Category Archives: Optics

Built-In Rangefinders

The Pros And Cons Of Building A Laser Into A Riflescope Or Binocular.

When civilian laser rangefinders appeared in the mid-1990’s, many were almost worthless for field use. The first I tested was a prototype from a well-known optics importer. It was larger than a typical 10×50 binocular and worked pretty well on deer-sized objects out to maybe 350 yards, if it didn’t decide to range something else within 50 to 75 yards.

Since then hand-held rangefinders have not only shrunk considerably, but range far more consistently at longer distances. The $200 laser in my range bag came from the same company, is small enough to fit in a generous shirt pocket, and in favorable conditions will provide readings on flat targets out to 600 yards. Spend more money and hand-held lasers will range even difficult targets like pronghorns on flat ground beyond 600 yards.

Well, maybe. The small size of hand-held laser rangefinders isn’t conducive to steady holding. Plus, they’re yet another gadget to carry around when many of us already take too much stuff into the field. Even when small enough to fit in a chest pocket, we’ve got to take them out and fiddle awhile before getting a reading—and then switch to our rifle. This is exactly why various companies started putting laser rangefinders inside scopes and binoculars, eliminating an extra gadget and allowing us to range at the same time we’re glassing or aiming.

Aside from cost, the two early disadvantages to built-in rangefinders were bulk and, in riflescopes, ruggedness. The first Leica Geovid binoculars were so big and heavy, the only ones I saw in the field were carried by guides who weren’t carrying a rifle. The first Swarovski rangefinding scopes were also big and heavy—and turned out to be relatively fragile.

But as with everything else in electronics, prices came down and sizes shrank. Several companies now offer binoculars and scopes with internal laser rangefinders for less than $1,000, and the rangefinders often work far better than hand-held rangefinders in the same price range for two reasons.

First, it’s far easier to steadily hold binoculars and rifles than palm-size rangefinders, allowing us to precisely place the reticle on a distant object. Second, the laser beam is thinner in longer optics, so we’re not nearly as likely to range an object somewhere in the surrounding area. I’ve tested several binoculars with built-in rangefinders over the past few years, and all have provided consistent readings out to at least 1,600 yards, even in unfavorable environmental conditions.


The Burris Eliminator III doesn’t remove rifle skill from long-range shooting.
Instead, it just simplifies aiming.

A good example is the first version of the Bushnell Fusion binocular, rated to 1,600 yards. In many rangefinders the yardage rating is almost laughable, since it often applies only to perfect conditions, say a sizeable road sign on a cloudy day (bright light interferes with the laser beam). Well, the test sample of the Fusion showed up on a bright early September afternoon, and I drove out to a nearby chunk of flat Bureau of Land Management ground. A 2-track road crosses the flat, so ranging accuracy can be rough-checked with the odometer of my pickup. On the far size of the flat stood a small juniper tree, and I placed the binocular’s reticle on the tree and pushed the button. In maybe two seconds 1,609 yards appeared in the view—and yes, that was an accurate reading.

I’ve gotten similar accuracy in unfavorable conditions at even longer distances using rangefinding binoculars from Leica, Swarovski, Steiner and Zeiss—and also Bushnell, since they upgraded the Fusion a couple years ago to a full mile, 1,760 yards. (Personally, I’ve never sat in the field wishing for a mile of ranging ability instead of a mere 1,600 yards, but apparently Bushnell wanted to make sure everybody knew they’d introduced a new model.)

Despite the price of laser binoculars varying considerably, their ranging ability doesn’t vary much. What you get by spending more money is extra features. The latest Leica Geovid HD-B, for instance, includes a built-in ballistic program, so you don’t have to haul out your smart phone to find out how many clicks are needed on your scope’s elevation turret. And the real improvement in the 1-Mile Bushnell Fusion isn’t the rangefinder, but better optics.


Most of today’s laser binoculars will range to a mile, even in bright light.
This Steiner got readings at close to 2,000 yards.

The Scopes

Rangefinding riflescopes can be divided into two basic categories: Scopes where you still have to twist the elevation turret to compensate for shooting at longer distance, and the Burris Eliminator III, featuring a series of 96 LED dots on the vertical crosshair. Enter the ballistic coefficient and velocity of the load you’re using in the scope’s internal computer, and when you press the ranging button the correct aiming dot lights up. (All of this may sound pretty sophisticated, but is primitive compared to some military aiming technology.)

The Eliminator III bothers some “traditional” long-range shooters, who’ve spent considerable money and time finding scopes with reliable adjustments and learning how to use a ballistic program. Now, they complain, anybody can just buy a scope and eliminate the need for their skills. However, an Eliminator III doesn’t steady your shooting position or pull the trigger. All it does is simplify aiming by eliminating the need to twist the elevation turret. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Burris calls it the Eliminator.)

A more practical objection to binoculars and scopes with built-in lasers is what could happen several years from now, when the laser might need expensive repairs. By then, the repairs might not even be available. All I can say is I’ve yet to have any laser rangefinder break down, including the one in my Bushnell Fusion, despite having been out and about in rain, snow and temperatures from below zero to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. All the maintenance it’s ever gotten is installing a fresh $2 battery once a year, and not because the laser quit working but just to make sure.

Another practical objection is unlike a laser-ranging binocular, a laser-ranging scope can only be used on one rifle. But some rangefinder scopes can be purchased for $700 or $800, and many of us are used to paying that much for scopes anyway.

Many of us also have more rifles than we need, though anybody who reads GUNS should already know actual need has nothing to do with over 90 percent of firearm-related purchases. Instead we want stuff. An easy guess is laser rangefinding binoculars and scopes will continue to shrink—both in size and cost—and also improve in quality. Eventually there’ll be no reason not to want one, or several.
By John Barsness

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Smaller, Lighter, Faster, Stronger

Leupold’s New MK6 3-18x44mm
Is An Innovative And Effective
Addition To Their Tactical Menu.

Military, law enforcement and tactical competitors alike have been asking manufacturers to reduce the profile of their tactical scopes. They want fast power change rings, smaller windage and parallax dials, and shorter, lighter scopes. And they want almost- unlimited elevation adjustment and a smaller profile.

The new MK6 3-18X M5B2, FF TMR Turret Riflescope is Leupold’s attempt to address those desires by taking a radical departure from their tactical and long-range offerings of the past. Leupold’s design team has never failed to impress me, but this scope takes the cake. I am not always sure how they come up with all this stuff, but I like it. Here’s why:

The 44mm objective lens sets the scope lower on the receiver. The 34mm main tube not only provides more adjustment range, but also increases overall strength by increasing radius of gyration.

The turret manifold design finally addresses how shooters actually use a scope instead of how most designers and amateurs think shooters use them. I realize that sounds a little harsh, so let me explain.

By far the bulk of people in the US who use scopes are hunters. Many of those are after big game like elk, deer, bear, caribou, etc. Even if they can’t actually go on those types of hunts, it’s their motivation buying a scope. They read magazines and dream of that big hunt, but they shoot relatively little. When they do shoot, it is generally at rather stationary, single targets. Thus they have the idea that the windage dial is as important as the elevation dial. You can’t fault them for that—and it may also be the case for short-range LE shooters.

However, all competitors and military snipers I know seldom touch their windage dial, nor do I. Why? Wind is a fickle enemy and changes constantly. True, they use the windage dial to sight in the rifle and realign the dial to zero in a no-wind condition. But after they do, they seldom touch it. When shooters get used to shooting wind, they learn to hold off. Thus, a large windage dial becomes just a useless knob to catch on stuff.

Remember, the MK6 3-18X is not primarily a hunting scope. It is a tool for tactical shooters, competitors, long-range shooters and military snipers. The targets are normally multiple, often moving, and the time limits are restrictive. As a result, Leupold has greatly reduced the size of the both the focus/parallax and windage knobs. They were even smart enough to cap the windage dial. After all, why have it exposed when it is so seldom used?


Leupold’s new MK6 3-18x44mm M5B2, FF TMR Turret Riflescope is a well-engineered
response to the wishes of hardcore tactical and long-range shooters.


The Tactical Milling Reticle (TMR) is simply a mil-hashmark reticle with marks in
between each hashmark. Older mil-dots were too large and too far apart for ranging.

Not only is there not enough time to dial for constantly changing wind, but those who do often become confused as to where their zero point is, how to get back to it, and what change to make for varying conditions. Leupold’s designers finally got that, and made the dials shorter and capped the windage dial to protect it.

