If you’ve never heard of Robot Operating System 2.0 then you’re probably behind the curve on getting a good place in line to mine the miners, so to speak, in the fast food industry. ROS2 is Robot Operating System 2.0 and it’s not actually an operating system as such but more of framework of tools designed to make robot-based automation easier and faster to develop. The reader is warned that this could get a little technical in places and you’re invited to put on your mental running shoes.
So far the actual machinery finding its way into the fast food industry is quite robust but it’s been largely just back porting machinery into a physical layout designed for humans to operate in. That’s not scalable and won’t be how things will go. It makes exactly zero sense to thoroughly automate a McDonald’s using an existing McDonald’s with all the walk ways and OSHA compliant layouts and since every McDonald’s has subtly different internal measurements in the building you couldn’t mass produce a robotic back-of-store automation platform. Worse yet, McDonald’s makes burgers and fries but if you want to make robots that will change the industry then you need the robots themselves to come in a standard footprint. When you start looking at the footprint that’s needed as you eliminate the humans from the mix you end up with something more like a kiosk or a vending machine. In order to make the vending machine platform viable, you need software to run it.
Software for robots is non-trivial. It’s not a problem for simple/stupid robots but those robots are dangerous to the public. For well designed robots that can do their job long term without constant human interference or man-in-the-middle operational requirements and without major risk to the user/public you need robust software that utilizes gobs of real-time sensors and it’s going to need governmental safety certifications. As soon as you do that, you’ve opened a complexity door which makes Pandora’s box look like a quibbling triviality with no impact on the future.
The solution that’ll need to be used is ROS2 (Robot Operating System 2) which is as stated before more of a framework of tools designed to make robot-based automation easier and faster to develop than an operating system and which is pretty darned complicated as it operates at very low levels. Programming robots of any complexity versus enabling your standard self-opening door to open before someone bumps their nose on it is akin to writing a complex software package in assembly language versus just using a physical tripwire. The complexity is huge and it requires a specialized skill set, even in the realms of technology and programming it’s a special skill set still.
Think of how you tell a computer to do anything with software code. Traditionally in the low complexity software world of something like a Windows or Mac computer, if you want to tell it to hide the cursor while you type, you write code which is more or less of the form:
The computer code libraries that have already been built and which are hugely more complicated are called by that simple text string and the computer hides the cursor while you type.
Robots use physical things and digital data about those things pulled in from lots of sensors is used to provide guardrails to those actions. You have to describe how the robot is supposed to actually work before you can even use it. In ROS2 if you wanted to describe to the software a gripper joint that was capable of picking something up it’d be something like like the below.
You have a world full of people who are able to do the [NSCursor hide]; sort of software development but not nearly as many that are able to work in something as low level as ROS2. The only thing that’s stopped McDonald’s from crushing their buildings and going with a fully automated kiosk footprint is staffing for the robotics companies that are going to end up building the machines that make the food. Up until recently there’s not been the kind of traction in automation that there is now. Fairly recently universities have started cranking out ROS2 capable engineers, if not in industrial scale then at least in sufficient quantity to allow the fast food industry to actually get on with changing to the hyper-converged ultra efficient model that it’s capable of becoming.
Soon enough you’ll see old fast food joints being literally demolished and rebuilt in such a way as to be able to take advantage of end-to-end automation built from the ground up to automate the fast food industry. You won’t recognize anything about what emerges to take the place of that old standard American designed drive-thru. The needs for maintenance will change very much from physical maintenance/repair of broken widgets to digital maintenance and electronic calibration. Where old kitchens used to be dominated by empty space, the kitchen of the fast food future will look more like the insides of a fancy Xerox copier or under the bonnet of a modern car with essentially zero room to spare, no parts which are readily identifiable to the layman and which cost fantastic amounts of money. These big machines will be fed supplies from large freezer hoppers and will need tending maybe once per day instead of non-stop.
Robotic automation of any complexity means they’ll need a ROS2-like solution. The need to solve the automation with ROS2 means either Mickey D’s is going to need a staff of people making 10x what a burger flipper makes or there will come up a new industry of ROS2 experts because, if you want to productize these robots ROS2 is going to be necessary. The reason that you haven’t seen them so far is, the software is being developed still to a usable state. Once that’s at a point it can lend itself as easily to fried chicken as to burgers as to tacos and the actual robot itself is created and refined enough to do fried chicken or burgers or tacos all from the same basic hardware chassis, you’ll see a LOT of unemployed former burger flippers essentially overnight and the idea of a fast food restaurant will evolve to something more like a kiosk.
A hundred and seventy years ago when the owner of a little mercantile shop in San Francisco decided against going to the Sierra Nevada mountains to mine placer gold with everyone else and instead decided to mine the miners (he bought every shovel for miles and promptly jacked up the prices on shovels that he now controlled the only supply of) it wasn’t a new tactic. It’s actually how business works. Some people don’t have the stomach or heart for it. Others do.
If you want to be the one mining the miners then you should be getting your ass educated in software development and mechanical engineering and then you should learn ROS2 because all these whiny-ass, purple haired, emotionally retarded and intellectually crippled wastes of human skin that think a fast food job is something they can rely on as a way to not have to try very hard in life are not going to be options for burger flipping machine repair or calibration in the very near future. They’re, instead, going to add substantially to the population of the sector of society that’s been more heavily populated by drug addicts and mental defectives: The homeless.
How’d you like that. A post without a single picture. Thing is, I know a few people in the industry and they don’t want pictures taken of their toys because they’re doing exactly what I described above. If you’re a low end worker, you should be literally shaking with terror right now because there’s only going to be a decreasing need for your services as time goes by and society will begin to behave toward you exactly as they’d describe your financial situation: “Poor”.
There’s a relatively rare kind of shooter that thinks, “Only practical shooting experience matters. You can’t replicate the real thing.” There’s no arguing with faith and only negative experiences will change their mind. That’s said because practical shooting generally involves blood and should be approached with a bit more thoughtfulness than that sort of glib attitude betokens. The kind of simple mind it takes to even think that way simply befuddles me. It’s an opinion borne of extreme ignorance and hubris.
There are people that think you can only build skill by seeking specialized training, especially among them are both trainers and pathological students. I actually classify people who only use training courses to learn in the same category as instructors who think that only course-based training is a legitimate performance improvement avenue in the same basket of intellectual vacancy. It’s nothing but a no true scotsman assertion. It’s not even an argument. Just a demonstrably wrong assertion.
There are, as well, competitors that think that because they compete at a very very high level in some shooting sport that they’ll instantly be able to translate that into very high level performance in a practical situation or that they are somehow qualified to be an instructor. Similarly, there are people who’ve never competed or been in a practical shooting situation that think that because they’ve taken 50 gazillion training classes that they’re somehow a ninja and qualified to opine about what is the right way to do things to people that have competed or gone practical.
Then there’s the really rare bird that does it all but in this rare air few give equal or even near the right balance of time to all three. The subset that gives all 3 performance builders sufficient attention tend to be extremely reliable performers in all 3 areas but in my experience they’re never the best in all 3. They’ll still do one thing better than the other two which comes down to time and money and situation dependencies.
The best trainers I’ve worked with have typically been decidedly average as competitors or practical shooters. The best competition shooters I know perform as workable practical shooters right up until situations get sufficiently new/dynamic/complex/fast and then the wheels come rapidly off their buses. The best practical shooters I know are horrifically bad instructors. They are also usually middling competitors and few go further than that.
The only truth of the matter is, if you want to get to the top of any one thing you won’t have time for the others. Practical shooters (be they operators or professional game cullers or just rednecks/boer out doing redneck/boer shit) that never compete will not do very well their first time out in a competition. Practical shooters that don’t seek instruction will not know how to communicate the mechanics of how to do anything and so they can’t teach it to anyone else much less themself so they also can’t improve much. Instructors that never shoot in competition will do similarly poorly their first time out and will quickly lose relevance because they’re not learning new stuff that they can teach and they’re not measuring their own performance from occasion to occasion. Competitors that never shoot practically will usually have the wheels come off their bus anytime you take the competition gear/toys away from them. Competitors that never take any training are at a major disadvantage in practical circles because they haven’t learned how to take very specialized knowledge, strip it to the basic mechanics and then adapt those mechanics to non-specialized situations.
If you want to be at your best you need to identify where your gaps are and then address those gaps. If your only measure is practical use (hunting or martial) then you don’t get the ability to tear apart your performance and adjust your training. Either you kill the animal/bad-guy or you don’t and there’s not often a lot of film taken or clocks running to use for later measurement of performance. If you only compete then you can know exactly what match stage you need improvement on but without taking some training to teach yourself what is “training” versus “rehearsing” you may not be able to develop training regimes for yourself that will allow you to realize that improvement. Even if you do train and compete, without testing yourself in a more practical situation you don’t know for sure if you’ve been learning a skill or just rehearsing a theatrical performance. If you only do one of the three then the measure of what your skill level there is is non-existent as measurement of anything requires comparison against a baseline. When the man said, “Physician, heal thyself.”, the command in that saying (in common modern parlance, not biblical parlance) is for a practitioner to demonstrate that they have the skill they proffer to use on others but where and when it’s the practitioner’s own reputation/skin/life/money on the line. Instructors need to get out in the field regularly and make sure that what they think of as their knowledge actually works and if it doesn’t to modify or abandon those lessons. Instructors also need to get to some competitions so as to see what new and really useful methods/tools/etc… have been developed while they weren’t looking as well as to measure their own performance when using versus disregarding the techniques they themself teach.
Training is one part you might be able to cut yourself a tiny little bit of slack on provided that you compete regularly (only because competitions are a great place to pick up book-title length training lessons) but you can’t ignore training entirely in favor of picking stuff up in competitions because book titles aren’t books. Trainers don’t just teach you the exactly skill at hand. They’re, if you’re observant, also teaching you how they create lessons that target specific skills and knowledge and if you pay attention you will soon know how to do this for yourself. Competition itself has been argued time and again to be a form of training but it’s not being that it’s training for a highly specialized situation and it’s incomplete because you frequently learn techniques but not any reasons to apply them or not. Competition is a great method of performance evaluation which for practical shooters is beyond important. Practical shooting usually ends with something bleeding. If you can only measure in blood, eventually you run out of blood.
I’ve been at competition events that are held by and attended only by special forces operators. The last time I was at Ft. Bragg I was at Range 37 to hang out and interact with some Delta and GB guys as they did a 3-gun match. You could see the bell curve in the speed and accuracy as clear as day because each person was running on their own time in that format. Some were bloody Jedi’s and some were just very fit and aggressive but decidedly more inelegant in their use of guns. On the other hand, in a normal team-format drill you probably won’t get an idea of who’s where on any bell curve because the team is stacked up or otherwise working as an interconnected machine and can only go as fast as their slowest member. Competition lets them shine or not based on their own ability to perform and it does it to their face so they can’t ignore it.
Another thing I’ve been able to glean from training and competitions I’ve done with members of special forces of assorted militaries and police forces is, if they’ve never competed before they will universally perform pretty badly at it their first time out. Either they’ll suck up the ego hit, move on to the next match and they’ll improve at a rate that the average Joe just isn’t going to match (because they have the time and resources to do nothing but train their ugly away) or they’ll never go back to a match because their mental image of their own pecker size can’t take the reality check.
I shoot competitively and almost uniformly end up in the high-middle of the pack. I can do better but I don’t usually do better. I know this is true because I occasionally place in the top 5 on my “on days” and I clean some stages and not others but I’m inconsistent about which. I use my competition skills and my experience as an instructor when I’m hunting every year in the game fields of southern Africa. Africa is a place where everything bites and there aren’t many second chances. I also take shooting courses of all kinds whenever I can and I adapt my own courses to incorporate the best of all of the above situations. What this delivers to me is that I know my limits and how to grow past them if I ever find the time, desire and the money to try. I also know that my performance limits are a little bit further out than if I only did one of the three skill builders. When my students invite me to demonstrate the skills I teach in my courses there’s no worry on my part about being able to do it. I just have to very consiously apply all of my lessons to that shot.
