Position Analysis: Squatting

This used to be one of my favorite positions.  In theory it’s awesome.  It’s quicker than kneeling, but more accurate.  I used to think it was more precise than the sitting positions.  I have actually had some success with it making hits that I had no business making.  I have had time to become aware of some of the limitations of this position.

Once again I had no photographer on location with me as I shot this position.  As with the last two positions I covered, my 2011 article will have to suffice for an illustration and description of this position.  I should note that I quit using cute names for shooting positions in favor of names that are descriptive of what the position really is.

I shot this position from exactly 100 yards.  I don’t have the exact weather conditions on hand.  I used no elevation or windage adjustments.  To see my testing protocols click here.

Slow Fire:

Slow 2

Time Stress:

Time Stress 2

Time Stress Exerted

Time Stress Exerted

My groups translated to the following distances for my static, highly visible 4” target:

86- to Squatting

Maximum Distance 99 To Squatting

If you bothered clicking on the link for my 2011 article on this position, you may have noticed that I shot a little better back then.  This was one of the few positions in which that was the case.  I will say that back then I put in a lot of practice in every position I posted a group on, and all of these were shot coming in cold.

The position did a fair job of holding up under stressors.  The Time Stress group was 96.85% as precise as the slow fire position, while the average of all positions was 87.76%.  I would have expected the Time Stress Exerted Group to have been worse because of the way the thighs and torso are in contact.  The Time Stress Exerted Group, shot after doing 80 jumping jacks and 20 pushups, was 72.09% as precise as the slow fire group, while the average of all positions was 73.74% as precise.

The time from the start signal for the time stress and time stress exerted groups until my first shot, which is the time it took me, from a standing position about a foot away from my rifle, to load my magazines, load the rifle, and assume a firing position, was 57.77 and 91.86 seconds respectively, averaging 74.82 seconds.  Obviously something went wrong the second time around, and I don’t know what.  My vague recollection is that I had trouble finding my natural point of aim.  The average of all positions, for comparison, was 57.33.  This position, taken at its average, was the slowest of all positions to fire the first shot.

The average split time for this position, excluding reloads, was 7.95 seconds (low 5.13 , high 12.62).  The average time of all the positions was 6.53.  Bolt manipulation was not the issue causing the longer split times.  Chalk it up to the position being a little wobbly and me wanting to see a better shot than I was seeing.  This was the second slowest of all the positions in terms of the average split time.

The total times of each timed portion of the test were 164.38 and 173.13, averaging 168.76.  The average time of all the positions tested was 134.48 seconds.  You can probably guess what happens when you combine the slowest of all average first shot with the second slowest split times.  This was the slowest of all positions for the total courses of fire.

So what seems at first glance to be a very fast position to get into and fire a shot, actually turns out to be a very fast position to get into, but sort of a fussy one in terms of firing a shot.  We have a position that’s just a little bit taller than sitting, and less precise, which is to be expected.  It is not a position to spend more than a moment in, unless ruining your knees is fine with you.  It has its uses, but it is not a position to use as a first choice, or as a substitute for sitting.

 

Position Analysis: Cross Ankle Sitting

This breaks with the order that I actually shot the positions in, but is the most logical position in sequence to follow open leg sitting.  I had actually shot kneeling and standing prior to cross ankle sitting, because as I said previously, I didn’t know how much I’d have time to shoot so I skipped ahead to kneeling and standing prior to doubling back to cover this position and squatting.

Cross ankle sitting is my go-to sitting position for static targets on level, uniform terrain.  I’ve shot stage 2 of the Appleseed AQT literally millions of times in this position (that was a lie).  It locks me into my natural point of aim more effectively than any other sitting position I have tried.  As with the open leg sitting position, my professional photographer was absent for this shooting session, so you’ll have to refer to my 2011 article here.

