September 2012

Illuminated-Reticle AR Scopes: We Prefer Leupold and Hi-Lux

Leupold’s VX-R Patrol and Hi-Lux’s CMR optics edge out the Millett DMS-1 in a match-up of scopes that combine the speed of a red dot and low-magnification precision for longer ranges.

Low-power scopes with illuminated reticles bridge the gap between close-range red-dot sights and high-power scopes. These scopes are built with ARs in mind, but could be used on other types of rifles. We recently tested a trio of these dual-use optics, which were compact, lightweight, employed a 30mm tube with a small objective lens, and featured an illuminated reticle. The distinctive differences between them were the reticles. The players were the Leupold Model VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm, $580; Hi-Lux’s CMR 1-4x24mm, $400; and the Millett DMS-1 1-4x24mm, $405.

All three scopes featured a fast-focus ocular lens, came with a battery, wore a matte black finish, and had some magnification. The Millett and the Hi-Lux came with flip-up lens covers that allowed use of the fast focus on the ocular lens housing. The turrets for all scopes clearly indicated adjustment direction. Before any lead was fired downrange, we went through our usual battery of tests.

With the illuminated reticle turned on we whacked the scopes on a wooden bench to determine if a jolt would have an effect, slamming both the objective and ocular with enough force to drive a roofing nail. The scope reticles remained lit and turrets and magnification rings operated. They were then subjected to a deep freeze (-4° F) and then soaked in hot water to see if seals leaked. The Hi-Lux and the Leupold do not have turret covers; the Millett does. We kept the turret covers on the Millett so not to give the other two scopes an advantage. The scopes were unfazed by the cold, with controls working with ease. Fogging was anticipated when they were removed from the freezer to room temperature, and all three fogged slightly, giving a milky view that still could be used effectively. The Millett took the longest, about 5 minutes, to completely clear. When placed in hot water, the Hi-Lux expelled a string of bubbles from the magnification ring and illumination knob. We anticipated the worse, but found the Hi-Lux to be fine. There was no water in the scope to be seen and controls worked perfectly. The Millett spat out a few bubbles from the turret caps, but like the Hi-Lux was unaffected. The Leupold expelled no bubbles. The reticles stayed lit during the soaking.

All scopes had the same resolution, with a clear view up to the very edge of the lens. No scope seemed to have an advantage with color/contrast. It was during the brightness test at dusk when the Leupold showed its stuff. It by far used the most light and provided the most brightness, our testers agreed. The Hi-Lux came in second, then the Millett.

We did note that the Leupold and Millett reticles, when not illuminated, were the easiest to employ because of their thick, black crosshairs. The Hi-Lux had much finer crosshairs, and when not illuminated, took more time to see. The three scopes showed a signature at night that was apparent downrange when viewed head on. A slight red glow could be seen from the Leupold’s and Millett’s objectives; we could see a green glow from the Hi-Lux. Reticles were adjusted across a grid and brought back to zero with no issues. All three scopes passed the non-shooting tests, so they progressed to range testing.

Range time was broken into two segments. First was close-range shooting at 50 yards, and second was precision shooting at 100 yards. We shot with and without the reticle illuminated. Close range consisted of what we dubbed the “Romero Routine.” With zombie targets at 50 yards, the rifle was shouldered with the muzzle pointing down at about 45 degrees, then the shooter raised the barrel and squeezed off two shots as fast as he could into the cranial area of a Zombie Industries ( target. George Romero directed Night of the Living Dead in 1968, and from this cult classic we all know only head shots kill zombies. Then, from a benchrest at 100 yards, we shot the box to check tracking and return to zero. We also checked point of impact by shooting at minimum and maximum magnifications. Zombies at 100 yards were also on the agenda.

A Stag Arms Model 7 ( flattop in 6.8 SPC was used with a Leupold Mark 2 IMS (Integral Mounting System) with 30mm rings for all scopes. The Mark 2 IMS provided the correct height needed for an AR. Ammo consisted of Silver State Armory ( cartridges loaded with 110-grain Nosler AccuBond bullets that zipped at 2550 fps. The combination of rifle, ammo, and any of the scopes were a good setup. They worked like a team. The scopes, which are all close in length and weight, balanced nicely on the rifle, placing weight between a shooter’s hands. Testers felt any of the scopes would work and work hard, but it was the subtle details of each scope that tipped the ratings. Here’s what we discovered once the brass cooled.

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