Optics

Inexpensive Red Dot Sights-BSA, NcStar, Tasco, & Bushnell

Back in 1975, Aimpoint offered the first commercial red-dot sight. Those initial sights were heavy and good luck trying to find a replacement battery. Today's red-dot units are lighter and use batteries sold at convenience stores and gas stations, and as the weight of the sight decreased, so too did the price. One of our testers cringes at the price he paid for a used Aimpoint in the ‘80s. Today, he could purchase eight $50 modern red dots for the same money.

We wondered, however, if the sub-$50 red dots really did keep their utility as they got more affordable. To find out, we tested three affordable sights, the Tasco BKRD30 ($50), BSA Model RD30 ($40), and NcStar DBB130 ($40). To give us some contrast, we also tested a potential ringer, the Bushnell TRS-25, which costs about $100. Would the extra cost prove to be a good investment, or would the sights that cost half deliver similar performance to the Bushnell? Before we began range work with the red dots, they were shock-tested by dropping them on a wood floor from a height of 4 feet. The jolt had no effect on the sights; dots remained illuminated and the knobs still turned.

Next, the dots were activated with the turret covers left on and frozen at -4 F then soaked in hot water. Some of the instruction manuals stated the battery and turrets caps need to be secured when using the sights in extreme conditions. We abided and left the turret caps on. All had some type of pliable gasket on the turrets to seal out dust and moisture. So, too, did the battery compartments. There were no hiccups from the cold. In the water, all the sights released a few air bubbles form the rheostat knob, but again there were no malfunctions.

We used a Ruger 22/45 for range testing. Shooting was from a rest using a two-hand hold. We fired 40-grain Remington Thunderbolt cartridges with a velocity of 1255 fps at NRA 50-foot timed- and rapid-fire pistol targets.

All the sights had Picatinny rail or Weaver-style bases for mounting. The NcStar and BSA both had one clamp that was adjustable. The Tasco's mounts were fixed. The Bushnell had only one mounting clamp. All the clamps could be tightened with a flat screwdriver or coin. Only the Bushnell required a hex wrench, which was supplied with the sight. These sights are made to be zeroed and left alone, but we cranked the windage and elevation around the horn, while noting the number of clicks to see if they returned to zero. None of them did.

We also looked at the ability to pick up the dot with both eyes opened, consistency shot after shot, and ease of use. Here's what we thought about each unit.

Uncluttering Your AR-15 Rail: Pick Combo Laser/Light Grips

The AR-15's popularity is partially due to the weapon's modularity, light weight, and fast handling. But too much technology hung off every rail can morph the AR into an unwieldy and overly complicated rig—turning "tactical" into "tacticool."

Multifunction devices that combine optical laser and lighting into a vertical grip platform can help keep your rifle trim and uncluttered. We recently tested four such laser/light foregrips from three manufacturers. From MidwayUSA we bought two models made by Crimson Trace Corporation, the MVF-515 Red ($399, # 211142) and the MVF-515 Green ($599, # 812310). Both grips use a dual output 150-/200-lumen LED and feature independent controls for the light and laser. The now-discontinued but inexpensive Lasermax Colt AR-15 CGL Foregrip Laser ($161 at www.CheaperThanDirt.com, #61493) combines a red laser with a low-output LED for navigation lighting. At Sig's online store www.SigSauer.com, we found the Sig Sauer Stoplite STL-300J, $215, which combines a monstrous 700-lumen tactical light with a red laser.

