Fortmeier / Phoenix bipod

This is one of those cases that epitomizes a behavior that I’ve heard given an appropriate and usefully descriptive name by Pat McNamara and which was repeated to me in a class given by James Yeager and which caught my attention because it’s a hugely dangerous thing that must be avoided but which seems to not be: “institutional incest”. The term means that one institution does something some way and just because of that fact alone, other institutions make it doctrine to do with no consideration given to appropriateness.

Just because something was done before doesn’t mean it must be done again. When formerly useful features/doctrine/techniques/etc… are carried forward to new designs and situations for no other reason than they were put in place before by others you have institutional incest. As we all know, inbreeding is genetically destructive because it brings forth recessive defects that might not have ever seen the light of day and those recessive and formerly masked defects, when exposed in the common light of day, generally are deleterious in their effects. It’s no different with doctrines, technology, engineering design or anywhere else.

I’ve taken up cohabitation with a Desert Tech M2 rifle which I’m just loving. The thing about it is, the Desert Tech bolt action offerings are actually slightly improved clones of an older German sniper rifle called the DSR-1 which was revolutionary in a few subtle ways. When the DSR-1 was designed they really went back to basics and asked the why question for each design element and then chose only design elements that made sense in terms of physics and geometry.

Stepping outside the box and reevaluating things from first principles is a very culturally German thing to do which is why so many revolutionary innovations come out of Germany. They don’t get caught up in institutional incest. “Why?” is not a bothersome question to them. It’s a natural and normal question to which an honest answer is sought. The DSR-1 rifle came with a top mounted bipod because it’s a great idea and I want my Desert Tech M2 to be correctly equipped with the bipod design that the rifle was meant by its designers to have. An original DSR-1 bipod is not something I want though because the users of them, actual snipers, that I’ve found feedback from universally revile the original DSR-1 bipod not because of the design but because of the implementation. The whole notion of a top mounted bipod on a bullpup tactical precision rifle seems to have erupted from the Walther WA-2000 and been co-opted by the DSR-1 which then was cloned nearly wholesale into the Desert Tech SRS/Covert/M2/HTI series of rifles. I’m sure there was something probably before the WA-2000 to use a top mount bipod in a precision rifle but it hasn’t leapt to my mind or out of my Google searches.

I know there’s an interesting history behind this bipod but I’m not going to research it or get into it because it just doesn’t matter other than to say that it is very likely German in design origin. I’m not 100% sure but I’ve found a few bits of info that suggest as much. What does matter is that this is a wonderful bit of kit with really only a few design decisions that I hold in question, one of which I hold in contempt but it’s a small point worth overlooking. The UTG and this Fortmeier bipod are so similar and yet so different that there will be a lot of comparing and contrasting going on here. There really is an amazing contrast between the two. UTG, famous for questionable design decisions, lives up to their reputation of wanton institutional incest compounding functional illiteracy while delivering a product that isn’t great but it also isn’t that bad.

Much like the Leapers/UTG overbore bipod that I wrote about previously this Fortmeier (I wish they’d have stuck with the Phoenix label, it’s so much cooler) bipod mounts at the 12 o’clock position on your rifle’s topside Picatinny rail. This unusual arrangement means that gravity is there to assist with eliminating rifle cant and your rifle will have lot harder of a time falling over since the center of gravity is much lower. Where UTG failed, the Fortmeier succeeds and where the UTG did something very helpful as often as not the Fortmeier eschews it. If the two could rationalize all the various design details they’d come out with what is as close to a perfect <12in bipod as has ever existed.

UTG chose to put spring loading into the leg extension. It doesn’t really matter if you make it spring open or spring closed as long as there’s a spring in there somewhere. The Fortmeier bipod ain’t playing that game. It’s manual in both directions. C’mon people. Help a guy out.

UTG chose to give you the 45deg leg angle option while the Fortmeier bipod completely ignores that. Interestingly enough, even though you can easily mount the Fortmeier at either 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock by removing the cant limiter screw from the spigot, they do sell both a 12 o’clock model and a 6 o’clock model and on the 6 o’clock model they have 45deg leg notches. WTF people. It makes equal sense in both models. So much sense that I took my Fortmeier 12 o’clock mounting model to my gunsmith/machinist and had him cut the notches because there’s just some shit up with which I will not put.

The Fortmeier put the Parker-Hale style spigot on the mounting block where it’s supposed to go while UTG decided to move it to the bipod where it’s not supposed to go. It’s interesting that both decided on spigot based attachment. To add insult to the injury on the spigot location, UTG made their mount require tools to install/remove and they don’t sell spare mounts. The Fortmeier mount is sold separately so you can buy several but it allows for tool-less installation so you don’t need to buy more than one. Ugh! You’re both doing it wrong.

At around $240 and coin all in, it’s not super expensive but it is elegantly done.

Moving the legs from stowed to in place on the Fortmeier is the same as it is on the UTG, pull the leg down its long axis and rotate. Doing this on the Fortmeier feels like you’re fiddling with a machine with very tight tolerances and a lot of 90deg angles. With the UTG things feel like they’re put together tightly and precisely but it’s less like the sense of German engineering you get with the Fortmeier and more like a sense of Japanese engineering or maybe Chinese copying of Japanese engineering.

