Archive | January 2015

SWFA 10X42 SS HD

This is the top shelf 10x fixed power from SWFA. The scope is quite clear and bright and shows great resolution. It’s not quite US Optics or Schmidt & Bender but it’s appropriate clarity for the price.

Price Point: $800

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Pic taken at mid-morning on a bright sunny day with quite a bit of atmospheric haze. Parallax is set for 200m. The hillside is 200m, the Rams are 500m away. The scope has a very narrow eye-box which made it difficult to get a picture.

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Vortex Razor HD 65mm Angled Spotting Scope

These things have really awesome glass. Bright as hell and clear as a crystal but the best thing about them is the field of view.
This is a 18x Long Eye Relief eyepiece i

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Pic taken at mid-day in bright sunny but slightly hazy conditions. Targets at the back are 385m, pig shaped targets are at 300m. The guy on the quad is at ~350m.

Price point: $1600 with eyepiece and cover.

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How Far Can We Go

Given a shoulder fired rifle of light enough design that you could actually pick it up and run around with it, how far can you take it?
Calibre is irrelevant but let’s limit things to .510″ calibre or smaller.

NOTE: This isn’t about your best shot, it’s about your worst shot, your average shot and your first shot of the day. How far can you take your skills and your rig and and your ammo when it counts?

Off Your Belly! On Your Feet!

Without a doubt the most difficult end of the shooting sports is doing anything at longer ranges than conversational distances. As the range increases things get massively more challenging to become what might be called “good” at it. As long range shooters most of the readers of this content will be familiar with the challenge that long range brings. Once you pass about 400m wind and drop aren’t something you can get away with not adjusting for just right anymore. Little things that didn’t make much difference start to and with every 100m you add there’s a new and dramatically more powerful effect stored up in each of the things we have to adjust for.

This makes it hard to get competitive and really hone the skills. There’s no intermediate range discipline to speak of that does the trick if you’re going to remain laying down on your tummy. There is however an easy to get into and inexpensive to equip for competitive circuit that benefits LR and ELR shooters like nothing else. It’s not ruled by guys with deep pockets and it’s so challenging that things tend to even out. Even beginners end up doing pretty well.

I undertook my first State Championship in High Power Metallic Silhouette shooting recently. This is a pretty straightforward sport. You shoot 5 shots in 2.5 minutes at targets at each of 200, 300, 385, 500m twice each. You end up with 10 shots at chicken shaped steel plates at 200m, 10 shots at pig shaped plates at 300m, turkeys at 385m and rams at 500m. All the targets are set up to subtend about 2MOA which would be considered very generous for bench/belly shooting. You stand up unsupported by anything, no sling, just a shooter and their rifle trying to put 1 round on 1 target at a time. The challenge of standing and doing off-hand shots at such long range and relatively small targets is substantial but it’s something anyone who’s able to take an ethical shot at game is probably able to do. They usually just don’t know it yet.

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There are 2 classes of interest in High Power, standard gun and hunter gun. Hunter guns end up at 8.5lbs or less with scope so there are very few heavy barrels and not much in the way of fancy big dollar scopes. The serious shooters use high mag fixed power target scopes but many people, including me get away with fixed 10’s or 16’s or even 3-9x’s. You can compete and place with an off the rack sporting rifle in hunter gun. Standard gun limits weight to 10.2lbs and that’s where the heavy barrels come out but it’s still not a money game. The rifles are usually just heavier and that’s about it. You can compete in standard gun with a hunter gun but not the other way around.

I recently took an off the shelf Savage 10FPSR (in the factory tupperware stock) with my US Optics ST-10 on top and managed to do pretty well. Nothing stunning but I wasn’t last. I tied for last, with an experienced shooter that was having a bad day. Still, I did as well as anyone else in my class and had a great time.

The best part, beyond the challenging shooting, with Metallic Silhouette and particularly with High Power classes is the people. They’re not the usual terse, suspicious and secretive sorts you find at a lot of competitive shooting sports. They’re friendly and engaging as a lot and welcoming and supportive of new shooters. They’ll talk load data or wind doping with you as easily as Ford vs. Chevy or politics. There are some classes that are less social but High Power seems to be a very social class to play in.