An example: The Trifecta
This year on my hunt in South Africa a situation came up where I had 3 animals all at or beyond 200 meters distance and a .308win with 150gr Game King bullets which were not suitable to reliably fatal (and quickly fatal at that) body shots on 2 of the 3 animals. So we’re in a situation where head shots are the requirement. Ok, fine. Small targets it is. My rifle weighed maybe 8lbs with its pencil barrel and rounded traditional hunting style stock and it had a neoprene sling with ammo stuck in loops on the outside of it. The terrain was a rocky cliff with a couple 1m diameter boulders with plenty of sharp small rocks around the bases of the boulders. The largest animal was at my 12 o’clock, 230m away and down 15 degrees and was an eland that was easily the size of a large horse. The second largest was at my 2 o’clock, 260m away and down 15 degrees and was a waterbuck about the size of a massive mule deer or a very, very small cow elk. The smallest target was at my 6 o’clock, 200m away and down 10 degrees and was the size of a 200lbs warthog, because it was a 200lbs warthog. Warthog brains are tiny compared to eland or waterbuck brains. An eland brain case is about the size of a grapefruit. A waterbuck brain case is about the size of a large orange. A warthog brain case is about the size of a small pecan.
So I’ve got a light rifle and a sling made out of wet suit material that are not set up for being super stable on the most cooperative obstacles, a fairly modestly powered rifle which makes body shots a no-go, only big and very lumpy rocks to use as a rest, very small mobile targets spread across 180 degrees of horizon and probably only seconds to engage all 3. Fine.
First thing first: Remembering my experience as a PRS competitor and think to myself, “Bracket the distance so you don’t have to fiddle with knobs once the stage starts.” so I dial 2.3 mils (this load’s 200m dope plus 1 more click). I’m thinking to myself as i do this, “I’ll just hold center of head/neck interface.”
Then I start fiddling around in a bit of a rush moving the rifle around on the rock trying to get a rest that will work and my advice as an instructor comes racing into my head, “Don’t rush the shot. Get stable, then worry about touching triggers. This is an optional shot.” I instantly regained my composure, snuggled up tight to the rock so it supported much of my weight and got the rifle set up with the sling resting on the rock, the trigger guard resting on the sling and the fore end of the stock resting on the Uncle Mikes sling swivel which was itself resting on the neoprene sling. That chased a lot of the wiggle out but not all of it.
Ok, so I’m set up pretty stable but I 100% need to stop this side to side wobble. Thinking back to PRS competition shooting I pulled a technique many of us call “the cross” out of the bag. This is where I use my non-firing hand crossed over the scope to stop the rifle wiggling side to side. Now I can see my heartbeat in the scope so I pulled out the old “minimum biological input” card which is how I teach my students to shoot from prone (on moderately recoiling rifles) so they won’t see their heartbeat. I reduced my shoulder pressure on the stock to just enough to control the rifle. Now I have headshot level stability and I’m holding on the back of the eland’s head. Wind is essentially nothing, critters aren’t spooked and it’s about to get bloody as I feel great about the whole situation.
Doing as my instructors have all drilled into my head I focused on the reticle hovering over the target at hand and steadily added trigger pressure until the shot broke and the eland immediately hit the dirt. My PRS experience instantly took over and as soon as I recovered from recoil (I’d seen the thing hit the dirt through the scope) I flicked open my bolt, leaned my body leftward a bit and slid my aim over to the waterbuck as it trotted a few steps further away, annoyed by all the ruckus and chambered the next round in as close to a single smooth motion as could be done.
My experience as a hunter chimed in as soon as the waterbuck started moving and said, “The suppressor did its job. The buck is just startled not spoooked. It’s just going to take a few steps and then it’ll look back and you’ll have your shot so don’t rush and definitely don’t come off the rifle.” What do you know, exactly that happens and; still holding crossed over the scope, the small and sharp rocks start aggressively biting into my knee joints in a very uncomfortable way due to my body shift leftward allowing some to roll a bit under my knees on the otherwise slick rock ground. My time spent rolling around on the rocks and hot brass in a summertime pistol class at a Tactical Response chimed in and told me to not be such a sissy and to ignore the discomfort until it becomes actual pain (there’s a difference) because we’re busy with some business now and I can always complain later. So i sucked up the discomfort. Crosshairs steady out on the waterbuck bean and bang, flop. Down goes the waterbuck. As soon as I recovered from recoil my PRS shooter voice pops back into the fore and I instantly jack the bolt open, then execute something of a rather elegant turn; bordering on a pirouette, as I stand and do a sharp about-face. Then I took two big but calm steps toward the other big rock behind me and lay the rifle on the sling like before before getting my chest and genitals snuggled up to the boulder. I find the hog and let my knees feel the sharp little rocks dig in a little. I assume the cross hold like before, then nudge the reticle over to the pig’s ear, apply trigger pressure slowly and whammo. Pig on the ground literally just outside of its hole.
From first trigger pull to last, 3 headshots all at 200m or better from relatively unstable and definitely uncomfortable positions including a location change all in well under 30 seconds. If you count all the position building from the time we spotted all 3 and decided to spill blood on all of them then it was still well under a minute. If I hadn’t spent tons of time in the field actually hunting; enough to not get buck fever, and if I hadn’t spent many a weekend doing a precision rifle competitions and if I hadn’t spent lots of time over the past decade providing precision rifle instruction and taking all manner of gun courses then the day wouldn’t have turned out with 3 pretty nice head shot trophies in the pickup.
The 3 idiots the title refers to are my internal hunter voice, my internal instructor voice and my internal competitive shooter voice. By themselves each one is super helpful but not enough to get me through a situation that dynamic and demanding of exactness. When all of them get together though, I became the beneficiary. I was able to perform in real life a series of actions that I often have trouble with in competition: Shooting decreasing size targets down to sub-MOA size at longish distances using a bolt action rifle while dealing with target movement, 180 degrees of horizon spread on the targets, hastily built positions, major discomfort, body position & firing position changes and ending up with shot splits substantially under 10 seconds and a clean stage. If I’d only listened to my instructor voice I would have been able to miss every single shot because my instructor voice didn’t mention “the cross”, my PRS voice knew about that and my instructor voice would have advised picking a single target instead of trying for mulitples. If I’d listened only to my hunter voice then I would have taken the pig and never even seen the eland or waterbuck; since I saw the pig first, and would have just went all pig fever on it. If I’d listened only to my PRS competitor voice then I would have insisted on taking a Kestrel reading of the wind and temp, breaking out my tripod and shooting bags and then doing the ballistic calculation and never have shot anything because they would have left by then.
As a final point, all of the students that come to my class with a great deal of competition experience are the ones who have the wheels come off their bus on the final day (the final day is test day) because, as a surprising rule, they don’t internalize all the material and they deliberately ignore some things. Instead they practice falling back on old experience which is obviously not good enough or they wouldn’t have taken my class. The students that do not have the wheels come off the bus, in fact they end up shooting to the limits of their gear every single time, are the ones that start the class with the, “I can only shoot maybe 200m and then it’s body shots. Long range is just too hard/complicated/etc… and I can’t do it.” They find out quickly that they can do it and precisely how to do it, precisely why the how works and they don’t ignore anything so they can use all the knowledge that I give them with every shot.
Every training class has 3 kinds of people in it. Those who came to learn. Those who came to show. Those who came to say. The third kind are just there for a sympathetic audience but they can be disruptive. The middle kind are disruptive but can shut up once the wheels are pulled off their bus in public. The first kind are your stars and who you’re there to help anyway so accept the latter two kinds as inevitable inescapable unfortunate facts and move on with the first group.
Instructors, teach your students how to learning to be teachers themselves not by replicating your lessons but by seeing the logic in how you built the lessons so they can help build lessons for those close to them. Make them ambassadors for quality training. Don’t just stop there though, keep fresh by doing some competition and taking other trainer’s courses and then try that stuff out in the field and where you find BS, call out BS. A big tip, don’t even mention how to do something wrong. Only teach the right way.
Competitors can help the whole community by realizing that your competition performance is nearly meaningless in the real universe but you do have a leg up and if you learn to be competent instructors you’ll probably make a great practical shooter once you’ve got a bit of knowledge about your quarry built up.
Practical shooters, you guys can’t be helped unless you recognize that you do need some training and you should do some competition to measure your progress. Then you’re not really a problem for anyone. If you go the training route from pure practical you’ll progress really quickly. If you go the competition route you’ll go in spits and spurts. If you do both you’ll be someone that everyone else wants to learn from because you’re in a great position to call BS on all the gear queer shit and on all the tacticool stupidity as well as being able to say what does vs. does not work in the real world.
You were expecting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Nah. Not my style.
Hot sauce though, that’s another story. I like a good hot sauce and I love tacos. Almost sa much as I love really amazing cheeseburgers. You have no idea how far I’ll go for a good taco or a great cheeseburger. South Africa is not helpful toward either of those habits. To start with, hot sauce of any sort of quality or flavor is hard to get in a lot of South Africa. It mostly consists of peri-peri which can be anything from entirely sweet to straight up napalm and there’s no telling what’s inside the bottle. So too is ready made taco seasoning almost impossible to find. I had to make both hot sauce and taco seasoning during my pair of taco crafting exercises but for one occasion I had a couple retail sauces to start with so only the taco seasoning was from scratch. For the other I had to do both the hot sauce and the taco seasoning from scratch.
For taco seasoning: Start with cumin seeds (they’re easy enough to find) and dried oregano and a little marjoram if it’s around then grind into a powder. Add some salt and pepper if you like. You’ll need a solid tablespoon of cumin per kilo of meat and you’ll probably want more than that, especially if you’re using minced sheep meat instead of minced beef (sheep is very popular in South Africa). Use .5 units of oregano to 1 unit of ground to powder cumin seeds with just a pinch of marjoram if you use it at all.
It’s easy enough to make taco shells with some corn flour (they call it pup and spell it pap and if you need to use it to make tortillas you’ll need to grind it into a flour in a coffee grinder before making tortillas with it). See below for a recipe however you can actually find them in a surprising number of stores, notably in extremely small towns. The odd thing is, in my experience, you’re not likely to find taco shells in the larger towns for some reason unless you go to one of the huge supermarkets, of which there are few and then it’s hit and miss. In the tiny towns there seems to be a curious tendency for there to be one or two boxes of Ortega shells.
To make my own hot sauce I used a saucepan with vinegar and dried chili flakes and boiled it down until it was suitably spicy. Then just mix that with some tomato sauce, finely chopped onion, lemon or lime juice and some granulated garlic and oregano. Mix that and let it sit a bit for the flavors to combine. For guacamole, add all that stuff to smushed avocado instead of tomato sauce. Now, how about some tales of the hunting?
My trip started with a journey to the Karoo to my friend Kudu van Klipspringer’s farm. We did some farm work and then some hunting and then I taught some folks about long range and PRS/NRL style shooting and external ballistics. Then some more farm work and a little wanton destruction of garbage scopes and then it was more or less time to leave to my next destination.
The wanton destruction is pictured below. We have a no-name 4x on the bottom that was not awesome which we punched with a 178gr ELD hand load from a suppressed Accuracy International .308win on the bottom. The scope took a solid 30m airborne journey upon impact but we didn’t get penetration through the ocular bell. Above that is a truly terrible BSA which we punched in the face with a 285gr ELD hand load out of a suppressed Accuracy International .338 Lapua. This also didn’t experience the bullet coming out of the back. Instead the bullet shattered every single lens except the farthest rearward ocular lens with fragments while the main body of the bullet popped out the rear side of the objective bell. The top one was a Primary Arms 4-14x SFP which wasn’t as terrible as the others but still deserved a whipping. We punched it in the face with a .50BMG chambered Accuracy International AX50 running Primetake Omega 800gr brass solids. The bullet punched through the objective and then left the objective bell and rode down the main tube exploding every single lens in the scope all the way to the back. My first hollow tube, even if the bullet did the work from the outside. The block of wood it’s on was so deeply imprinted with the turret housing and erector support screw that it sat totally flat on the wood and the main tube even impressed into the block a bit. A large man could hit that wood with a 16oz ball peen hammer and not make a dent that deep. What a magical day.