When we get down to the feet you get skis with the Fortmeier and there don’t seem to be any options for anything else. You want rubber, we’ve got skis. You want spikes, we’ve got skis. Reminds me of a scene from the movie Hell or High Water where the waitress come up to two lawmen and says, “What don’t you want?” and the two lawmen are confused until she explains that they’ve only got one thing on the menu and the choice is about green beans or corn on the cob. You get one of those so which one don’t you want. Just, in this case, it’s more like asking to see a menu and having the waitress say, “We ain’t got no menu. There’s exactly one thing we serve here and you came in and sat down so you obviously want it. Now what would you like to drink? We have Budweiser and water.” all the while knowing that the difference between Budweiser and water is negligible and so she’s actually making a little joke there to see if you catch it. We need options. We need accessories. How can a guy properly play battlefield barbie when you fail to even make any accessories available?

There is one more, small but important, bit that the Fortmeier bipod executed well but fell just short of getting exactly right, the cant friction adjustment. It works great and is easily adjusted but with an Allen key. The one on the UTG doesn’t really work great; it’s either too loose or all the way locked and it’s bad at holding a setting but, is tool-less. Could you two maybe talk with each other and Thunderdome the whole idea.

Now we’ll turn focus for a second to the cant limiter. Why is it there at all? Why do both the UTG and the Fortmeier have one? If you said, “Because it’s there on real Parker-Hale made spigot bipods. It must have a reason.” Yes. The reason seems to be because they were always 6 o’clock mounted before and without an aggressive cant limit rifles like to fall over when left resting on the bipod and butt. That’s not a factor with 12 o’clock mounted bipods. Gravity does us a useful service there pulling cant out for you instead of trying to destroy an optic that cost thousands of dollars (American dollars, not the loony ones or the upside down ones) like it does with 6 o’clock mounted bipods with crappy cant friction.

Now we come to the part that the Fortmeier completely ignored: It completely lacks panning capability without the feet sliding around on the ground. That would have been a cinch to pull off. I get why they didn’t, it’s got ski feet. Still, UTG managed to do it and they even did it in a really elegant (a major change from normal practices for UTG) way. Usually UTG deletes useful features or implements them from ok-ish to badly. This time they actually added a feature and did it in a clever way. I just don’t get these folks.

In the case of the cant limiter in the 12 o’clock mounted Fortmeier, there’s literally zero reason for that to even be there unless you go to off-label use cases like mounting it at 6 o’clock. Since I go off-label a lot, due to that being a core aspect of my personality, this actually works for me. It works very well for me because it’s easily removed without tools. My specific use case is on my Desert Tech M2 and I have a substantial collection of night vision and thermal clip-on units that go in front of my scope. Most of them do not allow for the use of a top mount bipod because they consume or block all of the top side rail. That requires that my bipod be able to go from 12 o’clock during the daylight hours to a 6 o’clock mount when the sun goes down and it’s best if that not involve tools. The UTG almost got there but requires tools to move the mounting block. The Fortmeier doesn’t require tools and so regardless of any other issues with it, it’ll be the one that I keep with my Desert Tech M2.

There’s already been a glowing review of the Fortmeier (previously branded the Phoenix) bipod done several years ago over at which I will link here. It’s very typical of sponsored reviews where no criticism is given which is very much unlike my style. I purchase everything I review so nobody gets to tell me what I can write and since I’ve never found a 100% perfect product my reviews include criticism. The linked review does give some useful information though and I encourage readers to check out that article now that you’ve finished mine.

UTG Over Bore Bipod

I picked one of these up because I had unused rail on top of my Desert Tech and because the bottom mount bipods have one flaw that top mount bipods don’t and which I was tired of: Bipods that mount on the bottom frequently end up with my rifle falling over when I want to rest it on the ground between match stages. This isn’t such an issue if I lock the pivot down but with the heavy rifles used in matches, it’s not uncommon at all for the friction locking pivots to be overcome by the weight of the bang pole. The rifle with underside mounted bipod will also occasionally fall over as well when I go to manipulate the bolt or the objective bell parallax ring or do any of a number of things and long range shooters are wont to do.

The QD mount. So far it’s been totally not evil to use.

Rifles falling over in a match is a good way to get a DQ for the stage or even the whole match and it’s a good way to damage expensive things like rifle scopes but there’s also the more mundane and practical issue of rifle canting. With the bipod at the bottom I have to adjust the cant myself and hold it there. Among long range shooters this problem alone is probably worth half of the misses that are made in low/no wind situations. With it mounted to the top of the rifle’s fore end so that it hangs from the bipod instead of perching upon it, gravity is happy to throw in a helping hand and it will cause the rifle to want to find vertical because that’s how gravity and hanging things works.

Top shows the bipod leg extended to show the nicely strong notches and notch engagement lever. On the other side is the friction lock you might expect to see on a smooth leg bipod. Why are there 2 systems for holding the legs in an extended length? Because, UTG. A friction lock on a notched leg is what you do when you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing which is basically how to describe engineering done in China. Copying things is easy. Knowing which design elements are necessary, that takes knowledge which is antithetical to copying.

There appear to be more or less 2 variations of over bore bipods available: The Fortmeier which is fabulously designed, lovingly made from the finest non-GMO components using ancient craft secrets and it was when it came out heart-stopping-ly priced and still was at the time of the writing of this article. The pricing thing as of August 2022 has subsided leaving the cost at this update at $173 for the Fortmeier/Phoenix over bore bipod.

Then there’s the UTG/Leapers model (which it’s hard to get good info on just yet and why this post is being written) which is under 200 dollars and seems to be made with no lack of caring attention to detail and quality materials, if not with actual ancient craft secrets. Since one was cheaper than the other I decided to start with that and see if I could save some dough. This is most often a great recipe for spending the price of both and is rarely a good way to get two excellent products but I keep the habit up for the sake of the times that it’s both.

