Test Optic #3: U.S. Optics SR-4c

SR-4c
Sadly, I didn’t remember to take a bunch of photos of this optic, and none that show the scale as compared to anything useful.  I was too busy trying to get things done and expedite the actual testing of the optic.

The next optic up is the U.S. Optics SR-4c, 1-4×22.  Like the SR-8c, it has a red dot in the second focal plane and the reticle in the first focal plane.  They call this illumination “dual focal plane”.

The SR-4c is very similar in character to the SR-8c.  They feel very similar.  The controls are nearly identical.  They are styled in the same manner.  The main difference is, as the model designators would indicate, the power range.

The other big differences between the SR-8c and the SR-4c are the size and weight.  The SR-8c is 12” long and 25.6 ounces, while the SR-4c is 9.25” long and 19.8 ounces.  The SR-4c doesn’t seem like it’s that long, as it has a stout, compact appearance.  An additional significant practical difference is that the SR-4c allows for more flexibility in mounting.  I was able to use my Nightforce Unimount, which I like because it is significantly lower than a standard height AR mount.

4x_138_mil_scale Resized

The reticle on the SR-4c, which again is in the front focal plane, is a very simple arrangement.  I have found out in my travels that simple is good.  I have also found out that cramming things up with features is not always good, which I’m happy to report is not the case with this scope.  What I have noticed with these scopes is that at close range and low magnification, what I want to see is the illuminated dot and not much else.  Something else that I’ve found to be the case with these lower power scopes is that when using the reticle to hold for elevation or wind at longer ranges, fine graduations in the reticle can be confusing and seem to be unnecessary, which is also not the case with this scope.

Something I noticed when I first received the scopes was that the SR-4c had a more forgiving eyebox.  I don’t know of a way I could objectively measure this attribute, but as I initially inspected the scopes I had on hand it seemed to me that the SR-4c might have had the easiest eyebox to acquire.  When I mounted the scope to test I did not notice the SR-4c to be different in this attribute from the others.  When one has the ability to take a good position, and is trained to establish a consistent cheekweld, eyebox ease is probably not that noticeable.  We’ll see if the numbers show a difference in performance.

The illumination on these scopes is, in my opinion, the best I have seen.  It’s a clear, bright red dot.  There is no “bloom” to the illumination, as I see in the Aimpoint and EOTech sights.  The dot is about as bright as with the Aimpoint (I actually found that I could see the SR-8c’s dot in snow where the Aimpoint was washed out).  I’ve been told that the U.S. Optics illumination robs the image of brightness, and it is evident that these scopes are both less bright than the other two I tested.  As with the SR-8c, the illumination isn’t visible from the objective end.

Two things come to mind with this scope, one of which will apply to the SR-8c as well.  I wish the turrets, in addition to being finer in adjustment, would have the customary arrow with the “Up” or “Right”, because evidently some people (namely me) get confused on where I am and what direction I’m going.  I turned the knobs the wrong way twice when zeroing this scope, which should have been (and would otherwise have been) a very cut and dried affair.

Secondly, the big advantage of matching turrets was nullified with the maximum of 4 power magnification.  I couldn’t see my hits at 100 to read the reticle and adjust the turret without having to walk downrange.  This meant that I had to actually go back to doing range math.  Not only that, but I had to do it in mils, which adds an extra conversion step for a brain that was trained early on to think in MOA.

I’ll cover the testing process briefly in the next installment, which is coming up shortly.  Thanks for reading.

The Dreadful State of Accuracy Accounting

Warning: Rant Ahead

I’ve pretty much had it with accuracy claims. It’s not just that some of them are extreme examples of cherry picking. It’s exceedingly rare for anyone to even define the basic variables that one would need to get an idea of what is going on.  In an age where anyone has the opportunity to better their own skills through a small amount of diligence and study, continuing on in ignorance for the sake of feeling good about oneself is silly.

First of all, and I’m pretty sure I’ve beaten this one to death already, the ubiquitous 3 round group extreme spread measurement doesn’t tell anyone anything. When I see a three round group I immediately skip it because delving any further would be a waste of time, energy, and would leave me dumber for having looked. It just doesn’t have relevance to the point that the shooter is trying to make. I don’t see 5 round groups as much better.

Secondly, I have noticed a phenomenon of willful perceptual blindness. It goes like this: “These 4 were all in a tight cluster. That’s ¾ MOA! I don’t know what happened to that fifth one over there. I probably pulled that shot.” Here’s the problem: YOU DON’T GET TO PRETEND THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN!!! It did happen, and it actually means something. If you actually know what happened when the shot broke, it may mean something else. If you were in a shooting and that magical mystery bullet hit the wrong person it would be a little harder to pretend it didn’t happen.

I expect this to happen on the internet. Where I have been really frustrated is when I see it after shelling out $8.99 for a magazine. Example: “Sniper” magazine, 2011, “Nighthawk Custom” by J. Guthrie, page 48. 5 group sizes are listed to the thousandths place. He then gives an average of the five group sizes. The load is listed as Federal Gold Medal Match 175 grain. The distance is listed as 100 yards. All that is fine. What I want to know, but can’t tell is how many rounds went into each group? That’s kind of important.  With 10 shot groups, it might be absolutely stupendous.  With a 3 round group, it might be something an average shooter with an average gun could do all damn diddley day long (yes, I said “all damn diddley day long).

It would also be nice to know whether Mr. Guthrie is giving the measurement in inches or minutes, although I can see that’s splitting hairs. He did give us the measurement to the thousandths place, so I think splitting hairs is justified. I know that he is capable of giving a full report, as he did in the 2011 Guns & Ammo Book of the AR15 article on the Les Baer .264 LBC AR, p. 36, which was perfectly adequate.  