However, the elevation dial is important. I know, many scopes are now designed to enable the quick use of hashmarks, somewhat eliminating the use of the elevation dial as well. But for precision work, the dial is necessary. The MK6 gives us plenty of elevation adjustment, some 26 mils. That translates to 90 inches or more for those of you who use MOA. Considering it takes only 35 to 40 inches of elevation to hit at 1,000 yards with a .308, 90 is a lot.

Leupold has also married the elevation dial to the mil reticle. There are several different variations of the MK6 M5B2, but the one I’ve used features the Tactical Milling Reticle (TMR). There are many other reticles to choose from as well.

Each click is 0.1-mil (or 10 per mil), giving you a great deal of precision. Remember when scopes were offered with mil-dot reticles, but the dial was set in 1/4-inch clicks? There are myriad methods these days to remind you, the shooter, just where on the elevation revolutions you are. I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten confused over this and missed a shot by a mile. Did I just admit that? Let me start over…

I have been guilty of not setting the elevation dial back to zero after an event, during a hunt or after some military use. Then, when a new target presents itself some minutes—or hours—later, I wonder where I am, what distance I was shooting, and whether the setting I see on the scope is for 300 or 600 yards. Or, if it’s night, wondering if I am at zero, past it, or what.

Leupold has overcome this brain deficiency of mine in two ways. They have incorporated a zero stop and a revolution indicator that can be felt at night. When one revolution of the dial is made, a small indicator pin protrudes from the top of the dial, which is large enough to be easily felt or seen. This lets me know I am on revolution two for a potential long shot. Thus, I simply turn the dial until the pin falls even with the top of the turret and then continue until I come to the zero stop. I then know that I am once again sighted in at 100 yards. From there I can adjust my come-ups to the new range.


A squeeze on the top of the elevation turret changes the setting and locks it.
The pins just above the setting ring are depressed, the ring is then lifted,
turned to zero, lowered and reset. It even has instructions embossed on the turret.


The windage knob on the right is capped and shortened. Since Jake doesn’t dial for
wind anyway, why wrestle with a big knob sticking out the port side? Just below the large
“L” atop the elevation turret is a pin, which protrudes when the second revolution is made,
making it easy to know what revolution you’re on.


The power ring has been enlarged, making it fast and easy to change power,
particularly when using gloves.

Even so, the elevation dial seems a bit more complicated than necessary. It has two rings and is locked under normal use. To activate it to make a change, you squeeze on the top of the dial—depressing each side with finger and thumb to free the dial for movement. Letting go of the dial top locks it again. Another problem I have had with the older style elevation and windage turrets is rolling them inadvertently and not noticing it—producing an inexplicable miss. This setup has two disadvantages in my opinion. Squeezing them to make a full revolution is a bit awkward. It also seems logical that sand and other grime could get under them, making them useless. Granted, I have never had this happen. But how about the sniper in Afghanistan staying out in the field day in and day out? Only they could tell you.

Leupold has also included a novel way to return the indicator ring back to zero once you are sighted in. Two small push-pins are used to hold the ring in place. When you depress them and lift the indicator ring past them, the ring can then be moved back to zero. Once lowered, the ring is again locked in place. One advantage of the system is you don’t need a small hex wrench.

A crazy story: I used to carry three of these small wrenches of slightly different sizes in my wallet so that I could realign scopes, which was a frequent necessity. Once when I was flying to the Shot Show in Las Vegas, the TSA noticed them in my wallet, called me aside, and asked me what they were. I told them and they told me I could not get on the plane with them. I asked them to call their supervisor and ask him. They did. He agreed with them, and my hex wrenches were confiscated! Perhaps they feared I would begin disassembling the plane part by part.

Not needing a wrench or screwdriver to make a change on the elevation dial to indicate zero once you’re sighted in is a plus. However, the windage dial does require a hex wrench to zero it.

Next we come to the power ring. Both the power ring and the ocular lens assembly have been increased in length and knurled. This allows you to engage the power ring with your whole hand instead of just your finger and thumb. That makes it much faster and easier to make power adjustments—a real advantage.

I like the TMR reticle and have been using it for years. The MK6 is a front-focal-plane scope. So, if you use it for range estimation, you can do so at any power setting. However, when the power is reduced, the hashmarks on the reticle become tougher to see.

The glass in the MK6 is high quality. Resolution and contrast are excellent. I have been using various tactical scopes from Leupold for years. They are reliable, tough, and the clicks are repeatable.

A tactical competitor friend of mine came by the house, saw the scope, and—for all the reasons above—wanted to buy it right on the spot!
By Jacob Gottfredson

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Clearly Superior

The Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x42mm
Compact scope.

Ever since Nightforce Optics opened shop in the little town of Orofino, Idaho, in 1992, their rifle scopes have enjoyed a fine reputation for both ruggedness and repeatable, accurate adjustments. However, their reliability comes at a price. Well, actually two prices, monetary and dimensional.

Except for certain specialized uses, the most popular riflescopes made are variables around 3-10X in magnification range, for several valid reasons. At the low end, 3X provides plenty of field of view for almost any situation, and at the top end 10X provides all the aiming accuracy needed for most field use, without the exaggerated parallax problems of magnification above 10X.

Such scopes can also be reasonably light and compact. Most conventional scopes in this magnification range weigh 12 to 15 ounces, but over the years I’ve eventually broken, though sheer use, conventional variables from at least 16 companies. That is 16 brands, not the total number of scopes, and some have no doubt been forgotten, for good reason.

Usually repeated recoil does the job, and on rifles chambered for cartridges delivering .300 magnum class recoil or larger, failure only required a box or two of ammo. In other scopes the windage, elevation and even magnification adjustments have ceased to function after being turned back and forth a lot. And no, these weren’t all “affordable” scopes, since several cost over $1,000.

That hasn’t happened with any of the Nightforce scopes I’ve owned. This doesn’t mean Nightforces aren’t unbreakable, since no matter how rugged a scope is, it’s normally the weakest link in a modern rifle, partly because so many tiny, complex parts have to be crowded into something smaller than an average summer sausage. But Nightforces are stronger than most other scopes, and the reason is they’re beefed up in all the right places—though that also means they’re larger.

Eventually some shooters, in particular hunters, wanted smaller, lighter Nightforces, and the company obliged with the NXS Compacts. These range in magnification from 1-4X to 2.5-10X and in weight from 17 to 20.5 ounces, not exactly feathery but still a long way from the 30+ ounces of most other Nightforce scopes.

Light Transmission

One minor complaint about Nightforce for some years was their optics weren’t quite as first-class as their mechanics. I tested more than one on my nighttime brightness/sharpness chart and found that was sort-of true. The average rating for modern scopes on the chart is 6, and the very bright, sharpest scopes have rated 8. Nightforces usually tested 7, noticeably better than average but not superlative. However, all the Nightforces tested had complex illuminated reticles, and one of the side-effects of a multi-point etched reticle is a very slight dimming of the view caused by scattered light.

Here it should be emphasized that while many people rate scopes by their optics, a scope is useless if it doesn’t put the bullet where we want it to go. This is exactly why many experienced shooters who use scopes hard prize reliability above tiny differences in optical quality. However, my friend Charlie Sisk, a Texas gunsmith who uses a lot of different scopes, told me during one of our regular phone conversations that the latest Nightforce NXS Compacts had really good glass, so I decided to test one.

After some e-mails with Sean Murphy of Nightforce, the sample Compact ended up being a 2.5-10×42 with the HV (high velocity) version of their Velocity 600 reticle, a “Christmas tree” type with four horizontal crosshairs below the primary intersection. On the night-chart it rated 7+, as high as any scope with an illuminated reticle has ever tested.


The Nightforce NXS 2.5-10×42 Compact fits well on a typical hunting rifle.

Dial Twisting

I mounted the scope in Talley Lightweight rings on a stainless/synthetic Remington 700 BDL in 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum, purchased in 2003, the year after the cartridge appeared. This just happened to be one of those factory rifles that shoots as well as most custom rifles, and is extremely accurate with the 168-grain Berger Hunting VLD at just under 3,000 fps, even though the long bullet has to be seated somewhat off the lands.

