ILya

Sep 132020
 

I am officially kicking off the testing of the SwampFox TriHawk Prismatic 3x scope.  Here are the first couple of image I posted on Instagram.  More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 2:55 pm
Jul 202020
 

I seldom do posts pertaining to product availability, but in this crazy market we live in, getting some of the AK and AR rifles and products has been interesting.

I accidentally noticed that Palmetto has their AK-103 clone miraculously in stock. Not sure for how long.

This gun uses the FN barrel, presumably the same one as I have in my Palmetto AK-E. If you are in the market for an AK, I suggest you jump on this. This is easily the most accurate AK barrel I have seen to date.

 Posted by at 1:19 pm
Jun 162020
 

I’ve been talking about the Optika6 riflescopes for a little while now and figured I should sorta summarize my thoughts.

I have not tested any low powered Optika6 scopes. The scopes I have tested are one 3-18×50 with MRAD1 reticle and two 5-30×56 with MRAD reticle. I designed these reticles for Meopta, but I did not have anything to do with the design of the riflescopes. A few people asked me, so to clear things up: I have exactly zero inside knowledge on these and everything I know comes from spending time with the three scopes mentioned above. Moreover, Meopta kinda went silent on me since SHOT, so if you ask me a question about a different product I have not tested, my chances of getting any information from them are not very good. We had a nice conversation at SHOT, but I reached out to them a few times since with zero success.

With that out of the way, the Optika6 scopes I have, I happened to like a fair bit and I think they do quite nicely in their respective price ranges.

Optically, both Optika6 models I have seen demostrate excellent, probably class leading resolution, but midpack contrast. Eye relies is long and reasonably forgiving. FOV is midpack, but at a slightly longer than average eye relief. BigJimFIsh had some issues with flare. There must be sample variation since the scopes I have control flare very nicely for sub-$1k designs.

Low light performance is respectable, but if you step up in price to around $1200, that is where you will see improvements, along with contrast.

Reticles are in the eye of the beholder, but I obviously like the ones in Optika6.

Mechanically, none of the Optika6 scopes gave me any issues. There is a slight amount of slop in the elevation turrets due to the locking mechanism, but it did not get in the way. 5-30×56 has an exposed non-locking windage turret, while 3-18×59 has a low profile covered windage turret. I much prefer the latter. The only real problem I have with the turrets is the lack of the rev counter.

Here is the spec table for the 3-18×50. There isn’t really a lot of direct competition for this scope, so most other ones listed are more expensive.

Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50Element Nexus 5-20×50SWFA SSHD 5-20×50Meopta Optika6 3-18×50Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50Brownell MPO 3-18×50
Length, in13.713.814.6514.613.313.5
Weight, oz342831.43029.830.5
Main Tube Diameter30mm30mm30mm30mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.93.7 – 343.943.25 – 43.4
FOV, ft@100yds24.5 – 4.9
9.8@10x
23.3 – 5.8
11.6 @ 10x
20.1-5.1 10.2@10x33.6 – 5.7
10.3 @ 10x
37.7 – 6.8
12.24 @ 10x
35 – 6.2
11.16@10x
Exit Pupil8 – 2.59.5 – 2.88.6 – 2.7
Click Value, mrad0.10.10.1 0.10.10.1
Adj per turn, mrad101010101010
Adjustment range, mrad19E: 23.2
W: 14.5
3026E: 35
W: 16
E: 40 
W:30
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesSoonYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP
Close Focus, yds251035102525
Price$1200$1500$1500$800$1700$1000

With the 5-30×56, there also isn’t a ton of direct competition with the somewhat more expensive Ares ETR being the closest. The big question there is whether it is best to stay around $1k with Ares and Optika6 or step up to Cronus or Stryker. All four are nice scope. In the lower price ranges, only the new Strike Eagle is kinda competitive with Optika6, but I have yet look at the side-by-side. Soon though. Strike Eagle does have really wide FOV and is generally a very competitive design