Don’t go with the wrong expectations. Expect that you’ll try hard and not be as good as everyone else. Expect to have a good time and learn a lot. Expect to learn about trigger control and sight picture. Expectations set appropriately lead to an easier time achieving success beyond your expectations and less disappointment when you barely miss hitting them.

Here’s a quick shot of me missing my first 500m Ram. I ended up taking 2:5 rams that run and ended the match with an 8:40 average. That’s 20% hits holding 2MOA

Here’s a video of a girl beating me like the rented mule of a redheaded step-child at the 200m chicken line. This girl can shoot. She bested me by 12 hits overall. She’ll be moving up a classification level soon if she keeps this up.

Here’s a bunch of my shots in a playlist. I’ll choke my video guy for making a bunch of them instead of just 4 later. For now, enjoy the sweet smell of mediocrity.

SWFA SS 10×42 HD

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I received the SWFA SS 10×42 HD scope for evaluation recently. The first thing you notice when you pull it from the package is the weight distribution. It’s tail heavy as hell. The front half looks and feels almost identical to the lower end non-HD scopes in 6,10,12,16,20x. The back end feels like my US Optics ST-10, very heavy and likely full of very expensive lenses.

The turret caps attach with my personal favorite system, a single top screw. That method of attachment is covered in other reviews of mine and won’t be repeated here except to say that I very much hate cap screws that pinch the turret post from the side. They’re prone to stripping and there are usually 3 of them. That’s nothing more than just machining small threaded holes for no reason but to do so. The HD version uses a single top screw which means everything from waterproofing to just not fucking up and over tightening are problems that are much simpler to deal with or avoid.

Clicks are notchy and I love it. This is what I was hoping for from my US Optics turrets which are notably less distinct in click feel. The audible component is a little much for me but for the tactile feel I’ll have to count the auditory component as a sympathetic component that we’re not going to eliminate without sacrificing tactile sensation. Still, these are great turrets. The knobs aren’t huge. They’re no bigger than a Bushnell ET1040. Each one does 5 full MRAD per turn which makes the math of multiple turns pretty easy but does mean that anything beyond about 600m is going to go past 1 revolution. There is no zero stop but you can make one pretty easily from a thick plastic washer.

I wanted to see how elevation adjustments affected windage capacity. Windage range is very frequently limited substantially by elevation being dialed in, especially as the elevation gets extreme. I was able to dial in maximum and minimum elevation and to dial all the way in and out with the windage at the same time. This means about 100MOA of up dialed had zero effect on the ability to dial in wind. I often shoot in 30mph full value winds and sometimes need >10MRADs just for wind. It’s nice that this scope can deal with that.

Reticle is the SWFA Mil-Quad which is a very simple looking and un-busy design that can be used to accurately range down to .1MRAD. There are actually a hell of a lot of subtend values in there and it takes a while to memorize but once you do and you get some practice things get amazingly fast. I especially like the itty bitty dot inside the diamonds. It’s very handy to have a super fine point that you can use when ranging odd size things at extreme distances.

The box was, as is usual for SWFA, a complete disappointment of plain white with well engineered but unpadded innards that held the scope and kept it from rattling around inside the box. Still, ultra plain, no Jane. C’mon guys, just put a sticker on the top and at both ends and I’ll stop bugging you about it. I know you’re saving a dollar or so a box but I want my friends to be able to look at my scope box shelf and get all gaw gaw at how cool the boxes look and your box is ruining the image with a sea of plain white. My $200 Bushnell scopes come with relatively fancy looking boxes. My US Optics came with seriously fancy looking boxes. Add one more dollar to my SWFA boxes so they look as great on the shelf and I adopt a shit eating grin when my friends look up at that shelf and suddenly get all green with envy.