As far as the hunting at KVK’s place, the neighbor wanted a particular black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) bull pulled out of his herd so that a massively better looking bull could take over the herd and he’d get the benefit of those improved genetics. After a couple half days of hunting we were able to find them and get a stalk on. Stalking wildebeest is hard as they’ve very wary and they love to run. As a matter of fact, I’ve been counseled only partially jokingly to not shoot wildebeest in the body as it just provides them more air to fuel them running. In my experience with black and blue wildebeest, that’s probably more true than joke.
We got to a little ditch which provided a bit of cover and I leveled the Accuracy International .308 stoked with 178gr ELD’s and put one in the wildebeest’s noggin. It dropped like its feet disappeared and we went forth to claim our prize. Because I was in a pretty awful position for shooting and the thing wasn’t totally still and there was a little wind that I didn’t hold for the bullet impacted just right of center and we ended up with a mostly dead wildebeest.
It was not conscious and it would never regain consciousness but the heart was still beating and we couldn’t have that, it messed with the whole vibe. A quick 9mm to the back of the brain stem ended that and we now had a completely dead wildebeest. Not a massive example but a good size one and a very nice and characteristic example of the species. It’ll get flat skinned and the head European mounted. As soon as I shot this guy the herd flat ran toward the other more impressive bull about a half mile away and so, 100% mission success!
At the end of my long range course one of the students who I’ll refer to simply as “my host” mentioned that if I was going to be in the Free State province the next weekend that he had a blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) with my name on it. Me not being one to look a gift horse or blesbok in the mouth, I quickly accepted and after moving a few things around and arranging a road trip it was on.
We did a proper roughing it style hunt, sleeping in tents in very chilly weather and cooking everything over open fire. We weren’t roving around in a bakkie (pronounced bucky and meaning a pickup truck) in a tightly fenced in enclosure. There was an abundance of open grassland with herds running around on it and we hunted it the way you hunt such places, by posting up in a propitious spot and waiting. There were herds of blesbok and gemsbok and eland till hell wouldn’t have it and we had a great time just observing them. My host and his brother and I posted up just below the top of a grass covered hill and waited our turn. The herd would come in as far as 300m but didn’t provide a shot until they’d backed off to 500m. I usually all 400m my limit for shooting at game but with the rifle I was running and the way the wind was and how steady my rest was, I was happy enough that I’d not fuck it up to take the shot.
The way blesbok seem to like to move around is they’ll stay in a tight pack and just run like they’re on fire. Then they suddenly stop and mill around in a tightly packed circle a bit like a mosh pit without the moshing or music. Occasionally one will pop out of the edge for a few seconds and that’s your window. I was looking for anything with bones on top but the biggest ram in the bunch decided it was his day and squirted out from the herd giving me just about 5 seconds to get dialed, get steady, figure out my wind hold, exhale slowly and squeeze the loud lever. The gun was a Winchester M70 CRF in .243AI running 105gr Nosler RDF’s that had been pointed and was well suppressed. I used a .243AI running 115’s for a few years in PRS so I knew how the thing would handle in the wind. I was initially a little dubious about the pointed RDF’s but after the bullet punched through the on-side shoulder it destroyed the big pipes coming from the heart and from there one pointing of the RDF’s was a moot issue. By the time the bullet hit the far side shoulder it was (judging by the hole size) already expanded to about .5″ and made a nice .75″ exit so it clearly expanded well if a bit on the late side and made a good amount of blood leakage so tracking would have been easy if we had to bother with that.
The buck meandered around for about 30 yards and then fell down rolling up the curtain and joining the choir invisible. The bases are quite large and between that and the horn height it looks like it’ll make Rowland Ward and SCI trophy grade. What a hunt. I would very much like to try again next year and see if I can’t get a ewe. It was an awesome weekend of real rough country camping and hunting and just enough other guys in camp to have a lot of great conversation without anybody managing to sort out anyone else.
As is my custom, this will get European mounted. One of these days I’ll also get the related bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus) which has a much more intricately wonderful pelt and I’ll have the pelt flat skinned. Blesbok are a Least Concern animal but Bontebok are on the CITES list but since they only really exist on farms. It’s ok to harvest bontebok from registered farms with the right paperwork and then to import the trophy to the USA. Although paperwork seems not to matter since nobody in the USA has ever asked about my trophies at all.
Once the blesbok hunt was in the books and a few flat tires later we finished making our way over to Bloemfontein to hand me off to another friend of mine who we’ll call Pox to spend a week at his farm doing farm work and a little hunting if the opportunity presented itself. A couple days in Pox decided to take me over to his honey hole and see what we could see. His farm is a cattle ranch, not a game farm so it doesn’t have high fences and game can come and go as it pleases. This means hunting is very much catch as catch can. We pulled up to the area and after dismounting the truck and popping around a cattle fence and up a cliff face a bit we were happy to see a beast of a warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) out munching and mulling about. We put a pause on shooting the pig for the moment and proceeded up to the optimal observation point and what do we see? A big eland (Taurotragus oryx) bull standing there at 230m just aching to lay down suddenly. Just off to the right and a little further out than the eland at around 260m was a short-horned but good sized waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus). To kick it all in the pants, the warthog was still there behind me about 200m. All three were at about a 10 degree down angle and didn’t seem to notice us peering at them.
After some brief discussion I took the eland with a quick head shot from a suppressed T/C Compass in .308win filled with 150gr Game Kings and it went right down. I immediately shucked in another shell and just as my buddy said, “Now the waterbuck.” I put the crosshairs on the buck’s bean and, BANG, breached bro’s brain. Boom! Bonus buck.
As soon as we heard the impact we saw the waterbuck hit the dirt just as I opened the bolt and pulled back on the handle. I then stood quickly, did an abrupt about face turn and started the 3 step jog back to a big rock that was behind me to get a shot at the hog. Just as Pox and I confirmed that we would make it a hat trick I settled the crosshair on the pig’s ear and without further ado punched a hole in its brain. The bullet entered the ear and exited the opposite eye with minimal carnage.
The whole thing took less than 30 seconds from stabilizing for the first shot to firing the last shot and included 2 positional changes with one of those changes including a change of location. I was rested on large rocks each time but the extremely light hunting weight rifle and Uncle Mikes sling swivels getting in the way of a solid rest didn’t really help with stability so I fell back on the skills picked up in competition shooting circles over the decades and created my own stability for each shot. For the first 2 shots I used the neoprene sling under the rifle to pad the rifle and the swivels and grabbed the top of the scope PRS barricade style. For the warthog I flattened out the swivels and went minimum biological input just resting the rifle in position till I could get a trigger pull with the crosshairs where they needed to be. With stability not really an issue anymore, I was able to focus on the reticle and on my wind call and just do the job I was there to do. Know your gear, trust it and know your limits and trust yourself and you can do pretty amazing stuff under time pressure in the real world. To get there, PRS/NRL is a good way to find your limits and improve on them.
The eland made Rowland Ward and SCI by a nice enough margin to be pretty pleased with myself about. Even if trophies aren’t the goal, they’re still nice to get. The warthog would certainly qualify as well but you have to pull the tusks for official measurement and I want the European mount which means not taking an axe to the nasal bones to get the tusks out. The waterbuck was a meat source and way way smaller in the horns than would be even appropriate for hanging on the wall. Since I’m in it for the fun, challenge, camaraderie with my friends and the memories I don’t mind but I won’t taxidermy the waterbuck. The eland and warthog will be Euro mounted as will be the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) I shot a couple days later.
We didn’t get pics of the blue wildebeest because we forgot. It was a smallish cow and was part of a hunt to get them off another farmers property where they’d invaded so he could use the dirt for cattle grazing. I’ll get a bull someday but I’m still having the cow European mounted because it’s not a bad little skull and is full of memories, if no longer brains. I took the blue after having just sat down under a tree and starting to wiggle my ass into the rock. As soon as I started getting comfy there comes the herd about 325m away on a small hill just the other side of a clear open grassy field. I radioed to Pox and the landowner that I’d found the herd and gave a heading and distance from me and my position and then I leveled the suppressed and chassis stocked .375 Ruger stoked with GS Custom bullets using a knees up sitting position and fired. The slap of the bullet and the jump of the animal told me I got it but it didn’t just go down.
A subsequent search for blood turned up none meaning it was probably a gut shot and we’d have to find it. Pox and one of my favorite long range students of all time (a 13 year old girl that has zero quit in her, a bubbly personality and turned out to be a fantastic student who I’ll call Minnie for now) who’d joined the hunt just for giggles managed to find it hiding under a tree after Minnie kept hearing twigs snap and insisting that they check it out. After getting me over there where I could just see its back I layed the .375 Ruger over Pox’s shoulder and put the finisher in. Then while Pox went to get the bakkie Minnie and I dragged my wildebeest to the trail. Minnie isn’t a big kid at all (she’d be lucky to weigh 70lbs soaking wet) but she’s as tough as a railroad spike and she really was as helpful as a grown man and totally necessary to me getting the blue dragged to the road. Kids are tough if you let them be. Girl kids are insanely tough if you let them be.
Backing up for a second: You might miss getting the idea of the size of the warthog by the picture above so here’s me snuggled up really close to it. My knees are touching it’s belly and I’m leaned forward a bit holding it up. The head is just absolutely massive along with the whole animal and the carcass, skinned/gutted/head off/feet off weighed in at a solid 50kg making the whole hog something over 200lbs standing. I’m having the lower jaw included in the European mount. The tusks are more impressive that way as you get better context as to why they’re sharp edged like a knife. A really large male doesn’t get much larger than this so I’m pretty stoked.
Apart from the critters above I also managed a red meerkat which is also known as a yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata) and a nice size black backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas). Neither of those were very photogenic afterward but I’m having the jackal flat skinned because the pelt was in really great shape and the colors were striking enough to be worth the expense.
To get back to the subject of food: I made tacos twice during the trip. Once at KVK’s place and again at Pox’s place. Both families really seemed to enjoy my transplanted Calexican cooking and most even enjoyed a little hot sauce (about Taco Bell mild sauce grade rather than my preferred weapons grade) with their tacos. This is a big deal since Boer cuisine is essentially completely devoid of chili peppers of any kind and pretty sparse on aromatics. Boere cuisine is heavy on mutton and potatoes with frequent infusions of game meat, cheese and tomato and a little bread.
My hosts all had their doubts but they also had open minds and empty stomachs and ended up eating their fill rather than just trying one. So, they must have enjoyed them at least a bit. They were all somewhat shocked when I told them that the hot sauce I prepared was extremely mild being no more than Taco Bell mild sauce and that young children in the USA generally have no issues eating much spicier stuff than I’d made. They refused to go with my assertion that they mustn’t be afraid of flavor and most refused to kick it up a notch, though a couple did with good results.
The most amazing things also happened to me on my way out of the country:
The first was a SAPS cop at a very small airport thinking my kudu horns were rhino horn (education there is not what it should be) and inviting me into a very small room to explain myself. When I produced my export documentation this seemed only to confuse him and his associates (a gate agent and a baggage handler) so, he called in a lady who works the ticket counter and is apparently much better educated, particularly in the country’s export laws and in zoology. She said a few things about how it was a kudu not a rhino skull and horns and that it’d been treated properly for being in my luggage and being exported which they didn’t respond to at all and then she said the magic words, “It’s fine.” and then it immediately was and I was allowed to get on the plane. Your best bet with SAPS is just to pay the bribe. Handing them paperwork which says you’re allowed to do what you’re doing only serves to confuse and annoy them.