Meopta Optika6 5-30×56Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56Athlon Cronus BTR 4.5-29×56Vortex Strike Eagle 5-25×56
Length, in15.415.314.3714.314.5
Weight, oz36.736.535.835.830.4
Main Tube Diameter34mm34mm34mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.943.93.2 – 3.83.6 – 3.83.7
FOV, ft@100yds24.6 – 3.65.4 @ 20x24.5 -3.7
55.65 @ 20x
24.8 – 3.7
25.58 @ 20x
24.8 – 3.8
35.55 @ 20x
24 – 5.2
6.2 @ 20x
Exit Pupil9.5 – 1.98.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.98.8 – 1.9
Click Value0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.2 mrad
Adj per turn10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad10 mrad
Adjustment range32 mrad32 mradE: 30 mradW: 15 mradE: 32 mradW: 18 mradE:31 mradW”23 mrad
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP
Close Focus25 yards25 yards23m25 yards15 yards
Price$950$1200$1700$1700$700

Here are the videos I made about these. Please be forewarned: I speak with an accent and editing videos and sound is not something I do well or a lot of. I am getting better though, so bear with me. For now, combination of less than optimal sound and my accent does not make things easy. THe accent is not going anywhere any time soon, I am afraid.

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jun 102020
 

Element Optics is a fairly new riflescope company. They are backed by FX Airguns, which is a pretty decent recommendation right there. FX makes exemplary airguns.

I met with them during SHOT earlier this year. They seemed like a good group of people, so I figured once they have something to look at I should pay attention. The guys behind the company are all shooters and have technical tendencies, which usually yields good results.

So far, my initial cautious optimism is probing to be accurate. Their first product is a Japanese-made Nexus 5-20×50 and it is a really nice scope. For a first scope from a new company, it is downright outstanding.

It is intended as a precision scope, but given that it weighs in at a comparatively svelte 28 ounces, it is more of a crossover design by modern standards. While not as light as traditional hunting scopes, it is light enough to be used for hunting, while having the feature set appropriate for precision shooting. In other words, you can use for pretty much anything that does not require 1x (and even that is kinda doable with an offset red dot were I so inclined).

I liked the scope enough to place, albeit provisionally for now, on my list of recommendations which is really unusual for a new product from a new company. The recommendation is provisional because I want to see how it holds up over long term. However, given that the scope is OEM’ed by Light Optics Works in Japan, I do not anticipate any major issues.

The big thing that jumped out at me is that, somewhat unusually, nothing bad jumped out at me. This is a really well rounded design. It does everything well and, given the price, very well. Most importantly, there are no glaring weaknesses. It is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta any time soon, but it doesn’t cost like on either.

Here is the spec table:

Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50Element Nexus 5-20×50SWFA SSHD 5-20×50Meopta Optika6 3-18×50EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50Crimson Trace 5-series 3-18×50Brownell MPO 3-18×50
Length, in13.713.814.6514.611.213.31413.5
Weight, oz342831.43029.529.830.330.5
Main Tube Diameter30mm30mm30mm30mm34mm34mm34mm34mm
Eye Relief, in3.93.7 – 343.943.53.25 – 43.54 – 3.823.4
FOV, ft@100yds24.5 – 4.9
9.8@10x
23.3 – 5.8
11.6 @ 10x
20.1-5.1 10.2@10x33.6 – 5.7
10.3 @ 10x
23.3 – 4.7
11.8 @ 10x
37.7 – 6.8
12.24 @ 10x
33.2 – 6.2
11.6@10x
35 – 6.2
11.16@10x
Exit Pupil8 – 2.59.5 – 2.85.5 – 2.18.6 – 2.7
Click Value0.1 mrad0.1 mrad0.1
mrad
0.1 mrad0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
0.1
mrad
Adj per turn10 mrad10
mrad
10
mrad
10 mrad10 mrad10
mrad
10 mrad; no rev counter10
mrad
Adjustment range, mrad19E: 23.2
W: 14.5
30 26 33E: 35
W: 16
E: 40
W: 20
E: 40 
W:30
Reticle IllYesYesYesYesYesSoonYesYes
Reticle LocationFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFPFFP FFP
Close Focus25 yards10 yards35
yards
10 yards50 yards25
yards
10
yards
25
yards
Price$1200$1500$1500$800$1700$1700$1600$1000
Spec Comparison Table

The closest competitors Nexus has in terms of price and specs are Tract Toric 4-20×50, SWFA SSHD 5-20×50, Burris XTR III 3.3-18×50 and EOTech Vudu 5-25×50. I have tested all except for the XTR III which is not yet available with illumination.