The HD 10x shares some questionable design elements with the non-HD models. The parallax values are illegible from behind the scope so unless you like getting into the missionary position with your rifle for some reason you won’t be able to read them. The minimum parallax setting is 50m which is no joke. You won’t have good optical performance on ANYTHING any closer. I bet that this is a sacrifice to the altar of combat grade ruggedness and one I won’t gripe about. It just means that this is not a scope for your .22lr and it probably is wasted on your .223 chambered AR-15. The parallax ring might be better set up as a turret knob. One big issue I had/have is that the parallax ring is seriously hard to turn. I don’t know if that’s just because it’s new and not broken in yet but, damn! 3 other people commented on it when I asked them for their spot opinions. I asked them because I thought I was being excessively hard on this point of gripe. There are also turret markings on the ends of the caps which makes as much sense as a 17-piece screwdriver. If you cannot read the markings with the rifle mounted in the firing position then the markings are worthless. This isn’t a major problem, just one of ergonomics. It’s also one that almost every scope maker in the segment has never gotten correct. The parallax yardages printed on the ring are more or less meaningless other than when set to 50yrds or infinity. If they don’t mean anything then just use dots and skip the wasted meaningless numbers.

Optical clarity: My own poking around so far says the glass is great but not exceptional. Looking at some cows on a hill about 5km away I could discern legs and animal color. The boil of the mirage was affecting my view though. Like I said, you gotta try this at range to appreciate the clarity. The edges of things at multi-mile distances did show some color separation. Looking at Jupiter at opposition I was able to make out 2 of 4 moons, no atmospheric banding and I was unable to discern 2 moons that were very close to each other from one another. Looking at the moon I’m able to make out very small recent ray craters but when compared to astronomical telescopes and to tier 1 glass like US Optics the difference is noticeable. The same test was done with my ST-10 and with my SWFA 16×42 SS. The 16×42 was insufficiently clear to discern more an 1 of Jupiters moons and had lower resolution on the moon by a pretty wide margin than the 10x HD. I would go so far to say that this is a perfect display of what money should buy you in optics. I could do useful planetary astronomy through a USO ST-10. I could do useful viewing of Mars or the Moon through a SWFA 10x HD. I could do usefully well at looking across a valley with the non-HD SWFA SS line. USO is 1500-3500, SWFA non-HD is 300 and SWFA HD is 800+. All of the above turned in optical performance directly in line with their price point and the quality, while definitely relative, was on a steeply curved line. From non-HD to HD SWFA you go from entry level to something you’d be hard pressed to bitch about. When you double the price again you land in a place where it’s not really possible to bitch. Optical performance doesn’t double with price, it’s more like picking up a few more decimal places.

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I mounted the scope on a spare rifle and stuck my bore collimator on it. All clicks turned in the same adjustment and they were very much repeatable. I dialed in 10MRAD up, 10MRAD right, 20MRAD down, 10MRAD left, 10MRAD up and landed as close as I could see exactly where I had started. I have never had any qualms about SWFA turning out repeatable adjustments and this opinion appears to continue to be justified. My collimator is not of true scientific quality, it’s just a basic bore-scope collimator. It is accurate enough that I’ve found buggered up scopes with its help in the past so I count this evaluation with it as successful.

Durability: I AM NOT GOING TO ANSWER ANYTHING ABOUT THIS. I see no value in abusing a scope with every test I know it can withstand simply to demonstrate that it can withstand them. That kind of silliness is a waste of money, brains and time (a WOMBAT). Anyone that thinks they’re doing useful work by doing that kid of questionable, unrepeatable, unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific showmanship is questionably educated, prone to logical fallacy and a yellow journalist. They’re also probably ignorant of those last 3 facts.

One of the great things about this scope is the tube is long enough to provide a ton of mounting flexibility without extending from tang to muzzle like some other scopes I’ve seen out there. It manages to incorporate a built-in sunshade that really works and doesn’t make the thing too long, a long ocular bell and a reasonably sized main tube without starting to look like a donkey boner. Well done.