In Issue 12 of “Recoil” magazine Erik Lund tests the Lancer L30 .308 Winchester AR. Here’s all we get: “168-grain Federal Gold Medal Match turned in .75-MOA groups—and that accuracy could be likely tightened up with handloads.” While we have no distance for the groups, at least he gives it to us in MOA. The big question, again, is how many shots made up each group? It makes a big difference.

Probably the best example I could find in the magazines I had on hand was in Iain Harrison’s review of the POF Gen 4 carbine in issue 12 of “Recoil”. It is as follows: “After being passed around like a cheap hooker and fed like a stray dog, the gun just kept running no matter what was stuffed in the mag or how fast it was emptied. And it got emptied a lot. Figuring that was enough abuse, with smoke still curling off the barrel’s exterior, I sat down at a bench with a few rounds of 77 grain OTM ammo to learn of the gun could still group. Yep. Still sub-MOA.” Wow. I loved you in Top Shot Iain, but that was not fit to be published. How hard would it have been to be slightly more specific and at least a little classy? I know the season 1 winner could handle that. Someone shopping for a $2600 rifle should probably know more about the piece than how it compares with a prostitute.  I would think that for many of us it’s not even a comparison we could understand.

There is a lot of information to be had in the world right now. There is no reason for shooters to settle for anything less than accurate and complete reporting, especially from media sources who act as de-facto leaders in the shooting community. These guys could do a lot even by picking up the free version of On Target and listing some mean radius numbers, which actually allow an easy apples to apples comparison.  With just a little more work it could be possible for a consumer of information to actually have an idea how a rifle really shoots, rather than hyperbole leading to unrealistic expectations.      

Swarovski Z6i Test Results

I began the scope testing under nearly identical conditions as when I tested the SR-8 (except the grass was longer). I might have been a little more tired. As with the SR-8 testing, I came into the tests “cold” and had not done any special practice in the couple weeks preceding the test- just regular shooting that was not especially similar to the tests. I was a little sore from the Sportsman’s Challenge the previous day.

I won’t be comparing these results directly to the SR-8 in this post, but will wait until all the scopes are done to do an evaluation of each scope’s performance in each test.  Likewise, if you need a description of the testing protocols, you’ll have to click here.

Test 1: Single Shots at 7 Yards

-Scope set at ~1.3x
-Illumination on daytime setting (near or at maximum)

I was surprised to find that I was turning in times that were a bit slower than I’m used to. I had one wild miss due to a trigger control mishap (with the Rock River 2 Stage, for those keeping track [everybody I’m sure]). My hit ratio was actually better than normal.

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The hit ratio was 95% (19/20).  Total points were 115.  The average points per shot were 5.75.  Points per second were ~5.3 (rounded).  Hits (to the black 5 point circle) per second were ~0.88 (rounded).

Test 2: Transitions: the X-Box Drill

-Scope set at ~1.3x
-Illumination on daytime setting (near or at maximum)

IMG_5790

At the beginning of the test I gave myself a couple dry “going through the motions” type runs to get the pattern back, since it’s a little on the complex side. At the time I shot with the SR-8 the pattern was pretty easy for me (fresher in my mind) and I didn’t seem to have any problems, but for whatever reason on the day I tested the Swaro I was a little slow to remember it. This is not a scope related issue, but is a ‘me’ related issue. As with the preceding drill, I felt a little slow, but was surprised to see that I was turning in decent times. I also felt a little wild, but was actually having a little better accuracy. I have noticed that on days that I have noted that I felt “wild”, which I mean as less controlled than seems optimal, I usually have better accuracy and speed results. This is only anecdotal and based only on two occasions.

Xbox
Targets after all 4 runs.

On runs 1 and 2 I turned in good times, but nothing out of the ordinary. Run 3 felt normal but was significantly faster for me. On run 4 I could feel that I was moving at a comparatively smoking hot pace, and on the transition at shot 7, I realized I was heading for the wrong target. Then I had to think about where I was going, wonder if I was correct, then finish the run. I knew I would have a horrible time, somewhere in the 14 second range, but it was actually just over 11 seconds. My botched transition was about a second and a half slower than my average. I think I was going so quickly that my mind being in an overly relaxed state wasn’t keeping up.

Test 3:

-Scope set at ~4x
-Illumination on daytime setting (near or at maximum)

I shot the standing portion, transitioned to kneeling during the reload, went to fire, and found that the trigger didn’t feel right. There was no first stage (or takeup). I thought I might have had a malfunction. I didn’t try a clearance drill because I was curious if I was having my first malfunction with the Noveske upper. The bolt was in battery and I checked to see that I had a round in the chamber, which I did. I checked the trigger again and found that there was still no first stage. I pressed the trigger and the gun went bang. this time there was no first stage again, but no bang. There was a round in the chamber. After clearing the rifle I popped the rear takedown pin and found that there was an “extra” piece of metal in the fire control. Then I noticed a “missing” piece of metal on the hammer. I had finally broken the Rock River 2 Stage. It was almost 2 weeks until I had it replaced with a Geissele SSA-E trigger. Then I needed another day of familiarization with the new trigger as the 2nd stage was significantly lighter.

DD25I still don’t think that for me this test is a valid indicator of what the scope is doing for me.  My performance is too erratic.  Maybe after all of the tests are complete the numbers will show something different.

Test 4:

-Scope set at 6x
-Illumination off

My suspicion was that for group shooting the second focal plane reticle would make my sight picture easier to discern. That was indeed the case. Across the board there was a minor but consistent difference in group size, with the Z6i having a slight edge over the SR-8.

Group 1:

Swaro 10 Shot 2

Group 2:
100 Target 2

Group 3:

Swaro 10 Shot 3

30 Round Composite:

Swaro 30 Shot

The average extreme spread was approximately 0.11 MOA better with the Z6i. The average mean radius for all shot groups was 0.05 MOA better. As for the cumulative group, the extreme spread sizes were basically identical (my notes indicate that the SR-8 was actually 0.04 MOA smaller. The mean radius, which I trust more to mean something, was smaller on the Z6i by 0.08 MOA. Yes, these numbers are minor, but I think the consistency shows that there was something that worked just a bit better (maybe about 9% better?) with the Swaro for this application.