Simply looking at the specs, Nexus is one of the better rounded ones here. Toric and SWFA have narrow-ish FOV. XTR III does not yet have illumination. SWFA and EOTech do not come with decent tree reticles (Horus’ mosquito net in the EOTech is not my cup of tee). SWFA does not have zero-stop.

The only weakneses Nexus has spec-wise are non-locking turrets and lack of a track record. Track record comes with time, and locking turrets can be a little controversial since they often make click feel worse. Personally, I would leave the zerostop equipped elevation turret as is and make windage turret either covered or locking.

Turret feel is very good. The turrets are not very loud, but very tactile. Tracking is just about spot on, but I’ll be keeping track of how that holds up with use. The turrets are not very large which is helpful for the whole crossover business, but with 10 mrad per turn, those 0.1mrad clicks are nicely spaced out.

Optically, the scope is similarly well rounded. Color is pretty neutral. Resolution is very respectable as is contrast. Edge performance is a little better than average. There is some chromatic aberration at higher magnifications, but not too much. It is similar to SWFA and Tract in that regard and better than the shorter Vudu. Low light is a little better than I expected, largely owing to well controlled flare. All scopes have some flare, so if space allows it, use the included sunshade. Nexus is no exception there, but it is a little better than average.

It is available with four different reticle, two in MOA and two in mrad. I tested their mrad tree reticle called APR-1D. It is generally a pretty decent design, but there are a couple of incongruencies there. I go over all of that in the video below that has a bunch of “through the scope” imagery.

In a nutshell, the tree goes all the way to the edge of the image on low power (30+ mrad) which is both useless and distracting. Also, the tree is based on 0.2mrad base unit, while the main stadia are based on 0.5mrad. it is common problem with many reticles, but I find it a little bipolar.

The guys behind the brand are shooters and they are getting a lot of input from other shooters. Reticles are a personal thing and this one is better than most I have seen. I am sure they will be listening to market feedback and making changes if needed. I could be wildly off-base here anyway.

Here is the video. Let me know if I missed anything that should be covered.

 Posted by at 6:45 pm
May 032020
 

I’ve been busy as all get out with no time to write anything significant, so I figured a short update is worthwhile.

I published my video review of the Leica PRS 5-30×56 riflescope and the full write-up will follow as soon as I get a little time. Hopefully not too long. Here is the Youtube video:

Leica PRS “Through the scope”

I am friendly with a few other firearm bloggers and one that I pay attention to most is probably Matt at Everyday Marksman. I recorded a podcast with him a couple of days ago. Not sure when he will have it ready to go, but his podcast is generally worth paying attention to, so check it out if you have a chance.

I was curious about his take on a a couple of scopes, so I sent him Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 and Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56 to look at. He thinks about optics differently than I do, so it was interesting to see his take on this.

I am working on a bunch more reviews that will be coming out over the next couple of months. I am almost done with the write-up on the new Vortex Razor Gen 3 1-10×24 and S&B 1-8×24 dual CC (and some more on the March 1-8×24 Shorty that I have been using for some time now). Gen 3 is definitely going on my list of recommendations. The Schmidt is probably the best engineered tactical LPVO I have ever seen, but the price is hard to swallow. Still, if you want the best, this is it.

I am also testing the new Nexus 5-20×50 from Element Optics and it is really growing on me. I think this will end up being my go to recommendation for a 50mm precision scope, barring something unforeseen

 Posted by at 11:33 am
Apr 022020
 

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

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

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

Here are the UC35 specs I pilfered from Fenix website:

UC35 V2.0 specifications
PD35 TAC Specifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 10:21 pm
Mar 292020
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Mar 282020
 

By ILya Koshkin

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


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

The new build is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Posted by at 10:48 pm