One of the attributes of the scope that affect the usability more than many others is the reticle. The reticle in this scope is called the 8C MIL. According the the US Optics website, the reticle is designed to be versatile, work well at low magnification, and offer ranging capability. The reticle is essentially a milliradian ruler. In my opinion, ranging is one of the least useful capabilities of a mil reticle. More importantly, it allows precise holdovers, wind adjustment, and compensation for moving targets, although there are other ways to accomplish all of those things than with a reticle.
What the picture doesn’t show of the reticle is the circle that is around the crosshair portion. The reticle is in the front focal plane, so it gets larger and smaller in accordance with the size of the image as the magnification of the scope is adjusted. The circle gets large enough to leave the field of view as the magnification is dialed all the way up to 8x.
A potentially significant disadvantage of the reticle being in the front focal plane is that it can seem excessively fine at low power, and excessively coarse at high power. This is something that can be mitigated by a well thought out reticle design. The problem of the apparent reticle size becomes potentially more apparent on scopes with larger zoom ratios. An 8 power zoom is quite an extreme feat. For the record the highest zoom that I’m aware of is a 10 power.
At 8x the reticle is somewhat coarse. The bullseye on my preferred zeroing target is approximately 0.91” (it just turned out that way). This is approximately 0.87 MOA or approximately 0.25 mils at 100 yards. At 100 yards I had to really work to get the reticle centered on it. It was one of those things where when it’s right the target can’t really be seen, but if it’s moved off center you know it because the target is visible in one quadrant of the reticle. When I switched to the “Redneck” target, which was designed to be a 100 yard target with a true 4 MOA scoring ring and a true 1 MOA x-ring, I could see the x-ring in all quadrants of the reticle when it was properly centered.
Do I think that the reticle is too coarse? That has to be evaluated in terms of the scope’s purpose. With my current goal of being able to consistently hit a 4” target, I would no longer be able to easily center the reticle on target somewhere between 300 and 400 yards. 4” is not an arbitrary figure, but of course there are other size targets too. The question is really one of terminal ballistics at that point, what job the round will reliably do, and what requirements it will fulfill. For the purposes of this rifle, I don’t think the reticle at maximum power is excessively coarse.
Do I think the reticle is too thin at minimum power? The lines are quite fine at minimum power or even at what I’ll call “effective minimum power” (EMP, pronounced “eeeemp!” [and hop from a squatting position, eat a banana, and scratch your armpit as you read it]), which I’ll define as power at which objects appear to be the same size as when viewed with the naked eye. The thin reticle sounds like it could be a deal breaker. What we want up close is something bold and easy to see. What saves this scope in that scenario is that it has very effective illumination.
The Red Dot
The illumination on this scope is a single red dot. It is very similar in appearance to the dot on the Aimpoint Micro that was sent with the US Optics scopes. The difference is that the US Optics illumination has a brighter range than the Aimpoint. I first noticed this when comparing them while there was snow on the ground. The Aimpoint dot washed out against the snow while the US Optics dots did not.
I have been told, or have read (or both), that the US Optics scopes use similar illumination technology as the Aimpoints. I’ve heard referred to as ‘beam splitter” technology, but I think someone was talking about Star Trek transporters. It’s hard to describe, but the character of the illumination is very similar between the two. I have quite a bit of experience with illuminated magnified optics, which appear to have a weaker illumination that casts a bit of red tint in the image. There’s also something remarkable in the illumination in the Aimpoint and the US Optics scopes: the illumination is not visible from the objective lens! The other scopes I have look like a Christmas tree bulb when viewed from the objective lens side. This may seem trivial, unless there is a concern of being detected by the target. Then it would seem to me that it is not very trivial. In my mind, this elevates the US Optics scopes when one of the selection criteria is that the scope is being used on a live target.
There is a drawback to this type of illumination technology. I have been told that it can darken the image of the scope. My limited experience with the USO bears this out. The images of the two US Optics scopes I am testing are noticeably darker than that of the SWFA and the Swarovski. I don’t think that the clarity is diminished (I don’t think this is an official term someone who actually knows optics would use, but hopefully it conveys the point).
A darker image is not what you would expect with a premium optic, which is what you assume you’re getting with an MSRP of $2495. This was disappointing when I noticed it, which was right out of the box. Since I have it firmly in my head that I’m testing how the scopes enable or diminish my ability to perform with the rifle, I had to ask myself if the darker image will actually matter. This is something that I’ll only be satisfied to find out with live fire evaluation, but I have some guesses. At close to intermediate ranges (I’ll call this 0-200 yards), I notice no practical disadvantage during the daytime. At close range (≤~25 yards) with ambient light, such as a streetlight, I find no problems getting the dot on a target. Also, ARs are usually equipped with lights, which also seems to work fine with the scope image and brightness range of the illumination.
There is one last significant point about the scope’s illumination. My understanding based on my research about this scope is that the U.S. Optics scopes used to have an analog style knob that controlled the illumination. The current scopes have a three button system, one on/off, one to increase brightness, and one to decrease brightness. I have read a lot of complaints about this button powered “digital” system vs. the Aimpoint style knob. I actually like the push button system a lot. No, it’s not quite as easy to adjust as a knob, but it’s not that difficult either. I almost always wear gloves when handling this rifle, and sometimes I wear silk liners under them in cold weather. I have never had any problems controlling the scope.
The reason I really like the scope’s illumination control is that it allows the scope to power itself down when it’s not being used. This can, and has for me, caused the scope to shut down between strings of fire. That is a bad thing, but when that has happened I just used the reticle (not the end of the world or a fight stopper). It did slow me down a bit, and it could be a problem in low light. The big advantage for me is that I have a long and well established history of going through 2032 type batteries in illuminated optics faster than Congress goes through money. In fact, the battery in the SWFA 1-6 was dead within the first week of me receiving the optic (that’s a long time for me). In fact, at about 0100 hours just this morning I pulled out the Remington, checked the scope’s illumination, and luckily had several 2032s in my pack to replace the dead one in the scope. With an Aimpoint it’s a non-issue because the battery will last a minimum of 50,000 years (only minor hyperbole). The Aimpoint in my possession now was shipped with the illumination on and I haven’t turned it off in the last month and a half.
I don’t honestly know what the battery life is with the US Optics scopes, but I’m still using the battery it was shipped with and it’s just as bright as ever. The fact that it is apparently child proof outweighs its propensity to turn off after a period of disuse in my opinion. The illumination turns on when I push the button. That’s called reliability and I like it.
I’ll conclude the summary of my initial observations in one last article to come.