Test 5

-Scope set at 6x
-Illumination off

I hit a complication with this test right off the bat. With the SR-8 I shot this from the ground in bipod prone. A strange phenomenon that occurs in fields is that grass grows. Shocker, huh? Luckily, I have a sweet first gen 4Runner (22RE of course). This accomplishes two things quite handily. When driving out to the fields to put up targets it helps push the grass down a bit so the targets are a little easier to see. Second, when parked in the same spot as I shot from last time, it makes a convenient, self-contained shooting platform.

IMG_5937
Shooting view from the back of the 4Runner.

Test 5 Targets
This was cropped from the previous photo and shows the targets from the shooting location.

This test gave me some results that will take some judgment to interpret. On one hand they were almost astounding and on the other the Z6i couldn’t quite keep up with the SR-8. Why would that be?

I took measurements for time, points on target (performance in relation to my specific goals), accuracy (group location in reference to the target center), and precision (group related stats). Note that the measurement of points is sort of a combined evaluation of both accuracy and precision.

Why were the results so hard to interpret? First of all I’ll note that my only subjective note taken following actually shooting the test was “a little hard to see the bulls at 270 and 330.” That actually did play out in the numbers.

IMG_5941
The ‘170’ target, which was actually a couple yards short. No excuse not to have all the shots in the black, except a phenomenon we like to call dispersion.

Swaro LR 168
I think this representation of the hits offers a bit better perspective on the group, the mean point of impact, and other random stuff.

IMG_5943
The 230 target looks better than the 170. Why? Shot groups are random events. That’s about all I can think of.

Swaro LR 229

IMG_5944
The 270 target. You can see that my chances of hitting the primary target (the 5 point black) isn’t all the great (this target would offer a prediction of 2 in 9 shots) from even this modest distance with plain old XM193.

Swaro LR 268
You can compare the numbers and see this group was “less gooder” than the previous two in terms of precision.

IMG_5946
332 yards. It’s getting a lot safer to be a 4.18” ~1.2 MOA) black circle at this distance.

Swaro LR 332
Still not great in terms of size, but centered up well.

The most astounding results from this test were the accuracy numbers. Here are the distances from the exact group centers from the exact center of the point of aim in minutes of angle:

170:         0.1
230:         0.07
270:         0.11
330:         0.12

Average: 0.1 (~.03 mils)

The average for the SR-8 was 0.42 MOA, which would generally seem to me to be a sort of “normal” or “within the margin of error” type number especially taking into account the possibility of user error of repeated estimation of holdovers.

It would not have been possible to adjust the scope’s point of impact via the turrets to improve these numbers even if they had been ¼ MOA adjustments. I interpret this particular result to mean that the reticle on the Z6i is accurate and lends itself to easy use. Another possibility is that it’s because I the 30 round group from the previous test to re-zero the rifle. In this case the grouping at 100 was better with the Swarovski, hence my correction was likely more accurate.

In any event, I would not have expected that I would have the ability to holdover over the course of 36 different shots, under time constraints, with no successive shots at the same distance, with an accuracy of 0.03 mils.  Please take a look again at the reticle and explain why on a short to medium range optic does anyone need half-mil subtentions.

Swarovski BRT-I
There is one mil between each point of reference.  Plenty fine.

The next thing to look at is the precision. For three out of four of the targets, the group sizes in this test were worse than with the SR-8, the target at 230 yards being the exception. With the groups averaged, the SR-8 showed an extreme spread 0.1 MOA better than that of the Z6i. The mean radius was approximately 0.11 MOA better with the SR-8 (approximately 13%).

Looking at the points, over the entire 36 round course, the SR-8 bested the Z6i by 5 points. The average points per shot with the SR-8 were approximately 0.15 higher with the SR-8 (4.6%).

The total time for this drill was 424.5 seconds, for an average of 11.79 seconds per shot, which was almost a full second per shot slower than the SR-8. Since I was shooting from inside a super-dooper cool vehicle, I didn’t have the tarp getting in the way as was the case with the SR-8, which cost me a good 10-15 seconds during that test. In fact this test felt like it progressed quite smoothly. The only hitch was that at some point I got a bit distracted by deer running in my field of view about 900 yards away.  Therefore it would seem as though something about the Z6i was inherently slower (again, unless it was just me).  The biggest factor I can think of that would make the Z6i slower is that it has less magnification than the SR-8.

IMG_5939
I’m thinking I saw the deer at about the point I took the time to scrawl the word “deer” near shot 31. Or it could have just been a coincidence.

On one hand it appears that the results are in conflict. The Z6i did amazingly well in one important aspect, yet it would appear that it did worse than the SR-8 overall. If I apply each component of the results to what I think it can explain with any validity, I would say this:

-The reticle on the Z6i provided the ability to hold with exceptional accuracy.

-The zoom ratio on the Z6i put it at a disadvantage in relation to the SR-8 at distances beyond 230 (I would like to be more precise with the exact distance where the Z6i began to waver, but I did not have any target between 230 and 270). I conclude this, especially in light of my notes that the targets at 270 and 330 were “hard to see” and the accordance of this statement with the results.

-The disadvantage in magnification was significant enough, even at relatively modest distances, even considering the almost magical clarity of the scope and the optimum proportions of the second focal plane reticle, to overcome the fact that the group centers were basically the same as the points of aim with the Z6i. This seems to indicate that magnification power is a significant factor as distances increase. This was surprising, but really should not have been.  The old magnification guideline of 1x per 100 yards turns out to be either a major over-generalization or just plain crap.

I would be very interested to test this aspect more, to find if there is some way to predict the optimum maximum distance for precise shooting for a given magnification. I think it could be done with a little more ammo and a little more time.