Add spiked feet and you have a pretty impressive melee weapon.

For UTG’s part, if you stay with their more expensive stuff that doesn’t try to be 1/5 of a normal market price for a particular class of widget, they seem to do a decent enough job. If you go for the products that they make which are under 100 bucks, you’re probably not going to enjoy yourself as much as you might be expecting. If you stick to the stuff that’s over 100 bucks then it’s not quite so bad. Things can be somewhat crude but UTG/Leapers can be said to make generally functional and reliable if unsophisticated things. What they’ll always do is make at least one design decision that makes you scratch your head in gasping wonder.

The outie is where the innie should be. More fallout from knowing what to do but not why or how. It might be patent related but I can’t find evidence of that so I’m chalking it up to “China”.
You can see where I removed the limiter pin. It should never have been there in the first place as it serves no purpose at all.

We’ll enumerate some answers to questions I had before purchasing it in the hopes of answering some of your questions:

  1. It can mount over or under the gun. The cant limiter works either way.
  2. It (confusingly) has leg notches and a friction lock wheel. Shouldn’t need the friction lock wheel but it’s there just in case (BTW that’s what adjustable cant is there for).
  3. I recommend that owners remove the screws from the underside of the legs to enable 180deg leg adjust in 45deg intervals.
  4. The rubber feet are pretty hard. They’ll give some grip on smooth surfaces like concrete but not a lot. Heat cycling them might help. Testing pending.
  5. The spigot mount quick-detach feature is fairly easy to use when the legs are folded back but those with fat fingers may find you have to flick a leg down to actuate the release.
  6. Remove the pin at the base of the spigot to delete the cant limiter if you like. Cant limitation is in my opinion overly limited.
  7. The lever/lock used to lock the legs in extended position and collapse the legs in is beefy. Really beefy, like an Accu-Tac but not quite so overbuilt as those.
  8. The legs are very rigid with little to no flex under heavy loading but there is some lash in the leg angle adjustment just not enough to be a problem.
  9. The picatinny mount is triple lugged. Wow! It’s also fairy low profile but not “very” low profile. ~1/2″ taller than the rail. It won’t fit under a PVS-24/27/30 so you will likely have to move the bipod to under the gun if you want to use those unless your top rail is just incredibly long.
  10. Panning range is not a lot, just 22deg and the friction on it from the factory is pretty high. You will want to loosen it and it’s not got a lever. Uses an Allen key (looks ~8mm). One might just JB Weld an Allen key into it.
  11. It has a fairly narrow bridge so it’s not real wide on the gun. With legs folded back it doesn’t add much to the width, sticking out less far than my bolt handle.
  12. You can probably beat a horse to death with it but it’ll take a few whacks. Not Accu-Tac heavy but not Harris or Atlas light.
  13. The QD detaches really quick and that’s just bloody sweet. I super like that part. Could have used QD on the pic rail attach-y part too but ok.
  14. The spigot is on the wrong side. This is a head scratching choice. Spigots are supposed to be on the gun, the receiver socket is supposed to be on the bipod. Why UTG went upside down I don’t know other than to say, “UTG.”
Triple lugged mount. One would have sufficed, two would have been perfect so they went with 3. Kind of like something my dad used to say, “I wear a size 9 shoe but a 10 felt so good I bought an 11.”

The price is pretty good. You can pick one up for in the ballpark of 160 smackeroos. I won’t name any vendors but google it if you have a hard time. The vendor I got it from I don’t really like working with (so I won’t mention the name) but they got it to me in a reasonable time for a reasonable price. Contrary to their reputation for chinesium, junk and not thinking things through this part is quite nice and well worth your attention if you have some top side Picatinny rail near the front of your gun that’s unused.

All in all it’s really compact, not any taller than it really needs to be and no wider than it needs to be. Sturdily built, inexpensive and easy to use. I call that a win any day.

I’m often times a tad snitty about kit so for those expecting some here’s the snitty parts: What was the point of the screws in the legs? Why did I have to remove those? They should have never been there. Why limit the cant so much? They could have widened the notch or shortened the limiter peg or left the limiter peg out altogether. Gravity centers it so who cares how much work gravity is allowed to do? No throw lever for the panning friction! WTAF? That was just silly or cheap or one of the astonishing oversights of details that UTG prides itself on. Possibly it was all of the above. The feet are roll pinned on. Fine, I guess. I would have been more ok with Accu-Tac G2 threads but whatever, I guess bringing over a design mistake used by every other brand is par for the course. When the legs are folded back the friction knob for the spigot that affects canting friction is in a great place to bite your finger when folding the legs back. That should have been a lever too. That’s about all the nits.

Here it sits 2/3 engaged with my Desert Tech M2. Between the monopod and the bipod the rifle naturally finds perfect verticality all by its lonesome and it can’t fall over.

So far this is about the most versatile and non-irritating bipod I own. I have Atlas, Harris, Accu-Tac and this UTG. The UTG gives me a compact, heavy duty, top mount with all of the good stuff of Atlas (except for the weight) and Accu-Tac (except for the foot attachment system). I can’t say it’s my favorite because despite the massive weight penalty I do like the Accu-Tac bipods I own just a little better in some ways and I like the UTG better really only for the fact that it top mounts. I’m a believer that if you can top mount your bipod then you should. It’s one less thing to hold which means less biological input into the shot which means less to go wrong.

