When I think about Crimson Trace’s “Series” scopes I visualize in my mind some buyer at MidwayUSA.com screaming, “Sell! Sell!” as he collapses into a mosh pit of depressed stock traders, like Randolph Duke the end of the movie “Trading Places”. Crimson Trace came to market with $800-$2000 optics that sold like snow cones in the Arctic despite being at quality and feature parity with other scopes costing $800-$2000. The whims of precision rifle marketplace are sometimes hard to predict and usually arbitrary. I mean, Arken optics is still standing despite selling only currently the garbage SH4 line and not selling their epic EP4 line. I think this situation persists largely because people don’t read and they often don’t think either. They associate brands with quality rather than brand-models. This leads people to buying garbage based on faith, then losing faith because of that and then when they find actual quality available, they look askance at it because they’ve been bitten before (see Arken). Big sale discounts on expensive stuff just makes people nervous anymore. Enter my latest need for a long range capable optic and a budget limited to not far from $800.
My .223rem chambered Mossberg MVP has been without a decent optic for nigh on 2 years now and I promised my nephew that he could go to a match with me soon so I needed a very light recoiling rifle that’s not ultra loud or heavy and it has to have an optic on it that is simple enough (mils not MOA, not a tree reticle, big eye box) for a kid to shoot his first match (and his first time shooting a real powder burning rifle) with. I had been looking for another US Optics SN3 3.8-22x (I like this brand-model and prefer it to all others) before this particular need came up but there weren’t any being proffered so I had to look then to other brand scopes and thought a Bushnell DMR or XRS or ERS or HDMR would do very nicely.
Then while browsing around MidwayUSA.com I happened upon the Crimson Trace scopes at 50% off and was made instantly curious. I know they’re made in Japan which is a VERY good sign and I know the original MSRP’s were pretty heart stopping like all top end scopes which is a good sign. So, they had to be at least decent and at 50% off, well now we’re talking real value. Topping all that, any of the Bushnell scopes would have ended up being just a little bit more expensive than I had bucks on-hand for and I didn’t want to overdraft my checking account or wait several days to get paid and risk not getting one because the sale ended or they’d sold out. So, I ponied up to the bar and got the CT Series 5 3-18×50 which I had all the dollars to cover. I’m glad I did. There was also a CT 3-24x but an 8x magnification range, to me, only means an unusable reticle at the low end or too heavy a reticle at the high end. It’s just too much range for me. That being the case, 3-18x is right where I needed. The .223 it’s going on will never need more than 18x anyway. It can’t reach far enough for that to be really helpful and 18x is enough to shoot a mile against a man size target anyway.
These were and still are at the time of this writing on sale at 50% off at MidwayUSA.com. For me it was a choice between a Bushnell DMR or XRS II both of which I know are excellent scopes or I could check out the CT 5-series. These things retailed for $1500-2000 depending on where you went and I can’t see that the marketplace really responded well. It’s a crowded market full of newly formed companies so just leveraging a storied name like Crimson Trace isn’t likely to get you much traction. You need to hit the features:price ratio that makes you barely profitable and you need someone popular to glom onto your stuff. CT had no such luck of getting a popular booster and they didn’t keep the price reasonable.
Brownell’s sells a Match Precision Optic which is literally the exact same scope as the CT Series 5 3-18x50mm but it sells for $1000, not 50% more than that like the CT version. The only difference between the CT scope and the Brownell’s is the red ring of death that CT puts on the occular to tell you if your eye relief is good. So I guess the real question you want answered immediately is, “Is the scope worth $1000?” Yes. Totally. Really good glass quality yields clean images and very natural color rendition and a very consistently flat image. My unit passed a box (tracking repeatability) test perfectly and pulled the tall target (click value) test with no measurable error inside 10mils.
Now here’s where a lesson got learned. The Series 5 have 6x or greater magnification range and all sit on 34mm tubes. The Series 3 have a 5x magnification range and some sit on 34mm tubes while others are on 30mm tubes. The 3 Series 5-25x is every bit as optically good as the Series 5. The real difference between the two appears to be tube size and magnification range but not glass quality or tracking. The Series 2, which I haven’t tested yet but will soon, have 4x magnification range and vary between 30 and 34mm tubes but it’s important to note that they have the same exact glass as in the Series 3 and Series 5 and use the same turret setups. These are legitimate long range scopes for under $800, usually quite a lot less than that.
Reticles vary across the line and some are pretty busy while others are pretty plain. It’s pretty common for them to have open centers which helps by not obscuring the target. Illumination is really clean with no blooming and plenty of difference between the top and bottom brightness settings and useful differences between adjacent levels.
Magnification and reticle focus rings are firm but not excessively stiff to turn. The elevation turret has nicely distinct clicks but they’re not notchy like a Bushnell ET1040 that feels like you’re shifting gears in gated transmission. The illumination ring is quite stiff and extremely notchy. The parallax ring is firm but not stiff and goes down to 10yrds which is killer if you’re planning on using it on a .22lr. I had no trouble getting target focus on targets up to 1500yrds distant. One thing that CT did which you might find cool is what I call their red ring of death (Yes Xbox, I’m making fun of you.). The purpose of the red ring (it’s in the occular lens) is to tell you when you’re at proper eye relief. I thought that would be handy for those match stages where I’m at a really awkward shooting position which is not behind the rifle. It ended up not being quite that handy but it is distinctive and that’s cool enough and handy for instructing new shooters.
There is a zero stop and it’s pretty darned easy to set up, 1 screw in the elevation turret. Another nice feature is the level lines on the sides of the tube. Really simplifies getting the thing level because you just index those to your scope ring’s cap splits and you’re pretty well golden.
What surprises are in store? Well, one big one was these seem to be intended to be used on seriously canted bases. I have a 20MOA rail on my .223 and I put 15 MOA more into the Burris Signature Series XTR rings that I used. That put me pretty much in the middle of the mechanical range for my zero. I like to set up my scopes to be zero’d anywhere from a little under middle of mechanical range to ~2-5mils off the bottom depending on how far I plan to actually use the thing. I set up my scopes so that my max range drops are not at the limits of the mechanical range so I’m still somewhere near the sweet spot of the optical quality when I’m reaching out farthest. That sacrifies some short range optical performance but you can’t tell because it’s at short range where defects have to be much bigger to be apparent.
With anything that’ll go farther than a .223 you’ll probably want to start at 30MOA of base/ring cant and maybe go as high as 40-50MOA. Putting 20, 30, 40MOA in Burris Signature Series XTR rings is trivially easy so you might plan on using those rings. They can be a pain to set up as you have to slowly and evenly torque all 12 screws across both rings like you’re installing an aluminum cylinder head. It takes a while but it’s not hard to do and the Burris Signature rings don’t mar scope tubes up with ring marks and they have adjustable cant in via little polymer eccentrics. I use Seekins rings on my US Optics scopes but I use Burris Signature Series XTR’s on anything else with a 34mm main tube (and Burris Signature Series Zee rings on 30mm tubes).
What’s not awesome? They’re not winning any awards for total elevation adjustment range. The total range of up is about 35mils (~120MOA) and the windage turret seems limited to adjustments that might actually be useful, not much more than 20Mil total range. Also, the elevation turret has a little tiny bit of lash in the clicks which annoys some people. The most annoying thing is that Brownells is selling the exact same thing for half price so it seems that CT was being a little greedy and got their comeuppence. Now that their peepee got smacked though, we get the bargains as CT gets out of the business. They still make scopes but not this line. They’ve got a lifetime warranty as well so you can feel protected there.
These scopes do not come with a sunshade and there is not one available as far as I can tell. Bummer. What you can get are throw levers (20 bucks) from Crimson Trace. those appear to be in stock. I don’t see a need for them but if you want one, they’re available. As far as accessories, that’s all folks.
So, if you’re in the market for an optic in the $450-1000 range right now, you best get your butt over to MidwayUSA.com and order up one of these bad boys. Series 2, 3 or 5 you’re in for a great scope. The best bargains are on the Series 5’s and the Series 3’s right now as they’re 50% off but the Series 2’s are still pretty darned nice and they’re in that price range too. While you’re there grab a set of Burris XTR Signature Series rings and a Fat Wrench and a 20MOA picatinny rail and you’ve got the whole kit.
After I got my scope and had done all my testing on it, I was looking for other reviews. Mostly this is to see if others had different experiences before I go writing any review articles. If there’s substantial inconsistency of quality/performance then I usually will not publish an article. This is why low and middle end Vortex stuff never appears in these pages. QC by RMA is easily forgiven by the masses if the warranty process is simple and if the warranty process is too simple and forgiving, like Vortex’s, then you get a lot of people that say, “Oh it works perfectly.” even though they’re on their 6th replacement unit and nobody complains that QC is crap. Whereas with a company that tries to make 6-sigma manufacturing quality a reality and which treats warranty claims as serious failures of the manufacturing operation will usually get pilloried for even a single trivial failure that gets publicized even if there’s a million other units that never had problem-1. While looking around I found the Dark Lord of Optics. He has his shit together and knows what he’s talking about. He actually did a little comparo of 50mm objective precision rifle scopes with a broad range of price points, from expensive to heart-stoppingly-expensive and he came up with (no surprise) essentially the same result.