Mil-Dot Scopes for Less Than $1500: Bushnell, Burris, Trijicon

When shopping for a rifle scope it is common to find a variety divided by purpose. Hunting scopes and tactical scopes are two popular categories. But should they really be listed so far apart? Just as the AR-15 platform continues to evolve as a hunting rifle, why shouldnt military-style optical scopes do the same? Tactical scopes are bred to provide an advantage over multiple targets at short to moderate distance, or an adversary at long range. For the hunter, this could translate to scenarios such as engaging rabbits in between their start and stop behavior or an elk standing far in the distance. Typically, the difference between tactical scopes is the reticle pattern and degree of magnification, depending on the application they were designed for. In this test we will favor the long-distance shooter and evaluate three Mil-Dot rifle scopes with variable power that tops out at 20X or above. They are the $1400 6-24X50mm Burris Xtreme Tactical Rifle scope No. 201934, the $999 6-21X50mm Bushnell Elite No. 42-6245T, and Trijicons $1275 TR23-2G 5-20X50mm AccuPoint scope.Each scope was built on a 30mm-diameter tube with a 50mm objective lens and a reticle wherein the vertical and horizontal crosshairs were strung with evenly spaced dots (Mil-Dots). All three scopes showed reticles in the first focal plane, and the knobs offered .25-MOA click adjustment. We chose this format because the reticle pattern can actually be used to "range" the target at any level of magnification using the following equation:Height or width of target in yards multiplied by 1000; divided by the apparent size of the target as measured against the Mil-Dot reticle, equaled distance.As you can see, you must know the approximate size of the target. When military or police snipers deal with the human torso, the measurement they typically use is 30 inches, or 0.833 yards. Game hunters merely need to insert the average height of the target area according to the animal they wish to engage, say from the bottom of the rib cage to the shoulder. The Mil-Dot reticle comes into play when you look through the scope and determine how tall the target appears when measured against the reticle. For example, if when placing the center of the crosshairs at the bottom of the target area the upper edge of the target sits midway between the second and third Mil-Dots, the lower part of the equation would be 2.5. Once distance is determined, elevation can be adjusted according to published data, such as a range card or "true statements" of elevation adjustment that the shooter has established through actual tests. In addition to its ranging ability, the Mil-Dot reticle offers another advantage over common crosshairs. Holding over for added elevation or holding off to fight wind drift becomes much easier with the additional visual aid of the Mil-Dots. This makes visualizing a hold that changes both windage and elevation much easier. Imagine the necessity to hold low and to the right. The shooter can then line up the shot first shifting the point of aim from the center of the crosshairs to the first Miil-Dot to the right of center. Then the point of aim can be dropped by lowering the rifle directly downward until the new horizontal point of reference is the first mil dot above the center of the crosshairs. If this point of aim proves not to be perfect, at least it will provide a substantial frame of reference for the next shot. Holding off center by say one Mil-Dot can also be effective when engaging a moving target. Indeed, the presence of the dots can also make it easier to visualize holding off by one-half the distance between Mil-Dots, and so on.Our comparison of the three scopes is accompanied by a chart showing basic information such as size, weight, etc. Weve also added a line for how many clicks were available from the windage and elevation knobs. This is important to know so that before transferring the same scope from one rifle to another, the scope can be returned to its mechanical center. By mechanical center we mean that if there are 300 clicks available from each knob, 150 clicks from full right or its lowest possible adjustment should put the reticle comfortably centered within the scope. Some calibers demand a lot of upward adjustment for really long range shooting. For example, the 308 Winchester (topped with a 175-grain bullet) typically asks for a 600-yard elevation adjustment of 14.75 MOA, or 59 clicks. But a 1000-yard shot would require approximately 36.75 MOA, or 147 clicks, and it is at the edges of the lens that vision will suffer from parallax, the apparent displacement or the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points not on a straight line with the object. We used a gentle grip when turning the knobs. Sensitivity to the clicks is a must.Testing scopes can however be limited in terms of hard facts. No two people see exactly alike, so whatever ratings may apply to the amount of light or quality of light transmitted to the shooters eyes could in the end be subjective. One of the visual aids we used was a $15 lifesize Coyote target from Caldwell that featured detailed vitals and replaceable overlays (No. 800345). Set afield at a distance of 100 yards, we peered through each scope and compared how well we could pick out the reticle against the realistic montage of coyote fur. Immediately next to the Coyote target was a typical range target for comparison. All three scopes allowed us to shoot sub-MOA groups at the heart, lung, and base of the neck bone on the Caldwell target. We wrapped up our tests with a hike over private land that allowed us to focus on (but not shoot at) a variety of distances and back drops.Aside from the subjective viewing, we did the best we could to judge how well each scope performed as they were designed to. For example, the calibration of the Mil-Dots had to be consistent and offer predictability. After zeroing each scope, we held off 2 Mil-Dots to the right and to the left, firing five shot groups for each hold. Were all four groups the same distance from center? We referred to this as our hold-off test. We tried to minimize shooter error and effects of the environment (wind and light), by performing these tests from 50 yards. Our mechanical tests were performed with the scopes at maximum magnification.We called our next test the crank test because we cranked the windage elevation 4 MOA (16 clicks) right and left and fired 5-shot groups. We repeated this exercise with the elevation knob first down then up. We chose to move downward first because, in our experience, some scope springs have more difficulty recovering from compression than from expansion. Again, we fired five-shot groups. Was each group printed equidistant from our original point of aim? Were they level and on line with the central group? Did returning the adjustment knobs back to center realign the reticle so that hits were centered at our original point of aim?Each scope was pre-mounted using rings and bases available from Brownells. That way, the scopes could be quickly interchanged from atop the Picatinny rail as a solid unit.Our test ammunition for the 50-yard shots was the Sellier & Bellot 55-grain FMJ ammunition. For our longer-distance testing, we relied upon a handload featuring 69-grain Sierra bullets over Varget powder, proven to deliver sub-MOA groups from our test rifle. In terms of durability from shock or recoil, we realize that firing 223 Remington was not a harsh challenge. But we werent about to use the scopes as hammers, either. Each scope was backed by a lifetime warranty, and in our view only the longest period of testing will determine the durability of these products.

