the conventional manner, but then I do some finetuning at 1x to minimize distortion and match magnifications.  XTR optical designed is very solid and it did not take a whole lot of messing with.

Generally, I am pretty happy with the optics.  It is still a 24mm objective, so if you are looking for something optimized for low light, this is not it.  However, it is very respectable for what it is and since the image has good contrast and stray light control, overall optical performance is better than I expected.  At 8x, the exit pupil is only 3mm which works well for daylight, but as the light got lower, I found myself turning the magnification down.  I did not try it on a pitch black night, but with some sort of moon/stars/street lights/etc, I found myself settling somewhere right around 4.5x.  Optically, it seemed to be fairly similar to the Trijicon 1-8×28 and Bushnell SMRS that I have spent some time with and better than the less expensive Hilux CMR8.  I have not spent enough time with the PA Platinum to be sure where it stacks up, but I think it is also similar.

As far as eye relief flexibility goes, the scope was very easy to get behind across the magnification range.  It got a little tighter at 8x, as the exit pupil got smaller, but overall the eyepiece looks to be well designed.  I did not see any tunneling anywhere, which is important for LRVP scopes.  It seems to be a touch better than the previous generation of 1-6×24 LRVP scopes (1-6×24 models like SWFA SSHD 1-6×24 and GRSC 1-6×24), but not by much.  The biggest advantage it has over those is with broader magnification range and slightly wider FOV.  Outside of that, optically, CA seems to be slightly better controlled.  In other words, it looks like the 1-8×24 FFP design achieves slightly better optical performance than the earlier 1-6×24 FFP  across a wider range of magnifications.  To me, that sounds like a tangible improvement.  To sorta bracket how it performs, I think that the better 1-6×24 SFP scopes like Vortex Razor Gen 2 and Meopta Meostar R2 are a touch better, but SFP scopes are a little easier to build, and they are more expensive.

Overall, I am really impressed with what the XTR II offers for the money.  It seems to be offering comparable performance to to its competitors while costing less, by a non-trivial amount.  With that in mind, the XTR II easily lands on my list of recommendations.

 Posted by at 6:00 am
Dec 232017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017

Fairly frequently, my blog posts here are a result of a question I receive in an e-mail or a private message on one of the forums I frequent.  This is one of those.

The gentleman asked what I would choose to use on a SCAR 17 out of the three options he has access to: Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 non-illuminated, Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1 and NightForce NXS 2.5-10×42.  I am sure he can get a hold of other scopes, but these are the ones he owns.

He also mentioned that he views the SCAR 17 as more of a DMR rifle than anything else so a 6 ounce weight difference is not something he cares about too much.

His Mark 6 has Tremor 2 reticle, ATACR has Mil-R and I am not sure which reticle he has in the NXS.

Since weight has been mentioned, NXS 2.5-10×42 weighs in at 19 ozs, Mark 6 weighs in at 14 ozs and ATACR F1 at 30 ozs.

First, to do away with the obvious: any of these three scopes will work quite nicely.  These are fairly high end designs.  However, we all have our preferences and I have mine, so I will go through them the best I can.  While I do not own a SCAR, I do own an AR-10 with a Fulton 18″ 308Win barrel and I have tried many scopes on it as I do my tests.

First, we have to think about the reticles: if you want to hold for both elevation and wind with the reticle, then some sort of a Christmas tree or similar design is the way to go.  Since both of the Nightforces do not come with such a reticle, I am going to assume that dialing elevation is either an acceptable or a preferred method.  The Mark 6 does have Tremor 2, which works, but I am not a huge fan of Horus reticles.

Mark 6 and ATACR F1 are FFP designs, while the NXS is SFP.  Generally, for shooting at unknown distances, I am firmly in the FFP camp.  However, on moderate magnification scopes where you would be mostly using the reticle subtensions at top magnification where they are accurate, SFP works fine.

Another thing to note is that the Mark 6 is a non-illuminated design.  To me, in this price range, that is a problem and really is the biggest issue I have with the Mark 6  (and I am really looking forward to testing the new Mark 5 3.6-18×42, which has illumination at a much more reasonable price).  Also, I really do not like how Tremor2 looks at lower magnifications, so to me that effectively disqualifies the Mark 6.



Between the two Nightforces, it becomes a  more difficult call.  There is an 11 ounce weight difference, which to me is noticeable on an eight pound rifle.  Both track well.  ATACR F1 is optically better, but the 2.5-10×42 NXS is no slouch either and is easily my favourite of the NXS line.