You should expect that when you spend $400 on a scope promising features that are normally only found to be well executed on scopes costing 3-4 times as much that you’re going to get a pile of shit, and this is no exception. It’s a terrible scope in the extreme but only because of a single aspect. If it weren’t for that one aspect being so incredibly shitty, the thing would actually made some of the decent scores and doubling the price would not be out of the question. However, with that one aspect being what it is, the scope is just a 20-piece bucket of extra crispy fried failure.
First off, I ordered mine in the first week of September and there was a 8-12 week lead time. Fine. Covid plus hot new product equals long lead time. Come January I got a little annoyed at it being over a month beyond the 12 week line and dropped them a line. They couldn’t even find my order because they track based on the email address you use in the order. The email address I communicate with humans over is not the same one that I associate orders of shit from the internet with. If you got 1500 emails a day of which a couple hundred were important, you’d use account-based filtering too. They also couldn’t find my order using any of the transaction numbers provided during the Paypal transaction as searchable keys. So, initially, they couldn’t even find my order at all. Whomever set up their ecommerce widgets should be downright ashamed. Up until right here customer service was basically a deadpan attitude with a vernier of gofuckyourselfness barely detectable under the superficial politeness and they didn’t seem to keen on finding out what the hell happened. I guess politeness only goes so far.
So, not getting anything with honey, I decided to change to vinegar and I rotated my attitude a bit in order to get a bit snippy with them. Now they decided to bother looking and promptly found my order. Here’s where my disappointment with Arken Optics reaches a boiling point. Once they did find my order they told me that the Post Office had decided to not deliver it, marking it undeliverable, which is odd considering I get something like 10 packages a day on average. In any event, the scope was returned to Arken and then Arken NEVER EVEN BOTHERED CONTACTING ME ABOUT THAT. Just took my $400 and looked the other direction. This is a kind of “He’ll contact us if he feels it’s important.” attitude and it is not the kind of attitude that is OK in this situation.
Once they’d dug head out of ass and figured out that, nope, I didn’t get my scope they dutifully asked if I still wanted it. Well DUH. I didn’t ask for a refund in the first place, I asked for my scope. So, after confirming that I did want a scope I asked if perhaps we could upgrade to the EP4. Nope. We’re not taking anymore orders for those. Oh. Ok. I get it. Your loss leader is too popular and you won’t hook up the guy that you just fucked over and whom now; for whatever reason, wants to up his stupidity by 200 bucks. Ok. Fine. Y’all are hopeless, Arken.
So we know that while the company isn’t totally shitty, there are definitely some smelly, wet, brown streaky things running up and down their customer focus and customer service britches. How about in the product itself? Is there, to use a bit of an aged corporate tag line, any evil lurking in their plumbing? Who knows? Adee do.
The scope wasn’t totally hopeless out of the gate. It has some nice bits. The turrets are huge and nicely tactile which very distinct clicks and an easy to read knob. Click values were repeatable and accurate for elevation and windage. The sunshade that’s included is of a useful length. The thing weighs like it should if it were high quality (that’s usually an indicator, not this time). The zero-stop was cleverly simple and super easy to deal with. The pinch screw type caps will never be on my list of good decisions though but they worked just fine.
The bubble level is probably the cheapest unit they could find and mine came with it’s screw hole courteously pre-cross-threaded for me so just getting the screw out was a whore of a chore. The aluminum (or pot possibly metal) that the body of the level was made of was so soft that I was able to just force the screw in and it seems to have re-cut the threads well enough to hold. Soft but not brittle I guess. Lucky me. Still, in the end it is a level and I was able to successfully install it and to use it from behind the rifle so, full points there.
The throw lever would be excellent on a scope that didn’t have the power ring doped down with 30ftlbs of minimum turning torque. Since the power ring does need a just STUPID amount of turning torque, the throw lever really needs to be about 10 inches longer. Seriously. No joking. Even with the throw lever, trying to change magnification quickly like one might do in a PRS stage was simply not possible and trying to accomplish it with increasing force levels was seriously painful. I soon found out that there’s no amount of force you can apply to the power ring to make it turn much faster than super slow. It’s from here on out that things start going uniformly cockeyed.
What did they get so badly wrong that the tone of this piece has descended to the level of someone in Hades with bronchitis? Well, lots of places but the worst by far was the glass itself. On high magnification levels, anything above ~14x, it’s like looking through a milk bottle that nobody took the milk out of first. Focusing decently on something like a 2/3 IPSC target at 800yrds was simply not possible at any magnification and as the magnification crawled past 14x the thing became generally less and less usable at any distance. Every optical aspect was simply terrible. I thought I might be spoiled and had a friend who’s also a long range shooter take a peek. He was less generous in his assessment than I have been anywhere in this article.
Beyond the milkiness I got wicked amounts of color separation, meaning that they probably didn’t use apochromatically corrected lenses and if they did, the correction is incomplete to say the least. In addition to that, the parallax knob that should focus the image simply would not do that to any distant target. Close and mid-range was not a problem to focus the target on but after about 800 yards I found it simply impossible to get focus that would allow me to resolve 3-inch wide bullet splash marks against the otherwise white painted steel. Pathetic! Utterly pathetic. I got radically better performance from an SWFA 16×42 looking at the same target on the same day and that scope is not exactly the kitties titties of resolution. Even a Nikon P223 was dramatically superior in optical clarity. NOTE: I put a bullet through that Nikon the same day I wrung out the Arken so that should tell you about what I think of the Arken SH4. This Arken SH4 is basically what you get when you send $400 to China and ask them to provide you with a little surprise buttsex. Doing one or the other probably won’t have the same effect. You have to do both at the same time for the full effect.
The eye box on the Arken SH4 is very tight even at low magnifications. Tight eye boxes make a scope harder to use when things aren’t otherwise perfect. It wasn’t brutally tight like I’ve seen on some scopes and it didn’t feel ‘weird’ in the eye like Athlon Ares ETR’s did. It’s just really tight. Tight enough to be irritating but not to make it unusable, unlike the glass itself.
Ring torque limits are helpfully printed on the scope body. It said 18inlbs so I did not exceed that. The tree reticle they offer is great at high magnification but it is essentially invisible at low magnification. The idea behind very fine reticle lines is one that says the user might bias toward high magnification use cases and that’d be fine if the scope was at all usable at high magnifications. However, in the middle range where it was possible to get ok focus, the reticle was so thin that it was easily lost against the background and doing holdover and holdoff with a reticle like that was much more difficult than it should have been.
Now then, that 34mm tube. The 34mm tube seems utterly pointless in this application. The whole reason for using one is to either make larger, easier and cheaper to manufacture lens elements, or to provide for greater turret adjustment range. It seems that they didn’t go with the range option as this scope sports a pretty large but not atypical 35mils (120MOA) of up (I have seen variables with up to 70MILS of up). Windage capacity wasn’t nearly so generous either, about 1/2 of the elevation range in practice so you’d think that the lens elements were where they spent the money. It’s not. What you end up with from the 34mm tube is not a quality image. What you really get out of it is having to buy rings that cost 2-5x as much as a 30mm ring and that’s about it. Think about it. You can’t use the extra up if you can’t use enough magnification to see far enough to need the extra up.
All in all, this was the single worst use of $400 I have ever managed to execute. I didn’t even feel right about selling the thing on without heavily discounting the price and telling the buyer exactly what they were in for. I would imagine that the EP4 line is substantially better and I would be willing to bet a crispy $1 bill that’ll work in any machine that they’re going to have to jack the price on the EP4 into the damned stratosphere so they can afford to sell more of them. If not, then Arken Optics will, in my prediction, end up as the next Barska or NCStar or Centerpoint… making some of the shittiest scopes in the world for some of the most gullible motherfuckers in the world. There’s no way they’ll be able to keep the EP4 down at $500 and still have Japanese glass and great tracking with a usefully large magnification range.
I hope Arken unfucks themselves. If they do I’ll be happy to re-review their line but they’re going to have to sponsor the scopes for that testing. I’m not paying them out of my own pocket yet again for the privilege of finding yet another company with yet another product that doesn’t live up to the hype. I won’t be able to test the EP4’s for the foreseeable future because Arken decided to not sell them anymore and they do not currently offer a higher end line than the SH4. My personal bet (not based on anything but a hunch) is that they came out with both a 500 dollar scope and a 400 dollar scope thinking that most people would take the cheaper one given the option and that their loss leading 500 dollar scope would sell in relatively smaller numbers. I further bet that they grossly miscalculated the blind faith that people have in Frank Galli’s words and most people ended up going to the EP4 which they lost money on. If they didn’t, they’d still be selling them living fuck out of them.
A 75mm platform, 34mm main tubes made from 10 layers of CF and almost a direct copy of a Really Right Stuff tripod plus additional features, the ST344c is fully capable, economical and well made.