Mil-Dot Scopes for Less Than $1500: Bushnell, Burris, Trijicon

When shopping for a rifle scope it is common to find a variety divided by purpose. Hunting scopes and tactical scopes are two popular categories. But should they really be listed so far apart? Just as the AR-15 platform continues to evolve as a hunting rifle, why shouldnt military-style optical scopes do the same? Tactical scopes are bred to provide an advantage over multiple targets at short to moderate distance, or an adversary at long range. For the hunter, this could translate to scenarios such as engaging rabbits in between their start and stop behavior or an elk standing far in the distance. Typically, the difference between tactical scopes is the reticle pattern and degree of magnification, depending on the application they were designed for. In this test we will favor the long-distance shooter and evaluate three Mil-Dot rifle scopes with variable power that tops out at 20X or above. They are the $1400 6-24X50mm Burris Xtreme Tactical Rifle scope No. 201934, the $999 6-21X50mm Bushnell Elite No. 42-6245T, and Trijicons $1275 TR23-2G 5-20X50mm AccuPoint scope.Each scope was built on a 30mm-diameter tube with a 50mm objective lens and a reticle wherein the vertical and horizontal crosshairs were strung with evenly spaced dots (Mil-Dots). All three scopes showed reticles in the first focal plane, and the knobs offered .25-MOA click adjustment. We chose this format because the reticle pattern can actually be used to "range" the target at any level of magnification using the following equation:Height or width of target in yards multiplied by 1000; divided by the apparent size of the target as measured against the Mil-Dot reticle, equaled distance.As you can see, you must know the approximate size of the target. When military or police snipers deal with the human torso, the measurement they typically use is 30 inches, or 0.833 yards. Game hunters merely need to insert the average height of the target area according to the animal they wish to engage, say from the bottom of the rib cage to the shoulder. The Mil-Dot reticle comes into play when you look through the scope and determine how tall the target appears when measured against the reticle. For example, if when placing the center of the crosshairs at the bottom of the target area the upper edge of the target sits midway between the second and third Mil-Dots, the lower part of the equation would be 2.5. Once distance is determined, elevation can be adjusted according to published data, such as a range card or "true statements" of elevation adjustment that the shooter has established through actual tests. In addition to its ranging ability, the Mil-Dot reticle offers another advantage over common crosshairs. Holding over for added elevation or holding off to fight wind drift becomes much easier with the additional visual aid of the Mil-Dots. This makes visualizing a hold that changes both windage and elevation much easier. Imagine the necessity to hold low and to the right. The shooter can then line up the shot first shifting the point of aim from the center of the crosshairs to the first Miil-Dot to the right of center. Then the point of aim can be dropped by lowering the rifle directly downward until the new horizontal point of reference is the first mil dot above the center of the crosshairs. If this point of aim proves not to be perfect, at least it will provide a substantial frame of reference for the next shot. Holding off center by say one Mil-Dot can also be effective when engaging a moving target. Indeed, the presence of the dots can also make it easier to visualize holding off by one-half the distance between Mil-Dots, and so on.Our comparison of the three scopes is accompanied by a chart showing basic information such as size, weight, etc. Weve also added a line for how many clicks were available