The 1/4-MOA adjustments were spot-on when tested both on an optical collimator and when shooting, and in the collimator there was no wavering either horizontally or vertically as the reticle was clicked around the screen. The shooting test was done at a 100-yard target by twisting 24 clicks up and down between shots, forming two small groups exactly where they should have been. But we expect that from a Nightforce. After sighting-in at 200 yards, per the instructions for the Velocity 600 reticle, several rounds clanged a 10-inch gong at 600 yards, right around the center, partly because the Talley rings put the center of the scope 1.8 inches above the bore, exactly the height Nightforce used in their calculations.

The test scope also came with Nightforce’s patented ZeroStop “clutch assembly” on the elevation turret. After sighting-in, a single hex-head screw on the adjustment cap is loosened and the cap removed, revealing four smaller hex-head screws on top of the dial. After loosening these, the top is screwed down until it contacts the lower clutch face. Tightening the four small hex-head screws positions the dial firmly against the plate, and the stop is set. On the test scope the entire process took less than three minutes. It’s one of the surest zero-stops available.

While the same 2.5-10×42 NXS also comes in a non-illuminated version costing and weighing a little less, I’d suggest the illuminated reticle, since the crosshairs and hashmarks are thin enough for illumination to help aiming even during midday. The light-switch on most illuminated scopes is located on the eyepiece, but on the Nightforce is a push-button in the middle of the parallax adjustment knob on the left side of the scope. It can be adjusted with your left thumb while aiming the rifle.
For those shooters wanting a relatively small yet rugged long-range scope, the Nightforce 2.5-10×42 Compact combines several outstanding features, for a very fair price.

Six of John Barsness’s 11 books are on firearms and shooting. His most recent, Modern Hunting was published by Deep Creek Press, and is available through, P.O. Box 579, Townsend, MT 59644-0579, (406) 521-0273.
By John Barsness

2.5-10×42 NXS COMPACT
Maker: Nightforce Optics, Inc.
336 Hazen Lane
Orofino, ID 83544

Magnification: 2.5X-10X
Objective diameter: 42mm, Tube diameter: 30mm
Field of View: 44 feet, 10 inches (2.5X), 11 feet (10X)
Eye Relief: 3.5 inches
Click value: 1.4-MOA (.1mil-rad optional)
Weight: 20.5 ounces (Illuminated), 19 ounces (non-illuminated)
Internal adjustment: 100-MOA, windage and elevation
Reticle: Velocity 600 LV (tested)
Price: $1,950 (as tested)

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The Monarch 7

Nikon’s 4-16x50mm SF BDC Custom XR
Delivers Performance Beyond Its Price.

On my new quest to find top-notch hunting scopes in the $1,000 and under category, I thought I’d look at Nikon’s new Monarch 7 with BDC turrets and 30mm main tube. As I’ve said before, it is not necessary for the average hunter to begin searching the $2,000 to $3,500 riflescope category.

I once made the statement I never met a Nikon optic I didn’t like. That seems to remain true today after some 20 years. I recently penned an article about Nikon’s new P-223. I liked it. Nikon seems to be into long initials like that above: SF = Side Focus, BDC = Bullet Drop Compensation, XR = eXtended Range.

Apparently, the original scope with its 1-inch main tube has been discontinued in lieu of this new one with a 30mm main tube. Smart move, although it is a couple of ounces heavier, a bit longish and the price a bit more.

I am intrigued by Bullet Drop Compensation. Let me tell you why. Many years ago, a man named T.D. Smith approached me. His story was amazing. He was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam era. He had fallen several thousand feet from a passenger plane that split apart due to wind shear. He free-fell a great distance, hit a snow bank on Mt. Helena in Greece, and lived. He saved several of the plane’s occupants while he was at it. It took many operations to put the guy back together.

He spend several months in the hospital, and with nothing to do and a love of guns, he invented what is now called Bullet Drop Compensation. In the intervening years between his invention and this article, almost every riflescope company uses some form of his invention.

Here is how it works. Determine the ballistic coefficient of the bullet you want to use. Also find out what velocity the bullet is traveling as it leaves the muzzle of the rifle. That will give you the bullet’s path through the air. Determine how far down on the vertical crosshair will match that path at 200, 300, etc., for example. Draw lines at each. You might also want to determine how far to the side the bullet is pushed in a 10 mph wind. Thus the lines might take on a Christmas tree shape. Let us suppose further that you did all this at sea level, 58 degree F, 90 percent humidity, and 29.95 barometric pressure. The position of the scope in relationship to the rifle is true, and the rifle is quite accurate. All of this assumes you are using the highest power on a variable power riflescope with the reticle in the rear focal plane, and you know how high the scope sits above the bore. Voilà! Just put the appropriate line on the target and squeeze the trigger. A little verification at the range, a bit of tweaking and you have quick access to various ranges.

But wait! Your buddy, high in the Rocky Mountains, calls you, inviting you to hunt mule deer for the adventure of a lifetime. You finally see the monarch of all mule deer standing at 600 yards, looking just like the beautiful picture of the Hartford Stag on your calendar at home. With heart pounding, you get a steady prone position carefully set the bar or circle on the vertical crosshair, but the shot goes off and you miss. You are heartbroken, profane, angry, disappointed and want to hang the rifle, cartridge and scope makers up by their heels.

What went wrong? You are frustrated, but your miss was bound to happen anyway. Not thinking, you went from sea level to the mountains, finally spotting your monster at 10,000 feet. It was a nice day with the temperature running about 70 degrees. Let’s look at some bullet paths from a ballistic program for the 7mm Remington Magnum just for grins.

Take a 7mm Rem Mag with a 140-grain Barnes TTS bullet with a BC of .4 and 3,160 fps velocity. At sea level, 58 degrees, and 29.95 barometric pressure, the bullet drop at 600 yards is -90 inches from the bore line. At 10,000 feet and 70 degrees, the bullet drop at 600 yards is 80 from the bore line. A difference of 10 inches. Not only that, but the velocity might be different in those new conditions.

Nikon provides good instructions with the scope. Using Nikon’s Spot On software on their website, you can determine any bullet’s flight to configure both the zero of the circles and also the turrets and the number of clicks needed for any distance. They will also provide you with a custom turret for any given set of environmental conditions, BC, velocity and bullet flight. In fact, attached to the elevation turret is a coupon for the first one free!


The Monarch 7 has clean lines and very functional features. Shown
is the sunshade, the cap for the vertical turret and the cap for
the longer turret (far right) all included with the scope.

The Scope

Nikon chose to use circles in lieu of lines in this scope series, in some cases. It works. They also have a feature I have never seen before on any riflescope, so I got into a wee bit of trouble. The side focus/parallax knob has a locking feature so it will not move once set to your needs. To unlock it, simply pull the knob out, adjust and push it back in. Nice feature. The lock can be overcome by someone, however. (Think me.) Having never seen such a feature, I thought the thing was just stiff. Helps to read the instructions first. Works so much better now.

The clicks are very specific with an audible sound. No gap is left after one full rotation. Believe it not, some scopes do leave a gap, which makes knowing where you are a challenge. The ocular diopter adjustment is the fast sort without a locking ring, which seems to be becoming standard from the Europeans.

Like many other scope manufacturers, Nikon explains things in MOA but uses 1/4-inch clicks instead of 1/4-MOA and call their system XR for eXtended range. Remember that for very long shots, that introduces a 5-percent error since 1 MOA is equal to 1.047 inches. Not a problem for the average hunter. As an aside, also be aware that Mdot and Mrad are not the same either, producing a 1.8-percent error if used interchangeably.

At the risk of repeating myself, let me partially quote from my P-223 article. One feature being a bit different however.

Zeroing the turret is simple and fast. Once in the bull at 100 yards, simply lift the turret, turn it to zero, and then let it back down into the locked position. From there, the BDC works for both the turret and the circle marks on the reticle. The windage adjustment works the same way.

The reticle is placed in the second focal plane. That has an advantage but also a disadvantage. Ranges are given for each circle or line at maximum power. But since the reticle is in the second focal plane, you can use Nikon’s “Spot On” software to find the range each circle or line will hit at other powers. Using 6X instead of 12X, in this case, greatly extends the distance for each circle or line. However, if you forget about having the scope on full power when using the BDC, forget about making a hit. (Whereas, on front focal plane models, no problem.)

Nikon has several different reticles and lines for several different applications and distances.

The fast optical adjustment makes focusing the reticle quick and easy. There is no cap on the elevation turret of this model. If you wish to use the BDC turret, you don’t want to be slowed down by having to remove a cap. Find the range, turn the dial to that particular range, and fire. For even faster response, use the circles and lines on the reticle. Some scope designers put numbers next to each line. Nikon has not, which requires you to count down until the correct circle or line is found.