I can say one thing for sure at this point, if you need a fixed 10x and you need some real ruggedness and you have a budget under $1000 and you can’t get that budget up to $1500 for a ST-10, there probably is not any other optic other than maybe the IOR 10x Tactical that will come close to this. Don’t go grabbing one of these and thinking it’s for plinking at under 100 yards. It’s not. 100 yards is at the extreme close end of where this scope is at home. In fact, I think that it might be right to say that if your targets start at 300+ yards and you only get to have 1 scope, now’s the time to scoop up a 10xHD. Retail is right around 800 bucks and there’s not much in the fixed 10x world that is available at this price point while providing near the performance. IOR costs a bit more. Leupold costs twice as much. US Optics costs twice as much. The only real competitor for someone in the USA would be from IOR Valdada’s 10x Tactical due to price but support from IOR is not something we hear great things about being easy to get because it’s in Romania, while support from SWFA is legendary for its ease of use, speed and customer service and convenient USA location.

Solid scope. Definitely approve.

U.S. Optics ST-10 TPAL 10x37mm

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I’ve thrown down the coin ($1500 each) to own a pair of these. Their reputation precedes them so hopes were really quite high at the time of ordering.

When you look at USO you have to remember that they’ve positioned themselves as a custom scope company with a production line. When you call to order your scope you get a human in California that speaks clear English on the other end who will help you make sure your optic configuration is sane and who will listen to you. When I called I let them know my mission parameters and they gave me a suggested set of features. One of the features they recommended was an illuminated reticule. I don’t like lit reticules and they serve no purpose for me. I can’t legally shoot anything after dark. If there’s not enough light to see my crosshairs clearly then there’s not enough light to shoot anything at all. So I opted out of the lit crosshair. All illuminated reticules do for me is waste CR2032 batteries. The guy on the phone said ok and moved on. They did recommend; and I wanted and ordered, their EREK elevation knob in .1MRAD and US #1 windage knobs in .1MRAD. He mentioned their accessories and I passed on those and didn’t get any pressure about it.

Here’s a pic of the ST-10 on project Gabriel.

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The purchase experience was, in short, fantastic. It did not help with the post-order-placement worrying and second-guessing. Just had to accept that I dropped three grand on two scopes and move on. At least they’re my own custom made scopes. I’ve long wanted to own this exact scope. Now I own 2.

After a 6 week wait they arrived. These are huge for a 10x37mm. The knobs are large and in charge with easy to read numbering. Clicks are not super notchy like an old Ferrari transmission or even like Bushnell Elites or SWFA’s but the click feel comes through even if it’s a bit on the light side. So does the sound, enough sound and tactile output to keep things from being a mystery. I think they could have set a stronger spring on the detent and made a more notchy knob but it’s not a major failing. It’s nothing near as vague as the high end Leupold scopes I’ve been fuddling with.

Optics are so bright and clear you really have to see it to believe it. I was really worried about the 37mm objective. How much light could that gather? Comparing it to my 10×40 and 10×42 and 10×44 optics isn’t useful though. USO’s glass is in a different category and there is no comparison, not any fair one at least. At 1000 yards I was reading text that was invisible and/or illegible through every other optic at the bench that day including 32x Nikon target scopes, 16x Super Snipers, and a 25x spotting scope (a really fine and expensive one). The image is crisp and the MPR reticle while a tad busy is awesome for ranging.

The parallax knob is large and has just enough resistance to being turned. The markings weren’t dead on from 100m to 500 but infinity sure as hell is where it is labeled. I think they don’t think it matters and it mostly doesn’t. Some companies don’t even have numbers for parallax adjustment, just gradually thickening lines. With some of my adjustable objective type scopes I’d use the parallax adjustment for quick and dirty ranging but I guess until they bring back the ERGO models we’re limited to the TPAL.