Test Optic 2: Swarovski Z6i

IMG_5721

I decided that a good second scope to contrast the US Optics SR-8 that I just finished testing would be the Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24. Whereas the US Optics scope is a large, heavy, overbuilt design made to withstand the rigors of extremely hard use, has a front focal plane milliradian based reticle, and is seems to be designed with military, law enforcement, or “other” tactical categories, the Swaro is a light, slim, second focal plane scope, with what is also a mil based reticle, and is very popular as a sporting optic, particularly with competitors. What the scopes have in common is that they both cost approximately $2500.

IMG_5723
I thought this photo was funny. Perhaps this rifle would be ideal to take along when engaging in a certain winter sport…

The first thing I notice with the Swaro pretty much every time is the image. Here’s my totally subjective description that will basically do nothing for you until you look through one: very clear, very bright, and the field of view is amazing. It is apparently 127.5′ at 100 yards at the scope’s minimum power. Adding to the sensation of the wide field of view, the profile of the scope body that surrounds the image is minimal (the turret caps are not the size of prescription bottles as seems to be the trend).

IMG_5925
Just a randomly placed photo (don’t go nuts trying to figure out how it fits with the text- it doesn’t).  The first person to guess the object just below and to the right of the magwell, and by process of deduction the object the rifle sits on will win… the satisfaction of having guess correctly first!!!

The other obvious difference with the US Optics scope is that the Z6i is very slim comparatively and light. The advertised weight of the Z6i is 16.2 ounces, which is approximately 9.6 ounces lighter than the advertized weight of the SR-8. I would expect that the extra weight of the US Optics scope would make it more robust, but I’m not going to torture test them both to find out. I can say that I believe that neither scope has been babied by their owner. The Swaro scope tube is relatively unobstructed and the turret saddle is minimal in comparison to the SR-8. This offers quite a bit more flexibility in mounting than the SR-8.

Speaking of mounting the optic, I was able to use the Nightforce Unimount that I bought in January. I couldn’t use it on the SR-8 because of the peculiarities of that scope, but should be able to use it on the rest of the scopes I have to test on the AR. What that will mean is that my testing protocols won’t exactly be consistent across the board for the scopes I have to test. The SR-8 had a Larue extended cantilever mount with a standard AR sight height (approximately 2.6” over the center of the bore). The Nightforce mount I have is one of the lower cantilever mounts available, and puts the center of the optic approximately 2.3” over the center of the bore. This small amount is an absolutely huge improvement for me. I would like to be a little lower, but I think that if I find a slightly wider stock I might end up about as good as I can hope to be. The increased ease of use with the lower mount for me is likely to skew the results to the detriment of the SR-8.

The turret adjustments are in 0.15 milliradian (0.54 MOA) increments. That’s a real head scratcher for me. As with the SR-8, since the turrets are basically meant to be set and not messed with, I would have preferred finer adjustments so I could really get a perfect zero without having to be lucky (which I may have been in this case).

On the subject of true 1 power

As with the SR-8, it turns out that at most distances zero magnification actually makes for an image smaller as that as seen with the naked eye. It is less so with the Z6i than with the SR-8, I think because of the Swaro’s 6x magnification range as compared to the 8x range of the SR-8. At very close distances, to about 3 yards, 1x seems to actually look like 1x. At about 10 yards the scope needs to be set at about 1.3x to have an unmagnified appearance.

IMG_5933
The barn is probably about 20 yards away. The scope is set at 1x. Notice that outside the scope the barn is larger.  Also notice how little of the field of view is obscured by the profile of the scope.

IMG_5934
Same exact everything, except the scope is cranked up to about 1.3x, which is were I would typically leave it, and I’m a little off center. This whole ‘taking the picture through the scope” thing has a pretty long learning curve for me. A tripod for the camera (and the rifle) would be really, really handy.

The huge field of view combined with the scope being mounted lower mean that the top of my handguard rail is visible approximately 9.2” forward of the upper receiver at 1x. At 1.3x, where I am more likely to keep it set, I can see the top rail approximately 10.5” of the upper receiver. With the SR-8, I placed my thumb at 12 O’clock on the rail. If I do that with the Z6i, my thumb is visible in the lower third of the optic, and is a significant distraction in my field of view (that’s the OCD side of me coming out). This led me to change my thumb position to roughly how I would orient it if I were shooting pistol. This change stuck in less than a day, so no big deal at all.

One thing I was worried about with the lower mount was sufficient clearance for charging handle manipulation. With the Z6i there is no problem whatsoever in this regard. In this case the ocular bell has a “slick” profile and the rear edge is about flush with the rear edge of the charging handle lever. If there were a scope cap I could have an issue.

Reticle

My first thought at seeing the BRT-I reticle in the Swaro was probably something along the lines of, “Whoa. Like, that could be pretty cool.” (I do my best thinking in Keanu Reaves’ voice). There is a simple arrangements of lines and dots below the crosshair intersection, which appear to offer windage as well as elevation holds. My second thought was probably something along the lines of, “I’m… going to need to… know: what are the subtensions???!!!” (I do my second best thinking in James T. Kirk’s voice [William Shatner’s Kirk of course]) This was not a search engine friendly piece of information, and I thought Swarovski’s online ballistics calculator was stupid (okay, great, now I know where the holds for 254.86, 287.54, and 5047.25896 yards are!). Some research gave me conflicting information so I had to test it myself. I figured out my target’s scoring ring, designed to be 4 MOA at 100 yards (1.047*4 = 4.188) would be equivalent to one milliradian at 116 yards (4.188”*1000 = 4188”, 4188/3 = 1396′, 1396/12 = 116.3 yards). All of the holdover points matched one mil at 116 yards except for the last one that may or may not be intended to be part of the reticle.

After spending a lot of time with a first focal plane reticle with the SR-8, the second focal plane reticle in the Z6i seems to make a lot of sense after just a short exposure to it. My suspicion is that if I were in a situation to use the reticle to hold for elevation, I would have it cranked up to 6x anyway. I probably don’t have enough time to spend with this optic to figure out if that is true or not. I can say that the appearance of the reticle at any magnification setting is pleasing to the eye and is especially nice at 6x.