In the past decade or so a disturbing trend has arisen in the shooting sports world. It’s like there’s a competition involving everybody versus everybody else to see who can be the biggest spendthrift and to do it for no reason at all. Supplied by makers of excellently made and ridiculously overpriced shooting accessories abounding in the world, this trend is being fueled by both innovation and keeping up with the Jones’. Innovation is good. Keeping up with the Jones’ is horrible and ruins sports.
When you throw up huge cost penalties for people wanting to compete at a reasonably high level all you do is look at potential customers and tell them, “Fuck off! This game isn’t for you, Poor.” Never mind the fact that the prices are made artificially high in nearly every case and that poors are the people you want to get buying your shit because there’s so many of them and they’re frequently prone to following fads. It’s not like I’m saying poors are stupid but stupidity is represented more thoroughly among their number than among Richie Rich types. I guess an argument could be made for this being the exact reason for the current state of affairs but, I’m sticking with my assertion for now that poors are being cynically and willfully disenfranchised to the detriment of the rest of us. Poors teach you how to do things with limited resources and should be valued by manufacturers.
I’m not the guy that keeps up with anyone. I, personally, could give 2 cold squirts of democrat piss about what Mr. and Mrs. Jones own and use. Neither am I an early adopter. Or a late adopter. I’m what you might call a “damned-near-never-adopter”. Never will I hemorrhage tall stacks of cash on any new whizbang gizmo or toy that just erupted uninvited into my universe for the simple fact that it’s new. In short, I do not suffer from the incurable state of permanent want that appears to have stricken nearly everyone in the shooting sports world and the greater society at large. Ads for particularly expensive Mercedes-Benz models do not get my coveting sub-routine activated. It’s no use trying to engage my enthusiasm to make me make a purchase because I haven’t got an enthusiasm… it was never installed at the factory. Part of this attitude comes from a pervasive natural skepticism, part of it is an ascetic streak in my character born of growing up exceedingly poor and part of it is a genuine desire to discover what stuff out there really works so I avoid buying what doesn’t. Eventually I will acquire a desire to buy some of the things that really work. I will, though, still always wait to buy them until after their fad status has waned.
Seriously… Go on and keep that bandwagon space just for you. I ain’t riding it. When super fancy scopes that made the once legendary Leupold Mk4 look sad and aged came out, I didn’t jump on them. I stayed with the old Weaver T-series and Sightron target scopes for nearly 10 more years before I slow-walked across the street into the world of Vortex Razor 2’s and US Optics TPAL series scopes. When everyone else had already abandoned McMillan A5 stocks in favor of all aluminum chassis stocks, I stuck with my hand laid fibreglass until MDT admitted to the world that a quality chassis for under 1000 bucks was doable. When Masterpiece Arms later went and made the be-all-end-all PRS chassis stock, I stayed with my MDT LSS. I do not waste money and I certainly don’t spend it twice. When I do spend money, I’m spending on something that had better last because I am only going to buy it once. Sure a MPA chassis might do me marginally better but, I don’t need it. I have a MDT chassis that suits me quite well and does good work for me. This will keep me out of many winners circles but it doesn’t materially diminish my enjoyment of the sport or my ability to excel at it.
Occasionally in the global marketplace that we all exist inside of there will come to be more than one brand/model of catchmefuckme which appear to be competitive with each other but which have a price difference that normally suggests 1 unit is good and the other is a dumpster-fire. On very rare occasions; almost so rarely as to not actually happen, both units will be totally acceptable, even directly comparable in fit/finish/quality/capacity/etc… and the only real difference between the two will be price. You might be thinking that because this article has been written and because the beginning of it has been phrased the way that it has that we’ve found one of those unicorns and, you’d be right. Normally the stuff I review is not bargain model stuff because usually that stuff is made out of shit. Not this time.
So, it’s time yet again to look at toys for the rest of us. This rest of us I speak of is the part of the population that, like me, doesn’t need a particular brand label to give away how much I paid for my toy in order for it to have any value to me. Nor do I gain self-worth from the cost of my toys. Everyone with a bent similar to mine, stick around because there’s good stuff here. Everyone else, you’re excused if you want to be but you’re encouraged to stay a bit as you will definitely have the most to gain from the brain dump being performed herein.
Enter Innorel. Yeah, you’ve never probably heard of them probably because I seriously doubt that it’s a company so much as a brand. I also know that Innorel isn’t the only brand with CF tripods at reasonable prices. They’re starting to pop up all over but, the only brand I’ve been able to validate as living up to their promises or not is Innorel. The guys over at SnipersHide.com went over the RT90c which has 40mm primary tubes and a couple other minor features not found on the ST344c. The RT-90c is $100 more expensive than the ST344c and for that you get a quick release bowl, slightly beefier legs, 20lbs more capacity and it weighs 2lbs more than the ST344c. For the average competitive shooter, the difference between the two is essentially zero so dropping to 34mm primaries, dropping 2lbs of mass and keeping 100 bucks in the wallet is probably a pretty damned good trade. The ST-80c starts at 32mm legs and 44lbs of capacity with only 8 layers of CF. While it might be ok for a 10lbs hunting rifle, the ST-80c is a little light on capacity for my taste for a PRS type rifle that weights nigh on 20lbs or more despite it being $60 cheaper. That $60 is probably an important $60 to spend.
If your use case can tolerate a 77lbs capacity instead of an 88lbs capacity, 2lbs less shit to drag around and having basically every other capability and feature at parity then the ST344c is probably worth a look even by professional shooters. 40mm primaries aren’t going to do that much better than 34’s unless you’re shooting a boomer like a .338LM/.375CT/.50BMG.
Where does this fall down against the RRS? The only thing I can see so far is the little leg locks aren’t spring loaded on the Innorel. That’s about it. Short of testing to destruction it’s been impossible to find anything else and I’d like to use it in another few matches before breaking it. I did test abusively by hanging my 170lbs of lazy-ass bastard from the ball-head platform with the tripod fully extended to maximum height. It took that without a creak. It’s been holding up my 18lbs rifle for 3 days now and the ball head hasn’t moved.
On to the ball-head. I’ve not found a lot of these that I like. If they’re easy to disengage the lock on then they’re so easy to adjust that it becomes impossible to actually get on target. I popped for the Innorel N52 ball head which is the biggest one I could find. It is quite nice but the knob on the ARCA clamp is entirely too small for my comfort especially with my arthritic hands.
What would be cool on them is little throw levers… I might try to fab some up. We’ll see. Anyway, the N52 ball head has little relief notches in it that allow the ball head to offer a truly vertical view up or down. It’s easy enough to get a good friction setting on the panning knob and the main knob is big enough to get a decent grip on though I keep scraping my fingers on the platform when I use it. With a 52mm ball diameter there’s a ton of surface area to get a good grip on so it’ll hold some pretty heavy rifles pretty far from their center of mass and it should hold up nearly any camera you can find that’s not making major motion pictures.
The ST-344c tripod itself is $229 which is about 1/5th the cost of a comparable RRS unit. The N52 ball head is $89 meaning you can be participating in positional stages with your own kit for less than a new barrel costs, instead of for as much as a new RPR costs. So far testing hasn’t shown any surprises. A Wiebad Fortune Cookie sits well enough on top for those times when that’s needed. Any ol’ ARCA rail fits just fine in the ball head and the whole unit seems durable, well made, light and inexpensive. Gear queers that love keeping up with the Jones family may not be happy at the low low low price but shooters on a budget certainly will.
Were you starting to think PRS/NRL type competitive shooting was financially out of reach because every single accessory you need is 1000 bucks a pop? Well, this is one shot well timed and aimed in the price war. Is RRS’s kit better, yes. That’s no reason to ignore the elephant in the room though, which is that the amount better the RRS units are to a comparably sized Innorel is infinitesimal.
Where you might just find some value/utility in spending more or at least shopping around a bit more is in the ball head. While it’s totally usable and even really nice in some ways, you want the ball head to be perfect for you. That may be different to it being perfect for others and since preference will play such a big role, it’s advisable to go to matches and try what others are using and see what you like and what you don’t. You can’t tell how you’ll like it until you put a rifle on it and try to aim at some distant target. If the target isn’t far away then you won’t see where the unit in question is going to fall flat on its face. You can’t judge stability against targets that are close.
Cool Bits & Features: 77lbs capacity, comes with aluminum spike feet so you don’t have to buy them separately, one of the legs can be spun off and used as a walking stick or monopod to which the ball head mount attaches, there is a circular level in the ball-head mounting base, it can lay darned near flat or be nearly 6ft tall, it comes with a very nice bag and tools, the ball-head also comes with its own case and 2 mounting plates for cameras/binos/etc…, 3 leg positions, huge rubber feet.
If you thought you couldn’t afford a nice one, I know this one will do nicely for you. The next model down (ST-80C or ST-324C) will probably also do nicely for you but the capacity drops substantially so, watch the weight limits. Based on the testing I’ve been able to do, you want the capacity to be at least double the weight of your gun plus the recoil impulse in pounds so you’ve always got more capacity to spare to be able to load pressure onto the rifle and deal with forces being applied you might not be fully aware of in a competition setting.