from the windage and elevation knobs. This is important to know so that before transferring the same scope from one rifle to another, the scope can be returned to its mechanical center. By mechanical center we mean that if there are 300 clicks available from each knob, 150 clicks from full right or its lowest possible adjustment should put the reticle comfortably centered within the scope. Some calibers demand a lot of upward adjustment for really long range shooting. For example, the 308 Winchester (topped with a 175-grain bullet) typically asks for a 600-yard elevation adjustment of 14.75 MOA, or 59 clicks. But a 1000-yard shot would require approximately 36.75 MOA, or 147 clicks, and it is at the edges of the lens that vision will suffer from parallax, the apparent displacement or the difference in apparent direction of an object as seen from two different points not on a straight line with the object. We used a gentle grip when turning the knobs. Sensitivity to the clicks is a must.Testing scopes can however be limited in terms of hard facts. No two people see exactly alike, so whatever ratings may apply to the amount of light or quality of light transmitted to the shooters eyes could in the end be subjective. One of the visual aids we used was a $15 lifesize Coyote target from Caldwell that featured detailed vitals and replaceable overlays (No. 800345). Set afield at a distance of 100 yards, we peered through each scope and compared how well we could pick out the reticle against the realistic montage of coyote fur. Immediately next to the Coyote target was a typical range target for comparison. All three scopes allowed us to shoot sub-MOA groups at the heart, lung, and base of the neck bone on the Caldwell target. We wrapped up our tests with a hike over private land that allowed us to focus on (but not shoot at) a variety of distances and back drops.Aside from the subjective viewing, we did the best we could to judge how well each scope performed as they were designed to. For example, the calibration of the Mil-Dots had to be consistent and offer predictability. After zeroing each scope, we held off 2 Mil-Dots to the right and to the left, firing five shot groups for each hold. Were all four groups the same distance from center? We referred to this as our hold-off test. We tried to minimize shooter error and effects of the environment (wind and light), by performing these tests from 50 yards. Our mechanical tests were performed with the scopes at maximum magnification.We called our next test the crank test because we cranked the windage elevation 4 MOA (16 clicks) right and left and fired 5-shot groups. We repeated this exercise with the elevation knob first down then up. We chose to move downward first because, in our experience, some scope springs have more difficulty recovering from compression than from expansion. Again, we fired five-shot groups. Was each group printed equidistant from our original point of aim? Were they level and on line with the central group? Did returning the adjustment knobs back to center realign the reticle so that hits were centered at our original point of aim?Each scope was pre-mounted using rings and bases available from Brownells. That way, the scopes could be quickly interchanged from atop the Picatinny rail as a solid unit.Our test ammunition for the 50-yard shots was the Sellier & Bellot 55-grain FMJ ammunition. For our longer-distance testing, we relied upon a handload featuring 69-grain Sierra bullets over Varget powder, proven to deliver sub-MOA groups from our test rifle. In terms of durability from shock or recoil, we realize that firing 223 Remington was not a harsh challenge. But we werent about to use the scopes as hammers, either. Each scope was backed by a lifetime warranty, and in our view only the longest period of testing will determine the durability of these products.