The only downside I can think of is that some times I want to have an idea what my holdover would be on a target of unknown size at closer ranges to compensate for mechanical offset, (say I wanted to shoot a Eurasian Collared Dove in the head), and I have no good point of reference unless I crank the thing all the way up. This bugs me about the second focal plane scope, but I can’t say that it’s a valid beef because it’s so impractical (unless I wanted to serve up doves for dinner).

Swarovski BRT-I
You may or may not be able to deduce why this photo sits between the ‘Reticle’ and ‘Illumination’ subheadings.

Illumination

The illumination on this scope consists of a red dot at the center of the crosshairs, which is the same as the SR-8. While the net effect of the view to the user is very, very similar between these scopes, they are probably more different than alike in terms of how that dot is produced. The US Optics SR-8 illumination, through some black magic, is not visible from the “business end”, whereas the illumination on the Swaro is. This is, in my opinion, indicative of the difference in design philosophies between the two scopes, i.e. “tactical” vs sporting. This is probably not important to a majority of end users, but I could see how it could be very important to those with live targets, especially those that shoot back.

The other big difference in the illumination is how it’s activated. The Swaro has a pretty brilliantly designed three position toggle switch. The center position is off, the left is the “night time” setting and the right is the “day time” setting. Both of the “on” settings are adjustable via a set of buttons acting to increase or decrease the brightness. The scope “remembers” what it is set at the next time it’s activated. I had thought that the only potential disadvantage to this setup in comparison to the US Optics is that it’s possible to forget to turn it off and run the battery down. It inevitably came to pass that I forgot to turn it off one day. The following day I noticed it was switched on and said something like, “%$^%#$%&^%$#%^&**(*&*()(*&^%$$#!!!!!!!” It appeared to be dead. I switched it off and back on, and like magic, it was fine. Apparently it is also child proof.

This is the best illumination control I have seen yet. Refinement, simplicity, ease of use, and being child-proof are some of the things that the big bucks will buy you.

IMG_5725
This is where I lose points for not having a surgically cleaned optic to show off.  I don’t know what to say about that.  At least you know it hasn’t been sitting in a safe.  

I will go ahead and say now that subjectively, from a pure shooting perspective, this scope was the most pleasant for me. That makes no considerations for advantages other scopes in the test may have over it in other aspects, but this was a system that stayed out of the way and let me work.

When the Trigger Not Only Breaks, But is Completely Broken

A rocket in my (shoulder) pocket

Getting back on track, the old trigger, which was a Rock River 2 stage that I bought back in about ’08 or so just broke. Here’s a photo:

Broken RR

I was just going about my business shooting a drill for a scope test when it felt like I had some strange malfunction. There was no first stage to the trigger and it was sufficiently heavy that it felt ‘dead’, so I figured I must have had a double feed or something. I was interested in seeing what malfunction I might have encountered, because so far the gun has run nearly perfectly (I’ve had one failure to lock back which I think was caused by a particular mag and two instances in which I didn’t work the charging handle properly). That is a long-winded way of saying that instead of clearing the malfunction I stopped to investigate, this being an experimental test gun (space plane) and all. I found that the rifle would in fact fire, but that the hammer would not stay cocked for the next round. Opening the rifle up showed my that there seemed to be an ‘extra’ piece of metal in with the fire control.

I had expected this. In those times (pre-Geissele?), the Rock River trigger was the thing, and a specially tuned one was supposed to be even better. Mine was not specially tuned, but stock. In my research I found that it was not unheard of for them to break, and in time everyone was getting Geisseles if they wanted a nice AR trigger that wouldn’t break.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch Choices

I thought it would be easy to pick a new trigger, but Geissele makes about a thousand varieties. I had tried the SSA (Super Semi Auto) before and frankly, it didn’t feel like it broke as cleanly as the Rock River. The Geissele triggers I have tried all felt like they had a bit of a rolling break in dry fire, but it can be difficult to tell if that roll is before or after the hammer is released. Interestingly, the trigger pull on the SSA I tried was the same total weight as the Rock River, at about 4.5 pounds, but it felt lighter. I found that it’s because they put more of the total weight on the first stage, whereas the Rock River had a light first stage and a very distinct and crisp second stage.

This would be a good time to point out that it seems I’ve become some sort of trigger aficionado. I can now detect the undertones of fruit and chocolate with a peppery finish. The trigger finger is perhaps overly sensitive, which is to say it is spoiled.

trigger aficionado

There were a few factors that influenced my choice in a new trigger. The first is the FN’s re-worked trigger. It’s about 2.25 pounds. The Remington I shoot is just over 3 pounds. What I have found is that the lighter trigger really does help me shoot better, and all the other people who have said that before I found came to that conclusion were maybe not all just whiners and gear snobs (notice I didn’t say that definitively- I still have to leave room for that possibility).

When I got my FN back it just seemed like when I saw what I wanted to see in my scope, the rifle would ‘go’. There are times with the Remington where it seems like I see what I want to see, begin pressing, and I lose it before the trigger breaks. Or, have you ever felt like you’ve been holding at the bottom of your breath for just a little too long? I don’t like that. Coincidentally I have felt like that many times with the Rock River trigger.

I had my choice narrowed down to either the SSA-E, which is a lighter version of the standard semi auto Geissele, the flat version of that trigger (the name escapes me at the moment), or the 3 gun trigger, which I still find very interesting. People rave about the flat triggers, but I am fine with bowed triggers, and I really didn’t want to alter the distance from grip to trigger, which at the moment I find to be OPTIMUM with the BCM Gunfighter grip. Therefore I got the SSA-E from Joe Bob’s Outfitters (Joe Bob dun saved me $20). I have to say that they were the only ones that had them in stock, the price was great, and the shipping was fast. It got me back on track with my scope testing ASAP.

