Scopes Galore

When I decided to go deep into the AR dark side, I had certain vague ideas of what I wanted to be able to do with the rifle.  I have spent a lot of time shooting ARs with aperture sights and EOTechs, but ARs with magnified optics on the “mouse gun” (ease up, it’s a term of endearment) were something completely out of my experience.

I was hoping to get some help gaining firsthand knowledge of some scopes that would be optimal for an AR.  I was not disappointed.  I have 5 optics that I will get to try on my AR to see what exactly they can do to make my rifle as useful as it can be.

I want to make it very clear that I don’t intend for this to turn into some kind of gear review blog.  Initially I wanted to limit that kind of thing to one item per month.  In this case I wanted to address a specific issue and I was so fortunate to have help come in the way of people crazy enough to send me what turns out to be over $9000 in scopes (including an SWFA 3-15×42 that is not part of this test).  Understand that I have no agreement even to write about them, let alone to color my opinions in any way.  I was simply given the opportunity to try some really cool stuff out and see how it works.

Here’s what I have on hand.

1.  U.S. Optics SR-8, illuminated, 1-8×27.

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This is one of the higher end “true 1x” scopes on the market.  It has a milliradian-based reticle in the first focal plane and an illuminated dot in the second focal plane, which means that although the etched reticle changes size with the magnification (which is to say that it really is always the same size in terms of subtension), the dot is always the same “just right” size.  It’s a big, tough, heavy scope.

2.  Swarovski Z6i, 1-6×24.

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This is in pretty stark contrast to the SR-8.  This is a sporting optic.  It’s relatively light, sleek, and is amazing to look through.  The field of view is huge, which contrasts with the surrounding eyepiece that is incredibly unobtrusive to the vision.  The reticle is also mil-based, but is sort of an abbreviated arrangement, and is in the second focal plane.

3.  U.S. Optics SR-4c, illuminated 1-4×22.

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This is basically a little brother to the SR-8.  It’s a little smaller, a little lighter, a bit easier to get behind, but obviously offers a bit less in terms of magnification.

4.  SWFA SS 1-6×24 HD.

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This is a scope I’ve wanted to get my hands on since quite a while before it was released.  The reticle design seems to be (in principle) brilliant.  It’s an illuminated first focal plane design.  It stands apart from the rest by being considerably less expensive (almost in my price range!!!).

5.  Aimpoint T-1 Micro. No magnification, so reticle, just a dot that never goes away.  I think it must run on a nuclear fuel cell or something.  All I know is that it never goes off.  I think if one were to try to turn it off it would detonate or something.  This sight is kind of a control to see how fast the others can be in comparison.

I contacted Bushnell to see if I could get my hands on either the 1-6.5 or 1-8.5.  No luck.  It went kind of like this:

Me: ‘Do you know who I am?  Think carefully on this.  This is a career decision you’re making here.” (I find that pushing my weight around usually works great).

Them: (crickets chirping)

I really didn’t try to push my weight around, but they really didn’t respond.  Of course, they really have nothing to gain from letting me try it out, but neither do US Optics or Ilya.  I didn’t even bother contacting Leupold, although I would be interested in trying the Mark 6 and/or Mark 8.

I’m not an optics expert.  I think that frees me up to look at the optic purely as it applies to the task it was designed for.  I understand that things like brightness and clarity are good things, but I am interested to see how necessary attributes such as those are to the end performance.  Sometimes what looks or even feels better subjectively doesn’t coincide with how well it works.  It’s too easy to get wrapped up in how nice the $3000 optic I just bought is, and that can sometimes be enough to turn off the filters of critical evaluation right there.  Luckily I don’t have that bias here, and I do have some different things to compare and contrast.

Since my current shooting goal involves hitting a 4” target I’m working that into this AR experience so that I don’t get totally sidetracked by cool new gear.  Close ranges speed up the tempo, and 4” is not a very big target when speed is very important.  4” is also small enough so that there is not really a point blank zero that will work for it.  Up to 10 yards, and just a bit farther, the bullet would pass under the target due to the mechanical offset on a standard AR.  That means that at those close ranges the shooter has to compensate somehow.

On the other side of the coin I want to see how easily the scope allows the shooter to compensate for trajectory beyond the point blank zero (if I could really have one).  Holdovers seem to make more sense with dialing with an AR, but it all depends on application, and sometimes what seems like a good idea turns out to be impractical.

In addition to giving you my subjective opinion, I’ll be running each scope through a series of courses of fire to test different performance aspects.  I’ll elaborate on those in the near future.

Thanks for reading.

11 thoughts on “Scopes Galore

  1. Looking forward to your thoughts. I’ve seen most of these reviewed by the optics gurus in other places, but rarely by people more focused on shooting. Reminds me of a story I once heard. If you asked a bunch of LEO/Mil snipers what the best optic they could get was, they would give you all kinds of answers in the S&B/Nightforce/USO range. But if you asked them what they would use if they had to use their own money, you would get a very different set of answers.

    I’ve been eyeballing that SWFA 1-6x for a long time.

    • Eventually I’ll have to decide on what to buy. That will be hard after getting used to ones that are so nice.

  2. 1st time here. I HAVE missed your blog, checked almost every day. Glad to see you back and looking forward to your thoughts on the scopes. Recently bought the SWFA 3-15 FFP – really like it. Used it in a basic Precision Rifle class recently and it worked well. Also looking forward to your thoughts on RRA 2-Stage Match trigger.

    • I’m sorry you had to check it every day. That makes me sad.

      I liked the RRA trigger until it broke (sorry for the spoiler). Time for a Geissele (after I get permission it will be time I mean).

      The SWFA scopes are good. For the price they are great. I wish they still offered a plain jane mil-dot reticle though.

      • Don’t be sad. It’s not like I wasn’t getting my money’s worth for my “subscription”. I felt you must have been over-whelmed by something and would be back if/when things got back to near normal.

    • Hi Wayne,

      Good to hear from you again. You’re not the first person I’ve heard that from. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on one.

  3. Are you gonna pass them around or keep them at your end of the table? Pass the Swaro Z6i please,Pleassssse sorry didn’t mean to whine

    • What was that? Sorry, the line is bad or something. I can’t hear you. You’re… cutting… out…

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