So if you have a 20lbs rifle that makes 6lbs of free recoil (this is typical of 6.5CM or 6CM level power) then you want 52lbs capacity from both your tripod and your ball head. If you’re running a 20lbs rile in a big magnum chambering like 300WM that makes closer to 20lbs of free recoil then you’ll be looking for 80lbs of capacity. You cannot have too ball-head weight capacity and that could be said of tripod capacity but in my experience you can punish a tripod a lot more than a ball head.
It doesn’t get much more telling than seeing it on video. This was taken through my US Optics 3.8-22x58mm with CaPRC reticle. Watch for some language. It’s a match and I don’t hear well so there’s entirely likely to be some I don’t know about.
TriggerCam came through with great results. I even played with the zoom on the scope and that turned out great. Battery life wasn’t bad. The match has 8 stages and I managed to get video of 5 stages from an 80% full battery before shutting it down at 17% and proceeding without it for the rest of the day. As it turns out, I did better with the TriggerCam on the gun than without it. Something about being recorded made me try harder I guess.
Durability is there. I am not gentle with my kit and the match is pretty fast moving. I handled my rifle case roughly, the day was pretty darned hot and I switched back and forth from free recoil to heavily loading the bipod. The unit never got in the way of fiddling with my scopes assorted knobs and turrets. Weight is around a pound but I didn’t measure it. It’s not ultra light. You can feel that there’s good quality glass and plenty of battery in there.
Do you have $500 laying around that you’re looking for a good use for? Boy do I have one. The new Triggercam scope camera. This is one hell of a cool piece of kit. If you’re a guide or a rifle shooting instructor you’re wasting your time not having one of these. If you’re a competitive rifle shooter and your discipline requires a rifle scope, you’d be a fool to not have one of these on your match rifle. I came across this slick little gizmo during a recent trip to South Africa and I gotta say, it’s pretty damned sweet.
Apparently it was created in South Africa though it sports a US patent so don’t expect to see a lot of competitors anytime soon. A friend of mine who lives in South Africa introduced me to Triggercam while I was there and I couldn’t be stopped. It was very much “a take my money” moment. For someone like me that competes, provides live fire instruction/training and who produces how-to videos for shooters there’s no end of real need for such a thing.
I used to make a lot of how-to videos but found them to suffer from the lack of the point of view that viewers might actually be interested in, the through the reticle shot. How do you teach mirage reading without a view through an optic? How can you show dynamic wind correcting hold-off without being able to see the mirage and react to it whilst getting it on video? If you’re using one of those horrid phone-scope dealie boppers then the simple answer is that you don’t. You can’t see mirage well enough on a phone display to use it for instructive purposes even if it does get recorded on the video because you can’t react to what you can’t see.
My website even has a blog section called Through the Reticle which was meant to show this exact sort of thing but to date never has because I hadn’t found a solution this good to the video quality issue. I really couldn’t get past the fact that my phone’s low resolution screen would be the thing I’m looking through when trying to hit a long range target on film. I own expensive optics with top end glass. Why handicap my eye with an iffy phone video. That’s for the people that watch my videos on their phones rather than on a large desktop display like they should, not for me while I’m shooting.
I’ve never really bothered with any through the reticle shots of live action till now because the phone scope things that exist never seemed to fit the phone that I have and the video was of such poor quality that it was pointless anyway so, I gave up on that. At least I gave up until RIGHT BLOODY NOW.
I’ve already put it on every scope I own and it fit even the massive ocular bells on my US Optics ERGO scopes. Getting it on Nikon P-223, Leupold VX-series, SWFA SS series and various Weaver/Nikon/Pentax target scopes has been a non-issue. The only real issue you might get into is some scopes like Nightforce have the whole ocular bell spin to change magnification which won’t really help if you plan to zoom in and out while recording video. In matches I almost never adjust magnification. Instead I set it at a useful level like 12-14x and just leave it there. So even if I used Nightforce (which I don’t because I’m an unabashed fanboy of USO Ergo scopes) it wouldn’t be a problem.
I’ve approached Triggercam about bringing their product to the USA and they assure me that they’re racing to do so at top speed. Stay tuned! I’ll be posting some “Through the Reticle” articles a lot more often now and the video will be HD and of decent quality so you can see what I’m looking to enable you to see. This is a very exciting time!
This article is all about recipes. Not just for food but for fun and for fellowship. It’s about the search for ingredients in a world of unsure availability. It’s about doing what you love with those you care about. It’s also about how even though no plan ever goes as planned, we still insist on making plans and will occasionally create a plan to make a plan. We even make plans for what to do when the initial plan fails. That’s like making a New Year’s resolution to make a certain-to-fail New Year’s resolution. This year I took another trip to South Africa. I explicitly did not plan it all out. I had a good (and tried and true) plan of what I wanted to do over 5 specific days where I would be expected to have a carefully timed plan ready but the plan I made also wasn’t inflexible so nearly any part of it could be pushed aside if needed without spoiling the whole thing. Plans and trying to stick rigidly to them are bad for just about anyone that might use one. Plans must be durable against reality in the way that crunchy tacos very specifically are not.
Having friends in South Africa gives one enough reason to go there. Having friends who like to hunt and shoot as much as you do and who also reside in South Africa means that it pulls on you somewhat vigorously. The pull is not just a little fond perusing of memories that distracts your attention from your day job now and then. It’s more like a soul spaghetti-fying, ripping, tearing, shredding of your attention span that you might expect if sensations of nostalgia were induced by being alone, naked and really really close to a hungry lion of unknown temperament.
I went back for my second trip this summer and had yet another amazing experience full of friends old and new, hunting, shooting, grilling meat over flame and enjoying a general sense of fellowship that I don’t get in the states much. It is also where the night sky is at its absolute best. It’s not that the ingredients for any of those kinds of good times aren’t available here but it seems that here they’re mixed in the proper proportions much more rarely and when they are it often requires reservations. Where in Africa you just turn on the bush TV (braai), crack open a cold one of whatever you like and enjoy as side conversations flow in and out of a main direction of discussion while that main discussion ebbs and flows in volume and participation to its own more complex rhythm.
My latest trip occupied the bulk of August which is late winter in SA. I left on a Saturday and arrived on a Monday whilst spending 23 hours in the air and enduring a 7 hour layover in Zurich (Zurich airport is insanely clean, insanely boring and full of the least helpful and least friendly staff I have encountered anywhere). You should know that I cannot sleep on airplanes or in cars to save my life. So, when I landed it was extremely late Sunday night by my own body clock and I had woken up very early Saturday morning and then had not a single a wink of sleep since.
Day 1 I arrived at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg around 10am. Joburg isn’t very pretty from the air. Parts of it are quite interesting from the ground and other parts are places you simply do not go lest you find your day get overly interesting in a way you probably do not want it to. The freeway exits that get you to either option do not have the courtesy to tell you which option they’re taking you to. So it’s really best to have a guide. My guide (a friend actually) was/is a firearms and self-defense instructor who’d previously attended one of my long range rifle classes. A nicer and more welcoming or generous soul would be hard to find. He’s also a farmer and since he was spending a week with me in a different part of the country he decided to send his family to stay somewhere else other than the farm. The political situation on the ground being what it is this is a sensible move. Farm attacks are commonplace, with the attackers resorting to torture, rape, murder and all of the worst stuff humans can do to each other pretty much right out of the gate. Not even the courtesy to ramp things up or just kill people. Nope, they have to torture them too because, who knows. In any event, it’s a lot more stable there than you might pick up in the media or even in my writings. It’s so stable that you can find a bag of chips like those below at any gas and sip and it doesn’t matter who you are when you buy them, they’ll still sell them to you. Nobody riots over the chips. In the USA (P)Antifa would have the building that sold them burned down in minutes and the owners sent off to concentration camps.
A side note about the situation on the ground: In post-apartheid South Africa there’s a new racism which, if possible, is even stupider than you might think and vastly less helpful than the last version. Racism goes the normal way now with the majority black population taking on tones and rhetoric that even the most venomous KKK rally speakers don’t have the stones to approach. Actually, I suspect that black on white racism is how it’s always been there and certain widely hated policies like apartheid may have been logical seeming responses (at the time) to a bizarre reality. Certainly most people there do not seem to want their lives to improve. In fact, if you look at the behavior of the majority in South Africa you could be excused for starting to think that they want their lives to become more difficult if you base your assessment strictly on their actions. If you think that sounds racist, go there and take an honest look around without making excuses for people’s behavior and instead simply observe it and then tell me what you think. Walk around a small town like any town a bit, you’ll see. What you might expect of the country is what Google images shows:
What you actually get is something that actually resembles San Diego a great deal in weather, topography and flora, and which closely resembles Baltimore in almost every other way right down to the failed liberal policies that precipitate massive humanitarian catastrophes and economic collapses whilst never learning from past mistakes. South Africa is a microcosm of all of worst that a democratically elected representative government is capable of. It also shows that the government you have is usually a good approximation of the government that the people electing it might want, at least on a statistical level. So congratulations South Africa, you got what you wanted. I hope it hurts so that we can still say, “Stupidity hurts doesn’t it?”.
