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Columbia River Arms .243Ackley Barrel Shocker

Who has two thumbs and a big smile on his face? This guy!

It just doesn’t seem to matter what I feed this rifle. It’s only ever made 1 group over an inch and the rest have been closer to half an inch. This isn’t just 3-shot groups. It’s 10-shot groups rapid fire or slow fire and 5-shot groups and 3-shot groups. It’s just a laser beam. Just look at these groups. Those are all 10-shot groups!

Left to right 43.5, 44, 44.5, 45.5, then down one for the 45 grain load. The few flyers were all called and were the shooter’s fault.

The barrel came from Columbia River Arms, formerly Black Hole Weaponry and it’s a gem. It’s a 26 inch 8 twist on an MTU contour. The chamber is quite tight netting necks that are exactly .243″ inside diameter after firing, meaning that my brass doesn’t grow much and working of the necks is minimal. I set it up for zero headspace too so the brass should last a good long time with the Ackley case’s propensity for not stretching (especially not stretching like a .243Win is prone to doing.) If you want a drop in that’s just a laser beam, you need to call up Columbia River arms and have them cut you a barrel based on their .243AI reamer. I’ve never seen anything like this in a drop in barrel. Carl Caudle has a bunch more reamers that are equally nice. All it takes is a phone call and a credit card.

I got my Ackley loads dialed in. Started with .080 jump on the 108 grain ELD-M bullets. Started with a 43.5 grain charge of RL-23 and moved up in half-grain increments to 45.5 grains. Never showed any pressure signs and the velocities were just slightly above where I’d set as a goal. The big deal was a definite signal that the case likes to be full. SD’s were up around 35fps at the bottom but at 45.5 grains everything trimmed out and I landed with 5fps SD’s across a 10 round string with a group .6″ across done rapid fire. Velocities are right at 3170fps and temperature seemed to have little effect on them from 60F to 90F so it’s a match ready load.

I’ve got a match next weekend and I’m going to use the .243Ackley. Look for a pretty high score this time. Yes, I shot the .223 as well but that’s another story. Loads need more work. Popping primers is not competition ready.


BallisticPRS V.1.13 Released, New DA Specific 3×5 Cards & More

Download them now while they’re hot. The latest version of BallisticPRS contains a neat new page with 3×5 cards set up already for -4,000ft to +10,000ft DA’s. Cards do away with spin and Coriolis in favor of 5/10/15/20mph wind regimes but I’ve left the moving target leads in. These 3×5″ data cards were cooperatively designed between yours truly and US Optics sponsored PRS shooter and precision rifle instructor Nico Detour. I’ve tinkered with the coloration so they’re easy to read in shade or bright sunlight and the fonts and font coloring to prevent wash-out in the brightest overhead direct sunlight.

All of the 3×5 cards are on 1 tab for simplicity and they’re set up to print 4 cards to a page of A4 or 8.5×11 media.You can get the whole bunch of them in one wrist caddy and just select the one you need at the time to be on top. These rip proof, blood proof, field proof, idiot resistant data cards are not going to let you down in the middle of a match. You can’t harm them and neither does dirt or mud or blood.

BallisticPRS Data Card

BallisticXLR Data Card

Production Ready: Density Altitude DOPE Cards

Yeah baby! Check these out. Hot off the presses for my first consumer, Nico Detour of US Optics Academy and PRS competition fame. There’s been a huge amount of work to get these ready.

Thanks to Nico for giving me the chance to show him how well these things work and how indestructible they really are!

3×5 DOPE cards at 500ft DA increments.

Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27x56mm and 3-18x50mm


Talk about a home run. Vortex really nailed it with these. The package comes with a 4″ sunshade and tools all in fitted foam and a nice looking if understated box. The scope itself caught me off guard in a number of ways.

First, the price. Given the full feature set: Japanese made bona fide’s, amazing glass, locking turrets, illumination, zero stop, etc… and the perfection that they’ve all been implemented with the price is easily 1000 bucks under many contenders. How they’re able to do that I don’t know but I’m going to assume that they’re making up on margins with volume. From the ratio of Razor’s to competitive scopes I see at matches I’m going to venture to guess that such a strategy is at least a component of the resultant low price.

I was actually at a match when I bought my first Razor II, a 3-18x50mm. Another competitor had some of his scopes on the swap-meet table at the match and I bellied up to the bar and took a peek. His Vortex Viper PST’s were not really interesting to me but the Razor, that was an attention grabber. They’re so popular with so many top shooters that I couldn’t help but covet it a bit.


Apart from the substantial heft (more on that later) the entire thing impressed me. Optically it was brilliant, the reticle design was great, turret feel and features were exactly what I’ve always thought of as perfect. The owner told me he got the 3-18x because no 4.5-27x’s were available at the time and he had matches to shoot. Once he got his 4.5-27x there was no need for the 3-18x and so I got it for a song.