Crimson Trace Series 2 Rifle Scopes

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 were still a good number of CT “Series” scopes available at for between 1/3 and 1/2 of their original retail price at the time of this writing but they certainly won’t last. You may 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!

Crimson Trace Series 3 & 5 Rifle Scopes

You have the opportunity to take advantage of what happens when a big name gets into a crowded marketplace but doesn’t gain traction. SALE! SALE! SALE!

When I think about Crimson Trace’s “Series” scopes I visualize in my mind some buyer at 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 are frequently arbitrary and vulnerable to fads and mania. I mean, Arken optics is still standing despite selling a product of questionable quality at best. I think this situation persists largely because people don’t read and they often don’t think either. People associate brands with quality rather than brand-models. This leads people to buying garbage based on faith, then losing faith because of bad judgement and then when they find real quality goods available, they look askance at it because they’ve been bitten before. 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 most others) before this particular need came up but there weren’t any USO’s being proffered on the secondhand market 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 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.

The reticle on the 3-24x56mm Series 5 is, to many, hideous. I think it’s fine but it is markedly busy.

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. Objectively, the full pop retail price they came out with was not quite highway robbery but they were overpriced. At the price I got them for they were massively under-priced.

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’s original retail price. The only difference between the CT scope and the Brownell’s is the red ring of death that CT puts on the ocular to tell you if your eye relief is good which is also a pointless feature in all respects. 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 at the time of this writing but which I will test soon, have 4x magnification range and vary between 30 and 34mm tubes but it’s important to note that they have, as far as I can tell, the same exact glass as in the Series 3 and Series 5 and use the same turret setups. These are quality long range scopes.

A nice simple reticle in the 3-18x50mm. Open center with a dot. .5mil increments vertically and .2 horizontally. Very well thought out for a person that always dials their elevation and holds for wind… like I tend to do.

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 bloom 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 very notchy which I guess one would really want. 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 but which I do not 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 easily described and so handy for instructing new shooters about eye relief.

There is a zero stop on some models 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.

Horizontal leveling lines help level the scope. A generally clean profile makes any rifle you put it on look really good. Turrets are not too tall, not too short, not too narrow and not too fat. They’re just right.

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 consider 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, so it’s tedious. 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 via little polymer eccentric inserts. 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 windage adjustment range. The total range of up is about 35mils (~120MOA) which is generous but the windage turret seems limited to adjustments that might actually be useful, not much more than 20Mil of total L-R range. The elevation turret also 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 of the original retail price of the CT’s so it seems that CT was being a little greedy and got their comeuppance. Now that their pee-pee got smacked though, we get the bargains as CT gets out of the business or at least abandons the line (one might assume that the Brownell’s MPO kind of outed CT’s overpricing move). They still make scopes but not this line. They’ve got a lifetime warranty, and lifetime battery replacement which is bizarre, as well so you can feel respectively protected and confused 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. I don’t see a need for them for me but if you want one, they’re available. As far as accessories, that’s all folks.

So, if you were in the market for an optic in the $450-1000 range at the time, you got your butt over to and ordered 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 but the Series 2’s are pretty darned nice and should not be overlooked as they’re superior in some respects. While you’re shopping, grab a set of Burris XTR Signature Series rings, 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.

I do love Russians. They’re unapologetic.

Arken Optics SH4 Gen II 2 6-24x50mm Review

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 stuff 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 veneer 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.

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 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 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 simple STUPID high amount of turning torque, the throw lever really needs to be about 10 inches longer. Seriously. Not 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 sideways.

What did they get so badly wrong that the tone of this piece has descended to the level of someone in Hell 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 potato chip. Focusing 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 not correct 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 awesomeness. 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 butt sex. 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 than necessary 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 so you get good optical quality for less money, 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 a small target 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 ever born.

Innorel ST344c Carbon Fibre Tripod and N52 Ball Head

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 the poors (I’m using the term “poors” tongue in cheek. I myself was a poor for most of my life until hard work finally caught up with me and paid off.) are the people you want to get buying your stuff because there’s so many of them and they’re frequently prone to following fads. It’s not like I’m saying that people on tight budgets are stupid but stupidity is necessarily represented more thoroughly among their number than among Richie Rich types. It’s hard to get rich or stay rich if you’re a fool with your money. 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 the poors are being cynically and willfully disenfranchised by product makers to the detriment of the rest of us. The thing that the poors teach you, how to do things with limited resources, should be valued by manufacturers and by consumers with large and small budgets.

I’m not the kind of 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. Nor 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-routines activated. It’s no use trying to engage my enthusiasm to purchase anything because I haven’t got an enthusiasm to engage… 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 work. Eventually I will acquire a desire to buy some of the things that really work. I will, though, still wait to buy them until after their fad status has waned and their true value or lack thereof has been exposed.

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, Steiner M’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 if there’s not a genuine need. When I do spend money, I’m spending on something that had better last because I am only going to buy it once. Sure an MPA chassis might do me marginally better but, I don’t need it. I have an 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, the poors. This rest of us I speak of includes specifically 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 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 much 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.

Now, let’s turn to what else you can do with this thing. Start with a spare 34mm QD picatinny ring. Then add one of these and a little bit of creativity. Mount both rings to the removable leg on the tripod, one at each end of the first (fat) section. Now you mount your bipod to the Hygoo adapter and the 34mm QD ring to the Pic rail on your rifle’s fore end (or grab an ARCA adapter from Wiser precision if you’re running ARCA You’ve now got a bipod mount extension with the ability to move your bipod out in front of your muzzle which will provide massive stability gains. Just a thought. It should be mentioned that a BipodeXt is a better solution to this need but it also costs a few hundred bucks more and is one more thing to carry around. I really like the BipodeXt myself but when I want to reduce the amount of stuff I carry I can leave it out.