An extremist, other-izing and overtly racist government which forces bad policies on the people. These bad policies are simple gimme-gimme socialism and are supported by liberals worldwide who have no idea what the reality of South Africa is. Those policies have brought internal discord to new levels of rancor while contributing greatly to corruption with restultant infrastructure decay and social disharmony. All of this has lead to murders of white farmers being celebrated by popular politicians in public speeches and encouraged. It’s not like the place is on fire or that everyone is attacking everyone else. It’s more like a growing internal level of stupidity having predictable cumulative effects. As long as you stay to the areas that don’t look like they were built by syphilitic idiots you’ll probably be ok. Also stay out of places that are crammed full of people. People are bad in large groups which is why I don’t like them that way anywhere.
Farms in South Africa are almost entirely white owned for a host of reasons. The dominant (and entirely black populated) political parties blame white farmers for every reality the South African society and government (as well as foreign powers sticking their noses in for their own reasons) has brought upon itself and they vocally encourage militant aggressive action and they do it with vile and hate filled rhetoric for which they never seem to take a rebuking. That’s just not good for a society, especially mixed society. It’s mixed in a weird way too. ~4% of the population is white and by-in-large the minority are the ones paying taxes and obeying laws. The minority doesn’t have a choice but to play by the rules. It’s very bad for a white person to go to jail there. Like the worst kind of bad you could think of. It’s also bad to have an encounter of any kind with the police. The great majority are certainly not on anyone’s side but their own and corruption is standard practice. The racial majority of the population more or less appears to have the option to do things legally. They seem to ignore the laws entirely and do whatever the hell they want when they want. The authorities almost totally ignore them because even if they didn’t ignore them, the arrest would merely cost money from the state and only pauses the committing of crimes by 1 person. Anyway since no fines, much less bribes, would ever be paid anyway they seem to think, “Why bother?”. If you do have an encounter with the police there it’s more likely than not that the “fine” you may be asked to pay is actually a “bribe”. Law and order has little meaning in South Africa unless you’re in the minority, then it means everything.
Back to the main story… So, we met up with another friend whom I’d hunted with last year who I’ll call Jack since it’s easier to spell than his actual name. Anyway, he and I hanged around the airport chugging cappuccinos and scarfing down iffy burgers for a few hours while my farmer friend dealt with the hassles of getting 3 small children and a wife onto an airplane. That took 3 hours thanks to inane and recent policy changes by an individual airline. Those matters dealt with my farmer friend and I made off for a little drive to a local gun shop and then a grocery store where I expected to be able to find things like chili powder, tortillas and the like. I wanted those things because I live in California where we make the best tacos in the world, which are minted by the millions daily. I wanted therefore to make tacos for my friends in SA and maybe teach them how to make them properly. One fast food joint I never saw was a Taco Bell. I was so so so wrong about ingredient availability and while it’s a very funny story, it’ll take a bit to explain so we’ll come to the taco story in a bit.
After the grocery and gun shop tour it was several hours of driving to the farm and where we mixed bourbon, beer and cigarettes in injudicious proportions before a quick dinner of meat with a side dish of some more meat and I think some kind of potato. After the bourbon bottle got satisfyingly low we finally we made it to our respective rooms somewhere around 11pm. I woke in the morning pretty well adjusted to the sleep schedule by virtue of not having slept at all in something around 50 hours and thus having slept very soundly except for the epic nightmares that plague me whenever I travel and the headache when I came to. I was only slightly hung over. That’s kind of how the next couple days went in general. Busy bees during daylight and busy boozers during the night time hours. So, day 2-4 are necessarily something of a blur except that for at least one of those days and possibly 2 we hunted pretty hard. It was also partly a blur because I was still unsure of what day it actually was and partly because I didn’t care what day it was and fully planned not to for at least 17 more days. My heart just wasn’t in “tracking time mode”.
Upon setting out on the hunt it was expected that my friend the farmer would be able to find the desired zebra herd quickly and we’d take one of those within an hour and then spend all day tromping around looking for an eland and then finish out the day if there was any of it left with an easy to find warthog. HA! Surely no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy and this was no exception. In short: zebra were almost impossible to find, eland were standing right there waiting for us and despite warthog presenting themselves at 100m distance all day long while we were walking, we passed on every opportunity up until the last minute because, well we’re prone to that sort of decision making.
We had walked literally less than 5 minutes out of the main house and come around a corner where there’s a very large eland standing there looking delicious not even 50 yards from me. My farmer friend was looking another way and I was the first to see the eland. I said, “Eland!” and hurriedly pointed. As my friend turned to see it I quietly deployed the bipod on the .375 Ruger chambered rifle and got very quietly prone, dialed back to minimum magnification and as quietly as I could jacked a round in. The eland didn’t seem to mind any of those things to any great degree but was clearly starting to get nervous. Just as it moved one front hoof a few inches off the ground I put a 250 grain monometal bullet made in SA into its left shoulder. That shattered the shoulder and blew a large hole in the lungs and some vitally important large blood vessels. The bullet went through to the other side and broke the off-side shoulder before halting in some shoulder meat below the skin. The eland took two collapsing steps into the bush and fell on its face. It didn’t seem very conscious as we approached. It was definitely going to be all the way dead any minute but we; being merciful humans, elected to put a .308 in the head to bring about a quick end to any suffering that might ensue. That eland was meat for a neighbor and so went meat, horns and hide to them directly but, I got a picture. I’m used to boy critters having horns/antlers and the girls not having them. Eland don’t play that game. This is a female eland. The horns of the female tend to be longer and more slender compared to a bull’s horns. Still it was a beast weighing something around 1000lbs on the hoof. It took 6 men to get it onto the tractor’s platform.
We then walked all bloody day looking for the zebra herd but it was nowhere to be found. Gone like a fart in the wind. We headed back for lunch and cold fluids before going out again to another herd of zebra that was less difficult to find but challenging to stalk into. There were only 3 of those monometal 250gr pills left and they were loaded in ammo that had for some reason been set aside. We quickly found out why they were set aside. The first shot on the eland was only 50m if that and hit right where I aimed. By the time we’d stalked in on the zebra we could only get to 184m which is a dead on 200 yards. I proned out and aimed carefully with the zebra facing me and the shot hit about a foot low of where it should have. WTF! It clearly hit the zebra as there was a nasty hole in its side just behind the liver but it wasn’t bleeding heavily and I couldn’t see the entry wound. We needed to follow that shot up and put it down before it suffered much. I tried jacking the final round into the chamber but it was out of dimensional spec somewhere and jammed so hard I couldn’t open or close the bolt. I set that rifle aside and grabbed the .308 by friend was carrying and as soon as the zebra turned its side to me I put the crosshairs just behind the shoulder bones and let fly. That shot hit about 9 inches right which put it too in the bloody liver. There was no wind to speak of and I’m a pretty good shot who doesn’t get buck fever (or pony fever) but I chalked it up to a bad shot on my part anyway. That shot didn’t help at all and now the zebra faced away from us for a good 20 minutes. As soon as it gave me a side profile of the neck I lined up on the ear and put the final shot in which hit about 8 inches rearward of where I’d planed on it hitting but it snapped its neck and blew the big blood vessels apart so the pony curled up its toes and joined the choir invisible directly. My farmer friend had been wanting a zebra skin so he got the skin (hey, it’s his animal after all) and we took the meat to a processing plant where I gather that they make salami out of it and I got a picture and a once in a lifetime experience. If I want a zebra skin, they’re cheap and plentiful at Cost Plus or over the intarwebs.
After the Zebra we went out for warthog. I did manage to shoot one and it was gunna die any minute after I shot it but as warthog are wont to do, it promptly ran and dove into a hole from which it simply refused to be dislodged. We were disinclined to harass a mortally wounded warthog (it was pouring blood from an artery hit but was still pretty vocal and thrashing). So we elected to leave it be for the moment and have the workers dig it out in the morning after it’d had a little bit to die in peace, whereupon the workers would parcel out the meat and share it amongst themselves. For our part, we’d be hitting the road very early in the morning anyway so I didn’t get a chance for a picture. Sigh. The best laid plans of mice.