Nikon encloses an extra longer windage dial with the scope for those who might find one useful. They also include an effective sunshade, scope cover and a lifetime warranty.


The turret manifold incorporates locking focus/parallax, elevation and windage dials.
Each is used by lifting, turning to the desired position and then moved back down.
Other elevation dials can be ordered to match your bullet’s BC, velocity and the
environmental conditions under which you shoot. All this can be worked out using
Nikon’s “Spot On” software on their website.


Pictured is the reticle in the scope sent for evaluation. The
instruction manual provided, explaining BDC, shows several other
such reticles, some with lines between the circles.

The Glass

Glass manufacturers and optical design continues to improve. The glass in Nikon scopes is very good and particularly in the Monarch 7. It provides 4X to 16X magnification, is fully multi-coated, nitrogen purged, and has a 1-piece main tube, side focus/parallax adjustment, and several different reticle options. This is beginning to sound identical to my Nikon P-223 article. And many things about it are. Nikon’s lineup of scopes is incredible. If you can’t find something you need and like to hunt with, it is time to take up golf or bowling.
By Jacob Gottfredson

4-16x50mm SF BDC Custom XR
Maker: Nikon Inc.

1300 Walt Whitman Road
Melville, NY 11747
(631) 547-4200
Magnification: 4X-16X
Objective diameter: 50mm
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Field of View: 25.2 feet (4X), 6.3 feet (16X) at 100 Yards
Eye Relief: 4 inches (4X), 3.7 inches (16X)
Click value: 1/4 inch
Weight: 22.9 ounces
Length: 14.8 inches
Internal adjustment: 52 inches windage & elevation
Water, Shock, and Fog Proof: Yes, Reticle: BDC
Price: $999.95

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Order Your Copy Of The GUNS Magazine December 2014 Issue Today!

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Weaver’s Grand Slam 4-16x44mm

This relatively inexpensive variable delivers
clarity and ease of adjustment.

For the multitude of hunters, having an expensive scope is not called for. If the glass is OK, the point of aim is reliable and the distance is less than 300 yards, they will be successful. Granted, it is cool to own a $2,000 to $3,500 scope, but is it necessary?

I was born and raised in a very small community in the Rocky Mountains. The place was surrounded by mountains. A 3-minute ride and you were already climbing, all the way to 12,000+ feet. No one dreamed of the Internet, smart phones, or even TV. The stores did not carry guns and only a small amount of ammo for a couple of popular rounds, mainly .30-30 and .30-06. There were 6 boys on the basketball team, which happened to be the entire senior class.

When the potato harvest and the deer hunt came around, the schools and most everything else closed down. Why not? There would not be any teachers in town anyway when deer season opened. There was also a week when everyone pitched in to bring in the harvests. People grew up on potatoes, gravy and venison.
When I was just a young poke, I ordered a Husqvarna .30-06 out of a catalog and mounted a Weaver 4X with very thin crosshairs and a dot. I took a lot of deer with that combo. A few years later, I purchased a Remington 700 in .264 Magnum, which had become the rage around town. I bought another Weaver with a bit more power and this time a variable.

Weaver, as the years went by, fell on hard times and many catalogs were selling the last of their steel scopes for peanuts. I bought one and hunted with it for years. But one journey along the slope of a hill, and one wrong step on a rock, saw me falling some distance. Sure enough, there was a large dent about where the erector tube sits. I had to resight-in the rifle, but still hunted with it for years.

Years continued to go by. The military took four of them, and college another several. I had gotten into pistol competition and benchrest. I remember a fellow showed up at a benchrest competition and began querying the shooters. “I spent years building Weaver scopes,” he said. He asked, “If I could build one that would not change point of impact, how much would you pay for it?” We laughed at the suggestion. Anyone would pay dearly for such a scope. A few years later Weaver began to appear again.

Needless to say, I still harbor affection for the Weaver scope. Yes, I have gotten into much more expensive scopes and write about them often. As a long-range hunter and competitor, as well as a glass lover, I veered in other directions, and my wallet got smaller. But the average hunter does not need a $3,000 scope. Most hunters still like to stalk their game and only shoot 250 yards or a bit more. Weaver scopes from the Super Slam to the V-series, cost from about $300 to $1,000, depending on your application. And they will do the job superbly.


Weaver’s Grand Slam 4-16x44mm is short and lightweight, here
shown on Browning’s new AB3 7mm Remington Magnum.

Weaver was nice enough to send along their Grand Slam 4-16x44mm for testing and evaluation. While Weaver still carries the K series, which looks strikingly similar to the first scope I ever owned, which was also a K series, and if memory serves me correctly, called a K4, they now make a 30mm body and several reticle varieties. The Grand Slam, however, still comes with a 1-inch tube, remains relatively short and light, and the variable-power cylinder takes a huge departure from earlier models.

The Grand Slam departs in several other ways from the old Weaver variable I owned. It has a European fast focus ocular and parallax adjustment. The reticle is a huge jump from my old thin reticle and dot. Although the turrets still say one click is 1/4-inch at 100 yards, the specs on Weaver’s website call that MOA. However, 1 MOA = 1.047 inches at 100 yards. While that is not a problem when shooting at the shorter ranges, it is a 5-percent difference, and surely makes a difference for very long-range shooters. It would be nice if they would correct that. But in reality, the best way to ensure the value of each click or hashmark is to do it on the range.

Weaver sent along some of their 1-inch rings mounting on a rail as I was planning to mount it on an accurate .308 and hit the range. About that time, one of Browning’s new AB3 7mm Remington Magnum bolt action rifles (see my test of the rifle in this issue) showed up for testing with rings included. It was the perfect application.


The turrets are capped, but when removed they are clearly marked in 1/4-inch
increment come-ups. This model also has the parallax adjustment mounted
on the side in the turret manifold.


The power ring makes a visual departure from the scopes of years past. But there is
an advantage here: It is much faster to grasp and turn for power changes. Works well.
Note also, the end uses a fast diopter change ring.

Besides their turret, allowing changes for different ranges, the EBX reticle is the Christmas tree type, which gives the shooter the option of using the hashmarks instead of the turret for more distant shots.

After sighting in, I put some steel down range to test the hashmark application. The fact is, unlike the more expensive tactical scopes made for various short and long ranges, the turret on the weaver is not made for quick corrections. But the hashmark system should work perfectly.

The scope sent to me is called the varminter, but it can certainly be used to hunt any game. The EBX reticle’s Christmas tree has bars becoming wider as one progresses down the hashmarks. The width assumes a 10 mph wind. The instructions accompanying the scope give the range for each hashmark or bar for small, high velocity rounds for .17 HMR, .204 Ruger, .22-250 Remington, .220 Swift, .223 Remington, and .243 Winchester. Each is shown on a prairie dog. My advice: Pay little attention to this. First off, what barrel length are they using? What temperature and barometric pressure are they using to calculate the ranges given for each bar? Whose cartridge, reload, or bullet? This scope is great for shooting anything from a prairie dog to a bear or moose. With the use of a chronograph and ballistic software, and some time on the range testing and verifying the hashmarks, you can determine the exact flight path and the true range for each hashmark. When temperature and barometric changes are encountered, the same thing is done easily with the use of Kestrel’s ballistic 4500 and the MagnetoSpeed chronograph, both of which are easily carried in the field. Example: I live on the Texas coast at approximately 0 elevation and about 29.95 barometric pressure. But I often hunt in the Rocky Mountains at about 9,000 feet elevation and 22 barometric pressure. The flight path is anything but the same. So do some testing on your range. To see how I found the ranges for this one in 7mm Remington Mag, see the feature on the Browning AB3 in this issue.


The scope tested had the EBX reticle, which is the familiar Christmas tree style. The bar width is approximately calibrated for a 10 mph wind. Calling Weaver or just putting up a 1-inch grid at 100 yards will give you the subtension of each bar. With that you can determine what range each bar is worth for your rifle, bullet, ballistic coefficient and velocity. The reticle is in the second focal plane, so the bars remain the same for any power.