Rimfire Riflescopes Under $50: Bubbles Sink TruGlo and BSA

At one time optics for a rimfire rifle meant a scope with a 0.75-inch tube-including objective-and no adjustable magnification. You could also get it with any reticle type you wanted as long as it was a traditional crosshair. You can still purchase these types of scopes, but todays rimfire scopes share a lot in common with centerfire scopes. They come in 1-inch tubes and have adjustable magnification, parallax adjustment, and an assortment of reticle types.We were interested to see if low cost-around $50-had any relationship to quality and usability. Our test products were the TruGlo 4x32mm Model TG8504BR, $50; the BSA 22 Special Model S4X32WR, $40; Tascos 22 Riflescope 3-9x32mm Model MAG39X32D, $50; and the Simmons 22 Mag Riflescope 3-9x32mm 511072, $52.Before we did any range work with the scopes, we performed a shock test by whacking the scope on a wooden bench to determine if a jolt would have an effect. Next, we removed turret covers and froze the scopes in a -4 degree freezer and soaked them in a sink of hot water to see if seals leaked, making the scope susceptible to moisture build up. We then mounted the scopes for a side-by-side test on a platform and looked for resolution, brightness, contrast, parallax, tracking and repeatability. If scopes passed these phases of test, we finally we mounted them on a rifle for range testing. At the range, we looked for tracking by "shooting the box" and point-of-impact change with the variable-powered models by shooting at minimum and maximum power magnifications. We shot from a bench rest at 50 yards at the Fin Fur Feather Club in Chaplin, Connecticut.As a test platform we used a Henry Repeating Arms Company H001 lever action in 22 LR. The Henry is like many rimfire rifles with a groove built into the receiver to accept Weaver-type rings. The Henry is an inexpensive plinker and small-game stopper. We loaded it with Remingtons Thunderbolt cartridges with a 40-grain bullet and a velocity of 1255 fps. Lets see how these inexpensive scopes could perform on marauding soda cans or help keep the varmint population in check.

Rimfire Riflescopes Under $50: Bubbles Sink TruGlo and BSA

At one time optics for a rimfire rifle meant a scope with a 0.75-inch tube-including objective-and no adjustable magnification. You could also get it with any reticle type you wanted as long as it was a traditional crosshair. You can still purchase these types of scopes, but todays rimfire scopes share a lot in common with centerfire scopes. They come in 1-inch tubes and have adjustable magnification, parallax adjustment, and an assortment of reticle types.We were interested to see if low cost-around $50-had any relationship to quality and usability. Our test products were the TruGlo 4x32mm Model TG8504BR, $50; the BSA 22 Special Model S4X32WR, $40; Tascos 22 Riflescope 3-9x32mm Model MAG39X32D, $50; and the Simmons 22 Mag Riflescope 3-9x32mm 511072, $52.Before we did any range work with the scopes, we performed a shock test by whacking the scope on a wooden bench to determine if a jolt would have an effect. Next, we removed turret covers and froze the scopes in a -4 degree freezer and soaked them in a sink of hot water to see if seals leaked, making the scope susceptible to moisture build up. We then mounted the scopes for a side-by-side test on a platform and looked for resolution, brightness, contrast, parallax, tracking and repeatability. If scopes passed these phases of test, we finally we mounted them on a rifle for range testing. At the range, we looked for tracking by "shooting the box" and point-of-impact change with the variable-powered models by shooting at minimum and maximum power magnifications. We shot from a bench rest at 50 yards at the Fin Fur Feather Club in Chaplin, Connecticut.As a test platform we used a Henry Repeating Arms Company H001 lever action in 22 LR. The Henry is like many rimfire rifles with a groove built into the receiver to accept Weaver-type rings. The Henry is an inexpensive plinker and small-game stopper. We loaded it with Remingtons Thunderbolt cartridges with a 40-grain bullet and a velocity of 1255 fps. Lets see how these inexpensive scopes could perform on marauding soda cans or help keep the varmint population in check.

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

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 Oxleys 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.

[IMGCAP(2)]

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? Lets light them up and see what happens.

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

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 Oxleys 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.

[IMGCAP(2)]

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? Lets light them up and see what happens.

Ballistic Reticles: Bushnell and Leupold Offer More Than Nikon

Beasts usually like to keep as much woodlot, coulee, or cornfield between us and them as possible, and that may mean shooting our rifle farther than the sighted-in distance. Essentially we use old-fashioned Kentucky elevation and take our best guess at crosshair hold over. Combine a good sense of distance with shooting experience, and you could fill out your tag. If not, you'll kick up dirt below two sets of hooves, whiz a round high, or, sadly, wound an animal.