As soon as I had one, I started to look at my US Optics scopes and considered how much more modern and comparatively well executed the Razors are and decided to move to Razor II’s for some of my match rifles. So, I went out and swapped my ER-25 from USO for a 4.5-27×56 Razor II and some accessories. It immediately fixed the balance issues I had from the ultra long ER-25 as the Razor is much much shorter in length. The rifle feels a lot better for positional shooting now and there’s no tunneling or vignetting like with the USO variables I’d had on top.

The heft is substantial. No joke but, also not unexpected with a top shelf optic. A 4.5-27x is right over 3lbs once you slap rings on it. The weight is excitingly evenly distributed along the length giving a nicely balanced feel to the thing. Not having the weight biased helps with rifle balance on my guns with their long heavy barrels. The mass of the optic helps shift that weight bias of the weapon system back toward the rear.


Turrets are locking .1mrad with zero stops. Clicks are extremely positive but not difficult and there’s no accidentally landing between clicks. It’s in one notch or the other. The zero stop and re-settable turrets are fairly easy to deal with and allows for a little dial-under below your zero which is nice. The parallax knob is well placed, well sized and has just the right amount of resistance with an amazingly close minimum setting. The illumination control being housed inside the parallax knob helps to keep the package compact and doesn’t interfere with bolt handles like a lot of ocular bell mounted illumination controls. The illumination rheostat has off positions between every lit position meaning you don’t have to spin a bunch on the knob to turn it off.

The reticle is the christmas tree style EBR-2C reticle in MRAD. The hole in the center of the reticle is great and doesn’t obscure small targets. I have been loathe to accept the new tree reticles that have taken over the world but after getting into long range shooting that isn’t done from the prone position and where there are multiple shots and time limits that it’s actually super helpful especially when there’s variable wind in the mix.



All in all it’s exactly what you’d expect from a tier 1 optic. Amazing glass, flawless implementation of every feature and well thought out ergonomics in a compact package that’s superbly capable of doing what it’s advertised to be able to do. A rarity in optics.

I did have one problem setting it up that turned out to be my fault and a quick call to their support line had the instructions I needed to verify a diagnosis and to take corrective action.


Making DOPE With BallisticPRS

I was recently asked to create a Density Altitude version of BallisticXLR for those that like DA over absolute air density. Ok, fine. Done. It took quite a number of hours to port it over but it’s there now and it works. This new system is meant for shooters that need extremely rapid ballistics data that is easy to read under time pressure and that can deal with atmospheric changes extremely rapidly.

And here it is!


The inputs page is a very close match to the original BallisticXLR inputs page but unlike BallisticXLR does not require any atmospheric data inputs. BallisticPRS also differs from BallisticXLR in that it does not have the Primary or Secondary Functions tabs and a number of other tabs that are not relevant for DA applications. It does come with the reloading cost calculator, projectile database, reticle subtend tab, and sniper range cards.

BallisticPRS is meant for the experienced shooter while still being easy enough to use that beginners will not find it stammeringly confusing. As seen below the data tables are noted in meters or yards with data in 10yrd/m increments from 100 to 2490. Data for Drop, Wind, Movers, H-Cor, V-Cor and Spin are listed in a single row making for very fast info uptake.


There’s an included DA tab (which is experimental) that will allow the user to identify a correct DA with a non-standard temperature and a pressure altitude reading. This handy feature will assist the shooter as temperatures change throughout the day in their FFP.


This latest product is free for download and; just like with BallisticXLR, I provide free email based support. Just like BallisticXLR, BallisticPRS requires genuine Microsoft Excel for correct function. I’ll be adding a new BADEDS and B-FEDS kit with the DA tables shortly. Because of the much larger page count these kits will be modestly more expensive.

I’m very excited about this new product and I think you will be too!

P.S. – Being that it’s Memorial Day as I post this, I thought I’d leave this here. The price of freedom for some is said to be the blood of patriots and tyrants. It could also be termed the blood of our children and our parents. Dead and living soldiers bought this day off for us.

Vortex Viper PST 6-24×50 FFP Mil/Mil EBR-1

Normally I review scopes I own or get loaned to me by the manufacturer for the purpose of reviewing. I don’t like to write about those that I don’t have long term access to. I find that the proper way to do things is to get an initial impression and then refine that through longer term use. This is especially true, and largely because of the fact that I end up buying all these optics and that stuff is occasionally heart thumpingly expensive.