All the creep is on the left hand side…

What I noticed right away with the trigger was “HOLY CRAP THAT’S LIGHT!!!”. It was actually a little disconcerting. The weight is as advertised at about 3.5 pounds, but most of that is in the first stage. Even after several weeks with it I still have a tendency when I’m shooting quickly to blow right through the second stage. That has some implications. One is that I need to be on target and not just prepping the trigger on the way to the target. Two, I like it (which is not an implication, but rather an oversimplified expression of an opinion).

Once I learned how to stop at the second stage (by being very careful and deliberate) I found that there was some creep prior to the break. It was almost indiscernible, and, I’m not joking or making this up, but it seemed to be on the left hand side. Don’t ask me why I think that. It’s just the trigger connoisseur in me. Also, after about 260 live fire rounds and a few hundred dry fire reps the creep is gone.

Mash that thang!!!

Being able to blow right through the second stage of the trigger is an interesting experience. I have been aware for some time of Rob Leatham’s technique of intentionally “trigger slapping”. I read more about that recently in a magazine interview. What I find interesting about that is that he is pretty much at the top of the heap in what he does, it works for him, and it’s exactly opposite of the conventional wisdom (as was his stance and grip 30 years ago [remember the Weaver stance?]).

I would describe this technique and the feeling of it as “aggressive trigger work”. It goes something like this: “I know I’m not going to flinch. I know I’m not going to disturb the sight picture with my trigger press. The target is relatively close and/or big. The point of aim is currently well within the ‘hit zone’. The shot goes NOW!!!” Having the confidence to allow that decision to happen and be aware of it in relatively instantaneous real time was, as Kevin Costner might put it, neat.

This trigger did throw a slight wrench in the works in terms of the validity of my scope testing. I’ll explain later. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Shooting Is Not the Focus

 

How can I say that when shooting is the most interesting thing for me to think about? Shooting, especially rifle shooting, pretty much is the focus of my extra time, money, and energy. So what the heck am I talking about?

Since the contextual background of my interest in shooting is applied shooting, or shooting as it’s useful in the field, the parameters are different from an approach that places shooting as an end in itself. If shooting is simply a means to an end, and probably not the only tool in the toolbox, how does that change the way it should be approached?

Unobtrusive

The entirety of the ‘thing’ should be as low profile as is practicable while retaining the capability to get the job done. This includes the primary equipment, ancillary equipment, and the mental processes used to get the bullet on target. These are all related. If the equipment is excessively complex, it will essentially require more “computing power” from your mental processing. If you have too much gear or if it’s heavier than necessary, it’s going to increase your consumption of energy over the long haul. If getting a bullet on target involves solving equations and performing pagan rituals, it might be too complicated. If gear or technique is taking you out of the fight or out of the hunt, it’s minimizing your overall effectiveness.

As an example of this point, I have some nice gear and a nice pack to put it in. Even then, I have to take some extra precautions because a.) I am a master at losing things that are expensive and/or difficult to replace, b.) if I have space, I will fill it up (I over pack), c.) I tend to move in a way that is hard on me and the things I carry, and d.) things get snagged up on stuff. Those things mean that unless I have a plan for each of those issues in relation to my gear I will be distracted and may not end up with all the things that I started with. Being distracted slows things down and takes attention from the task. Not having gear, or finding that it’s damaged compromises performance to a level below expectations.

For me, carrying too much creates a lot of work with little to no benefit. For the things I do carry I have to have a system and stick to it. The point is that the work drives the gear. The gear shouldn’t be adding to the work.

Uncomplicated

Complexity can be cool, fun, and interesting. Many of us are wired to take pleasure in working out complex problems. We probably have too much free time or are too insulated from the real world, but we have the luxury to do what we want, usually without serious consequences.

In approaching a practical situation out in the world we often find that our lack of control removes the luxuries that make a complicated solution viable. Specifically this relates to how many pieces of gear can one access, or how many variables can one account for under poor conditions, physical exertion, and mental stress. Under these circumstances the nature of our reality can drastically change.

Doing some work at very close range with the AR has been a good experience for me. In particular, the issue of dealing with mechanical offset has been a great illustration of how it’s so easy to over-complicate something when thinking it through conceptually or intellectually. Being a person who values precision, I like the idea a point of aim that is deliberate and as correct as possible for a given range. At least I was smart enough to know not to dial my elevation at 7 yards (that’s saying a lot for me).

When I thought through the problem of point of aim and mechanical offset conceptually, I thought that a reticle-based holdover would provide the best combination of speed and precision. Using the reticle in this manner comparatively fast from the perspective of a bolt action rifle shooter. To be clear about what I mean, I was considering using a different aiming point than the crosshair intersection. For instance, if I was at a distance close enough to require a correction of 13 mils, for example, I was going to place that part of the reticle, or somewhere relatively near that part of the reticle if time was a factor, on the part of the target I wanted to hit.

The other alternative in using a holdover would be to hold the crosshair (or whatever the optic has as an aiming point) a certain distance above the target (Tennessee elevation). I didn’t like this option because of the likelihood of varying size targets and a comparatively imprecise “zone of impact” based on a point of aim that seems to be characterized as “aim ’bout there”.

What I discovered once I actually had a loaded rifle in my hand, a target in front of me, and a timer keeping track was that using the reticle to adjust the hold was extremely slow. The target as close range is also comparatively huge. 4.2” is approximately 60 MOA or 16.6 mils at 7 yards. Those things taken together indicate what I found out in about 10 seconds on the range, to wit, it just makes a lot more sense to figure out where to put the crosshairs in relation to the target instead of using the reticle to hold. For instance, at 7 yards, depending on the height of the scope mount, a might need to hold anywhere from the top edge of my 4.2” target, to just a little above that. Out to 25 yards I need to hold about halfway between the center and top of the target. With enough trigger time at various close ranges, it’s not to hard to develop the ability to guess a point of aim that will get the bullets into the target. I believe that this is a skill that will transfer to targets of different sizes, because it’s not too hard to estimate the mechanical offset at those ranges.