Riflescopes with ballistic reticles purportedly take the guesswork out of long-distance shooting by combining a typical crosshair with additional aiming points at set distances. The reticles are calibrated to popular hunting cartridges with muzzle velocities in the range of 2800 to 3000 fps or more. The usual suspects fall into that range—243, 6mm, 25-06, 270, 308, 30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag., 300 Win. Mag., including a slew of others. Since the aiming points are not calibrated to a specific load they, offer general approximations, which means you will need to shoot your rifle to understand how the reticle will work with your specific rifle and cartridge combination. The reticles are chockfull of aiming points and seem cluttered compared to a typical hunting scope, but they are quite easy to master. You may want to make a cheat sheet on an index card or a piece of masking tape and fix it to your stock so you can remember what aiming points are for what distances. Finally, you will still need to know the distance to the target, and some scopes have this covered with built-in range estimators, as you will see.

Our team recently tested three scopes with ballistic reticles: Bushnell's Elite 3200 with DOA 600 reticle, Leupold's VX-3 with Boone & Crockett reticle, and Nikon's Monarch with BDC reticle. We were interested to see if the additional aiming points would be easy to use and hit true to the distance claimed. Since the purpose of these scopes is hunting, a kill zone the size of paper plate, or about 9 inches in diameter, was used to determine whether the aiming points worked. We also looked at light-gathering ability and weather resistance.

To test the scopes, our shooters fixed them to a Kimber model 8400 Classic in 30-06, which is a perfect example of a hunting rifle/caliber combination likely to be found from Montana to Maine. Since the 30-06 is common caliber and is available in a number of bullet styles and weights, we assumed it would fit the scope manufacturers' criteria as a "popular caliber" as stated in their manuals.

We also wondered if proprietary and not-so-popular calibers that fall into the muzzle velocity range, like those from Weatherby and newer ones like the 30TC, would work with these scopes. Debuting just a few years ago, the 30TC, which is only loaded by Hornady, has less recoil than a 308 or 30-06 yet achieves a higher velocity using the same weight bullet. We tested the 30TC in a Thompson/Center Icon using Hornady 165-grain SST InterLock bullets. We found that what mattered were the velocities and bullet weights. All scopes performed within the calculated range.

Test ammunition consisted of Federal Premium 165-grain Sierra Gameking boattail softpoints and Remington's Premier Core-Lokt Ultra bonded pointed softpoints in 168 grains. Since the scopes are calibrated to muzzle velocity, we chronographed the factory ammo with a ProChrono chronograph to be sure the Kimber's 24-inch barrel provided the necessary length for the bullet to pick up speed. After initial sight-in, our test procedure consisted of three-shot groups fired from a bench rest. Starting at 100 yards and progressing to 200 yards, we soon ran out of range, so we fired at 100 yards using the additional aiming points. We used an online ballistic calculator (www.biggameinfo.com) to determine the bullet trajectories. The idea was that the shots should group at a height consistent to the caliber's trajectory, so the 300-yard aiming point group with the Federal 165-grain bullets should print 4.6 in. high at 100 yards and so on. Light-gathering ability was tested during dusk conditions, and the scopes were frozen for 15 minutes and then placed in warm water for another 15 minutes to test water and fogging resistance.

Shooting took place over numerous sessions at the Fin Fur Feather Club, a members-only facility in Chaplin, Connecticut. Let's see where the bullets hit the paper.

Self-Defense Handgun Sights: Novak and Wilson Combat Win

Where is no end to debate concerning handgun sights and their use. Personal preference plays a role, but a poor choice in a defensive handgun may have serious consequences. Good enough and bargain basement dont cut it. Even the use of sights is debated. Some argue for point shooting or instinctive fire at close range. Unsighted fire sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The keys to accurate fire include smooth trigger compression, proper sight alignment and proper sight picture. Area aiming or aiming for the whole target is not going to get the job done.

For most gun-buyers, sights are a make-or-break part of the purchase, as important as the cartridge. Sights can-and should-influence which guns you buy. Also, on guns you already own, you can upgrade the sights, especially 1911s and Glocks-if you know what works, and what doesnt. A person who purchased the best pistol he could afford at the time may wish to upgrade to better sights at a later date, but how does he know what to choose?

We wanted to compare the execution of several sights found on existing factory guns and as aftermarket products to see which one offered the best combination of sight quality, ease of presentation, and durability. This is a tricky job description for a sight, because those requirements can be contradictory. In the past the shortcomings of pistol sights were understood. A universal fault was the round front sight. Where was the top of the sight? Sight pictures were not repeatable. About 1923 a Western peace officer named Tom Threepersons had a square and tall front sight added to his 4.75-inch-barrel Colt Single Action Army. Better sights followed.