Folding Stock Adapter Comparison Pt. 3

1.2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7. 8.

1. Doublestar Ace FSA, 2. SB Tactical BTFA, 3. Sylvan Arms FSA 4. MDT Carbine|Carbine FSA,
5. UTG/Leapers FSA, 6. XLR FSA 7. Law Tactical FSA (and clones) 8. Hera Arms SFU

MDT Folding Stock Adapter $149

The speed with which the unit arrived is exemplary of my experiences with MDT. Every single time they surprise me by getting my order to my door several days ahead of when I might expect. It was ordered on the 10th and arrived on the 13th. I got order and ship notices via email with all the information I needed.

Installation was trivially easy and fast. It took only 2 minutes to uninstall the XLR unit and install the MDT unit. Getting it timed into position was not as easy as the XLR because the MDT uses a single screw to snug up the receiver block to the FSA and the act of snugging it up can easily cause the FSA to rotate a bit. It was not the unending bitch to get clocked right that the UTG/Leapers unit was. The XLR system uses 2 screws which avoids the whole issue and I think MDT might make a few friends by adopting that design element. Getting the butt stock installed was trivial and the castle nut locked it up just fine.

The single center screw that snugs up the chassis end
made clocking the MDT unit a very little bit frustrating. It’s lugged on
the other side but the lug has a lot of play in it so it’s not helpful.

Now came the biggest surprise so far. The lockup of the MDT unit was FLAWLESS out of the box and there was no way (or need) to tweak it. It’s just tight as a nun’s cunt right out of the box. That being the case, it occasionally was a little less willing to unlock than the XLR unit. You might notice I’m comparing the XLR and MDT directly a lot. Well, that’s because so far they’re really close and it’s the only comparison that seemed remotely fair.

After installation and some snap-open and snap close work, it was outside to bash against a barricade. The MDT unit simply excelled. Pushing, pulling, plopping hard on the ground, high angle where I’m putting my fully body weight down through the stock and into the bipod… all were easily tolerated and no evidence of strain on the unit was evident.

It’s a little longer than the XLR unit, just enough that I had to reset my XLR Tactical butt stock LOP from where it was with the XLR unit. Interestingly, not one has been 100% interchangeable with any other so far, though the UTG and XLR units were the closest so far.

The large pin in the lower left side seems to be
what provides for a lot of the insanely perfect lockup
that the MDT unit delivers. If only they’d price it right.

The MDT has no mechanism for adding drag to the open/close and if you want it double locking then it’s another $50. Getting to $200 for what is really nothing but a toy for most civilian uses is starting to get excessive especially when UTG manages two-way locking for $15. If MDT would have included that lock-open at the $149 price point, they’d have OWNED this comparison on value for features, and performance.

Given the testing criteria some points were deducted. The steel locking mechanism added .25pts it might not have otherwise gotten but it lost .5pts because it didn’t come with instructions (you have to go online to get them). The choice for steel lockup parts and aluminum body parts, that’s good material selection. That the lockup was SO tight right out of the box actually got me curious as to how they did it because it’s non-obvious. It’s very difficult to have 2 pieces of anything that don’t actually screw together that lock up that tightly. MDT’s engineering team outdid themselves on that feature. After all was said and done, the MDT unit pulled in 16.75 out of 19 points. That reflects my own personal feelings on the matter pretty well so there’s good inter-observer correlation between my subjective analysis and the objective points-based analysis. There’s a bit about the MDT that’s more admirable from an engineering point of view than with the XLR but, I like the XLR a little more overall right now, not least of which because it comes in 30 bucks cheaper and doesn’t really sacrifice anything over the MDT unit but the XLR does have the ability to add friction to the fold to act as a hold-open which the MDT does not unless you pop the extra $50 for 2-way locking.

Additional Notes on XLR and UTG/Leapers Units

Continuing our testing and evaluation of these folding stock adapters, while we waited for the MDT unit to arrive and almost every other unit to come off back order, the fiddling picked up. So what new do we have to report? Not a lot of news but some refinement of earlier points. It’s surprising really how much you get right on a surface examination and a couple quick function tests. The long testing procedure that’s being done is actually almost unnecessary. Important differences jump out at you and unimportant ones don’t.

XLR Folding Stock Adapter $115

The XLR unit is really fantastic and after stopping worrying about breaking the allen key in my hand, I got a little more twist on the drag screw… which didn’t really help at all. I’ve gotten the lockup tuned to perfectly snug. This XLR unit is fast becoming a favorite. It’s just elegant and smooth in all its design and operation. So far this is looking like the one that I’ll use on all of my buffer-tube equipped bolt action rifles long term but it’s still a bit early to say. The SB Tactical is so small and light that it might have to win… if we could ever get hold of one.