On the road we had a good long 8 hour drive ahead of us and only suffered one catastrophic failure on the way. Our trailer blew a wheel bearing and a tire and all we had was a spare tire. We had to use beer and soda and flecks of ice to keep the tire from overheating every 500m or so as it rubbed on the trailer chassis. We got to a little turd of a town and found a mechanic who could and would replace the wheel bearing and after another horrid South African cheeseburger (seriously, they cannot make a burger to save 10,000 lives anywhere in the whole country) we got back on the road arriving in the Karoo just about at sundown on Friday. This was handy as my friends place the sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and observe it rather strictly. We rested until sundown the next day and then Sunday a whole bunch of people arrived and we did some long range shooting for the next 5 days. We had endless fun characterizing guns and then doing drills to work on speed and accuracy and then experimented with different ways of dealing with wind and generally had a great time. That culminated in 3 of us, me included, attempting to and subsequently putting hits on a man size steel target at 1-mile. I made the shot with a .50BMG Steyr with A-Max’s after 1 shot to get the drop sorted and another to get the wind sorted. Another shooter made it with a 6.5CM from his RPR (we had to walk that in a bit). The last guy made it with 655gr South African ball .50BMG ammo from the same Steyr I was shooting. The Sus-Tec suppressor on the Steyr really tamed the recoil and cut the blast to levels that were, if not totally ear safe, at least not super uncomfortable. I still wore plugs because I only have 25% of my hearing left and I’m stingy about giving up any more of it. I should note that I generally detest firing .50BMG’s but that Sus-Tec suppressor on that Steyr made it about as not-unpleasant as such a thing can be.
After a week of long range plinking and general good times, it was time to hunt. This time we were going for my kudu. Another friend who I call Kudu van Klipspringer (because of his habit of literally running up and down mountains that would have olympians panting and spitting) owns this farm and they’d sort of set one of the kudu bulls aside for me. If anyone else spotted it they’d say, “No that’s meccastreisand’s bull.” It was a very old bull that had done its thing and now was just fighting with other bulls and not reproducing much. Its teeth were worn down and due to the drought it was getting pretty skinny in addition to its hide looking a bit ratty with numerous bare patches. In short, it was time to pull the guy from the herd and put it in the freezer. It would not make it through the next winter and it wouldn’t make it through the current one (our summer is their winter) if I had anything to say about it. I did have something to say about it as it happens.
We stalked in over fairly rugged country for a good 3 hours before taking position in some bushes on the edge of a rock outcropping that had solid views of the 2 hills that they seemed to like to use as bridges between feeding areas. No sooner had we tucked in to the bushes and proned out did we see the first set of 15-20 kudu cows coming around the ridge towing a couple nice middle-age bulls with them. While my friend is inspecting those ANOTHER herd of 15 or so comes around with a very grey, and very clearly old bull with nice curling horns strolling in the middle of the pack. It was over 400m away at that point and my buddy and I got our wires crossed and I pitched the shot just over its back. We were crushed but I cranked that bolt handle and got back on target just in time for it to crawl into a bush for a quick nap.
The shot sent the cows and calves trotting off but not truly spooked. The bull crawled into a bush and just laid there having a snooze. We went to, let’s say, interestingly outrageous methods to try to get the bugger to stand up which it eventually did… inside the bush. It just didn’t want to leave the bush. So, lacking a perfect shot I lined up for at least an effective shot at now 375m, held for wind by 1.5mils and took the shot. We thought the kudu was facing us inside that bush but it turned out that only its head was facing us and the “shoulder” I shot was actually front end of the thigh but, the hit was such that it didn’t really destroy any meat. Instead it went through the rumen, then through the liver, through the diaphragm and then through one lung and all kinds of important large blood vessels before coming to rest in a muscle that sits on the underside of the spine between the shoulders. The bullet jacket separated on the 225gr Hornady SST after about 18 inches of penetration which SST’s have shown a habit of doing for me. Otherwise bullet performance is fully acceptable and penetration was almost 1 meter. The beastie sure felt that hit and tried to run but only took 2 steps before hosing blood from the nose and crumpling up.
We did a little more tromping around the bush but at that point it was really time to get back to farm life so we put the guns away and did farm work for a few days. We sorted sheep, we made my kudu into driewors, we handled some building construction details. General farm work which I actually like. It’s not like computer work. When you’re done with computer work you can’t see anything different in the real world, at least if you did it right. Driewors? What’s that? Well, it is a kind of traditional South African boer (farmer) sausage with coriander, clove, salt, pepper, garlic and mutton meat and fat mixed in which is then hanged for weeks to dry. It’s a bit like a really fat Slim Jim with more texture to the meat and with an entirely different spice pack which is largely clove and coriander. It tastes like Christmas if you’re an Amercan.
Each year I set up my vacation time to spend a week longer in South Africa than I think I’ll need in order to get everything on the itinerary done. Every year I find I’m short about 5 days. The first year I did 2 weeks which was way too little to even get over jet lag. This year I did 3 weeks which was way too little to actually relax properly. Next year I have a lot more planned and so I’ve got a month set aside which will of course be entirely too little. Eventually I’ll have to move there just so I can get all the things I want to do while on vacation there done. I’ve actually given some serious thought to that and will continue to do so. It’s not for everyone but being an expat in South Africa is actually pretty common and not a bad way to go if you start out in an industrialized western European country or north American country that’s not Mexico. Your money goes a lot further there, largely because their economy sucks and has little hope of improving under the current system of government.
Of course who can visit South Africa without picking up some souvenirs? Not me and certainly not with my friends in the mix. One of them hooked me up with a Triggercam. This is super cool. It’s a camera that goes on your scope but doesn’t interfere with the normal operation of the scope and it records full motion HD video and sound. It’s really quite brilliant. Invented in South Africa and initially distributed only there, I’m showing it on in the USA and I think that that will cause them to revise their FAQ about where they will and will not ship to. They run about $500 but it’s really worth it if you need to make videos showing what’s going on in the optic and don’t want the hassle and poor usability of a phone-scope dealie (which suck by the way). It has wifi so you can connect your phone to its network and get live video streamed to your phone while you record video. It even fits my US Optics SN3’s which have a massive occular bell and it looks like it’ll go slightly larger than even that which I guess helps if you want to look down an actual wine barrel. For professional hunters this is liquid gold. They can see what their clients see and help to make them more successful and safer. For Americans, we like to show people all of our shit so we can humble-brag about it and especially we like to do that with video. What better humble-brag engine than cherry picked video taken from a $500 scope camera instead of some janky phone-scope adapter that just makes shooting harder anyway.
In addition to the Triggercam, I also picked up a new chassis stock. This has some cool features that I don’t want to discuss here until the intellectual property stuff is dealt with but it has features that no other chassis anywhere in the world has, it’s made of 7075 aluminum (much stronger than the 6061 that most chassis stocks are made of) and it’s cheaper than its competitors. Better materials, innovative features, ultra precision machining, lower price, cleaner lines. That’s what you call a better mousetrap. It’s got the obvious adjustable length of pull and adjustable cheek-rest height and adjustable butt pad height but none of those are innovative. The other thing that I’m keeping secret for now, that’s innovative. If you want one of these they’re $900 as an introductory price and they are made to fit Howa 1500 short actions. We’ll be adding Savage and Remington and Tikka actions and long and short action length options to the line as quickly as possible.
Finally, I brought home my trophies from Africa from last year. My eland (center) and my springbok (right) now share a wall with my 5×5 blacktail deer rack. The springbok skin is now draped elegantly over the back of my sofa and is not pictured. The size of that eland skull really gives some idea of the initial size of the animal. I plan to put the kudu skull up in a European mount below the eland so the horns come up on either side of the eland skull. There’s no other way it’ll fit. The horns are almost a meter long and with the skull it’s going to be well over a meter tall.
Now for the taco story. I had planned on making proper tacos for everyone in SA. The least I could do since they showed me all around their cuisine, several items of which are life changers. We stopped at a grocery store in Pretoria looking just for tortillas or even just flatbread and a few simple spices. No dice on that and especially no dice on the spices I needed, particularly chili powder. They have a thing they call peri-peri but if you don’t know what’s inside the package it might surprise you as to the level of spiciness or lack thereof. White South Africa is not a spicy food loving people from what I can see. Salt and pepper usually do them just right. So, we went to a grocery store in Bloomfontein. No dice there either. They had though thing I needed to buy in high quality and low quantity and right then: ground beef. I got a kilogram of ground beef which they call “mince”. I don’t like verbs being used for nouns so I called it ground beef or hamburger and translated each time I used the terms to anyone.
I also tried a grocery store in Edenburg. Well, if you can call it that. It had literally: piles of orange Fanta, 2 bags of wheat flour, a can of something illegible, a bunch of bags of cornmeal and some sad looking sandwiches which I hope to hell were for display only. It was also where I’d purchased the two singularly most hideous cheeseburgers I think I’ve ever stuck in my face hole. I think it’s to do with Dutch Calvinism… you can’t be a Dutch Calvinist and enjoy a truly good hamburger. At least that’s how it seems but, I digress. That grocery didn’t even have bread that was not already devoted to vomit inducing sandwiches and burgers so we decided to sally forth and forsake the orange Fanta and corn meal.
Finally we come to a little town called Willowmore where I have been before (it’s home to a coffee shop called Sophie’s Choice) and there was some kind of cycling competition in town that weekend meaning there were 50,000 brandy sozzled people in sun hats in town instead of the more normal <1000 people not in hats of any kind. I don’t like crowds. Crowds in Africa are a fantastic way for you to find out how bad of a day you can really have. I really don’t like crowds of pasty drunks in sun hats. Crowds in Africa give me a special kind of the heebie jeebies. Mix all three liberally together and I’m looking for an exit sign.