This didn’t only affect my technique at close range. It also indicates to me that a complex reticle for close range work is not only unnecessary, but probably going to create visual noise in the workspace. After getting used to (spoiled with?) the simple single dot illumination in the SR-8c and the Swarovski Z6i, reticles with an abundance of visual “features” seem like too much stuff in the way. For example, the EOTech that I’ve been using for many years now feels like I have a neon sign between me and the target.

Without a purpose to drive our gear and technique it’s easy to fall into the trap of letting what seems cool or novel affect those things in negative ways. Sometimes what sounds good in theory just doesn’t work out that way. The test should be in the field.

 

U.S. Optics SR-8c: Test 5 Results

Long Range Transitions

This test isn’t what most people would consider to be “long range shooting”, but in the context of the target I’m using with the 4.2” primary scoring ring, at 330 yards, which is the longest distance in this test, the target is about 1.2 MOA.  That’s not overly large (or large at all).  That’s actually small enough to be somewhat difficult with a rifle that in the last test looked to be just under a 2 MOA gun on average.

This tests consists of 36 rounds fired as single shots on 4 different targets.  That would give me a 9 round group on each target to evaluate if no mistakes were made.  To avoid getting into the comfort of a patterned sequence for transitioning from target to target, I came up with a shooting order that balanced the permutations of possible transitions as best as I could.  To avoid any learning that would invalidate the results of future tests I will mix up the order of presented targets left to right while retaining the firing order left to right as each new optic is tested.

The target distances are 170, 230, 270, and 330.  That makes for an average distance of 250 yards.  330 is a little far for this system’s capabilities on a 4.2” target, but I wanted to get out a little bit so a larger elevation correction was necessary.

The purpose of this drill is to test the usability of the reticle for holdovers and to test the ability of the scope to get me on target.  Those sound like the same thing, but with the latter I’m talking about my ability to actually see what I’m shooting at and how that might translate into better speed, precision or accuracy.

Before shooting this test I already have the holdovers written down, the rifle loaded, as spare mag ready within easy reach, the scope set at maximum magnification (no lens covers on), and myself in shooting position.  This is not a gun handling test, a math test, or a test of interacting with other equipment.  The idea is simply to be given a specific target, apply the necessary hold to hit it, press the trigger, rinse and repeat.

The target sequence is typed in two columns on a single sheet of paper.  The holdovers are also written down nearby.  For each shot I need to check the sheet, verify the hold, fire, pick up the pen and check off the shot in the sequence.

I kept track of my time as best as I could.  In this case I used a stopwatch.  It’s not as good as a timer but at least I can still get an average split time.  The battery on the iPhone happened to die right before the test this time, so no “timer” (app).

Some other things went wrong.  I was using a tarp as a mat in the barn lot.  The tarp bunched up a few times and got in the way.  It probably cost me a good 10-15 seconds.  I also experienced some confusion on the order of targets, and put an extra bullet into the 330 yard target and one less bullet into the 270 yard target.  Oh well.  I still have relevant stats in reference to points per shot, mean radius, and time per shot.

There were no real difficulties with the scope.  It was pretty straightforward as far as the shooting went.

170:

170 Yards-44 points
230:

230 Yards close up-32 points

270:

270b-11 points

330:

330b- 21 points

The entire sequence took 390 seconds.  The average time per shot was 10.83 seconds.  Remember that picking up a pen and writing was involved, not to mention verifying a hold and whatnot.

Accuracy/Hits:

Range       Score        Points/Shot        Hit Ratio

170             44             4.89                     89%  (8/9)
230             32             3.56                     44%  (4/9)
270             11             1.38                     13%   (1/8)
330             20             2.1                       30%  (3/10)

Group size/precision:

Range              Extreme Spread (MOA)             Mean Radius (MOA)

170                                   2.6                                             0.742
230                                   2.8                                             0.807
270                                   2.9                                             0.978
330                                   2.0                                             0.805

Accuracy/Group center vs. point of aim:

Range              Vert. Deviation           Hor. Deviation                Tot.Dev.
170                           0.014                        0.017                           0.022
230                            0.25                          0.04                             0.25
270                            0.21                          0.63                             0.66
330                            0.25                          0.30                             0.42

That’s about it.  I promise it will be more exciting when there’s something to compare it to.  That will be fairly soon.

 

U.S. Optics SR-8c: Test 4 Results

This is an interesting test. This was another drill suggested by SLG (as was the previous one). The goal is to obtain 3 precise groups individual while keeping track of time. When you keep track of something, it generally takes on significance whether you mean for it to or not. I really didn’t intend to do anything with the elapsed times for this drill other than to look at and compare them, but after doing a few of these I think they say something.

What the drill comes down to is how easy is it to get a decent position behind the scope relative to its eyebox, and how easy is it to acquire and maintain a decent sight picture long enough to break the shot? Unlike the previous drill, which seems to be more of a test of me than of the scope, this test vividly illustrates the things I’m trying to get at with the test, many of which are common to the previous test, but under different circumstances.

Starting in a standing position with the scope on the desired setting (8x in this case), bipod deployed, round chambered, safety on, at the buzzer signal I dropped into bipod prone and fired 10 shots. Following the string of fire I recorded my times, reset the targets, and repeated the sequence for a total of three runs.