The final selection really depends on the engagement distances and that is something I did not ask.  If the plan is to shoot out to the practical limit of 308Win in a 16″ barrel (i.e, out to 900 yards or so), better optics and higher magnification and FFP reticle of the ATACR make it a better choice.  However, if the plan is to incorporate a lot of positional shooting, then the lighter and handier NXS acquits itself admirably.  Same for shooting inside 500 yards or so.  I am not a magnification hog, so to me 10x is perfectly is sufficient.

Ultimately, this being a 308Win and me being a precision guy at heart, I would recommend going with the Nightforce 4-16×42 ATACR F1.  I am willing to tolerate a little more weight with a bigger caliber, for a 5.56 DMR, I would likely lean toward recommending the NXS 2.5-10×42.

In the interest of full disclosure, the set-up I have on my LR-308 when I am not testing anything on it is SWFA SSHD 10×42 with a Meopta MeoRed set up in a 45 degree mount to make sort of a “poor man’s 1x/10x setup”.  While on a 6.5 Grendel that has similar exterior ballistics my default setup is Elcan Spectre TR 1x/3x/9x.

However, I also know that I tend to use less magnification than most people out there, and that plays into my recommendations.  Had the NXS been a FFP model, perhaps I would have leaned that way, given lighter weight.  For example, one of my favourite scopes currently on the market is Burris XTR II 2-10x 42.  Optically, the NXS is a little better, but the Burris is FFP and has been just about beyond reproach mechanically in my experience.

This is a bit of a side topic, but it is worth mentioning: mid-range scopes are getting quite good.  If I were starting from scratch today, that XTR II would be sitting on my LR-308, and I likely wouldn’t bother with the more expensive designs.  With higher magnifications, XTR II glass starts showing its limits, but the 2-10×42 is a peach.

If I wanted a little more magnification, I would likely go for the Vortex PST Gen II 3-15×44 FFP .  I generally like the Gen 2, but the 3-15×44 is the best of the line and really compares well even against more expensive designs.

My favourite general purpose precision scope out there is Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50, but at $3k you have to be wiling to spend some money to buy one (and I am in the process of setting one up on my lightweight bolt action Fix rifle from Q).  For everyone else, PST Gen 2 3-15×44 offers a lot of the functionality for one third of the price.   I can’t afford to put a Tangent Theta on everything, so I decided to look at the PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and XTR II 2-10×42.  The more I look at them, the more satisfied I am with the performance.  If I decide to spend some money, I can swap the Gen 2 for the Tangent Theta and clealry gain performance.  However, I am struggling figuring out what a clear upgrade to the XTR II 2-10×42 is.  There just aren’t a whole lot of high end scopes in this price/size/configuration range.

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:35 pm
Dec 222017
 

written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017

I spent the last several months evaluating several scopes, among them the two low range variable power (LRPV) scopes from Burris:

I will offer a little more detail further down, but to make a long story short, both easily made onto my recently updated list of recommendations.  I think both of these offer excellent value in their respective price ranges and, frankly, while there are some specific application where I might be inclined for a different scope largely due to reticle options, for overall use on an AR-15 chambered for 5.56×45, I can think of no better scopes for the money.

I’ll start with the RT-6 and then continue with the XTR II in a subsequent post.

The RT-6 is a second focal plane (SFP) design, with Burris’ Ballistic AR reticle.


Burris RT-6 1-6×24 Vortex Strike Eagle 1-6×24 Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8×24 SWFA SS 1-4×24 HiLux CMR4 1-4×24 Burris MTAC 1-4×24 Steiner P4Xi Hawke Frontier 1-6×24
Length, in 10.3 10.5 10 10.2 10.2 11.3 10.3 10.4
Weight, oz 17.4 17.6 16.5 14.1 17.1 14.5 17.3 19.7
Main Tube Diameter, mm 30 30 30 30 30 30 30 30
Eye Relief, in 3.3 – 4 3.5 3.5 3.1 – 5 3 3.5 – 4 3.5 – 4 4
FOV, ft@1000yards 106 – 18.5 116.5 – 19.2 116.5 – 14.4

19.2 @ 6x

100 – 25 94.8 – 26.2 100 – 26 110 – 27.5 108 – 17.6
Exit Pupil 11.5 – 5.2 9 – 4 9 – 3 10.5 – 6 11.2 – 6 12 – 6 10-3
Click Value 0.5 MOA 0.5 MOA 0.5 MOA 0.1 mrad 0.1 MOA 0.5 MOA 0.5 MOA 0.1 mrad
Adj per turn 30 MOA 44 44 5 mard 8 mrad
Adjustment range 80 MOA 140MOA 100MOA 55 mrad >100MOA 130 MOA 130 MOA
Reticle Ill Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Daybright

Yes

Almost Daybright

Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP
Price $350 $330 $450 $400 $400 $400 $570 $700

Looking at the specs, there is nothing terribly exceptional about RT-6.  However, it easily exceeded my expectations for the price range and to do better (and not by much) you have to step up to the much more expensive Hawke Frontier which I also included in the table for comparative purposes.

