July 2010

Red-Dot Sights from Aimpoint, Insight Technology, and Vortex

Aimpoint’s 9000SC leads the way, but the MRDS red dot scope offered unmatched versatility. The Vortex StrikeFire was below professional grade, our testers said.

Why does an illuminated dot provide faster recognition for the shooter? First and foremost, the illuminated dot is the brightest object in the field of view. This brings your eye to the dot like a magnet. The key to shooting quickly with an illuminated dot is to focus on the target with the dot in your peripheral vision. Find your desired point of impact, cover it with the dot, and fire.

In this test we will be evaluating several aspects that we think should be considered when choosing an electronic dot scope. Ease of mounting and sighting in, durability in terms of function and repeatable adjustment, and quality of vision regarding the dot and its surrounding field of view. To test we enlisted the help of two rifles. They were the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 and the Marlin 1895SBL. The M&P 15-22 was tested in our February 2010 issue and fires 22LR ammunition. The Marlin 1895SBL is a big-bore lever-action rifle that shoots fat 45-70 cartridges, (www.marlinfirearms.com/Firearms/bigbore/1895SBL.asp). We began by sighting in each scope atop the Marlin 1895SBL and firing from the 100-yard line at Phil Oxley’s Impact Zone (www.theimpactzonerange.com). Here we used Remington 405-grain soft points (R4570G) and PMC 405-grain lead flat point ammunition. Next, we fired at a multiple target array to experience what each scope had to offer in terms of rapid acquisition. For this portion of our test we fired Winchester 300-grain JHP rounds (X4570H). We chose the hefty Marlin for two reasons. First, it supplied enough recoil to challenge the durability of the scopes. Next, working its lever action provided an extra interruption to sight alignment above and beyond the recoil impulse. Our target array consisted of five cardboard IPSC targets for backing arranged in a triangle or "Christmas tree" pattern. Point of aim was a Reckstine Sight-In Target fixed at center mass on each backing. Actual distance from the shooter for each target was, left to right, 22.5 feet, 33 feet, 47 feet, 39 feet and 23 feet. Exercise One was to engage all targets with one round each moving from left to right. Start position was shooter facing downrange muzzle pointing towards the ground about 2 feet in front of the shooter. A round was in the chamber with four rounds in the magazine. The hammer was back and the crossbolt safety was activated. Exercise One was attempted two times and we recorded total elapsed time for each run. We also took note of shot placement on each target.


For Exercise Two we changed to fresh Reckstine Sight-In Targets on each backing. Exercise Two required that the shooter begin with the furthest target at the top of the triangle. Order of engagement continued with the furthest target to the left, the furthest target to the right and then left to right on the pair of near targets. Again, we recorded total elapsed time and made note of shot placement. Each scope was tested in this manner and the shooter was allowed to dry fire each exercise before firing beginning each exercise. In fact, we recorded the elapsed time of the very first dry fire run, from audible start signal to the final drop of the hammer. We used this to set a par time on our Competition Electronics shot recording timer. This provided an audible structure against which to measure our dry fire practice.

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 AR-15 style rimfire carbine was used primarily to test repeatability of zero. We began by undoing all previous adjustments. This meant centering the dot inside the scope. We did this by turning down the elevation screw until it stopped, then turning it in the upwards direction counting each click until the screw stopped again at its maximum elevation. This takes concentration, patience, and a soft touch so not to damage the mechanism. We then divided the number of clicks by two and turned the screw back to its mechanical center point. We repeated this chore with the windage adjustment. It is important to begin with the adjustments at center because this offers the greatest amount of potential adjustment and the least amount of strain on the adjustment mechanism. In addition, we believe that even without magnification, the center of a given lens is the point at which it is most visually efficient.

For our repeatability tests we visited the 25-yard line at American Shooting Centers, (www.amshootcenters.com). From the bench we zeroed each scope. Then we turned the windage adjustment 10 clicks left and shot a group. Next, we turned the adjustment 20 clicks to the right and shot another group. Finally, we adjusted the scope 10 clicks to the left and looked for a group with its center over the original point of zero. On our test days we did our best to wait out any gusts of wind that might skew our windage test and judged accordingly. We repeated this test for elevation adjustment by going 10 clicks up, 20 clicks down and then 10 clicks up. We think dot scopes will rarely be used like a mil-dot tactical scope (for example, dialing in changes and returning to zero), but we hoped this test would simulate longer term use that would likely include being readjusted for use on any number of rifles or handguns. Would one scope stand out from the others? Let’s light them up and see what happens.

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