The second amazing thing was being able to get an avocado cheeseburger which was quite good and not even classifiable as a war crime. There are no cheeseburgers in the whole country at takeaways that are anything less than a crime against humanity. As well as the rather tasty burger was a 500ml beer which actually contained closer to 650ml of a wonderful IPA at a fine dining restaurant INSIDE AN AIRPORT for a grand total of $18 US. When they brought the bill it just said “245.00” on the total line which included the tip and I, figuring they’d caught on to my accent, assumed it might just be in dollars but no, I asked and was told it was in Rand. The beer alone, and I have tested this, would be $18 at any major airport in the USA and the burger and appetizer would have cost similar amounts. I briefly considered trying to find a movie theater in the airport so I could see how much popcorn could be had for $10 but I quickly discarded that notion as I was afraid I would not be able to carry that much weight after the whole burger and beer experience.
At this point I’m looking to buy a small game farm of my own so I can have a place where I can say to my friends, “Hey, come out to my place in South Africa and hunt with me. I have my own game farm so it won’t cost anything but the ride, a few hundred bucks for the critter and a couple hundred for the taxidermy.” It’s kind of like saying, “Oh, Chad! You and Buffy just haaaave to come to my place in Aspen for some skiiing.” but it’s 100% less douchey & stuck up and it’s actually fun to do unlike being anywhere near Aspen.
Here’s how to make taco shells with mealie pap:
1/2 cup fine ground mealiepap
1.5 cups cake flour
1 tsp olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm water
Mix all the ingredients together with your wooden spoon and make sure all is combined.
Make a long sausage type roll. Divide the roll into equal parts with a sharp knife.
Make little balls, prepare a surface with flour and roll out the balls until round and flat like a pancake.
Heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat to 365 degrees F (180 degrees C).
Use tongs to place one tortilla at a time into the oil. It should start to sizzle right away. Cook for about 15 seconds, then flip over and fold the shell in half, holding in place with the tongs until crispy, about 15 seconds. You may need a little practice at first. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt while still hot. Use for tacos right away, or they may become chewy. Leftovers may be heated in the oven for crisping. Use an elevated cooling rack to hang the taco shells so they keep their shape and let the excess oil drain off.
If you saw my recent review of the Series 3 and Series 5 you were probably left with the impression that the Series 2’s were going to be at least as good. Well, I was wrong. They’re actually a little better in a way and not quite as good as the Series 5’s in 1 particular way. Why? Simple, they didn’t try to do so much. Pulling off a 4-16x50mm scope, even on a 30mm tube, is way easier than pulling off a 3-18x50mm and without quite so much magnification the exit pupil is bigger which makes for a brighter and clearer image on the eye.
I recently popped for a pair of Crimson Trace Series 2 4-16x50mm MOA scopes. Yeah, 2 of them. I said screw it and bought 2 of the Series 2 4-16x50mm scopes because I was so impressed with the Series 3 and Series 5 that I said, “Why not.” I got MOA because that was all that was left and these scopes were nearly $1000 originally and I got mine from MidwayUSA on clearance for $300. Deals like that make MOA vs. MRAD a discussion that doesn’t need to be had. Either will work just as well as the other unless you’re using the metric system for linear measurements, in which case MRAD ends up easier only because it’s base-10 and metric distances are base-10 while MOA is base-60 and SAE length measurements are not really based on anything consistent.
So the scopes arrive and I immediately put them next to a Series 3 5-25x and a Series 5 3-18x and looked around. Glass quality appears to be identical as it was with the two higher end models. I couldn’t see a difference out to several kilometers other than more magnification on the two bigger models. The reticle is, like the other 2, a little small for a grid or even the crosshair really to be practical at the bottom of the magnification range but once you’re up about 30% of the total range it’s fine. The turrets feel identical and the quick click value test I did showed consistent click values and solid tracking.
There’s still a good number of CT “Series” scopes available at MidwayUSA.com for between 1/3 and 1/2 of their original retail price. You’re never going to get another chance to get a thousand dollar scope for what a bottom barrel SWFA Super Sniper goes for so get them while you can. If I can find another few hundred bucks, I’m going to buy more of them just to have available some excellent glass that didn’t cost much.
I won’t go into a long diatribe about the Series 3’s or Series 5’s or even the feature set because it’s already pretty well spelled out with one exception. The Series 3 left with its owner before I could check but I’m certain that the 2’s and pretty sure that the Series 3’s don’t come with a zero stop but the Series 5’s do. That’s seemingly the only other difference I could find. There’s a solid 100MOA of up in the turrets on the Series 2 and I found that getting my 100yrd zero to be AT the bottom of the turret’s range required a total of ~60MOA between the rings (20MOA in each ring) and the 20MOA scope base. Truth be told it wasn’t a perfect 100yrd zero as it was printing a little low but that’s a common rifle to rifle level of variation. This suggests that they’re meant to run with 10-20MOA of cant in the system to still have you near the optical center at zero and you will still have enough up left to run a .308win well past 1000yrds.
Keep an eye out at Brownell’s on their Match Precision Optic line as they’re like the the Winchester Ranger SXT ammo was to the Winchester Black Talon ammo, the same exact thing under a different name.
On a side note, it’s nice being right. I made a lot of assumptions and they turned out right and I didn’t get burned. Love it!
When I think about Crimson Trace’s “Series” scopes I visualize in my mind some buyer at MidwayUSA.com screaming, “Sell! Sell!” as he collapses into a mosh pit of depressed stock traders, like Randolph Duke the end of the movie “Trading Places”. Crimson Trace came to market with $800-$2000 optics that sold like snow cones in the Arctic despite being at quality and feature parity with other scopes costing $800-$2000. The whims of precision rifle marketplace are sometimes hard to predict and usually arbitrary. I mean, Arken optics is still standing despite selling only currently the garbage SH4 line and not selling their epic EP4 line. I think this situation persists largely because people don’t read and they often don’t think either. They associate brands with quality rather than brand-models. This leads people to buying garbage based on faith, then losing faith because of that and then when they find actual quality available, they look askance at it because they’ve been bitten before (see Arken). Big sale discounts on expensive stuff just makes people nervous anymore. Enter my latest need for a long range capable optic and a budget limited to not far from $800.
My .223rem chambered Mossberg MVP has been without a decent optic for nigh on 2 years now and I promised my nephew that he could go to a match with me soon so I needed a very light recoiling rifle that’s not ultra loud or heavy and it has to have an optic on it that is simple enough (mils not MOA, not a tree reticle, big eye box) for a kid to shoot his first match (and his first time shooting a real powder burning rifle) with. I had been looking for another US Optics SN3 3.8-22x (I like this brand-model and prefer it to all others) before this particular need came up but there weren’t any being proffered so I had to look then to other brand scopes and thought a Bushnell DMR or XRS or ERS or HDMR would do very nicely.
Then while browsing around MidwayUSA.com I happened upon the Crimson Trace scopes at 50% off and was made instantly curious. I know they’re made in Japan which is a VERY good sign and I know the original MSRP’s were pretty heart stopping like all top end scopes which is a good sign. So, they had to be at least decent and at 50% off, well now we’re talking real value. Topping all that, any of the Bushnell scopes would have ended up being just a little bit more expensive than I had bucks on-hand for and I didn’t want to overdraft my checking account or wait several days to get paid and risk not getting one because the sale ended or they’d sold out. So, I ponied up to the bar and got the CT Series 5 3-18×50 which I had all the dollars to cover. I’m glad I did. There was also a CT 3-24x but an 8x magnification range, to me, only means an unusable reticle at the low end or too heavy a reticle at the high end. It’s just too much range for me. That being the case, 3-18x is right where I needed. The .223 it’s going on will never need more than 18x anyway. It can’t reach far enough for that to be really helpful and 18x is enough to shoot a mile against a man size target anyway.
These were and still are at the time of this writing on sale at 50% off at MidwayUSA.com. For me it was a choice between a Bushnell DMR or XRS II both of which I know are excellent scopes or I could check out the CT 5-series. These things retailed for $1500-2000 depending on where you went and I can’t see that the marketplace really responded well. It’s a crowded market full of newly formed companies so just leveraging a storied name like Crimson Trace isn’t likely to get you much traction. You need to hit the features:price ratio that makes you barely profitable and you need someone popular to glom onto your stuff. CT had no such luck of getting a popular booster and they didn’t keep the price reasonable.
Brownell’s sells a Match Precision Optic which is literally the exact same scope as the CT Series 5 3-18x50mm but it sells for $1000, not 50% more than that like the CT version. The only difference between the CT scope and the Brownell’s is the red ring of death that CT puts on the occular to tell you if your eye relief is good. So I guess the real question you want answered immediately is, “Is the scope worth $1000?” Yes. Totally. Really good glass quality yields clean images and very natural color rendition and a very consistently flat image. My unit passed a box (tracking repeatability) test perfectly and pulled the tall target (click value) test with no measurable error inside 10mils.
Now here’s where a lesson got learned. The Series 5 have 6x or greater magnification range and all sit on 34mm tubes. The Series 3 have a 5x magnification range and some sit on 34mm tubes while others are on 30mm tubes. The 3 Series 5-25x is every bit as optically good as the Series 5. The real difference between the two appears to be tube size and magnification range but not glass quality or tracking. The Series 2, which I haven’t tested yet but will soon, have 4x magnification range and vary between 30 and 34mm tubes but it’s important to note that they have the same exact glass as in the Series 3 and Series 5 and use the same turret setups. These are legitimate long range scopes for under $800, usually quite a lot less than that.
Reticles vary across the line and some are pretty busy while others are pretty plain. It’s pretty common for them to have open centers which helps by not obscuring the target. Illumination is really clean with no blooming and plenty of difference between the top and bottom brightness settings and useful differences between adjacent levels.
Magnification and reticle focus rings are firm but not excessively stiff to turn. The elevation turret has nicely distinct clicks but they’re not notchy like a Bushnell ET1040 that feels like you’re shifting gears in gated transmission. The illumination ring is quite stiff and extremely notchy. The parallax ring is firm but not stiff and goes down to 10yrds which is killer if you’re planning on using it on a .22lr. I had no trouble getting target focus on targets up to 1500yrds distant. One thing that CT did which you might find cool is what I call their red ring of death (Yes Xbox, I’m making fun of you.). The purpose of the red ring (it’s in the occular lens) is to tell you when you’re at proper eye relief. I thought that would be handy for those match stages where I’m at a really awkward shooting position which is not behind the rifle. It ended up not being quite that handy but it is distinctive and that’s cool enough and handy for instructing new shooters.
There is a zero stop and it’s pretty darned easy to set up, 1 screw in the elevation turret. Another nice feature is the level lines on the sides of the tube. Really simplifies getting the thing level because you just index those to your scope ring’s cap splits and you’re pretty well golden.
What surprises are in store? Well, one big one was these seem to be intended to be used on seriously canted bases. I have a 20MOA rail on my .223 and I put 15 MOA more into the Burris Signature Series XTR rings that I used. That put me pretty much in the middle of the mechanical range for my zero. I like to set up my scopes to be zero’d anywhere from a little under middle of mechanical range to ~2-5mils off the bottom depending on how far I plan to actually use the thing. I set up my scopes so that my max range drops are not at the limits of the mechanical range so I’m still somewhere near the sweet spot of the optical quality when I’m reaching out farthest. That sacrifies some short range optical performance but you can’t tell because it’s at short range where defects have to be much bigger to be apparent.
With anything that’ll go farther than a .223 you’ll probably want to start at 30MOA of base/ring cant and maybe go as high as 40-50MOA. Putting 20, 30, 40MOA in Burris Signature Series XTR rings is trivially easy so you might plan on using those rings. They can be a pain to set up as you have to slowly and evenly torque all 12 screws across both rings like you’re installing an aluminum cylinder head. It takes a while but it’s not hard to do and the Burris Signature rings don’t mar scope tubes up with ring marks and they have adjustable cant in via little polymer eccentrics. I use Seekins rings on my US Optics scopes but I use Burris Signature Series XTR’s on anything else with a 34mm main tube (and Burris Signature Series Zee rings on 30mm tubes).