So as we dodged traffic and traded off leaving one person in the pickup whilst the other gathered supplies, I finally found my way in to the 3rd of the 3 grocery stores after the first two were beyond completely hopeless. Again, grocery store is a misleading term for Americans to see here. It implies certain levels of variety and availability which simply do not exist anywhere in Africa much less in Podunkville in the province of “Other”. Wouldn’t you know it, not only did I find 4 packages of crunchy taco shells with a convincingly Mexican sounding brand name but right bloody next to them was 4 packages of “Taco Seasoning” by the same vaguely Mexican sounding company. All I needed now was jalapenos, right. Ha! I hate jalapeños. What I needed was sour cream, shredded cheese, ripe avocados, ripe tomato, lime and shredded lettuce. I managed to source all but the lettuce from KVK’s wife and I eschewed the jalapeños because they’re disgusting. Besides, if folks there are skeered of a little spice packet such that anything outside salt and pepper is considered spicy, they’ll get downright negative about jalapeño peppers even in cooked form. The tacos were a 100% hit. KVK’s eldest daughter actually danced while eating them. Her siblings were equally as excited but a great deal less dancy about it. I made sure that my host’s family got first serving before telling the guy about it. Just to make sure they got some. The whole group of guys then piled in and trepidatiously tried what they came to find out was the food of the gods. I know it’s mean to introduce people to something delicious that they simply cannot even fabricate in their country due to lacking availability of ingredients. I really do. I also love the idea that one day each of those people will come visit me here in California and the first question they ask will be, “Is there anywhere good to get tacos around here?” to which I’ll be able to respond, “Well, it’s funny you should ask. I think the answer would be ‘literally anywhere’. Even Chinese food restaurants here have good tacos these days.” But I won’t take them out for tacos. We’ll drive the hour and a half to my place and then spend an hour making tacos. Crunchy tacos, soft tacos, corn flour tortilla tacos, wheat flour tortilla tacos, tacos al’ carbon, tacos guisado, tacos de carnitas, tacos de carne asada, tacos de pescado, tacos de lengua, tacos al pastor and of course, the magical Choco Taco.
Recipe for Tacos de Africa:
Find taco shells in Africa (One of 3 grocery stores in Willowmore, Western Cape, South Africa has these normally in stock.).
Find taco seasoning in Africa.
Find pico de gallo in Africa (this is optional because it’s actually impossible.).
Find ground beef in Africa.
Prepare as directed.
Place a large table spoon of prepared and seasoned taco meat into the bottom of a warmed taco shell. Add a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Just a sprinkle, a lot does not help. Add a dollop of pico de gallo. Then a dollop of sour cream. Then add a dollop of guacamole. Then top with a spoonful of chopped tomato.
WARNING: Lettuce has no place on a taco. If you put some on one then you are at fault for how it turns out. Also, you’ll burn in heck. Heck, I say.
The motivation here was to test Modern Spartan Systems line of gun cleaning kit against established known quantities with proven performance. Their promise of no foul smell, lack of toxicity and some of the other claims they made caused me to get curious enough to do a Pepsi challenge for their whole cleaning system. This includes Accuracy Oil; which claims to increase velocity & cut group size & extend barrel life. It also includes their Carbon Destroyer and Copper/Lead Destroyer and their Carbon Destroyer.
I’ve already started long term testing of their Accuracy Oil’s claims at longer barrel life and improvements in velocity, group size and consistency. Those experiments are continuing and I’ve built an impressive data set so far with more coming in every week. In the meantime, the fundamental ability of the fouling removal products to perform like they say it will had not recently been established by any kind of controlled experiment I could find. So, I’m doing it. I’ve already put the Carbon Destroyer up to the Pepsi challenge and it flat works. It’s pleasant enough to use and worked like a charm on everything from revolvers to pistols to high power modern rifles to black powder cartridge rifles. The way it worked on our set of Trapdoor Springfield rifles was terrific. What about the big one though…COPPER!?! Let’s git’er done.
I’ve got enough barrels around with sufficient fouling, including some I’m entirely willing to destroy, to give a good test of effectiveness and side-effects. In the spirit of experimentation I set up the first round of testing with 3 barrels:
Stock Glock 21 barrel. 1000’s of rounds since being cleaned.
Savage 10 .308 24″ heavy barrel, >500 rounds since cleaning.
Black Hole Weapons 26″ .223 barrel > 200 rounds since cleaning.
Cliff’s Notes: In short, MSS’s Copper/Lead Destroyer is effective. Zero question about that. It’s pretty gentle though, so it’s not for when you’re in a hurry.
More detailed findings and experimental procedure:
I already knew that C/L-D was gentle and would require more soak time than the more aggressive stuff like Sweet’s. I knew this because I’d done some testing using solid copper bullets in test tubes filled with various copper solvents. After prescribed amounts of time each bullet was pulled, cleaned and weighed. After a while I was able to build up a curve which represented the aggressiveness of each chemical.
Sweet’s was hugely aggressive and caused deep pitting in the bullets inside very short amounts of time. WipeOut was not that aggresssive but turned the polished finish of the bullets into what looked like a brushed finish with odd spots of light pitting. The C/L-D did not do that. It actually looked tarnished. Sweets got an aggressivness score of 3, WipeOut got a 2 and C/L-D got more like .25. Those numbers tell you the relative amount of soak time. So if you were to use Sweet’s and let it soak for 1 minutes then you’d do 1.6 minutes with WipeOut and 12 minutes with C/L-D.
As you can see, C/L-D not as strong as Sweet’s by a mile nor is it as strong as Wipe-Out as a copper remover but it’s a lot more pleasant to use than Sweet’s and marginally less messy than Wipe-Out. This is about removing copper and copper fouling is impossible to remove mechanically without damaging the barrel steel so you have to go chemical. Mechanical action is, by definition, damaging to the bore. Chemical action may or may not be damaging to the bore but it can be very difficult to know until it’s too late. Bore damage can be dependent on the length of time of exposure to chemical agents and some of them are really nasty for everyone involved.
To start I took a G21 barrel that had been belled just in front of the chamber by a squib. It had previously had Carbon Destroyer run through it and then was soaked overnight (26 hours) in Copper/Lead Destroyer, hosed out and stored. I ran some Wipe-Out into it and gave it 15 minutes to soak and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch. Then I ran some Sweet’s in it and let that soak for 5 minutes and pushed a patch through. Zero color change on the patch. This glock barrel had had a mix of jacketed and hard cast lead pushed down it. What’s impressive is it seems to have been cleaned of both fouling metals.
Ok, yes, you’re right. That test’s result is a null result. The absence of evidence isn’t the evidence of absence. Still, it’s a null result I was expecting so we’re still on track. The barrel was clearly clean of copper to begin with but you don’t know the state of fouling before the 26 hour soak. Could have been a lot, could have been a little, could have been none for all you know, right?
Now to find the more interesting results. I took a factory Savage .308 Win barrel that I’d abused and not cleaned in literally years. It had at least 1000 rounds put through it before it got yanked and set aside and at least the last half of that without any cleaning. I started by running patch of Sweet’s through the barrel without running a brush through it, hoping that the carbon that stayed behind would protect some of the copper from the Sweet’s to serve as an indicator later. It came out with gooey gobs of blue on the patch with no soak at all, just applied and patched out. I immediately took the barrel outside and hosed it out for a solid couple minutes to keep the Sweet’s from finishing the job. I plugged the breech with a .45acp case and filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and gave it 2 hours to soak. After the soak I ran a patch through it a couple times (remember, no color change on the patches, C/L-D doesn’t do that) and then went and hosed it out. Now I needed to see if there was any copper still in there so I took the Wipe-Out and ran that in the barrel and gave it a 20 minute soak. After pushing a patch through what I found were traces of blue streaking on the patch and plenty of black and brown. Not much blue but enough to tell me that the carbon was in fact protecting the copper. There wasn’t enough copper coming out to make a good finish up to the experiment on that barrel so I reset the experiment by virtue of moving on to the .223 barrel.
The .223 barrel started with at least 200 rounds since the last even partial cleaning so it got a thorough carbon removal with Carbon Destroyer. When patches wrapped around a bore brush came out without any black or brown on them, I called that done. I put a fired case in the breech and closed the bolt to seal the bore. Then I filled the bore with Copper/Lead Destroyer and let it soak for 2 hours. Then I pushed a pair of patches through which came out not much different than they went in. Now to see if the C/L-D worked I ran a patch of sweet’s down the bore, gave it a solid 3 minutes to soak and pushed another patch though looking for color change and got NONE AT ALL. That was a null result I did not honestly expect. I expected to find some copper remaining, I mean Sweet’s is almost as aggressive as it gets. But no.
What’s that all mean? Leave the Copper/Lead Destroyer to soak a while and it works as thoroughly as Sweet’s or Wipe-Out. I really like using C/L-D way more than Sweet’s. I can’t even stand opening the bottle on that cat piss smelling Sweet’s. I actually really like WipeOut too and will continue to use it at the range or in the field because it’s super easy to deal with there. At home though, I think I’ve found my new cleaning product suite. All the chemicals I need are now finally not unpleasant.