Like many of the current scope manufacturers, Weaver provides fully multi-coated lenses, argon purged, 1-piece tube, side focus parallax adjustment, and several different reticle options. The model sent to me has the EBX reticle, which is not visually shown when you bring up the Grand Slam scopes on their website. It is shown under the Super Slam series. It is etched on the glass, vs. the old days when scope manufacturers used wire. Like most brand name optics on the market these days, the view through the Weaver Grand Slam is very nice indeed.
By Jacob Gottfredson

4-16x44mm Grand Slam

Maker: Weaver Optics
1 ATK Way
Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 379-1732

Magnification: 4X-16X
Objective: 44mm
Tube diameter: 1 inch
Field of View: 24.4 (4X) to 6.3 feet (16X) at 100 yards
Click Value: 1/4 inch
Reticle: EBX
Adjustment Range: 40 MOA elevation & windage
Length: 11 inches
Price: $540.95

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FinallY, A Do-IT-All Rangefinding Binocular For Hunters.

We knew it would happen. Someday, someone would design a binocular fulfilling all the requirements needed on the hunt and in competition. The only question was: How long would it take?

One of the most important requirements on a hunt is the ability to see well. The most useful is a tough binocular with great glass. We usually hang it from our necks. When we see the target, we want to know how far away it is, so we add a rangefinder to our gear. But wait. When we see the target and get its range, we need something to tell us our come-ups to make an accurate hit. And this means we often have to drag three different items out of our pack. This all takes considerable time, and in the meantime the quarry is making tracks over the ridge.

Granted, the industry has been working to reduce this burden. Several binos have range finding and some sort of way to tell us the come-ups required to make the hit. Most used several ballistic flight paths, and you hope one of them matches yours… at least to some degree. But if you go from sea level to 10,000 feet, good luck with that.

At least one optic (from Gunwerks) does all this now for you mid- to long-range shooters. However, it is a monocular, being more in the range-finding category with marginal optics relative to a binocular.

The new GEOVID HD-B binocular is a superb piece of glass. Having glass this good is a special treat. But imagine having the ability to range and have the come-ups required to make the shot based on your cartridge’s ballistic flight path in any environmental conditions. Now we are getting somewhere. No longer a need to carry a rangefinder. No longer a need to carry a chart or a PDA, smart phone, etc.
Strapping the Leica around my neck, I have all I need in one unit. The Leica GEOVID HD-B has 12 prior programmed data points with one major advantage.

The Leica will also allow you to put your programed ballistic data on a microSD memory card and insert it in the bino. Now we’re talking my language. I can throw away the rangefinder. I can finally throw away my chart and PDA. And I am looking through some of the best glass in the world.

The memory card comes with the bino as does a tool to retrieve the chip, a C2R battery, objective lens covers (something I have been telling them to do for years), carry strap, case and instructions.


The bino comes with lens covers, a neoprene carry strap, instructions and a microSD
memory card to input the shooter’s own ballistic curve. Notice from this top view
the barrels are parallel like a roof prism binocular. You can see the information
buttons just to the right of the focus wheel.

But like Barrett’s BORS unit, the GEOVID HD-B does have one problem you need to be aware of and think ahead about. Let us suppose you are hunting the hills on a very cold winter day. The bino is in the vehicle. You have the cab at a nice warm temperature and everyone is happy and warm. Eureka! You see the target on a hillside about 800 yards distant. You jump out of the cab, take a reading with the Leica, put in the come-ups it tells you and fire. A miss. What went wrong? Unfortunately, both units have the temperature sensor inside the unit. It thinks the temperature is the nice 72 degrees in the cab. But it is 20 degrees outside, and it takes the unit up to 30 minutes to determine the correct ambient temperature. Be aware. Another minor item you need to be aware of is the output is in centimeters or MOA for required come-ups. Remember: if you are using inches, you will have a 5-percent error since 1 MOA = 1.047 inches.

Pressing the button nearest the center gives you the range to the target. When you press the button nearest the right lens, it gives you the degrees first, then the temperature and finally the barometric pressure in sequencing order. If using the microSD card, you can only determine the come-ups to 1,000 yards. If a range curve is set, after the range is measured, the range is displayed for 2 seconds, and then the calculated correction value for 6 seconds.

The ballistic curve gives you the come-ups on your turret. But wait! Here is the kicker I have been waiting on for years: When I zero here in Texas on the coast and then go hunting in cold weather at elevations in the thousands, the software in the bino changes my ballistic curve accordingly! Now I don’t have to rely on cards set at different temperatures and elevations and consult them. Nor do I have to reprogram a PDA or smart phone on arriving at the hunting grounds.

The ocular lens has several settings for eyeglass wearers. One important feature is they are removable for cleaning. On binos without this feature, the area between the ocular lens and the body of the bino gets grubby with dirt and sand, making it difficult to move the ocular to best suit your eyes.

I love the glass in this bino. I have been in the business of evaluating glass for almost 30 years. By far my favorite is the Porro prism variety. I know…the new rage is the roof prism. They have less bulk than their counterpart Porro with the same magnification and objective lens, and they are fashionable. But Porro prisms have superior depth perception, 3D characteristics and better color fidelity. Plus, it costs much more to build a roof prism binocular of equal quality. Leica has solved my problem (and yours) by using the unique, innovative and relatively new Perger Porro prism.


Leica’s phase-corrected Perger Porro prism design merges the benefits of roof and Porro designs, delivering a streamlined form factor without sacrificing depth of field or color fidelity. Exposed lens surfaces are finished with Leica’s proprietary High Durable (HDC) and AquaDura lens coatings, which repel moisture and prevent dirt from adhering to the glass. These features add up to a multi-purpose handheld optic built for unforgiving weather conditions and low-light performance.

The use of innovative concepts like High Definition (HD) optics, the use of phase-coated fluoride glass and fully multicoated glass make these a viewing delight.
By Jacob Gottfredson

Maker: Leica Camera Inc.
1 Pearl Court, Unit A
Allendale, NJ, 07401
Phone: (800) 222-0118
Magnification: 10X (tested), 8x42mm
Objective: 42mm
Ranging: 2,000 yards (6 miles if very large, reflective targets)
Eye Relief: 20mm
Exit Pupil Diameter: 4.2mm
Field of View at1,000 yards: 342 feet
Close Focus: 16.5 feet
Twilight Factor: 20.5
Waterproof: Yes (16.5 feet)
Weight: 34.7 ounces
Length: 6-7/8 inches
Laser beam divergence: 2.0 x 0.5mrad
Scanning mode: Yes
Battery: 1 3V Lithium-type CR2
Price: $2,995, $2,945 (8×42)

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Magnification vs. Light

And the Vortex 20-60x85mm Razor HD Spotting Scope.

Two of the attributes most commonly advertised for marketing purposes by manufacturers are exit pupil and twilight factor. I was remembering some work I had done previously along these lines as I looked through a Vortex spotting scope on a hillside in Montana recently.

Scott Parks, Vortex’s R&D guy, was kind enough to send their best spotting scope and three lenses for a high country elk hunt. As I sat on a hillside in late afternoon and looked into dark timber, I had occasion to think about what I had said in previous articles. Namely, there is a point at which power, exit pupil and twilight factor hit an optimum viewing combination.

The Razor HD is the top of the Vortex line. He sent both the angled spotting version and the straight. The first thing I liked was the combination of coarse and fine focus wheels. This causes a lot less vibration than the helical variety (ring around the body) when focusing, and is easier to fine focus, although it may not be as fast.

An 85mm objective lens gives ample light transmission at most powers, although the exit pupil diameter drops to 1.42mm at 60X. But then so does every other industry scope with the same objective lens size and power. Why does it matter? Because anything below about 2.5mm exit pupil diameter does not transmit enough light to produce fine resolution. Just a fact of life. But visual acuity is not entirely based on exit pupil. It also has to do with the quality of the glass and its coatings. And in that regard, the Razor HD spotting scope is right up there with the best of them.

Vortex uses High Density (HD) premium, extra-low dispersion glass in the Razor, which enhances resolution and color fidelity. It also features a triple apochromatic lens system that reduces fringing, dilution of color fidelity and degradation of resolution.

The lenses are fully multi-coated, Armor Tek protects exterior lenses, and Argon gas is used to reduce fogging and promote waterproof performance. The body is a magnesium alloy.

The 20-60X eyepiece is included in the price, but Scott also sent a 30X HD lens with a mil dot (hashmark) reticle for calling shots at long range as well as Vortex’s new Long Eye Relief lens.

While Vortex optics incorporates the latest in features, optics are just that: It is all about the quality of the glass. So I proceeded to test the scope on my charts, during low light, under poor conditions and mirage.

Clearly the HD extra-low dispersion glass is better, but is also higher priced. While the majority of Vortex glass is good, the spotting scope really tops their list for quality glass and image. I will put it up against any on the market.