I fired one shot into ten bulls on some On Target TDS targets:

IMG_5600
IMG_5601
IMG_5602

Then I compiled each shot into a single 10 shot group using On Target TDS:

TgtGfx

I repeated the process two more times (I’ll skip the photos of the actual targets and just get to the compiled groups:

TgtGfx2
TgtGfx3

Then I could put all the groups together into one 30 round group:

TgtGfx2108

Here are the results in an easier to read format
Group      Extreme Spread (MOA),    Mean Radius (MOA)
1.                          2.6                                   0.915
2.                          2.5                                   0.715
3.                          2.8                                   0.92

Avg.                      2.63                                 0.851
Total                     3.1                                   0.914

One thing you should be paying attention to that probably doesn’t mean anything at all to you right now is the mean radius.  Notice in the total where the extreme spread is larger because of the outliers.  The extreme spread is more constant.  You actually don’t expect it to change much over the course of a large sample size.  The larger sample only increases the confidence in the number.  This number is the thing that will keep you from going nuts when you get a flier, which is guaranteed once in a while.  Dispersion happens.  Just accept it like I did.  Using mean radius will help.  Thanks to ballisipedia.com for the explanations, which start out as something I can comprehend and quickly go into the heavy math jungle where I’m not equipped to follow.

It’s a shame I couldn’t come up with anything better than XM193 to use for this test, as the results are less than impressive, even though I am using the fabled lot, #v 55 Z531, which I obtained from a Red Cell Navy Seal Operator at a gun show once (this stuff should shoot sub minute all day long [that’s my tribute to a post about dispersion that I read on AR15.com]).  Rest assured that I’ll be using the same lot, #v 55 Z531 for all the scopes.  Note that the rifle will actually shoot this ammo better when I’m not going for speed.

The convenient thing about this test is that the relatively large sample size of the group gives me high confidence to know where the rifle’s mean point of impact is to adjust for the next test. We’ll get to said test in the next exciting installment. Same bat time, same bat channel.

U.S. Optics SR-8c: Test 3 Results

I placed 3 of my standard targets at 25 yards.  Starting position is low ready, chamber loaded, 4 in the mag (5 total in rifle).  Upon start signal, five rounds are fired from unsupported standing into first target.  The rifle is then reloaded with a 10 round mag, and 5 rounds are fired into the second target from any unsupported kneeling position.  The shooter transitions to unsupported prone and fires 5.  There is a “soft” 15 second par time, which means that any shot fired after the 15 seconds is counted at half score.  In the event that one target contains shots fired from both before and after the par time, the best scoring x number of shots (x = number of shots on that target after par time) will be counted as half.  Minimum passing score is 15 hits in 15 seconds (score = 1) or 75 points in a quarter minute, 75/0.25 = 300.  I inadvertently jacked the par time up for this drill based on a miscommunication.  It should be 20 seconds, but I left it as is because I have too many other things to do than to go over my spreadsheets again and recalculate.

This was a drill suggested by SLG (friend, reader, frequent commenter).  I did modify the drill from it’s original version, but not in any substantive way.  It’s modified in size and distance, both of which were done in a way to basically maintain the scale of the original with a different size target.  The basic idea of the drill for my purposes here is to test the friendliness of the scope with a small, but relatively complete array of shooting positions.  Sitting, which is typically the most extreme of the orthodox position in terms of eyebox, is notably absent but the brevity and lower round count of this test makes it good for the purposes here.  I had originally considered shooting each scope with an AQT as well, but this test does a lot of the same things in far fewer rounds, albeit with much more stringent time requirements and much less stringent accuracy requirements.  Think of this as a close range AQT (and ignore the fact that they’re shot at almost the same distances- this doesn’t use a reduced target).

I completed 2 runs of this drill.  My average raw points were 76.5 total of the 120 total possible (75 required to pass) .  My average time was 29.08 seconds.  My average corrected points after penalties were 54.5.  My average hit rate was 80% (12/15).  My average hits per second were 0.41.  My average points per minute were 112.95 of the 300 minimum passing (37.65%).

Standing:

SR-8 DD25 Standing

Kneeling:

SR-8 DD25 Kneeling
Prone:

SR-8 DD25 Prone

I can’t help but feel that this test is not testing very much of the optic, but testing more of my shooting, which at this time is showing my non-stellar-ness as a carbine shooter.  No problem.  I’ll stick the numbers in a spreadsheet and see how the different optics compare.

U.S. Optics SR-8c: Test 2 Results

Box Drill

As I described before, this test uses directional transitions to test the friendliness of the optic to target acquisition.  Two target stands are placed approximately 7 yards apart.  Each target stand is 8′ tall and has a target at the bottom and a target near the top.  The shooter stands equidistant from each stand so that they are both approximately 10 yards from the shooter.

IMG_5790
 The shooter’s view.

The directional order of engagement is :

1. Start at the top left target.
2.  Right
3.  Diagonal, down/left
4.  Up
5.  Diagonal, down/right
6.  Left
7.  Diagonal, up/right
8.  Down
9.  Diagonal, up/left

If everything goes correctly, the result is three shots on the upper left target and two on each of the others.  The first shot acts as a “zero” point since a transition is really what happens between shot and I was measuring 8 directional transitions, which means I needed 9 shots.  I fired this course of fire 4 times with each optic.  This was the first time I had ever shot this drill, although approximately 2 months earlier I had practiced it in dry fire sufficiently to get the rather complex pattern down.

I used the same targets for all four runs, pausing between to take a photo so I could deduce what hits came from which run.  What I could not tell was which hits come from which individual shots within a run, which would have been interesting as well.  Here are the targets after the entire four runs were shot.

SR-8 X Drill

Here are the average shot times from all four runs:

1.  1.26
2.  1.37
3.  1.25
4.  1.23
5.  1.36
6.  1.45
7.  1.29
8.  1.09
9.  1.36

Total Average time: 11.65
Total Average Points: 43.75
Average points per shot: 4.86
Average Hit Rate: 89% (40/45)
Average hits per second: 0.69
Average Points per Second: 3.75

I think a clean run in 9 seconds (or equivalent score, 1 hit/second or 5 points per second) would be about the minimum acceptable standard.  As with the previous test, my own performance goals really have nothing to do with the optic, and this is a baseline.  Plus, it doesn’t bother me either way.

Thanks for reading.