Some background on this particular scope review: My coach is an old school shooter and likes his scopes second focal plane with a small dot and fine crosshair reticles with insane magnification levels and 1/8 MOA clicks. These are fantastic for target work at known distances and where you’re not spinning a lot of DOPE each time. His total used adjustment range on the old Nikon was 14MOA and distances were maxed out at 500m. Well, PRS type work gets out a lot further and the targets are scattered randomly in their distances everywhere from 200m to 1000m so you’re constantly dialing up and down and holding off and he needed turrets that were meant to take a little more constant use.


Well finally, after a year of shooting with me and seeing the things I’m able to do with a scaled reticle in FFP and fixed power scopes and how easy it looks and how good the glass I use is and how well the turrets track (particularly for the price I pay) he decided to make the jump and get a high quality FFP MIL/MIL optic. Part of the reason for the jump was that in prepping for a long range precision match a couple months ago we found out his Nikon target scope was busted and wouldn’t dial any windage and he was way out of elevation for hitting the 900m target. Fast forward to last week and he’d ordered a new Vortex Viper PST FFP 6-24x with EBR-1 reticle.

Now this new Vortex optic is mounted on a 6.5mm BR single shot bolt action Rem 700 based metallic silhouette race gun. The thing is meant exactly for doing 5-10 shots rapid fire at long range… the hard way. Standing up. Using it for PRS style work was actually really successful the first time out despite it being unable to dial wind since it’s nasty accurate, wind bucking and low recoiling. Still, the busted fine hair and small dot Nikon scope was only helping drop his score. This new scope is sure to help his scores in PRS type matches. How it’ll do long term in metallic silhouette has a lot to do with how long it takes him to become friends with his new scope. His skills are wicked sharp anyway so if he takes to it rapidly it could be dramatic. If it isn’t so quick for him to pick up his scores will still rise but not quite as fast.

Anyway, I digress a bit. As soon as the new Vortex Viper arrived he ran over to my place and I popped a set of my 30mm Burris Signature Series rings on the scope with 20MOA of cant dialed with the eccentric inserts. We got it mounted and took to bore sighting at yesterdays match. The scope was within 2MRAD of dead nuts right there. Looks like they’re definitely set up from the factory for a 20MOA mount.

There’s a lot of stuff going on in the EBR-1 reticle compared to his old target dot (but nothing near as much as in the EBR-2 tree style) and in silhouette there’s a saying that every change in weapon/scope/spotter takes a year to overcome. Busy reticles can be hard to deal with when trying to hold 2MOA offhand. Apart from the newness and differentness for my coach, we just slapped a tactical oriented scope on a custom made race gun built specifically for metallic silhouette and not so much for tactical. Just how will this look? Just fine as it turns out. Quite a number of shooters in the silhouette game have gone to SWFA and Vortex optics with scaled reticles. Partly because of price and partly because these sorts of tactical scopes have a reputation for accurate click values so shooters can use computed shooting solutions instead of having to establish actual data on previous engagements (DOPE) in a little notebook. That means less ammo spent verifying data before a match and all the benefits that burning less ammo brings along with some extra time in our pre-match schedules to make sure we’re fed, warm, hydrated, head in the game, etc…

So far it looks like this change didn’t take very long at all for him to deal with. He picked up 3 targets more than he has in the past 4 matches with that rifle with the new scope and we’d only just zero’d it right before the match started. First time behind the new combo and he was making 1″ 3-shot offhand groups at 200m during our pre-match practicing.

In the set-up and zero and practice time I had some time behind his rifle with the newest Viper PST and I gotta say that while there are several design/feature elements that I really don’t dig on, the overall quality and especially the glass was extremely nice. Bright and clear as hell all the way to the edges even on 24x and while there is a bit of a preference for greens and browns in the color rendition it’s everything I’d expect from about 800 bucks.

Yeah, yeah. I can hear you grumbling. Asking yourself, “What the hell is it that he doesn’t like if it’s so great?”

Ok, here’s a list:

5MRAD per turn turrets.
Pinch screw turret cap attachment system.
Visible gap between objective bell and sunshade when so equipped.
Mechanical illumination.
Illumination rheostat location.
Non-intuitive direction of rotation for side parallax and small numbering there.
Side parallax knob is too low profile and not knurled.
Turret labeling and the little window thing on the elevation turret is really busy and can be hard to read quickly.

As you can see. Not a single one of my complaints has anything to do with the ability of the scope to perform reliably or accurately or even exactly as you’d expect. They’re as close to first world problems as you can get but they do affect the speed and ease of use which are important criteria to me.

The thing they got really right: The tactile feel of the clicks. There’s no mistaking that your turning it but they’re not too clakkity that they force the rifle to move when you make an adjustment.

All in all it’s a fantastic scope. I’d hope for 800 bucks they could do a 10mil per rotation turret but beggars can’t be choosers and if that’s the biggest gripe I have for 800 bucks, that’s pretty damned good.