The straight version of the Vortex 20-60mmx85mm spotting
scope sits above Ashbury Precision Ordnance’s .338 Lapua Magnum.

Let me turn to the real intent of this article. Binoculars and spotting and riflescopes are marked with a formula such as “8×30” or “10×50.” The first number in the formula is the power, or how many times the image is enlarged. The second number in the formula is the diameter of the objective lens in millimeters. The bigger the objective, the more light can enter and the greater the potential resolution of the image.

Low-light performance is largely dependent on the exit pupil. Exit pupils are the small, bright circles you see in the eyepieces when you hold the instrument away from your eyes and up to the light. The exit pupil diameter is calculated by dividing the diameter of the objective lens by the power. A 7×35 binocular has an exit pupil diameter of 5 millimeters (35÷7 = 5).

In bright sunlight the pupils of your eyes contract from 2 to 4mm, and at night they may open to 7mm. If the beam of light exiting the eyepiece is wider than the pupil of the eye, the excess doesn’t get in: The eye can’t see it. The extra light is wasted, so to speak.

During daylight hours things look just as bright through binoculars and scopes with 4mm exit pupils as through those with 7mm exit pupils. In fact, if they have better coatings, binoculars and scopes with 4mm exit pupils may be brighter. Thus, the larger exit pupil is at greater advantage in low light. The larger exit pupil is also useful on ships where the constant motion makes it difficult to always keep the eye centered on the exit pupil.

As we age, our eyes lose some of their ability to adapt to darkness. While a 20-year-old person’s pupils might open to 7mm, at age 50, the pupils may open only to 5mm. Therefore, binoculars and scopes with large exit pupils may not help the older shooter. The best binoculars and scopes are bright as a result of their advanced multi-coatings and top-quality optics, which provides brightness you can see all the time, even in daylight.


This is an image of the Vortex Razor HD’s mil hashmark reticle lens for the 20-60x85mm
spotting scope. This allows the spotter to call the shooter’s hits accurately at long
range and guide him into the target. It can also be used to range targets of known dimensions.

Lens size is partially responsible for the amount of light transferred to the eye. You can compare the light transmitting ability of two binoculars by squaring their objective lens diameters. A 50mm objective lenses would yield: 50 squared = 2,500, while a 35mm objective lenses would be 35 squared = 1,225. Also, resolution (the ability of a binocular to show small details) is proportional to the size of the objective. That is, the bigger the lens, the smaller the detail you can see. But coatings and other factors enter into the ability of a binocular or scope to transmit light and resolve detail.

Another specification called “relative brightness” is calculated by squaring the exit pupil diameter. For example, all binoculars or scopes with a 4mm exit pupil diameter would yield: 4 squared = 16. Since relative brightness is a mathematical relationship, it doesn’t take into account aperture differences between optics. An 8x32mm and a 20x80mm binocular have identical a 4mm exit pupils, but they are hardly identical low-light performers due to the 635 percent larger light transmitting area of a 20×80. Relative brightness is only useful when comparing the low-light performance of binoculars of similar aperture, and then only when your eye’s pupil is as large as the exit pupils of the binocular or scope.

Twilight factor provides an indication of the relative performance of sizes of optics in low-light levels, and it is dependent on both the objective diameter (how much light enters the binocular or scope) and the exit pupil (how much light passes from the binocular or scope to the eye). It is calculated from the formula “the square root of the magnification times the objective diameter.” For example, an 8×56 has a twilight factor of 21.2, while an 8×30 has a twilight factor of 15.5 and an 8×20 a twilight factor of 12.6. The larger the twilight factor, the better the relative low-light performance of the binocular or scope.

Exit pupil, relative brightness and relative light efficiency comparisons are interesting and often useful, but they are not always the best indicators of how well binoculars and scopes perform in low light. For example, 8×32 and 20×80 both have 4mm exit pupils, a relative brightness of 16 and a relative light efficiency of 24, but the 80mm binoculars are much better in low light due to the 625 percent larger light transmitting capacity and higher twilight factor.


A big star for Vortex is their classy Razor HD spotting scope. Vortex didn’t mess around when
they designed this baby: High-density extra-low dispersion glass, fully multi-coated lenses
and argon gas purged. The HD has an 85mm objective lens with a triple apochromatic lens
system using coarse and fine focus knobs, and can be rotated in the tripod.

Twilight factor is a more useful judge of a binocular’s low-light performance than exit pupil, etc., as it takes into account both light transmission and magnification, both of which affect how much detail you can see. Seeing detail is what binoculars and scopes are all about.

The larger the image, the easier it is for you to see details in that image. By the same token, with a smaller image, the brighter it gets, the easier it is for you to see the same details clearly. So, within reason, if magnification goes up, brightness can go down without seriously affecting resolution, and vice versa. That is, small bright images can show you as much detail as large dim images.

Twilight factor allows you to compare various combinations of aperture vs. magnification to determine the one that best balances an increase in magnification against a decrease in brightness (or vice versa). The larger the twilight factor, the better a binocular is for low-light observing.
A twilight factor of 17 and above is best for twilight or early morning use.

But here again, the twilight factor is a mathematical relationship only. It does not take into account light transmission differences between binoculars and scopes, so small numerical differences in twilight factors may not be visible in the field.

Keep in mind that just because an inexpensive binocular and a premium model have identical twilight factors, exit pupil, relative brightness, etc., you can’t assume their optical performance will be the same. Distortions and optical flaws in the less expensive binocular or scope can severely compromise its sharpness and clarity.
By Jacob Gottfredson

Performance: Vortex Razor HD
20-60x85mm Spotting Scope

Resolution: 15 (Excellent)
Contrast: Excellent
Astigmatism: None
Curvature of Field: None
Rolling Distortion: None
Pin Cushion Distortion: None
Barrel Distortion: None
Color Fidelity: Excellent

Razor HD 20-60x85mm
Spotting Scope

Maker: Vortex Optics
2120 W Greenview Dr.
Middleton, WI 53562
(800) 426-0048

Magnification: 20X-60X
Objective: 85mm
Ranging: Via mil hashmarks
Exit Pupil Diameter: 4.25mm (20X) – 1.42mm (60X)
Field Of View: 117 feet at 1,000 yards (20X), 60 feet (60X)
Waterproof: Yes, Weight: 65.7 ounces
Length: 15.25 inches, Close Focus: 16.4 feet
Price: $2,000

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Rigged For Long Range

Bushnell’s New Tactical
Scope Is A Game-Changer.

When stacked up against Steiner and Schmidt & Bender, Bushnell’s XRS 4.5-30x50mm Elite Tactical scope is a worthy competitor at a relatively bargain price

When I wanted to do some 600-yard tuning a while back, two friends came along. They each showed up with one of the new Elites—with the G2 reticle—mounted on a Sako TRG 42 in .300 Win Mag. I see more and more of these scopes every day at matches and it’s no wonder. The price—in relation to comparable German-built offerings—is right.

With Bushnell’s new Legend Ultra HD binocular, the Fusion 1-Mile ARC rangefinder, and now these tactical scopes, Bushnell is building a new legacy.

The Elite line is well built and obviously part of the company’s bid for the law enforcement, military and long-range/tactical market.

Is it Tom Fuller’s influence as Bushnell’s military rep? I have no idea, but Tom left the Army, having been in charge of the Marksmanship Program at Fort Benning, Ga. (where I took my parachute training a couple hundred years ago), to assume that role.

Bushnell didn’t mess around with the design. They went straight for the jugular with a first focal-plane reticle, rapid diopter adjustment and innovative turrets. To promote these new products, Bushnell has hosted several major matches around the country.

I asked my two shooting buddies for their input, pros and cons:

Said one, “I like it. The Zero Stop is great. The locking turrets are helpful and the glass is clearer and sharper than my Nightforce. But I would like finer crosshairs. I like the 30X. A darned good scope and a darned good company.”

Said the other, “I like it better than another manufacturer’s tactical scope I had before. This one’s got locking turrets and a better reticle, but I would like illumination at that price point. Bushnell’s providing great support for the tactical shooting sport.”

At the 600-yard range, my friends could see their .30-caliber holes on the target. They could also see the 6.5 bullet holes from a 6.5×47 they brought, that is, until the mirage moved in.