Modern Spartan Systems – Copper/Lead Destroyer: No bad smell. A detergent-y, almost acid smell similar to cold bluing solution is what it reminds me of most. The directions say you can leave in barrel safely for many hours, even overnight. I left it in a G21 barrel for 26 hours with no adverse affect noted. MUST use a carbon solvent and a brush of some kind prior to applying for it to be properly effective. Modern Spartan’s carbon remover works great for that.
Getting C/L-D to stay wet in the barrel was another story. It dried quickly in my low humidity area. I eventually stuffed a fired case in the breech, stood the barrel up and filled the bore on rifles. On pistols it was easier to soak a narrow strip of paper towel in it and thread that down the bore and let it sit that way overnight. Directions say 3-5 minutes of soak. I got best results on heavy fouling after >2 hours. Downside: No color change on the patch so it’s a little hard to “know” when you’re done, thus the long soak kinda gives you the all done threshold without any color indicator.
Wipe-Out: It’s got a smell but nothing like Sweet’s. Can reportedly leave in barrel overnight, no ammonia. It’s a foam that expands so some will end up in your action and it’ll probably drip out of the muzzle so, it’s a little messy to use. Patch’s change color to blue if copper is present. Works on carbon and copper. Usually 15 minutes is more than sufficient as a soak time.
Sweet’s 7.62: Super, unpleasantly strong ammonia smell. Do not leave in barrel longer than necessary, clean residue off skin and gun thoroughly immediately after use. Known to be hard on steel. Must use carbon remover prior for full effectiveness.
I have video and all that jazz but it’s not very interesting TV. It’s just me slowly, methodically and painfully boringly working out the surprisingly obvious. On the upside, MSS’s stuff works like a dream so far. I can officially endorse the Copper and Lead Destroyer and the Carbon Destroyer because I have proven beyond any doubt that they work. I can’t say that they’re any faster but if you’re a lazy bitch like me and prefer to let time do what our hands don’t want to, it’s a nice solution.
So we have initial results. I’d like to thank you all for the views on my video.
We will be testing this die set more over the next year. This is out of my pocket and out of my own curiosity. I have the credit card bills and had the arguments with my wife to show for it. I must caution, because of some things people seem to have in their heads, that this isn’t ever going to make a 1″ gun into a .5″ gun. Anyone suggesting such a thing is either a fool or a liar. What you should be expecting is to reduce variability in your ammo which reduces things like flyers & SD’s. Effects on group size, maybe small ones should be expected as a normal effect of better consistency but because barrel harmonics are involved there so heavily it’s best to keep your hopes in check and out of the land of silliness.
I set up a partially blinded experiment with unfired, 2x fired and >5x fired cases. We (Coach and I) sized up 50rds of each from my Exact die and 50 of each from Coach’s Redding die and tested that in Coach’s rifle. Coach’s rifle has somewhere over 1900rds down the pipe now which is a concern as you’ll see soon. We set the ammo up identically in everything from components to neck tension. We ran 10 shot groups which were composed of 2 non-consecutive 5-shot groups fired at the same aim point. Coach loaded, packed and labelled the ammo boxes (labels are “1” and “2”) and didn’t tell me till after the shooting was done which was which. I pulled the rounds from the boxes, logged data and called the target to engage while coach did the shooting. That way neither of us knew during shooting which ammo was being fired at any given time. That was the best way I could think of for me to pull out experimenter induced bias with a research team of 2.
The result of the first accuracy test was null. That is to say that the numbers difference in average group size was not outside the level of statistical noise. The exception was with brand new brass. It always shot more consistently than reloaded brass and so I removed those results from the full data set due to the noise they introduced. We also weren’t meant to be testing new brass as that would not apply anyway but I wanted that data for another experiment I’ve been running. This is all precisely what was expected. I expected no big result (but certainly hoped for one) in accuracy simply by going to full length resizing and having extremely consistent neck tension and headspace.
Because the result is null though, we’ll re-run the experiment on that rifle just before we replace the barrel, just to verify the results reproduce reliably. We also did some velocity testing as part of that and there was no statistical change in average velocities or SD’s except that in the new brass loads but it was more consistent set to set. Why pull the barrel? The rifle used for that run of the experiment now has ~1900 rounds through it in 6XC with a single load spec (38.5gr H4350, F210M, Norma brass, 115gr HBN coated DTAC). The load is mild; generating only 2800fps, but we know that that barrel is within a few hundred of being pulled on principle; if not actual need, as far as match work goes and it may not be capable of the repeatable accuracy that might show up with the Exact die. So, we’ll try another barrel. A new one. Actually, a new two! So stay tuned, there’s more to come.
In September I purchased 2x new barrels which I got as blanks from the same production run (from Black Hole Weapons). I purchased a new custom reamer in 6XC that produces a chamber that is very tight to the dimensions of the Exact die. Thankfully you can order a reamer with any number of customizations and it’s still the same price as a custom reamer with just 1 custom dimension. Unfortunately it takes weeks for such a reamer to be made. Over the winter I handed the whole works over to a gunsmith friend of mine that also makes ultra-precise gauges as a business. So, he has the equipment and skills to set up barrels that are truly as identical as we could make them and identical enough for a useful experiment to come out of it despite a sample size that’s extremely small.
Anyway, I got both barrels cut, profiled and chambered identically. It was at great cost too. The cost to set each one up was double what I normally pay him to set up a barrel for me for each barrel with over 15 hours of work on each one. These are our new match barrels for the next 2 seasons too. Coach and I will be shooting from the same ammo box so we can share data. Maybe we’ll pick up a few points on same-day wind calls.
We did have a non-null result and from a different direction, which I also predicted. That was that with loads that were sized with my ExactShooting.com die we never had trouble closing the bolt. It was, in fact, always exactly the same effort. On the cases that we sized on the Redding neck die that Coach uses bolt close effort was either not much or a TON. Some post-facto testing later on with coach’s FL die showed the same random bolt close effort. This is obviously due to random headspacing which means that Coach’s FL die probably needs a thou or two buzzed off the bottom. Irrelevant though because we’re testing what’s available out of the box and his FL die out of the box didn’t cut it so I suspect that a lot of FL dies out there may be a little long or short and aren’t sizing things like people think they are.
That is only the results from a well used barrel. We will be running this exact same test using the 2 newly set up barrels. One will be on the same gun (Coach’s match rifle) while its twin which now has just under 400 rounds on it is on a different my “Hot Dog Gun” match rifle. I don’t expect any difference but I could wind up being surprised. The new barrel on Hot Dog Gun is extremely accurate so far, better than Coach’s rifle on its first day. We’ve already developed a load for the new barrel that runs things a bit faster (2980fps) so hopefully with more pressure more differences might start to manifest.
One of the cool things about the ES die is you can pull the body/shoulder portion out and still use the neck sizing portion which itself is easily adjustable for neck tension and neck sizing depth. When you start getting hard bolt close you can dial in .0005″ or .001″ or .0015″ or whatever amount of push-back on the shoulder with an easy click adjustment and know it’ll give that to you exactly. We’ll be running a neck tension accuracy test here real soon. We’ll see if .0005″ increments makes real differences on paper. First though, I’m ordering some brand new brass for that test.
Cost is fairly high for these dies but not unprecedented. That’s true but, beside the point. If you have the money then that’s not an issue anyway. Functionality is THE issue. It’s perfectly functional and makes it super easy to dial in neck tension at .0005″ increments for those really finicky loads, to dial neck sizing depth at .020″ increments and to dial how far back you actually push your shoulders in .0005″ increments. They’ll make one to a reamer print too. How precise are the dies? Well I had my machinist do some gauging to see if they were that precise and he was pretty darned impressed.
For benchrest guys and F-class guys, I think this is really packing the potential to up their game a bit but only because those guys tend toward having done everything else already. BR and F-class are the only places I can think of of offhand where neck tension and headspacing are tightly controlled by the shooters both routinely and with an obsession rarely seen.
Is it going to help joe sixpack? Well no, to be honest. Joe doesn’t know enough to get the potential benefit to begin with. Owners of this die will 100% want to keep their brass sorted by number of firings. They’ll know about what spring back is and why it’s important to them and a lot more. They will be the type that can’t deal with unexpected 5’s instead of 0’s or 1’s in the 4th decimal place of a measurement. The right owner for this die is someone very much like me in the respect that they are prone to setting up narrowly defined experiments and to analyze the statistical data that results before forming opinions. They’re nerds.
For Coach and I the benefit is being able to share ammo and ballistics data in a match, not running out of time anymore on match stages due to bolt cycling problems, not overworking or insufficiently sizing the brass and being able to make subtle adjustments with truly minimal effort as precisely as adjusting a tactical rifle scope.
Epic scope. My only gripes (except the price point) are very minor quibbles in reality. Same perfect tracking, same great glass (actually some of the best ever in a USO), some real improvements in the turret setups. Some things are not so much improvements as changes but you can’t turn your nose up at a USO.