UTG Folding Stock Adapter $15

The UTG/Leapers unit continues to not be my favorite but it also continues to impress me with its strength and surprise me with how good it manages to be for fifteen measly bucks. Then again, thinking back to that install and the fact that it’s actually quite difficult to unlock from either the open or closed position it’s certainly not in first place even if it was free. The question is ,will it be second to last or not? The jury is still out but I suspect that it will be higher up the ladder than 2nd to last. One thing we can pronounce right here and now: If your budget is insanely tight and you need to fold your rifle stock and it accepts AR-15 buffer tubes, then you could do a shitload worse than the UTG. It is not sexy and sophisticated but it is 100% workable. If you’ve got a little more scratch then the XLR or MDT offerings would be a heck of a first stop on the train to happiness.

part 1.
part 2.
part 3.
part 4.
Mid-Series Check-in.
part 5.
part 6.
Declaring the Winners

Folding Stock Adapter Comparison Pt. 2

1.2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7. 8.

1. Doublestar Ace FSA, 2. SB Tactical BTFA, 3. Sylvan Arms FSA 4. MDT Carbine|Carbine FSA,
5. UTG/Leapers FSA, 6. XLR FSA 7. Law Tactical FSA (and clones) 8. Hera Arms SFU

Continuing our series on folding stock adapters, we’ve received and done our testing on the UTG/Leapers unit so let’s dish some dope.

UTG/Leapers AK-47 Folding Stock Adapter Continued– $15 retail

This is the least expensive unit by FAR. 5x cheaper than the next cheapest and ~10x cheaper than the average. Definitely made of aluminum and lacking in pretty much any kind of sophistication. That’s ok. Keeps prices down. It also is not capable of being what it advertises itself to be because AK’s don’t come with buffer tubes. It’s unclear how much we should expect from this thing. The unit was ordered on October 24th and is arrived on November 9th. A single shipping notice was sent when it was shipped. If someone were really smart they’d take this design and make it out of steel with very snug tolerances and burn off some of the pointy parts while they’re at it. I betcha that would be a heck of a unit.

You can see the U-shaped notch at the bottom
where the huge locking block locks in. The tapered locking block should
make for a no-wiggle lockup but requires a few pieces of tape to get there.

Installation is a bitch. It’s not hard to thread the thing in, and it comes with its own especially slender castle nut but that castle nut is still a little fucker to get cinched down. Pro-tip: Start at the back and snug forward. Seems to be the only way. If you don’t have a standard AR armorers tool or a specialized castle nut tool for AR’s then don’t even try to start the installation. While installing, pre-clock the stock about 20 degrees short of where you want it to come out and then when you’re snugging the castle nut the stock will end up rotating into position. Yeah, shitty but it was the only way I could get it to work.

Once you do manage to get it installed and everything lined up you’ll go to open it and find that it will either be very easy or very much a little pain in the dick. Whilst being a pain in the dick it will bite the absolute hell out of your hand. It’ll do this a number of times before you work out a technique that allows you to open and close the thing and not get bit. For me it’s not easy to have the muzzle resting anywhere but on my toes and the scope pressed against my belly to fold/unfold it. The upside of that is, when it’s closed it’s staying closed and there’s a lot of material involved in the lock-up so it’s looking like that’ll be pretty hard to bust.

Honestly, if some enterprising individual were to look at it and make a couple tiny design improvements like: unlocking cams (so you don’t have to muscle it to unlock it), rounding off all the places that are in line with bolt operation, making the engagement angles wider, making the whole damned thing out of carbon steel… but I digress, they would make an affordable as heck to produce and thence own FSA that would probably own a large part of the bolt action rifle market just on price.

It’s hard to stress how weird the thing is. It’s cheeeeeeeeeeap and it sweats cheap out of every pore but it’s not the typical kind of cheap that has it breaking on installation. It’s the kind of cheap that says, “I’m ok with the occasional blood blister if it makes the total cost under $20.” Lockup isn’t super solid but it’s not a wiggle-bitch either. 8 strips of masking tape strategically applied to oppose the lockup surfaces took 100% of the wiggle out.

I have to say that for under $20 and 8 little strips of masking tape, it’s pretty darned surprisingly ok. It really is something that I think MOST guys with rifles in chassis stocks that use AR buffer tubes could probably get by with. I certainly would personally and at minimum upgrade to the XLR unit because I have a limited supply of patience and knuckle skin. That said, if $115 is hard for your budget to justify, under $20 sure as shit isn’t so hard, especially when they made the thing pretty robustly and all the features do, in fact, work. Probably they made it robustly because they care about their name so they went cheap-ish on the materials but not so cheap that they have to violate PayPal and Facebook ToU’s to sell any of them.

Instead of stealing a design that really necessitates steel, they went with aluminum and a design that could deal with being made from aluminum. UTG is one of those outfits I give TONS of well deserved shit to because they aim at the low end of the market and their quality of execution is nearly always below my expectation. The suitability of the stuff they make to at least minimally function isn’t the problem. It’s that it only minimally functions on average and often will not have a long life expectancy. This FSA functions. It functions well in the open and closed positions and it accomplishes the transition with, if not no bloodletting at all, at least a minimum of it and I think guys on an extremely snug budget would be decently served by it. That said, save the money and get the XLR or a Doublestar. The amount better that they are over the cheapest options is pretty worth it, if for no other reason than the reduction in blood blisters they will give you.

With all that going for it, the initial score for the UTG unit was 11.5 out of 20. That’s pretty darned good, especially since it lost a high proprotion of the points that it did lose from there being a little wiggle, the installation being a major bitch and there being no instructions or tools included.

part 1.
part 2.
part 3.
part 4.
Mid-Series Check-in.
part 5.
part 6.
Declaring the Winners

Folding Stock Adapter Comparison Pt. 1

1.2. 3. 4.
5. 6. 7. 8.