To be fair, I had a 5.5-22x50mm NXS Nightforce scope mounted on my rifle, and I could see their bullet holes as well. One thing neither of them mentioned that I know they appreciate is the mil/mil turret and the mil hashmark. For years, scope makers were making mil-dot reticles with 1/4-minute clicks on the turret. But now they have wised up and made the turret adjustments in centimeters (2 mils per centimeter) per click. “Mil/mil” simply means that both the reticle and the turret clicks are in mils.

For those big boomers, they were also nice enough to put neoprene around the ocular ring so the cut above your eyebrow—when shooting prone—wouldn’t be quite so deep!


The Bushnell Elite is set up and at home on a Jacob’s
Nighthawk Custom .308, built on a Stiller action

The scope can be ordered in either front or rear focal-plane configuration, and with either 1/4-MOA or 0.1 mil adjustments on the windage and elevation dials. To set the zero, remove the dial top and reposition the setting to zero. Models I have seen can be adjusted with a coin or flathead screwdriver.

Before any clicks can be made, the top of the turret must be lifted. This failsafe feature allows you to ensure a range setting doesn’t get inadvertently changed. I often carry a tactical rifle across my chest, held to my body with a sling. I’ve had a couple of instances where the turrets—not protected by a cap—have rotated without my knowledge to the point where a miss on an easy target resulted.

Some manufacturers avert this problem with the use of caps. The problem there is the time it takes to remove them to make an elevation or windage change, something done constantly in tactical competition. The second problem with caps is I tend to lose them. Others do not provide caps and leave the turrets exposed. The Bushnell overcomes these problems with a “lift the turret” design.

There’s one thing I disagreed with in the small pamphlet included with the scope. It says with the rear focal-plane reticle, ranging is only accurate at the power stated for the subtention given at 100 yards (or meters).

One of the overlooked things about a rear focal-plane reticle is you can change the ranging and distance amount of the hashmarks by varying the magnification. Once you learn how, it gives you great flexibility. The pamphlet does allude to it, but left me wondering what they might be talking about. Bushnell does provide a rear focal-plane version of this scope for those who might prefer it.
I prefer the G2 reticle, which breaks the mil dots into hashmarks in a “Christmas tree” arrangement. Bushnell offers two other reticle configurations with this same sort of functionality. One is the Horus Vision for those who prefer it. The other is a Plain-Jane mil-dot setup.


The robust new Bushnell Elite XRS 4.5-30x50mm Tactical Scope with 34mm tube (above) is nail-pounding tough. The power-factor range is a bit over 6X. It wasn’t too many years ago that a 4X factor was big news. The large turrets on the Busnell Tactical scopes (below) feature easy-to-read markings and distinctive clicks. To adjust for shooting distances, lift the turret top and turn it to a different position.


The XRS 4.5-30x50mm Elite Tactical proved to be an excellent example of good optical design. Curvature of field was very minimal. I could detect no barrel or pincushion distortion, or any rolling distortion at any magnification from 4.5X to 30X, which, by the way, is more than a 6X factor range.

Only a few years ago, a 4X factor range was about all that manufacturers could coax out of a design. Now we’re seeing power factor ranges of 10.

Resolution and contrast were excellent. The scope was clear with no color fringing (see below). There was no detectable astigmatism at any power. Tests were performed on military charts made for the purpose.

I have made the following statements before, but I think they are worth repeating.

In a short length, large objective, “fast” optical system, high-index glasses are utilized to minimize the radius requirements that assist in controlling optical aberration. High-index glasses tend to separate the wavelengths more than low-index glasses do, making correction of this separation more challenging. Because of this, these glass types and radii—especially in the objective lenses—combine to generate a residual secondary spectrum.

As is prevalent with large objective, “fast” optical systems, the secondary spectrum often dominates near the edge of the exit pupil. However, it should also be viewable while looking at a high-contrast “white and black” target when moving your head away from—and toward—the exit pupil along the axis of the scope. In this case, the center of the field of view will tint toward yellow on the inboard side and towards blue on the outboard side of the exit pupil.


The Plain-Jane mil-dot reticle (left) is one option with the Elite Tactical. The G2 reticle (right) not
only provides holdover and ranging references, but can also be used for windage. If you use ballistic
software, the marks will work for any bullet at any velocity.

Side-to-side movement in the exit pupil does the same thing in viewing the secondary spectrum. Typically, when you move your head to the left, the edges of a high-contrast target tints towards the blue near the center of the field of view. It tints toward the yellow, away from the center of the field of view.

The Bushnell Elite Tactical does display this phenomenon. However, it is a problem with almost any scope in this class. I had another very expensive tactical scope with me during the tests that displayed the same tinting when I moved my head from side to side and up and down. However, when you keep your head in the proper position, no such tinting can be seen.

Bushnell now has 12 other tactical scopes in their lineup from the 1-6.5x24mm to those progressing up in power to the one featured in this article. Several reticle configurations are featured throughout, covering CQB to long range and everything in between.

If you can’t find what you want from that lineup, I would be very surprised.
By Jacob Gottfredson

XRS Elite Tactical
Maker: Bushnell Corporation
9200 Cody
Overland Park
KS 66214-1734
(800) 423-3537

Magnification: 4.5X-30X
Objective: 50mm
Tube Diameter: 34mm
Finish: Matte
Weight: 37 ounces
Length: 10.2 inches
Click Value: .34 inches
Internal Adj. Range: 50 inches elevation & windage
Reticle: G2 (as tested)
Price: $2,149

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Steiner Tactical Scopes

Precision Glass For Precision Rifles.

I was at a sniper match about a year ago. The rifles were on the line, the competitors standing behind them, quietly shooting the breeze and waiting to shoot their rifles on the next event. That gave me the opportunity to walk the line and see what scopes they were using. What? A Steiner Military Scope!

You’ll be immediately thrown out of a match for touching another’s rifle or equipment, but this one I had to see. I turned to the group and asked, “Who owns this rifle?” They all looked at me like I was crazy, but one of them approached and said, “I do. Why?”

“Can I look through your scope?” The fellow succinctly replied, “Sure.” Assuming a bent prone position, I did so without touching his rifle. And thus began a yearlong odyssey. When I arrived home, a message was already waiting in my e-mail from the editor. “Would you please take a look at Steiner’s new tactical scope?” I got hold of Dennis Philips, and a 5-25x56mm riflescope was soon on its way with a set of 34mm rings. While in the midst of evaluating the scope, I got another message to send it to be mounted on a rifle by Robbie Barrkman for a cover photo. Several months later, I contacted Dennis again, and he promptly sent another scope, still in the cellophane, but this time it was the 3-15x50mm. Something was lost in translation. But since I had taken time to look carefully at the 5-25X, I now had the opportunity to look at the 3-15X.

Why am I telling you all this? Because the scope is not only up to the task, it is superb. I wanted to spend some real time with it to see if my first impressions were correct.

Even though it’s distributed by Burris, the scope is clearly marked, “Made in Germany.” And, as it turns out, they manufacture a second hunting line called the Predator that runs for less than half the cost of the military line. The military scopes are expensive, but Steiner has spared nothing to bring the best state-of-the-art in optics, material and design to the shooter, and with a 30-year warranty.

Dennis Philips told me, “Steiner got back into the riflescope market in 2010 with a 4X line of tactical scopes made in our Greeley plant using glass supplied by Germany. In 2011 we started the Predator scope line, made with German glass in our plant in Greeley. Prior to 2010, Steiner made some riflescopes under military contract.


The 5-25x56m Steiner Tactical scope mounted on a Nighthawk .308 tactical rifle.
The knob shown is actually two, with one being the parallax adjustment, and
the other illumination controls.

“But both of the tactical scopes are made entirely in Germany. Burris Company on paper owns Steiner and is the North American distributor for Steiner. However, we sell/market the product as Steiner. Even though we are both owned by Beretta, we operate as separate entities even though our address is the same.”

Steiner does offer a standard mil-hashmark reticle, but they sent their MSR, which is a mil-hashmark version with rangefinder marks in the image as well, all located in the first focal plane. The illumination is somewhat unique because 0 indicates off. The dial is numbered 1 through 11. They use 8 through 11 for daytime and 1 through 7 for nighttime use. The illumination dial has stops between each number that turns the illumination off in a save mode. This nice feature allows you to stay near the number that works best in the light you are working in, so you don’t have to move the dial all the way from 0 to your number, and 1 through 4 can be used with night vision devices.