What’s not awesome? They’re not winning any awards for total elevation adjustment range. The total range of up is about 35mils (~120MOA) and the windage turret seems limited to adjustments that might actually be useful, not much more than 20Mil total range. Also, the elevation turret has a little tiny bit of lash in the clicks which annoys some people. The most annoying thing is that Brownells is selling the exact same thing for half price so it seems that CT was being a little greedy and got their comeuppence. Now that their peepee got smacked though, we get the bargains as CT gets out of the business. They still make scopes but not this line. They’ve got a lifetime warranty as well so you can feel protected there.
These scopes do not come with a sunshade and there is not one available as far as I can tell. Bummer. What you can get are throw levers (20 bucks) from Crimson Trace. those appear to be in stock. I don’t see a need for them but if you want one, they’re available. As far as accessories, that’s all folks.
So, if you’re in the market for an optic in the $450-1000 range right now, you best get your butt over to MidwayUSA.com and order up one of these bad boys. Series 2, 3 or 5 you’re in for a great scope. The best bargains are on the Series 5’s and the Series 3’s right now as they’re 50% off but the Series 2’s are still pretty darned nice and they’re in that price range too. While you’re there grab a set of Burris XTR Signature Series rings and a Fat Wrench and a 20MOA picatinny rail and you’ve got the whole kit.
After I got my scope and had done all my testing on it, I was looking for other reviews. Mostly this is to see if others had different experiences before I go writing any review articles. If there’s substantial inconsistency of quality/performance then I usually will not publish an article. This is why low and middle end Vortex stuff never appears in these pages. QC by RMA is easily forgiven by the masses if the warranty process is simple and if the warranty process is too simple and forgiving, like Vortex’s, then you get a lot of people that say, “Oh it works perfectly.” even though they’re on their 6th replacement unit and nobody complains that QC is crap. Whereas with a company that tries to make 6-sigma manufacturing quality a reality and which treats warranty claims as serious failures of the manufacturing operation will usually get pilloried for even a single trivial failure that gets publicized even if there’s a million other units that never had problem-1. While looking around I found the Dark Lord of Optics. He has his shit together and knows what he’s talking about. He actually did a little comparo of 50mm objective precision rifle scopes with a broad range of price points, from expensive to heart-stoppingly-expensive and he came up with (no surprise) essentially the same result.
You should expect that when you spend $400 on a scope promising features that are normally only found to be well executed on scopes costing 3-4 times as much that you’re going to get a pile of shit, and this is no exception. It’s a terrible scope in the extreme but only because of a single aspect. If it weren’t for that one aspect being so incredibly shitty, the thing would actually made some of the decent scores and doubling the price would not be out of the question. However, with that one aspect being what it is, the scope is just a 20-piece bucket of extra crispy fried failure.
First off, I ordered mine in the first week of September and there was a 8-12 week lead time. Fine. Covid plus hot new product equals long lead time. Come January I got a little annoyed at it being over a month beyond the 12 week line and dropped them a line. They couldn’t even find my order because they track based on the email address you use in the order. The email address I communicate with humans over is not the same one that I associate orders of shit from the internet with. If you got 1500 emails a day of which a couple hundred were important, you’d use account-based filtering too. They also couldn’t find my order using any of the transaction numbers provided during the Paypal transaction as searchable keys. So, initially, they couldn’t even find my order at all. Whomever set up their ecommerce widgets should be downright ashamed. Up until right here customer service was basically a deadpan attitude with a vernier of gofuckyourselfness barely detectable under the superficial politeness and they didn’t seem to keen on finding out what the hell happened. I guess politeness only goes so far.
So, not getting anything with honey, I decided to change to vinegar and I rotated my attitude a bit in order to get a bit snippy with them. Now they decided to bother looking and promptly found my order. Here’s where my disappointment with Arken Optics reaches a boiling point. Once they did find my order they told me that the Post Office had decided to not deliver it, marking it undeliverable, which is odd considering I get something like 10 packages a day on average. In any event, the scope was returned to Arken and then Arken NEVER EVEN BOTHERED CONTACTING ME ABOUT THAT. Just took my $400 and looked the other direction. This is a kind of “He’ll contact us if he feels it’s important.” attitude and it is not the kind of attitude that is OK in this situation.
Once they’d dug head out of ass and figured out that, nope, I didn’t get my scope they dutifully asked if I still wanted it. Well DUH. I didn’t ask for a refund in the first place, I asked for my scope. So, after confirming that I did want a scope I asked if perhaps we could upgrade to the EP4. Nope. We’re not taking anymore orders for those. Oh. Ok. I get it. Your loss leader is too popular and you won’t hook up the guy that you just fucked over and whom now; for whatever reason, wants to up his stupidity by 200 bucks. Ok. Fine. Y’all are hopeless, Arken.
So we know that while the company isn’t totally shitty, there are definitely some smelly, wet, brown streaky things running up and down their customer focus and customer service britches. How about in the product itself? Is there, to use a bit of an aged corporate tag line, any evil lurking in their plumbing? Who knows? Adee do.
The scope wasn’t totally hopeless out of the gate. It has some nice bits. The turrets are huge and nicely tactile which very distinct clicks and an easy to read knob. Click values were repeatable and accurate for elevation and windage. The sunshade that’s included is of a useful length. The thing weighs like it should if it were high quality (that’s usually an indicator, not this time). The zero-stop was cleverly simple and super easy to deal with. The pinch screw type caps will never be on my list of good decisions though but they worked just fine.
The bubble level is probably the cheapest unit they could find and mine came with it’s screw hole courteously pre-cross-threaded for me so just getting the screw out was a whore of a chore. The aluminum (or pot possibly metal) that the body of the level was made of was so soft that I was able to just force the screw in and it seems to have re-cut the threads well enough to hold. Soft but not brittle I guess. Lucky me. Still, in the end it is a level and I was able to successfully install it and to use it from behind the rifle so, full points there.
The throw lever would be excellent on a scope that didn’t have the power ring doped down with 30ftlbs of minimum turning torque. Since the power ring does need a just STUPID amount of turning torque, the throw lever really needs to be about 10 inches longer. Seriously. No joking. Even with the throw lever, trying to change magnification quickly like one might do in a PRS stage was simply not possible and trying to accomplish it with increasing force levels was seriously painful. I soon found out that there’s no amount of force you can apply to the power ring to make it turn much faster than super slow. It’s from here on out that things start going uniformly cockeyed.
What did they get so badly wrong that the tone of this piece has descended to the level of someone in Hades with bronchitis? Well, lots of places but the worst by far was the glass itself. On high magnification levels, anything above ~14x, it’s like looking through a milk bottle that nobody took the milk out of first. Focusing decently on something like a 2/3 IPSC target at 800yrds was simply not possible at any magnification and as the magnification crawled past 14x the thing became generally less and less usable at any distance. Every optical aspect was simply terrible. I thought I might be spoiled and had a friend who’s also a long range shooter take a peek. He was less generous in his assessment than I have been anywhere in this article.
Beyond the milkiness I got wicked amounts of color separation, meaning that they probably didn’t use apochromatically corrected lenses and if they did, the correction is incomplete to say the least. In addition to that, the parallax knob that should focus the image simply would not do that to any distant target. Close and mid-range was not a problem to focus the target on but after about 800 yards I found it simply impossible to get focus that would allow me to resolve 3-inch wide bullet splash marks against the otherwise white painted steel. Pathetic! Utterly pathetic. I got radically better performance from an SWFA 16×42 looking at the same target on the same day and that scope is not exactly the kitties titties of resolution. Even a Nikon P223 was dramatically superior in optical clarity. NOTE: I put a bullet through that Nikon the same day I wrung out the Arken so that should tell you about what I think of the Arken SH4. This Arken SH4 is basically what you get when you send $400 to China and ask them to provide you with a little surprise buttsex. Doing one or the other probably won’t have the same effect. You have to do both at the same time for the full effect.
The eye box on the Arken SH4 is very tight even at low magnifications. Tight eye boxes make a scope harder to use when things aren’t otherwise perfect. It wasn’t brutally tight like I’ve seen on some scopes and it didn’t feel ‘weird’ in the eye like Athlon Ares ETR’s did. It’s just really tight. Tight enough to be irritating but not to make it unusable, unlike the glass itself.
Ring torque limits are helpfully printed on the scope body. It said 18inlbs so I did not exceed that. The tree reticle they offer is great at high magnification but it is essentially invisible at low magnification. The idea behind very fine reticle lines is one that says the user might bias toward high magnification use cases and that’d be fine if the scope was at all usable at high magnifications. However, in the middle range where it was possible to get ok focus, the reticle was so thin that it was easily lost against the background and doing holdover and holdoff with a reticle like that was much more difficult than it should have been.
Now then, that 34mm tube. The 34mm tube seems utterly pointless in this application. The whole reason for using one is to either make larger, easier and cheaper to manufacture lens elements, or to provide for greater turret adjustment range. It seems that they didn’t go with the range option as this scope sports a pretty large but not atypical 35mils (120MOA) of up (I have seen variables with up to 70MILS of up). Windage capacity wasn’t nearly so generous either, about 1/2 of the elevation range in practice so you’d think that the lens elements were where they spent the money. It’s not. What you end up with from the 34mm tube is not a quality image. What you really get out of it is having to buy rings that cost 2-5x as much as a 30mm ring and that’s about it. Think about it. You can’t use the extra up if you can’t use enough magnification to see far enough to need the extra up.
All in all, this was the single worst use of $400 I have ever managed to execute. I didn’t even feel right about selling the thing on without heavily discounting the price and telling the buyer exactly what they were in for. I would imagine that the EP4 line is substantially better and I would be willing to bet a crispy $1 bill that’ll work in any machine that they’re going to have to jack the price on the EP4 into the damned stratosphere so they can afford to sell more of them. If not, then Arken Optics will, in my prediction, end up as the next Barska or NCStar or Centerpoint… making some of the shittiest scopes in the world for some of the most gullible motherfuckers in the world. There’s no way they’ll be able to keep the EP4 down at $500 and still have Japanese glass and great tracking with a usefully large magnification range.
I hope Arken unfucks themselves. If they do I’ll be happy to re-review their line but they’re going to have to sponsor the scopes for that testing. I’m not paying them out of my own pocket yet again for the privilege of finding yet another company with yet another product that doesn’t live up to the hype. I won’t be able to test the EP4’s for the foreseeable future because Arken decided to not sell them anymore and they do not currently offer a higher end line than the SH4. My personal bet (not based on anything but a hunch) is that they came out with both a 500 dollar scope and a 400 dollar scope thinking that most people would take the cheaper one given the option and that their loss leading 500 dollar scope would sell in relatively smaller numbers. I further bet that they grossly miscalculated the blind faith that people have in Frank Galli’s words and most people ended up going to the EP4 which they lost money on. If they didn’t, they’d still be selling them living fuck out of them.
A 75mm platform, 34mm main tubes made from 10 layers of CF and almost a direct copy of a Really Right Stuff tripod plus additional features, the ST344c is fully capable, economical and well made.
In the past decade or so a disturbing trend has arisen in the shooting sports world. It’s like there’s a competition involving everybody versus everybody else to see who can be the biggest spendthrift and to do it for no reason at all. Supplied by makers of excellently made and ridiculously overpriced shooting accessories abounding in the world, this trend is being fueled by both innovation and keeping up with the Jones’. Innovation is good. Keeping up with the Jones’ is horrible and ruins sports.
When you throw up huge cost penalties for people wanting to compete at a reasonably high level all you do is look at potential customers and tell them, “Fuck off! This game isn’t for you, Poor.” Never mind the fact that the prices are made artificially high in nearly every case and that poors are the people you want to get buying your shit because there’s so many of them and they’re frequently prone to following fads. It’s not like I’m saying poors are stupid but stupidity is represented more thoroughly among their number than among Richie Rich types. I guess an argument could be made for this being the exact reason for the current state of affairs but, I’m sticking with my assertion for now that poors are being cynically and willfully disenfranchised to the detriment of the rest of us. Poors teach you how to do things with limited resources and should be valued by manufacturers.