Vortex’s warranty is as bullet proof as any in the industry and they go to great lengths to prove it. Given the quality and performance I could only recommend this if it’s in your budget window and the feature set is appropriate to your game.

US Optics ER-25 Purchase Simulator

For the average Joe that makes an average living, drives an average car, stands average height, average weight and average hair color the superlative experiences in life are much more rare than might be desired. That rarity makes it much more vibrant as an experience but nobody really pays that any mind. They just muddle around with the dream of the rare being more common and that providing more satisfaction. Trust me, this isn’t how the universe works.

Still, buying something like the top of the line 5-25x58mm ER-25 from US Optics is a complete roller coaster of sensation and emotion no matter how many times you do it. Partly it’s just fabulously expensive and partly it’s also just plain fabulous.

First you realize you’ve saved enough money to actually make the purchase. Then you actually commit to it in your own mind and then things get right out of hand.


This brings about feelings of having arrived which are completely misplaced at this stage of the game; as evidenced by the picture above. They’re also impossible to avoid. People are always keen to get ahead of themselves if at all possible when emotions are involved. Even more so when vast amounts of money are involved as well.

So you’ve made up your mind which is easy enough. Now you make the call and a chap answers the phone that speaks English clearly and seems to care that your specific scope makes you just as happy as it can and he’s there to make sure that that comes to pass. He’s helpful but something nags at you and sometimes you wish you could just say:

Shut up and take my munneeez

However, that’s not how this is done and besides since this is a custom scope there’s a certain amount of jibber jabbering back and forth to be done so all the details can be settled on. Finally after about 15 minutes of chatting and advice taking it’s time for you commit to it with your bank account. He gives you the total price; which reads something like a serial number and can easily drive the air physically from your body, takes your credit card info and lets you know it’s going to be a few weeks before it ships because they have to actually make your scope… it’s not been built yet. You thank the gentleman kindly and ring off. Then it hits you, the exact definition of irrevocable.


This is one of the very few things in this world that induces in me sensations of caustic chemicals filling my stomach, makes my back get really tight and starts the ringing in my ears off trying to reach a pitch and intensity that would cause barkeepers to ask me to leave for the sake of their stemware. It’s similar to what I imagine it might be like to have a grenade go off very close to you while you’re in the supermarket racking your brain trying to decide between Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Velveeta Shells and Cheese.

Dropping 3 grand on a car or a boat or a new set of teeth or Lasik is one thing (ok, that’s many things. Don’t distract me.). Any of those things are not likely to make the purchaser sweat quite so nervously waiting for it to arrive. Dropping it on a rifle scope that will only very occasionally see the light of day from outside the confines of my gun safe. Well that’s subtly different. Realizing the wife will see that credit card bill no matter what also produces considerably more hand-wringing. It doesn’t matter if she knew beforehand. It’ll still come up.


Now you start the wait. If you’re like me you’ll browse the for sale sections of forums in an attempt to make it completely clear to yourself that you could have gotten something just as good used and saved a thousand bucks. You do this just to torment yourself because you were very clear with yourself at the outset that you wanted the custom US Optics scope built just for you and not sloppy seconds on a not-US Optics, not custom made just for you, not new scope. No dammit. That’s not what you’re going to do. You made this perfectly clear to yourself. NO USED SCOPES. NOT THIS TIME.


The next few weeks are filled with:






Finally after weeks of waiting you reach the point where you forget for about 30-40 seconds that the scope should be there within days. This respite does much to revive your spirits but is very short lived. Still, after a few more days and taking a day off work to wait for FedEx to arrive; because no way in hell are you leaving three grand worth of scope laying on your bloody doorstep for half the day, the day does finally arrive.

After dark; just to make it worse, the FedEx truck arrives. You normally get off work at 4:40 and arrive home by 5pm and so you nearly have a heart attack waiting for it but when the truck grumbles to a halt 5 houses up you walk outside anyway just in case. He runs a package up to your neighbors house and then soul crushingly returns to his truck. You dutifully return to your house to engage in more hand wringing. Just as you’ve given up hope entirely he jumps back out of the truck but you can’t see because you went back inside. While you’re inside sulking he walks your package casually back to your house sets it quietly on the porch and skulks away around the corner with the stealth of a ninja to get a signature from your wife who has; unbeknownst to you, just pulled into the driveway.


Your wife walks in, sets the package on the floor in the entryway and greets you. You in your turn completely ignore her and dive into that package on the floor like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin. If you could actually jump inside the box you would but physics gets in the way; again, and you sate yourself by pulling that bad boy out of the box and cuddling with it for a while.


I’m currently sitting at the having ordered phase and the tightness in the chest is pretty severe right now. It’ll pass like always. Eventually. Probably just after I mount my new scope to my old rifle. Hmmm…. old rifle. Might have to do something about that.

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