Every elevation and windage adjustment was totally precise and repeatable. Once I got it zero’d I took them home and set up my scope collimator and got the EREK knobs bottomed out so I had maximum elevation left. As a way to turn $1500 into something really useful there’s no more satisfaction for me than sinking it into this sort of amazing optic. Quality, fit, finish…
Shut up and take my munneeez

The pic below was taken with an iPhone at dusk with me holding the rifle and my spotter (The Disco Tripper) trying to get his phone to take a decent pic. The scope is looking at the 400m line. Notice you can make out individual bullet marks on targets, target coloration changes and the texture of the soil. Talk about super clarity.

The scope weighs almost 2lbs and makes it easy to heavy up a gun but it delivers tough, precise and pretty all at one time. I’m ok with a little heavier package if the contents don’t break.

I won’t go into all of the tossing of the scope off balconies, soaking it in various fluids, or otherwise torturing it. USO once had a guy at the SHOT show bang nails into a board with their scopes to demonstrate the toughness. I think we all get it by now and I don’t need to damage my toys to demonstrate that fact further.

ST-10 TPAL through the reticule.

ST-10 TPAL through the reticule.

In short, this is the finest 10x rifle scope I’ve ever looked through. It’s pretty close to being the finest piece of optical equipment I’ve ever looked through but I’ve been doing a lot of that lately and while there is some representation in the marketplace of better optics, they’re not being put in rifle scopes. Most of that kind of stuff is being put into scientific instruments. USO hits every ball out of the park and this one was no exception.

Burris Signature Series Rings

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Just like conventional Weaver mount or Redfield mount rings these connect up to your normal scope mounting base. They go together just like any normal ring. That’s where things take a turn for the better. Burris Signature Series are available with concentric and eccentric polymer inserts that allow you to dial in some cant into the scope mounting hardware. If you’re shooting long range then you need more “up” left in the scope than the average hunter these are a way to accomplish that.

The hard bit for me is that for some rifles out there like my Mossberg MVP there isn’t a 20MOA canted scope base available. So I had to find another solution. Burris’ Signature Series rings use polymer inserts which go a long way toward eliminating the possibility of crushing a scope tube or marring the scope finish. Those polymer inserts also sit inside the ring like a heim joint and allow the scope to pivot so that both rings can line up without pinching the scope tube. Brilliant use of existing invention to solve a simple problem. The polymer inserts have one last benefit, they can be eccentric. That is the scope can be moved around inside the ring to move it left or right or up or down. That functionally changes where the scope is pointing and dials that adjustment in in the hardware. With 1″ rings they have 0,5,10,20 MOA inserts available. With 30mm rings you only get the 10moa inserts. With the 10’s set up in opposing orientation (read Burris’ directions) you can have 20MOA in the rings or 10MOA in the rings or 0moa in the rings.

Dialing adjustment into the rings means you don’t have to use a canted base to get your 20MOA base adjustment. It does not mean that you don’t have to use a scope base at all. You still need something for the rings to attach to. If you have a Ruger rifle with the wonderfully proprietary Ruger integral scope mount and ring system you’re still hosed but they’ve got just about every other type of Signature Series rings.

Burris Signature rings run about 35-45 bucks for the 1″ rings and they come with 0MOA inserts. Insert sets with all the offsets are about 15 bucks for the 1″ rings. 30mm rings are closer to 70 bucks but come with the 10MOA and 0MOA inserts. They don’t seem to make 34mm rings in this style yet and I doubt they will. 34, 35, 40mm scope tubes should provide substantial adjustment internal to the scope.

I only use Burris Signature Series rings. They’re solid and tough. In the 30mm size they are 4-hole. In the 1″ size they’re 2-hole but that’s never been an issue for me on my tactical rifles or on my hunting guns. Do yourself a favor, drop out of the race for trendy fancy labels that come with unnecessary 200 dollar price tags. We can all spend money fast. The question is, can we spend it smart. If you’re a warrior in combat perhaps the Badger or Ferrel rings are the right thing. For civilian use, I don’t think so. For Prepper use, well you make up your mind based on your prep scheme. Do you want to be able to buy that extra water filter and gas mask or do you want to have 6-hole scope rings and the admiration of 5 anonymous dilettante mall ninjas on the internet.

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