I’m not the guy that keeps up with anyone. I, personally, could give 2 cold squirts of democrat piss about what Mr. and Mrs. Jones own and use. Neither am I an early adopter. Or a late adopter. I’m what you might call a “damned-near-never-adopter”. Never will I hemorrhage tall stacks of cash on any new whizbang gizmo or toy that just erupted uninvited into my universe for the simple fact that it’s new. In short, I do not suffer from the incurable state of permanent want that appears to have stricken nearly everyone in the shooting sports world and the greater society at large. Ads for particularly expensive Mercedes-Benz models do not get my coveting sub-routine activated. It’s no use trying to engage my enthusiasm to make me make a purchase because I haven’t got an enthusiasm… it was never installed at the factory. Part of this attitude comes from a pervasive natural skepticism, part of it is an ascetic streak in my character born of growing up exceedingly poor and part of it is a genuine desire to discover what stuff out there really works so I avoid buying what doesn’t. Eventually I will acquire a desire to buy some of the things that really work. I will, though, still always wait to buy them until after their fad status has waned.
Seriously… Go on and keep that bandwagon space just for you. I ain’t riding it. When super fancy scopes that made the once legendary Leupold Mk4 look sad and aged came out, I didn’t jump on them. I stayed with the old Weaver T-series and Sightron target scopes for nearly 10 more years before I slow-walked across the street into the world of Vortex Razor 2’s and US Optics TPAL series scopes. When everyone else had already abandoned McMillan A5 stocks in favor of all aluminum chassis stocks, I stuck with my hand laid fibreglass until MDT admitted to the world that a quality chassis for under 1000 bucks was doable. When Masterpiece Arms later went and made the be-all-end-all PRS chassis stock, I stayed with my MDT LSS. I do not waste money and I certainly don’t spend it twice. When I do spend money, I’m spending on something that had better last because I am only going to buy it once. Sure a MPA chassis might do me marginally better but, I don’t need it. I have a MDT chassis that suits me quite well and does good work for me. This will keep me out of many winners circles but it doesn’t materially diminish my enjoyment of the sport or my ability to excel at it.
Occasionally in the global marketplace that we all exist inside of there will come to be more than one brand/model of catchmefuckme which appear to be competitive with each other but which have a price difference that normally suggests 1 unit is good and the other is a dumpster-fire. On very rare occasions; almost so rarely as to not actually happen, both units will be totally acceptable, even directly comparable in fit/finish/quality/capacity/etc… and the only real difference between the two will be price. You might be thinking that because this article has been written and because the beginning of it has been phrased the way that it has that we’ve found one of those unicorns and, you’d be right. Normally the stuff I review is not bargain model stuff because usually that stuff is made out of shit. Not this time.
So, it’s time yet again to look at toys for the rest of us. This rest of us I speak of is the part of the population that, like me, doesn’t need a particular brand label to give away how much I paid for my toy in order for it to have any value to me. Nor do I gain self-worth from the cost of my toys. Everyone with a bent similar to mine, stick around because there’s good stuff here. Everyone else, you’re excused if you want to be but you’re encouraged to stay a bit as you will definitely have the most to gain from the brain dump being performed herein.
Enter Innorel. Yeah, you’ve never probably heard of them probably because I seriously doubt that it’s a company so much as a brand. I also know that Innorel isn’t the only brand with CF tripods at reasonable prices. They’re starting to pop up all over but, the only brand I’ve been able to validate as living up to their promises or not is Innorel. The guys over at SnipersHide.com went over the RT90c which has 40mm primary tubes and a couple other minor features not found on the ST344c. The RT-90c is $100 more expensive than the ST344c and for that you get a quick release bowl, slightly beefier legs, 20lbs more capacity and it weighs 2lbs more than the ST344c. For the average competitive shooter, the difference between the two is essentially zero so dropping to 34mm primaries, dropping 2lbs of mass and keeping 100 bucks in the wallet is probably a pretty damned good trade. The ST-80c starts at 32mm legs and 44lbs of capacity with only 8 layers of CF. While it might be ok for a 10lbs hunting rifle, the ST-80c is a little light on capacity for my taste for a PRS type rifle that weights nigh on 20lbs or more despite it being $60 cheaper. That $60 is probably an important $60 to spend.
If your use case can tolerate a 77lbs capacity instead of an 88lbs capacity, 2lbs less shit to drag around and having basically every other capability and feature at parity then the ST344c is probably worth a look even by professional shooters. 40mm primaries aren’t going to do that much better than 34’s unless you’re shooting a boomer like a .338LM/.375CT/.50BMG.
Where does this fall down against the RRS? The only thing I can see so far is the little leg locks aren’t spring loaded on the Innorel. That’s about it. Short of testing to destruction it’s been impossible to find anything else and I’d like to use it in another few matches before breaking it. I did test abusively by hanging my 170lbs of lazy-ass bastard from the ball-head platform with the tripod fully extended to maximum height. It took that without a creak. It’s been holding up my 18lbs rifle for 3 days now and the ball head hasn’t moved.
On to the ball-head. I’ve not found a lot of these that I like. If they’re easy to disengage the lock on then they’re so easy to adjust that it becomes impossible to actually get on target. I popped for the Innorel N52 ball head which is the biggest one I could find. It is quite nice but the knob on the ARCA clamp is entirely too small for my comfort especially with my arthritic hands.
What would be cool on them is little throw levers… I might try to fab some up. We’ll see. Anyway, the N52 ball head has little relief notches in it that allow the ball head to offer a truly vertical view up or down. It’s easy enough to get a good friction setting on the panning knob and the main knob is big enough to get a decent grip on though I keep scraping my fingers on the platform when I use it. With a 52mm ball diameter there’s a ton of surface area to get a good grip on so it’ll hold some pretty heavy rifles pretty far from their center of mass and it should hold up nearly any camera you can find that’s not making major motion pictures.
The ST-344c tripod itself is $229 which is about 1/5th the cost of a comparable RRS unit. The N52 ball head is $89 meaning you can be participating in positional stages with your own kit for less than a new barrel costs, instead of for as much as a new RPR costs. So far testing hasn’t shown any surprises. A Wiebad Fortune Cookie sits well enough on top for those times when that’s needed. Any ol’ ARCA rail fits just fine in the ball head and the whole unit seems durable, well made, light and inexpensive. Gear queers that love keeping up with the Jones family may not be happy at the low low low price but shooters on a budget certainly will.
Were you starting to think PRS/NRL type competitive shooting was financially out of reach because every single accessory you need is 1000 bucks a pop? Well, this is one shot well timed and aimed in the price war. Is RRS’s kit better, yes. That’s no reason to ignore the elephant in the room though, which is that the amount better the RRS units are to a comparably sized Innorel is infinitesimal.
Where you might just find some value/utility in spending more or at least shopping around a bit more is in the ball head. While it’s totally usable and even really nice in some ways, you want the ball head to be perfect for you. That may be different to it being perfect for others and since preference will play such a big role, it’s advisable to go to matches and try what others are using and see what you like and what you don’t. You can’t tell how you’ll like it until you put a rifle on it and try to aim at some distant target. If the target isn’t far away then you won’t see where the unit in question is going to fall flat on its face. You can’t judge stability against targets that are close.
Cool Bits & Features: 77lbs capacity, comes with aluminum spike feet so you don’t have to buy them separately, one of the legs can be spun off and used as a walking stick or monopod to which the ball head mount attaches, there is a circular level in the ball-head mounting base, it can lay darned near flat or be nearly 6ft tall, it comes with a very nice bag and tools, the ball-head also comes with its own case and 2 mounting plates for cameras/binos/etc…, 3 leg positions, huge rubber feet.
If you thought you couldn’t afford a nice one, I know this one will do nicely for you. The next model down (ST-80C or ST-324C) will probably also do nicely for you but the capacity drops substantially so, watch the weight limits. Based on the testing I’ve been able to do, you want the capacity to be at least double the weight of your gun plus the recoil impulse in pounds so you’ve always got more capacity to spare to be able to load pressure onto the rifle and deal with forces being applied you might not be fully aware of in a competition setting.
So if you have a 20lbs rifle that makes 6lbs of free recoil (this is typical of 6.5CM or 6CM level power) then you want 52lbs capacity from both your tripod and your ball head. If you’re running a 20lbs rile in a big magnum chambering like 300WM that makes closer to 20lbs of free recoil then you’ll be looking for 80lbs of capacity. You cannot have too ball-head weight capacity and that could be said of tripod capacity but in my experience you can punish a tripod a lot more than a ball head.
And the winner is… I’ll tell you in a minute. First let me congratulate American and German industry for continuing the tradition of “Made in America” and “Made in Germany” labels as being indicative of excellently engineered and crafted doodads. We’re going to have a few category winners and an overall winner. Categories are Value, Compactness, Toughness, Lockup and Materials Selection.
Winner: Value What do we mean by value? Getting the most for your money. For that, there’s no possibility of any winner other than UTG. They have the only unit that’s both double locking and under $100. For $15 plus shipping you end up with a workable if unsophisticated solution to a problem. Slickness doesn’t matter here. This is a Soviet type mindset of, “It functions? Yes. Is cheap? Yes.”with no other considerations. If they weren’t something like 5 times cheaper than any other solution I might not have been so generous.
Winner: Compactness This is measured by displacement and it was a surprise. The DoubleStar ACE won this hands down. It adds only about 1/2″ to the length of pull. Nothing else came really close. The thinness of the adapter is simply not beatable by any other design. The rest were, on average, just over an inch thick which is enough to add to length of pull that fitment adjustments need to be made afterward. With the ACE, just install it and you’ll probably be fine not adjusting your length of pull.
Winner: Toughness This was almost a tie between two very similar designs done in very different ways, the DoubleStar ACE and the UTG AK-47 folding adapter. Both seem to make strength and double locking priorities. Both manage to keep the cost down, seemingly as a side effect of the design. The DoubeStar ACE in it’s steel and semi-steel configurations is mindbogglingly strong. For its compactness, that’s a major coup. The UTG is also mindbogglingly strong and while it’s nothing like as compact as the ACE, it’s probably just as strong. Either were strong enough that I’d never worry about breaking it even by doing some insane things to them. There is a differentiator though, the lugs on the receiver adapter and pig nose on the DoubleStar unit, those lugs are adding serious toughness to the folder. Where others rely on just the hinge to keep it from getting twisted, the ACE adds fatass lugs. That will keep your butt stock from rotating in a way that a castle nut just doesn’t. So DoubleStar’s ACE wins Toughness cold.
Winner: Lockup This is about how they lock up out of the box and how that lockup will survive into the future. Most designs had some wiggle. If they didn’t have wiggle they had a lockup adjustment mechanism, simple as that, with 1 glaring exception. The MDT unit had no adjustment feature and still locked up tight as a nun’s cunt. Looking at the interference fit and wear patterns, I have to predict that eventually lockup won’t be as tight and there’s no way to adjust it so MDT cannot win on this point even though I’d like them to. In this case, there was only 1 unit that had adjustable lockup, the XLR Gen2 unit. The SB-Tactical does too but they’re out of stock for MONTHS now and I’ve simply no more patience for them. They’ve got bigger problems now anyway since the ATF has decided to declare basically everything else that SBT makes is basically an NFA item. So the clear and simple winner is XLR Industries Gen 2. The Hera Arms is identical to XLR’s Gen1 unit, neither of which have lockup adjustment. So, great job to XLR industries. This is the category we all care about most when the rubber meets the road and they didn’t forget that.
Winner: Materials Selection If XLR ever decides to make one of their units out of steel and improve the hold-open feature I’ll revisit this article and declare them the unconditional overall winner. For now though, DoubleStar ACE wins the materials selection hands down. This is limited to the push-button and all steel models though as those are where the manufacture is known to be inclusive of steel in the most important places or of all steel. Steel rules, baby.