1. Doublestar Ace FSA, 2. SB Tactical BTFA, 3. Sylvan Arms FSA 4. MDT Carbine|Carbine FSA,
5. UTG/Leapers FSA, 6. XLR FSA 7. Law Tactical FSA (and clones) 8. Hera Arms SFU

Folding stocks are great. They let us collapse the overall length of our rifles for easier transport or carrying. Folding stocks started on guns that were commonly carried by troops like tankers and truck drivers and, most notably, paratroopers. Airplanes and vehicles are confining places. If you’re stuck with a 4ft long gun all the time, you’re going to be bumping into shit and flagging everyone else that happens to live through being around you. Shortening the weapon system made it safer to have a number of armed men all packed like sardines in a can.

Solution? Folding that butt stock over the side/top/bottom of the rifle is a heck of a good start. It’s an easy way to cut a full foot off of the average rifle or carbine. Of course as soon as you solve any one problem with technology, you end up creating new ones. With folding stocks, the act of folding them over can interfere with the operation of the weapon. When deciding on a weapon and a folding stock mechanism, one should know if they’re going to want to fire while folded and select accordingly.

Some time back in history Law Tactical came out with what is considered by many to be kind of the gold standard of folding stock adapters for AR-15’s. Their system is clever, durable and functional. There’s only 1 way they could have made it any better which would be being able to shoot with the stock folded. Doing that is impossible with the normal operational mechanism of the AR-15 platform. So, it’s a pretty big win for Law Tactical to hit all the other nails so squarely on their heads.

Since Law Tactical came out with their unit criminals in China and the USA have copied the design and produced thousands of poor quality units from inferior materials. At the same time additional players have entered the market with their own, occasionally original, designs. Law Tactical doesn’t go out and whine though. They know that if you want the best, you’ll get their unit and if you don’t, you won’t and there’s nothing they can do to change your mind.

What nobody has done so far is try to break every single one of them and compare and contrast them for appropriateness on bolt action rifles. So here at BallisticXLR, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’re looking at the available designs with an eye to how well they’ll work on a bolt action rifle that gets used roughly. We’re looking for function, materials selection, ergonomics, lockup when closed, lockup when open, engagement surface wear-in, accumulated dings/dents, and then if they work on gas guns, we’ll check that all out on a gas gun too.

To look at each of those areas we have formalized a testing regime. Each test is worth 1 point and fractional points are allowed. Beyond those functional points we’ll be looking subjectively at the lot and taking a critical eye to each design. Hopefully at the end we can find a set of criteria that make selecting an adapter easy and we might just inspire someone to make the next coolest thing.

  1. Materials – Steel 1pt, 7075 Al .75pt, 6061 AL .5pt, pot metal .25pt, glass 0pt.
  2. Lock-open / Open Detent – Locks/holds in the open position as well as the closed position.
  3. Surface Pre-test- Inspect surface finish of all surfaces. No wear 1pt, light scratches .75pt, dents .5pt, galling .25pt, breakage 0pt.
  4. Installation – comes with all tools/parts/etc… needed for installation.
  5. Installation – comes with instructions for installation.
  6. Installation – instructions are easily followed and include useful pictures or pictographic representations which are easily identified.
  7. Tuning – Methods exist to close buffer tube interface tolerances to zero. both ends 1pt, 1 end .5pt, none at all 0pt.
  8. Snap Close – 10 snap closures with no dents/dings/breakage/failure to lock
  9. Snap Open – 10 snap opening with no dents/dings/breakage/failure to lock/unlock
  10. Barricade Bash – run to prone, prone to 3-step barricade, prone from barricade exercise 5x
  11. Wiggle Check – Prone w/ bipod loaded
  12. Wiggle Check – Prone w/ bipod unloaded
  13. Wiggle Check – Prone w/ bipod reverse loaded
  14. Wiggle Check – Torque load
  15. Wiggle Check – Bending load
  16. Wiggle Check – Shear load
  17. Ergonomics – does not invade grip space on bolt gun 1pt, gas gun 1pt
  18. Ergonomics – sharp edges, pinchy parts, etc…
  19. Surface Post-test – Inspect surface finish of all surfaces. No dents/galling 1pt, dents .5pt, galling .25pt, breakage 0pt.
  20. Compactness – Measured by water displacement. Rank order based on number of units in test total. Divide 10 by that number to get the rank order point total. Top gets 1 point. Bottom gets 0 points.

Law Tactical Folding Stock Adapter – $239-269 retail vs. Facebook Knock-off: $58 retail

So far we’ve tested a knock-off of the Law Tactical unit as well as the real thing. The real deal Law Tactical FSA is stupid strong and really works well at everything it does. Guns with really touchy gas systems or that are a bit undergassed may experience cycling issues but that’s easily treated with a change to buffer, spring or gas port. The Law tactical unit is so good that I’m really surprised that they don’t get factory equipped on TONS of AR’s. In fact, the Law Tactical unit is so good that it is the benchmark against which all others will be measured (with the exception of the water displacement test which we won’t know the results of for a while). That being the case, the Law Tactical comes out with an near perfect benchmark score of 19. I have good reason to believe that it will not scrape up the extra point for a perfect 20 because I know some of the other units are a bit smaller.

The first new unit tested was pretty obvious about how it was going to turn out as it was advertised on Facebook at a price point that simply couldn’t be done with good materials. It was purchased just to see how bad something could be and still have thousands of units sold. Well, how bad was it? It broke during installation so it couldn’t have possibly done much worse. Even if it hadn’t broken so early, given where it broke it would have broken very early in the more physical of the remaining tests and would not have scored any of those points. That’s pretty pathetic.