I tested it on two gas guns: LR-308 and AR-15 chambered for 308Win and 223Wylde, respectively.

Burris RT-6 on LR-308

Burris RT-6 on LR-308

First things first: the scope held zero admirably on both rifles.  Turrets adjusted accurately although this is not the scope designed for turret twisting.  Hence, I did not spend a whole lot of time testing the turrets.  I sighted the scope in and proceeded to abuse it a little to see if it will hold zero, which it did.  Then I did my vertical “step ladder” test where I fire a shot, adjust up a little (either 4 MOA or 1 mrad, depending on the scope) and fire one shot, then adjust up again by the same amount and so on.  Then I return to zero and repeat the exercise a couple of times.  I expect to see several three shot group spaced 4 MOA apart.  If everything looks reasonably consistent it is a good indication that the turrets work as they are supposed to.  On precision scopes I do a lot more than that, but for a low power variable I deemed that to be sufficient and the RT-6 did fine during this test.

 

Turret cover removed

Turret cover removed

With the cover removed, the RT-6 turret is easy to grab, but beyond the basic tracking test, I never bothered to mess with the turrets.

The illumination is controlled by a turret on the left of the scope tube which is angled up slightly.  I am not 100% sure why Burris sets it up this way, but it is a touch easier to reach with the right hand because of this.  The illumination is not quite day bright, but it is reasonable.  It also goes down low enough for low light use without effecting your night vision.  Every other click is an OFF position which I like.


The reticle is what Burris calls “Ballistic 6x”.  It is a fairly straightforward design that is easy to use.  Essentially, it is a horseshoe/dot arrangement with a few BDC hashmarks below it and several mrad stadia along the horizontal axis.

Personally, I would have preferred it to just be mrad everywhere instead of the BDC, but it works well as is.  The BDC hashmarks are pretty much dead on for a 55gr 5.56×45 with a 100 yard sight in.  With 77gr, I had to tweak the sight in a little, but it was easy enough.  I was able to hit steal plates out to 600 yards with the reticle, so I called it good enough.  Equally importantly, the reticle is very easy to see and quite quick at 1x.  Here is what it looks like at 6x and at 1x:

6x

6x

1x

1x

The picture was taken on my LR-308 with a 15″ handguard.  A shorter handguard is not as prominent in the FOV at 1x.

The target frame you see in the pictures is 50 yards away.  When I want to go fast at closer distances, anything inside the horseshoe is a hit.

The scope comes with a removable cattail, so switching magnification is pretty straightforward.  Eye relief changes slightly between magnifications, I think, but not enough to force me to change my head position.  I shot with it off the bench, prone and offhand and getting behind the eyepiece was pretty straightforward.

In this price range, this is easily the least finicky 1-6x scope available.  Setting the eyepiece focus is best done at 1x.  I spent a few minutes getting it just right to get the distortion dialed out as much as you can and magnification matched to what you see around the scope.  I confirmed that the reticle looks nice and sharp at other magnifications, but most of the adjustment was done at 1x.

Optically, the scope was better than I expected.  I have looked at just about every LRVP scope out there or close to it and this is the only sub-$600 1-6x variable I added to my recommendations.  All the other scopes in this price range I think I sufficiently well sorted out are of the 1-4x variety.  Optically performance stayed reasonable out to the edges.  Fish bowl effect at 1x is well controlled.  Resolution at 6x is quite good and contrast is better than the competition.  During low light testing, I did not see any particularly objectionable flare or stray light issues.

I shot some groups at different magnifications and if there is zero shift with magnification, I am having a hard time seeing it.  I have not yet had a chance to put this scope in front of the collimator at work, but I will do so before too long.

In other words, try as I might, I could not find any significant flaws with this scope, which by itself is pretty impressive considering the fact that I can pick it up for less than $400.   However, the more I use this scope, the more it grows on me simply because of how easy it is to use and how good the glass is.

 Posted by at 5:22 pm
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 adapter 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 have 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.  Another interesting scope option that is even lighter than TT315M is Leupold’s new Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44 although I have some issues with the reticle options there.  As it is right now, I am messing with Elcan Spectre 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 like 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