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 MidwayUSA.com 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 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 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 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.

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 MidwayUSA.com 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 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 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 https://www.amazon.com/Hygoo-Adapter-Picatinny-Tactical-Barrel/dp/B07WDDXRL5 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 https://www.wiserprecision.com/products/arca-swiss-picatinny-adapter). 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.