The Chinese unit was found on Facebook. It was ordered on September 5th and arrived on October 24th (~50 days to deliver), mailed from New York City in an envelope littered with Chinese characters. An obvious re-ship despite the ad saying “Made in the USA”. I’d actually stopped expecting it to show up at all and just counted that $58 as a loss. In addition to all the other shady shit going on with this thing, the PayPal transaction showed that the seller was involved in selling “Clothing” which was a lie as their actual market space is a violation of the PayPal ToS.

The locking hasp for the Chinese unit showing deep dings in the ramp
and the nose busted clean off.

The unit was made of partly what seems to be very light/low density aluminum alloy but all the little parts that go inside it are made of what appears to be pot metal or an even lower grade of aluminum alloy that has all the strength of egg shells. If you tried to do something this badly, I don’t think that you could. It takes a special talent for being shitty to punch that low. Since it’s the same size as the Law unit, we’ll assume it won’t do very well on the displacement test either. Both the Law and the fake Law do invade the area behind the web of your thumb when put on a pure carbine tube interface on bolt action rifles like that on my gen 1 MDT LSS chassis but, it does not do that on AR-15’s or bolt action chassis that were meant to take the taller, teardrop shaped fixed stock interface.

Our unit broke at the locking pin that keeps it closed. The nose of that locking pin just snapped off the first time it was given a snap close. Prior to snap closing a couple tries at more slowly closing it didn’t work. That failure to close gently was the reason for trying to snap it closed. You can see on the picture above that each of the gentle attempts to close it actually damaged this part. When I followed that up with a snap closing, the poor quality material made its opinion heard and it gave up the ghost. So the Facebook / Chinese Law clone graduates with 2.4 points earned so far out of a possble 19. Way to wow us.

XLR Industries Folding Stock Adapter – $115 retail

This was only the third unit to arrive for testing and, boy, we could not have had a better counterpoint to the garbage from China. Nicely made, clearly aluminum but good strong aluminum. I’ve bashed this thing around really hard trying to get it to break but it just won’t. I’ve done the barricade bashing and live fire range testing and all the other tests. The designer should feel really good about their work. It’s a small unit full of very clever ways to deal with inevitable issues native to folding stocks being put where they maybe weren’t originally intended to go.

XLR’s adapter. The top & bottom screws snug up the
adapter to chassis fit. The center screw adjusts the wiggle out of the joint.

There’s just the tiniest amount of audible jiggle in there out of the box but I can’t tell where from. You can only get an idea that it’s not a single piece by shaking it roughly. The lockup is really tight and is adjustable through a very clever and dead simple adjustment screw. Once adjusted, there’s no wiggle at all. A standard castle nut on the rear holds that side firm. The chassis to adapter interface is made rock solid via 2 snugging-up screws that are, like the rest of it, clever in how they work. Cinching up the adapter to the chassis side and getting it clocked properly is the easiest of any unit tested.

The method to add drag to the folding mechanism is simple and easy to use but I wish it’d let me add a little more drag. The system is basically to squeeze the hinge, directly adding friction. At some point the screw you snug up for that just doesn’t turn anymore but there’s still not that much drag on the mechanism. The drag helps to keep the thing in the open position when folded but it’s not quite enough to deal with the weight of my XLR Tactical stock and full length buffer tube if I shake the thing vigorously while holding the whole contraption horizontal. It did just fine for a vigorous hike while stowed on a pack frame, in that it didn’t come loose and bang me in the back of the head. On the other side of the coin, it can hold itself open on a hike and still take a flick to make it snap closed, which is neat. This is only possible because there is no need to unlock from the open position. Because this isn’t a detent or a real lock-open but rather a friction fit that will in time inevitably lose some friction, it lost half a point.

From a compactness standpoint it’s looking like it should end up as the #2 or #3 smallest. Where it really wins is on price for quality. It’s quite a bit cheaper than all but the Ebay/Facebook/ripoff or the UTG (both of whose prices should ring alarm bells) and it’s right on par with the DoubleStar unit. $115 is not a lot to spend on such a well made gizmo and against the $150 average buy-in for most of the others, it’s a pretty decently low cost option.

From order to delivery took 6 days and notifications came via email the entire time. All in all it got 18.5 of the 19 points it could have and it’s fast becoming a personal favorite (UPDATE: It is still on my match rifle as of 2022). Since it doesn’t work with gas guns we’ll ignore gas gun performance. Because it doesn’t work with gas guns the designers were able to use area previously carved out for bolt carriers to cycle through and put it to use doing something useful for a bolt action rifle, the tight lockup. I’m glad they only pursued the right mission.

UTG/Leapers AK-47 Folding Stock Adapter – $15 retail

Well, this is the least expensive unit by FAR. 5x cheaper than the next cheapest and ~10x cheaper than the average. Definitely made of aluminum and lacking in pretty much any kind of sophistication. That’s ok. It keeps prices down. It also is not capable of being what it advertises itself to be because it is obviously for AR-15 pattern interfaces, not AK-47 interfaces as the product name indicates. It’s unclear how much we should expect from this thing but we’ll keep an open mind and report back next week. The unit was ordered on October 24th and is set to arrive on November 9th. A single shipping notice was sent when it was shipped. If someone were really smart they’d take this design and make it out of steel with very snug tolerances. I betcha that would be a heck of a unit.

part 1.
part 2.
part 3.
part 4.
Mid-Series Check-in.
part 5.
part 6.
Declaring the Winners