Winner: OverallExcellence This was not easy to decide. It comes down to what works the best now and what will work the best down the road. As much as I really love the DoubleStar ACE the square shape is in the way just a little bit and the non adjustable lock-up is a factor. Knock down 1 corner on that unit and they walk away as the winner adjustable lockup or no. I really hope they’re paying attention to this because they could tweak their design to be round or at least to have less discrete corners (think hexagon or pentagon) and then I’d sell all my other units and buy ACE’s. If they added little delrin inserts in strategic spots with set screws behind them then the lockup would be adjustable and there’d be no reason for anyone else to make a competing product, it’d be perfect for precision rifle usage. Since neither of those two things are currently the case, we have to go to the one that does the precision rifle job best and that means that the XLR Industries Gen 2 side folding adapter wins. I am pretty certain that if I could have gotten an SB-Tactical unit that they would have won simply because the design is so close to the XLR Gen 2 but, critically, the SB-Tactical unit has a lock-open feature which includes a positive lock and adjustable lockup and it’s about as compact as the XLR/Hera units and the price is ok. I just couldn’t get one to save my damned life and that’s a factor to be considered.
A big congratulations to XLR industries. You earned it. Just don’t go resting on your laurels. You know where you’re at risk of losing to innovation in the future, so go fix those things. Make a 100% steel unit. I’ll buy one. Fix your hold-open so it’s not a drag based system. I’ll buy two. Gate the pushbutton release. I’ll buy three.
What I’d like to see is for XLR and DoubleStar to both take my suggestions and then to run this comparison again but this time include test to destruction so we can see if it’ll be the folding adapter or the stock that gives up first and we’ll pit just the XLR and the ACE against each other. See who’ll rule the roost. What I’d especially like to see is SB-Tactical get their inventory shit together so I can buy their stuff and then compare it against XLR and DoubleStar.
Why did MDT not show up in any winner’s circle? The cost is high for the features, the features are very well implemented for out of the box performance but long term durability remains in question and the installation was made more difficult than it needed to be. Basically, MDT made a great swing but it was pretty far short of the fences.
Where do Sylvan Arms and Law Tactical sit? Law Tactical’s unit on a precision bolt action rifle is nearly ass but it’s one of two all steel offerings and it’s the only one that works on both AR-15s and bolt-guns. It’s near indestructible and very well thought out. Sylvan’s offering is ass on a bolt action rifle since it doesn’t offer the strength upside of a Law but offers all of the downsides. On a gas gun, I would not hesitate to use a Sylvan if I just wanted folding for transport. If I wanted folding for rapid employment, then I’m going to Dead Foot Arms.
Final Thoughts: It’s 99% sure that each of the various companies whose product I reviewed is aware of my review. To date only 1 of them has come forward to acknowledge in any way the review that they were given. That company is: DoubleStarUSA. They took the opportunity to thank me for doing a fair, open and critical review. They didn’t dispute any of my points or try to reinforce any other points. They simply said, “Thank you” for me being fair. It takes a lot of guts to look a critic in the face and say, “Thank you for being a critic.” It says a lot about who they are inside. I know today that when I go looking for my next side folding unit, I’ll check DS first and see if they’ve rounded off any corners yet and if they did then I will look no further. If not, I may or may not look further and hit up XLR Industries. I do know that it’s unlikely I’ll look much further afield than those two though. See below for the wrap-up of scores, points and value assessment. In the end, the Value column identified the winner very clearly. You can also see that the idea of functional points divided by dollars is a decent but not 100% viable way of deciding on things like this. XLR/Hera/MDT/DoubleStar placed in a tight cluster using the Value system. The problem is that UTG blew the curve so far away it became invisible for a long while. When looking at scores like this it’s important to take the highest and lowest scores and to discard them if they’re more than 3 standard deviations away from the mean of any cluster of samples. We ended up here with 2 clusters of samples and then 1 unit that was not even on the same planet as the other samples. The UTG is scoring way too differently meaning it’s of a different kind or someone is cheating. (Hint, it’s both.)
Looking at the stats, if we remove the UTG part then the SD of Value scores is .04. Adding the UTG back in changes the SD of Value points to .23. That increase of the SD by 5x tells me that that sample should be discarded as it’s of a different kind to the rest. Similarly, look at the the distribution of low Value scores and you see another cluster with an internally low SD. If we remove both the UTG and the Chinese garbage pail kid from the stats then everything tightens up. The SD of points goes from >5 to 1. What this is showing is that Chinese made stuff cannot be directly compared to American made stuff. They’re on different economic planets. This should also expose just how thorough China is when playing unfair economic games. They’ll steal intellectual property, violate patents and trademarks, use slave labor and low wage workers, use substandard materials and terrible designs or whatever else they have to do to make sure you get a pile of shit for your money and that they get your money. The table below should tell you all you need to know about geopolitics between the far east and the west.
Because this might seem overly harsh, I’m putting my final paragraph at the top and the bottom so the TLDR crowd doesn’t get the wrong idea: In the end, Sylvan made a decent part. The machining is masterfully done without any visible tool marks and with ultra smooth surfaces and tight clearances. I’m not excited about the finish wear and dings on the lockup faces, the hinge height interfering with knuckles and the fact that the hold-open detent is for shit but the rest of it is great for a gas gun. The only way you can make yourself totally unsatisfied with it is to expect too much of 7075 aluminum or to put it on a bolt action rifle.
Other than the Chinese garbage pail kid and the Law Tactical, this is the only unit designed for gas-gun use that’s being tested (For right now. I’m hoping to get a Dead Foot Arms unit too.). Some salt has to be given to the amount of harsh criticism you’ll find below because the other units didn’t saddle themselves with gas gun compatibility so they could make much more excellent designs for use with bolt action rifles than Law/Sylvan/China could with a gas-gun compatible design. That said, it’s not a Law Tactical and should not be confused with one. They’re on similar but separate planets.
Like I said, it’s not a Law Tactical and that’s for sure. It does the job of alternately folding and extending well enough. It locks closed very nicely and very securely with only a tiny amount of wiggle in the lockup which is easily treated with a bit of masking tape. Locking closed is something it’s committed to doing well.
It lightly considers, on the other hand, the notion of locking in the open position before deciding firmly against that path. The button you push to open it is un-gated and sticks out enough that I guess you could theoretically inadvertently press it but I don’t think that an inadvertent press is going to matter a cold squirt of piss worth. I tried on both a bolt gun and an AR-15 to break the stock open while behind it and pressing the button against a barricade but it didn’t work. All I could do is screw up my aim and hurt my wrist.
Installation is really quite straightforward but they annoyed me with the actual instructions. Worse than MDT’s effort, Sylvan’s was instead an infuriating direction to go and watch a fucking YouTube video. Normally this might be considered an OK, even helpful, thing but the one there is presented by some gal that doesn’t seem to have full confidence in her actions or the script and so, in the end, she inspires as much confidence in the instructions as a Trabant might in its ability to be “reliable transportation”.
FYI to Sylvan Arms: Gun bunnies have to be hot to be gun bunnies. It’s in the dictionary. Back to business… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-lwRVkl0zQ that’s a gun bunny (although, I have to mention that Brickell/AGC is an example of what happens when you pick the pieces to your ideal woman before seeing them all assembled together. Mistakes are made.)
Construction is reportedly 7075 Aluminum but, I found more beneath the covers. The lockup pin on the receiver-side block is steel, or at least ferrous. The locking tab that gets captured by that pin is aluminum and that greatly concerns me. The reason for the concern is that the lockup bits exhibited definite finish wear and got dinged up quite a bit by opening #4. Some of the marks really concern me given their depth and width. I think all of the lockup bits should be steel, period. This design doesn’t seem very good place to mix aluminum and steel. Breakage seems like it will be eventual.
The ball bearings that act as detent balls are hard-as-fuck bearing steel like you’d expect. They are way harder than the hinge material though and since the detent groove is in the hinge itself the balls are just chewing the hell out of the corner of the detent groove, peening it into uselessness, and they’re progressively carving grooves in the hinge itself. It gradually makes the hold-open detent more and more non-functional and it does this early in the life of the product. This suggests that materials selection and widget design were not taken together on this feature. I suspect that the decision to go with aluminum was done to hit either a lower price point or a higher profit margin and what usually happens happened. If you add features to a thing and don’t change the price, then some included feature(s) have to be less well implemented. In this case, they compromised the Law design by using a material it wasn’t meant to use and came out with a product that’s not up to snuff when measured against its ferrous forebear.
If you’ve felt like the criticisms were a-plenty, now’s your respite. Functionality wise, it operates mostly as you’d guess except for not locking open for shit. It operates just fine as a stock extension on both AR’s and bolt guns and it does fold and it doesn’t hinder closed functionality. WELL, It caused me no major hassles on my AR-15 but it might on yours. On my AR-15 there is a scope mounted super low so the charging handle has to be gripped from the top only. You can’t really get a good handle on it from the side anyway. If you go from the side with a Sylvan in place, scope or no scope, you’ll rap your knuckles on the hinge. It’s annoying, not painful but it’s still annoying and might cause you to lose your grip on the charging handle.
One other thing to note here, the bolt carrier extension it comes with is pretty heavy. No heavier than the Law unit but still, should be mentioned. The Chinese unit’s extension weighed under an ounce and feels like it was cast from pot metal. The Sylvan feels like ~3oz. Heavy enough to possibly change how your gun cycles if you’re already on the edge of your gas system being not gassed hard enough. Since I have personally never encountered an AR-15 that wasn’t over-gassed like a bitch, I’ll note that this problem is entirely theoretical for any but an extreme minority of AR owners.
Certain elements of the design are purely to satisfy AR-15 use and we have to give lip service to that fact because it compromises the bolt-action use case. One such element is how far below the buffer tube it extends. Well, on an AR-15 that’s basically unnoticeable in daily use. On a bolt gun it is obviously sticking out like a sore ‘friggin thumb. It’s not in the way really but it is there and it’s ugly as hell on a bolt gun. Looks like a wart on an ass.
I can’t say I’m disappointed in this unit for what it is meant to be so much as I think anyone using it on a bolt gun should be disappointed in themselves for not choosing a bolt-gun specific unit. It’s a gas gun unit, not a bolt gun unit and pretty much any bolt-gun unit is going to be better on a bolt gun. Duh. In the end, it’s basically a Law Tactical clone that is close but still not the real deal. From a huge hold-open detent that doesn’t do actually that, to the hardened steel ball bearings grinding grooves into to the aluminum hinge to the lockup face that begins to show wear nearly instantly. This is not confidence inspiring. I’m happy enough with it to leave it resident on an AR-15 but I would personally buy a Law or a Dead Foot Arms unit given my druthers. In this case, I’ll end up popping for the DFA and sending this unit to a good friend of mine who’d better be reading this article. Right, Bruwer?
Don’t use screwdrivers as hammers! On the points system, it got 9 of 19 points. The Sylvan lost points everywhere it could by not being used as intended. Even the UTG beat the points count that the Sylvan reaped, mostly because the UTG was not made for a gas gun and the UTG is a real double locking design. On the value scale it got .05 which is smack in between the Law Tactical and the Chinese garbage pail kid. On the arbitrary points (stars) scale, this gets 2 stars (ONLY as applied to bolt action rifles) which ties them UTG on that scale but it does it at 10x the price. As a gas gun unit, looking only at how it works on my AR-15, it’d get 3 stars because it’s markedly better at doing that job than the bolt gun job.
These things retail for $180 plus shipping. That I got mine on sale for $119 plus shipping isn’t relevant because even for $119 plus shipping it’s too damned much money for what you get by a long way IF you use it on a bolt action. If you use it on a gas gun, then you’re getting more for your money by a long way but I question if you’re getting the best from your money and I question whether or not there is a way to quantitatively answer that question. I see only qualitative answers.