Among the first practical high-visibility handgun sights were Kings Hardballer sights. They raised the sight picture and offered an improvement over small GI sights. The problem with fitting combat sights on a self-defense gun is the height of target-type sights. Too-tall front and rear sights became so obtrusive the handgun became difficult to holster. If you use a rear sight that sets tall above the frame, then the front sight must have a correspondingly high profile. The revolution came with Wayne Novaks Lo Mount sights. Designed like a pyramid, these sights require a special mounting cut in the slide to ride low. The front sight may be as low as .200 inch, although a .249 sight is also used.

Reducing the vertical profile of a sight is important because adjustable sights are exposed to all manner of insult and are relatively fragile. If you visit a police department, you notice that the area around the door jamb of the squad room is often beaten up. This is because that is hip level, and cops guns, especially the sights, take a beating on doorways. And, of course, sights are rubbed on by holsters, and they may impede drawing the weapon when you need it most.

To consider these issues, we looked at nine different common sight styles on a host of guns. GI sights, Mil Spec sights, Trijicon sights, XS big dot sights, Novak sights, Heinie sights, McCormick sights, Para Ordnance sights, and Wilson Combat sights.

Self-Defense Handgun Sights: Novak and Wilson Combat Win

Where is no end to debate concerning handgun sights and their use. Personal preference plays a role, but a poor choice in a defensive handgun may have serious consequences. Good enough and bargain basement dont cut it. Even the use of sights is debated. Some argue for point shooting or instinctive fire at close range. Unsighted fire sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The keys to accurate fire include smooth trigger compression, proper sight alignment and proper sight picture. Area aiming or aiming for the whole target is not going to get the job done.

For most gun-buyers, sights are a make-or-break part of the purchase, as important as the cartridge. Sights can-and should-influence which guns you buy. Also, on guns you already own, you can upgrade the sights, especially 1911s and Glocks-if you know what works, and what doesnt. A person who purchased the best pistol he could afford at the time may wish to upgrade to better sights at a later date, but how does he know what to choose?

We wanted to compare the execution of several sights found on existing factory guns and as aftermarket products to see which one offered the best combination of sight quality, ease of presentation, and durability. This is a tricky job description for a sight, because those requirements can be contradictory. In the past the shortcomings of pistol sights were understood. A universal fault was the round front sight. Where was the top of the sight? Sight pictures were not repeatable. About 1923 a Western peace officer named Tom Threepersons had a square and tall front sight added to his 4.75-inch-barrel Colt Single Action Army. Better sights followed.

Among the first practical high-visibility handgun sights were Kings Hardballer sights. They raised the sight picture and offered an improvement over small GI sights. The problem with fitting combat sights on a self-defense gun is the height of target-type sights. Too-tall front and rear sights became so obtrusive the handgun became difficult to holster. If you use a rear sight that sets tall above the frame, then the front sight must have a correspondingly high profile. The revolution came with Wayne Novaks Lo Mount sights. Designed like a pyramid, these sights require a special mounting cut in the slide to ride low. The front sight may be as low as .200 inch, although a .249 sight is also used.

Reducing the vertical profile of a sight is important because adjustable sights are exposed to all manner of insult and are relatively fragile. If you visit a police department, you notice that the area around the door jamb of the squad room is often beaten up. This is because that is hip level, and cops guns, especially the sights, take a beating on doorways. And, of course, sights are rubbed on by holsters, and they may impede drawing the weapon when you need it most.

To consider these issues, we looked at nine different common sight styles on a host of guns. GI sights, Mil Spec sights, Trijicon sights, XS big dot sights, Novak sights, Heinie sights, McCormick sights, Para Ordnance sights, and Wilson Combat sights.

10X42 Binoculars Test, Part II: Zeiss Beats Swarovski, Leica

We examined six pairs of optics ranging in price from $260 to nearly $1,700 to see if price really has an impact on ease of use and performance. This time, models over $1100.

Gun-Rights Rino Rollover Candidates

Last issue, I asked for your thoughts about what gun legislation might be forthcoming from the Biden Administration, and some of your comments appear...