The illumination dial is integrated with the parallax adjustment ring on the left side of the scope as you look through it. Top and right side are the elevation and windage dials. Since the scope is mil-mil, the dial is in 0.1 MRADs. This may be somewhat confusing. One MRAD is marked on the side of the dial by large marks, but is incremented by 10 smaller marks between each MRAD and is measured in centimeters. Thus 1 mil = 10 cm = 3.9 inches at 100 meters.

The MSR (Multi-purpose Sniper Reticle) is a licensed reticle design. Basically the measure in the lower left quadrant breaks down mils to very fine increments, making it easier to determine distance based on known sizes of targets. It is most useful for LE/police snipers who have adequate time to measure a target in mils to determine range. The formula is mils x 27.77 ÷ size in inches of the target.


The ocular has the European quick diopter focus and a large knurled power ring (above). Looking from the shooter’s view, both the elevation and windage turrets (below) are incremented in Mils (large tic marks) and centimeters (small tic marks). The parallax adjustment is the larger turret on the left. The smaller turret controls illumination.

The scale on the lower right is more of a quick military solution where each line represents 18 inches of width (the average distance across a man’s chest) at the indicated ranges of 400 to 1,300 meters (1,421.7 yards). Bracket his shoulders, read the indicated range and hold for that distance. Good enough to get a bullet in someone getting ready to fire a mortar or plant an IED.

The elevation knob is unique. I use a well-known scope for competition and hunting, and I have to admit that I sometimes get lost as to where I am on my rotation. Am I on 2 or 12 MOA? Am I set for 600 yards or 200 yards? I never invested in a zero stop device. If I rotate to zero, am I truly at 100 yards or one revolution from that? I have to look at the vernier scale and try to remember what was showing when I was zeroed at 100 yards. Not so with the Steiner. When the first revolution is made, a new scale jumps out at you between 14 and 15 mils. Thus, you immediately know what revolution you are on as well as what mil setting. Also, in the dark, if you want to get back to a known position, simply rotate clockwise until you stop and then move counterclockwise two clicks to 0.

What could be more important? I hate to be a sensationalist, but wow! It reminds me of S&B, which has become very popular with sniper competitors, and the March scope popular among the F-Class and Benchrest competitors. On my charts, I can’t find fault with it. Resolution and contrast are excellent. There are no apparent distortions, and both the brightness and clarity are superb. Remember that brightness and clarity are not a measure of resolution or contrast. Most companies of high-end optics are going to the Japanese and now even China to reduce cost to the consumer. I understand that, and in some cases, the body and the glass are excellent. But none are in the European’s class in my opinion. Swarovski, S&B, Kahles and IOR, for example, are in a class by themselves, and now Steiner has not let that standard down with their new tactical scopes.

The old saying goes, “You get what you pay for,” and in the case of the Steiner scope, you will pay dearly. The bigger problem will be how to get one on every rifle you own. It is well worth the money to anyone who is serious about their shooting.
I have the good fortune to be going on an elk hunt in November of this year. I will be taking the Steiner 5-25x56mm with me. Life is good!
By Jacob Gottfredson

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Protect Your Glass

Scopes Are Tough, But Accidents Happen.

Bolt-action rifles, for example, will take a lot of abuse in a hunting or competing situation. But glass is a different matter. The optics are delicate instruments that can be easily damaged, ending an expensive adventure.

I was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains and hunted there for years. Still do every year. I have hunted Africa, Alaska, and Canada. During all that time, I have fallen down slopes, run over two rifles with my truck by mistake, and damaged several pieces of expensive glass. I have damaged the objective lens on an expensive binocular and put huge dents in expensive riflescopes.

After one of the falls, my scope was dented. I decided I had better see if it was still zeroed. It was way off. The dent was in the vicinity of the erector tube, and reticle travel was restricted. Another time, my scope did not seem visibly affected after the fall, but I found it, too, was way off.

Most hunts these days put a huge dent, your pocket book, and they may only be for a few days. On a hunt to Alaska for caribou, three of us were flown to a remote location in the interior of Alaska, dropped off, and left there for 8 days. Weight was restricted, thus each of us only took one rifle. You can imagine how you might feel if your scope was damaged beyond repair the first day out. You can imagine a hundred other scenarios.

The Talbot mount is by far the best return to zero, quick detachable mount Jacob has evaluated. Put the bar on the rifle and a ring set on both the primary and secondary scopes. Zero both with the same mount on the rifle. You can take the scope off and on multiple times, and it will be in the hole. The backup scope will be in the hole as well. Removing and putting the scope back on takes about 3 seconds. Talbot sells them for just about any rifle you might wish to mount them on.

Two 50mm Nightforce NXS scopes, both zeroed to the same rifle. They both have the same reticle pattern, turrets, rings, etc. Although Picatinny rings don’t always return to zero, they are close enough for most shots. If shooting long range, find a lonely spot and re-zero. Jacob sometimes takes the primary scope off and puts both in his carry-on when traveling by plane. Jacob just doesn’t trust those baggage handlers.

Strange things happen to mounts and rings as well. Now I travel with a small set of tools for just such a problem. I also carry small hex and torx wrenches in my wallet, which, by the way, the TSA confiscated after they were noticed on the X-ray. Go figure.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to avoid damaging glass. You might get by with the loss of your binocular, spotting scope, or rangefinder, but a riflescope being damaged beyond repair ends the hunt or the competition. All of these items come with lens covers, which do add some level of protection. If they don’t, many companies provide them for just about any glass on the market. Still, they don’t offer complete protection.

After several such incidents, I now carry a backup riflescope. Return-To-Zero mounts have solved much of the problem. Both scopes are zeroed with rings attached to each scope prior to the hunt or the match. If the primary scope is damaged, simply mount the second scope. It will probably be back in camp and one day will be sacrificed, but that is much better than being at the house, a few hundred or thousand miles away. On a flight to Africa, I was so worried about the way baggage handlers threw my gear around; I took the primary scope off the rifle and carried it and my backup in my carry-on backpack. Once there, I remounted my primary scope to ensure zero. The scope mounts I use were right on the money. I now carry a backup riflescope on every hunt as well as every competition.

The most popular binocular these days seems to be the 10x40mm, which is a reasonable weight to carry, and offers a great view of the area and the animal when hunting. Throwing a very light bino such as an 8X or 10X mini in the pack can save the day if something bites your primary bino… same with a spotting scope. Leupold and several others make small spotting scopes that are much better than nothing on the hunt.

The Brunton 10.5x43mm Epoch (right) is a wonderful binocular. It comes in an expensive hard case, has lens caps, and has one of the most amazing warranties I have run across. For example, if something happens to the bino on a hunting adventure, Brunton will ship another one to you. It even comes with a doubler that screws onto the right hand lens, transforming the bino into a 20X spotting scope. Still, if things go awry, this small Leica 8x20mm binocular will do the job. Jacob’s partners in Alaska carried the 10x20mm as their only bino and did fine. True minimalist hunters.

Binoculars, spotting scopes, and some rangefinders these days have both body armor and lens caps. These protect both the glass and the body, and they do an admirable job. But they are all mechanisms that can fail. Barrels on the bino can go out of alignment, the eyepiece on a spotting scope can be bent, and a rangefinder might suddenly go haywire for some unexplained reason. Best to carry light backups even if you leave them in camp.

Bottom line: Sit down for a few minutes prior to an expensive hunt or competition and think about what piece of gear would put you out of the hunt if damaged to the extent that it could no longer be repaired in the field. Then make a plan to either avoid that disaster or bring along something to replace it. And glass is certainly at the top of the list. At the top of the glass list is the riflescope. You might do without a binocular or a spotting scope. You might even do without a rangefinder. But the riflescope? Unlikely. Many years ago, rifles came with iron sights to which scopes were added. Rifles made for dangerous game often have iron sights. But the vast majority of rifles these days have no backup if the scope goes south.
By Jacob Gottfredson

14400 N.W. Greenbriar Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
(800) 538-7653

Talbot QD Mounts
2210 E. Grand Blanc Rd., Grand Blanc, MI 48439
(810) 695-2497

2255 Brunton Ct., Riverton, WY 82501
(307) 857-4700

Leica Camera Inc.
1 Pearl Ct., Unit A, Allendale, NJ 07401
(800) 222-0118

This Nosler M48 is a beautiful rifle, and it is made for carry in the high country. This one is mounted with a Leupold scope. A slight fall in the rocks might not bother the rifle, except for a scratch or two. But the scope might easily be damaged beyond repair in the field. Then what?

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