On the objective points scale, well it did pretty badly there with only 9 points of 19 but, that’s why we have multiple scales to measure with. No scale will always tell you what you’re asking it to. I would personally rate it much higher than the UTG just based on the lack of blood blisters and the more sophisticated design and better materials. I would not treat it as roughly as I might a UTG unit though. So even if we’re considerate and give it some benefit of the doubt for being cross-compatible between bolt-guns and gas-guns, for a bolt-gun it’s pretty much ass and for a gas-gun it’s nothing compared to its Law Tactical big brother in durability or wise materials selection. For gas guns it’s not much more costly to go Law Tactical and for bolt guns literally any other design except the UTG would be a better option.
All the above said, I’m not yet certain that nowadays I’d pop for a Law Tactical for my AR-15 in any event. It’s not that important for me to fold that gun up that I’d make it temporarily unusable for the ability to do so. I mean, granted I have two that are folders NOW but that’s a result being young and dumb in the past and of this test and not wasting money. The tacticool factor isn’t really my jam either. I laugh at people that go too far off the tacticool cliff. I might, however, just pop for the Dead Foot Arms unit though because what you get for doubling the price over a Law unit is fire when folded and that could be a big value add to me if it doesn’t run afoul of my state’s assault weapons laws (FYI, it does). The DFA unit is basically pointless on a bolt gun because they didn’t compromise the design to allow a normal AR-15 bolt carrier to be used. They said, “Fuck that. I want my fire when folded and if that means a new bolt carrier, screw you then. New bolt carrier it is.”
Because this might seem overly harsh, I’m putting my final paragraph at the top and the bottom so the TLDR crowd doesn’t get the wrong idea: In the end, Sylvan made a decent part. The machining is masterfully done without any visible tool marks and with ultra smooth surfaces and tight clearances. I’m not excited about the finish wear and dings on the lockup faces, the hinge height interfering with knuckles and the fact that the hold-open detent is for shit but the rest of it is great for a gas gun. The only way you can make yourself totally unsatisfied with it is to expect too much of 7075 aluminum or to put it on a bolt action rifle.
Unlike all of the others tested so far, this unit was not purchased by me for this test. It would have been but they’re perennially out of stock. I think I have a notion of why. Such being the case, this unit was loaned to me by another member of SnipersHide rather than being purchased. You gotta love those guys at The Hide. Famous for their relentless and savage dogpiles as they are for the just stunning levels of expertise available in their number. The dogpiles usually happen because someone was talking out of their ass or just being a dick. Oddly, the stunning expertise seems to get displayed frequently for the same reasons. It’s funny that those same blunt, savage, in your face people are also almost destructively generous with their time, money and toys. Case in point: Someone noticed I was unable to get an ACE, wanted to help me finish this project and wanted to see what I might have to say about the DoubleStar ACE so, they loaned me theirs. They don’t know me from Adam but they sent me over a hundred bucks worth of goodie without a blink. I’d do the same. It’s a culture of gentlemen over at The Hide and so it’s highly intolerant of ungentlemanly conduct. Generosity is also a characteristic of gentlemen and you’ll find that there too but, in smaller quantities. Enough about the blasted forum and its population. We have goodies to review.
There’s a lot of choice in building your ACE folding stock adapter. In a way, too much choice. DoubleStar offers an aluminum unit and a steel unit and a partially-steel push-button unit and an entirely steel non-push-button unit. They also offer lugged and un-lugged versions. They have gobs of receiver blocks to sift through and there’s some overlap in application suitability. My advice, either use the recipe below or call them to help pick what you need. It’s important to know also that their use of aluminum varies between 6061 and 7075. The pushbutton units use 6061 for the generally unstressed parts and 1018 mild steel for the stressed parts. The non-steel units are 7075 aluminum and the steel non-push-button units are pure 1018 mild steel. I told you it was an embarrassment of choice. One thing to note is, given the strength of 7075 aluminum, you’d be hard pressed to need steel in its place.
I had fully planned on going pure steel and lugged because I’m brutal on my equipment. I’m the kind of guy that would happily fold my stock, hang the rifle from a 10ft tall brick wall by the folded butt stock and then climb up that bastard if I felt the need to be on the other side of the wall. That being the case it’s helpful to pick gear that will survive my attempts to destroy it. Imagine my joy to see that my benefactor in this case chose the same way. He’ll be happy too because I was not able to damage it in my testing, though I did not actually use the rifle as a ladder out of courtesy to him.
You remember back in Part 2 where I remarked about the UTG unit, “If someone were really smart they’d take this design and make it out of steel…”? Well, it’s not literally what appears to have happened but you can see how someone might spot a thematic resemblance. It’s the details that shine brilliant light on the differences and show that whatever resemblance there is between the two units, it is superficial in the extreme.
You an see the locking block poking out of the bottom, engaging with the folding arm. The locking bar and swing arm are both steel on the push-button model. The folding arm has a receiver notch to accept the locking bar so it engages on 3 faces.
Both UTG and DoubleStar make their units square shaped. Both use quite huge locking blocks. Both have extremely positive locking in the open position. That’s pretty much where all that similarity shit stops. The DoubleStar unit is clever in places; but not very clever, and they are clever with precision. The UTG unit’s design uses cleverness to avoid the need for precision. Don’t get it twisted, the DoubleStar unit’s clever parts are nothing like the really super clever bits of the MDT and XLR units but pretty darned close and a damned sight more clever than the UTG unit. Both units took extremely straightforward approaches to the hinge and the locking blocks but the DS requires precise machining due to 90deg angles in the lockup notch and locking bar, while the UTG design actually eschews that requirement by using tapered locking surfaces which are vastly more likely to gall. When you look at each detail and compare the two you get the sense that a Russian engineer did the UTG and an American Engineer did the DoubleStar. It’s the same kind of differences as between the AR-15 and the AK-47. They both do the same job but with different mindsets. An illiterate Russian farm boy would find the UTG version fit their philosophy and an illiterate American farm boy would find the DoubleStar fit their own.
A DoubleStarUSA lugged Pig Nose. Attaches to the butt stock and the swing arm.
DoubleStar’s unit is actually the most compact lengthwise of any unit tested so far. It’s only about 1/2-inch of length of pull being added, unlike the inch to 1.5 inches of the others. The locking mechanism is well shielded from gunk and dirt infiltration while in the closed position unlike the UTG which has it’s lockup area fully exposed. While we’re on the topic of the locking mechanism. Jeebus! Talk about over-strong. Both the UTG and the DS are over-strong but the DS is way way over-strong. When you look at the barrel on a Desert Eagle you get the same sensation of, “oh, that’s quite a bit beefier than it probably needs to be” as you do when you see the locking block of the ACE and the notch into which it fits. In the closed position you could probably drive a truck over it and not do too much damage. In the open position, there’s substantially less of the locking block engaged but it’s still enough that you’d be hard pressed to break it without the use of tools.
A nifty feature of the way the buffer tube adapters connect to the ACE folder itself is, you can raise or lower each end independently of the FSA itself. This means you can raise both ends thus effectively putting the folder as low as it can get and this really helps keep the knuckle banging while operating the bolt to a minimum. It looks to me like there’s more than enough material there that they could scallop or just bevel the hell out of the top corner opposite the hinge and knuckles everywhere would sing songs of praise. At least the corners are all radius-ed enough that when you do drag a knuckle over it quickly, it doesn’t take any skin off. Still, if this was my own unit I’d already be at the grinder buzzing that corner down a bit.
A DoubleStarUSA AR-15 receiver block. Works with fixed or carbine stocks, just pull off the fixed plate if you don’t need it. Attaches to the FSA body and the chassis.
Now you might not have gathered so far but, installation is actually the easiest of any unit because you can set up each piece individually so getting things clocked is a total non-issue. True it’s only marginally easier than something like the XLR unit (which was eye-poppingly easy to install) but little things matter and a little frustration, to me, is a high cost so I appreciate the simplicity of setup. There’s more steps because there’s more parts to join up but it’s easier than the others in the end. Only the XLR is actually anything near “as” easy. The Hera unit was close but the allen key size needed on the chassis end is smaller than it should be to properly torque things down.
The other place where this unit just crushes the superficially similar UTG unit is the push button unlock. It’s not super obtrusive, you barely notice it there at all until you want to fold or unfold the thing. Then it’s a firm but not hard press and the thing smoothly unlocks with absolutely no drama nor even any blood blisters. The way the UTG works, you could end up waving your rifle around pretty irresponsibly while trying to unlock it.
So with all of this going for the DoubleStar ACE, what’s the downside if any? It’s heavy as balls compared to all of the others except the Law Tactical unit. Easily twice the weight which ought not surprise anyone since steel is more than twice as heavy per unit volume as aluminum. That’s about it. Oh yeah, and as alluded to earlier the number of attachment options and materials options and other options for how you put it together can easily get confusing when trying to pick the 3 pieces you’ll need from their website. That’s all the negative I can find.
To make your life easier, if you want one like the unit being evaluated here then you want a FSM-PB folding mechanism with boss ($69.99) + a CAR-15 Stock Adatper (aka Pig Nose) with boss ($29.99), and an AR-15 receiver block ($32.99). That comes in at about $130 and then add shipping and you’re probably at $150 all in which makes this very much competitive on price with the MDT and Sylvan units but with the critical parts of the folding and locking bits made of steel.
Still, the confusion-enabling profusion of choice there cost it a point for coming with everything needed to install. You can easily fail to buy the right thing and since you make your own kit, so to speak, you’re at the mercy of your own silliness and bad judgement. DoubleStarUSA tries to be helpful about telling you what bits go with what other bits but the information is scattered so it’s hard to make sense of until you’ve spent more time than necessary doubting if you got it right. Being men, we stereotypically just won’t call and ask for help normally (though I did many weeks ago for the sake of this article).
How about wiggle and instructions and other factors that make points differences? As far as wiggle, just the tiniest amount of it which you can’t tell while using it and it’s only in the mating of the lockup surfaces, not the joint or anything else. The way the locking block works, I’m not sure how I’d go about trying to bring that tolerance to zero. That being the case, it lost one of 3 points it could have gotten for the tightness of the lockup. Instructions were not included with the loaner (at this point I don’t need them) but it’d be pretty hard to fuck up the installation even if you just gut-feel the install procedure. Still, I’m taking the 2 points for clear instructions because just picking the pieces can daunt some people. They really need to make a “precision rifle package” with those 3 bits in it so we can turn our brains off while we shop, like women seem to get to do.
After all is said and done, the DoubleStar ACE with push button release, lugged pig nose and receiver block pulled down an impressive 16 of 19 points, putting it in 4th place overall so far on value (points divided by cost) and just barely trailing the 3rd place entry. This sits right up there in quality/features/value with the offerings from MDT, Hera Arms and XLR Industries which were all beyond excellent. I’m tempted to give an extra point for the ability to independently adjust up/down the relationship of the folder to both the chassis and the buffer tube and for the unthinkable robustness of the lockup parts. That’s all really slick. However, in fairness, I didn’t give any special treatment to any other so far so I’m not going to start now. The only thing that stops it getting 5 stars in the arbitrary rating scale is the 90 degree corner that’s still just a little in the way of my fat fingers wrapped around my oversized bolt handle.
What is not in the way is the push button. It’s underneath the stock if you set it up for left side folding. If you set it up for right side folding, there could be bolt travel interference issues. I didn’t have any interference folding either way using an LSS stock on either a Mossberg MVP or a Savage 10. Long actions may be different. Keep in mind that only matters for lefties though and only if they want the stock and bolt handle on opposite sides when it’s all folded up.
What can we learn from what we’ve gathered so far? Easy. Steel rules the damned roost. You can have a super slick design but if you make it from crap materials (China, we’re looking at you) you’ve only made a very slick piece of shit. You can take a totally non-clever thing and if you make it from good materials and make it well with tight tolerances, you’ve made a very un-clever but high quality and therefore probably useful thing. You can also make a very un-clever thing out of shit materials so long as the design is optimized for shit materials (looking at you, UTG) you’ll still have a useful widget. For me, as much as I really like this DoubleStar ACE push-button unit I think for me the XLR, MDT and Hera units are a better fit just because of the physical shape allowing them to not interfere at all with my knuckles.