I shot the groups to test this position at a different location from most of the rest, as I no longer reside or have access to the property I used to live at.  I shot at the location I did my shooting at for the first year of the blog and where the videos for the Whelen Challenge, Rifle Ten, Rifle Bounce (Jug Bounce), my snapshot update video, and my close range moving target video were shot.

This shooting session felt as if the entire thing was under time stress, because I had about an hour to do what had taken me over three hours the week prior.  I didn’t have a key to the facility and I had about an hour before I got locked in, vehicle and all.  I shot this position, along with squatting and another sitting position, three groups each, for a total of 90 rounds, in less than an hour, brass picked up and all.  They were closing the gate as I drove out, which gave me a good opportunity to flip off the guy closing it (it’s important to foster a reputation as an upstanding member of the community).

I shot from exactly 100 yards.  I didn’t note the weather, at least in a place I can find it, but the internet tells me that the high of the day was 72 degrees.  Since it was at 100 yards, does it really matter?  I tell you no!!!  I had no elevation or windage corrections from zero.

To view my testing protocol, click here.

I apologize for the poor lighting in the following photos.  I didn’t have time to photo them at the range, so I brought the entire target backer home.  It was not well lit by the time I arrived home with time for photographs.

Slow fire:

Slow

Time Stress:

Time Stress

Time Stress Exerted:

TSE app

Oh WHOOPS!!! I left my ar15.com shot group app on.  I’ll turn that off so you can see the group as I really shot it.

Time Stress Exerted, take 2:

Time Stress Exerted
                   Everything seemed to be going as planned until that last shot…

 

Those groups translated to hit probabilities on my stationary, easy to see 4” target within the following distances:

86- to Cross Ankle Sitting

Maximum Distance 99 To Cross Ankle Sitting

There are times when I’m in ‘shape’ for shooting this position, and then there’s the majority of the time.  I haven’t been in top condition for this position for a while and was not at the time of this test.  Note in the results that under exertion this position tanked in comparison to open leg sitting.  Most of it was due to one bad shot, but I can’t say it didn’t happen.  What I do think would be valid to say is that the quality of the shot was different than the others, and that the predictive nature of the statistics is not up to measuring the variability of human qualities in these positions that are so dependent on the human over the rifle.

I’ve actually shot from this position under exertion many times (significantly more exertion than in this test) and have found that it is extremely difficult unless I’m super dialed in.  In this case I took a lot of extra time to get my hits (see times below), but that isn’t always an alternative.  I think the problem comes from the compression that this position puts on the torso.  The position moves a lot when the heart rate is up and the breath is gasping.  Now I know that there’s a better alternative.

As with open leg sitting, I compared this position to supported sitting by averaging the three groups from each position.  It was 50.48 as precise as supported sitting on average.  That’s within about four hundredths of a percentage point of the open leg sitting average.

The time from the start signal for the time stress and time stress exerted groups until my first shot, which is the time it took me, from a standing position about a foot away from my rifle, to load my magazines, load the rifle, and assume a firing position, was 73.42 and 62.42 seconds respectively, averaging 67.92.  The average of all positions, for comparison, was 57.33.  Establishing natural point of aim for sling supported positions is more demanding.  This position ranked third from the bottom of the list in speed of the first shot fired.

This should have been among the fastest of positions in terms of split times, but I had a few glitches with my natural point of aim wanting to drift.  I often can watch my NPA drift down and left when I’m looped up as my support side rotator cuff stretches, allowing my rifle to go farther left than my elbow.  My split time average for this position was 7.58 (low 3.3, high 11.34), versus the average of all positions which was 6.53.  What I’m used to more along the lines of when I shot this back in 2012:


Video credit to David Foucachon.  Thank you!

My total times to my last shots in the time portions of the test were 138.55 and 161.44, averaging 150.0 (149.995) seconds, versus the average of all times, which was 134.48.  The time stress exerted portion was really robbing me of acceptable sight pictures, so I took the time I needed to, but even without exertion the position was slower than average.  There is a trend in the numbers that may explain the reason for this that I’ll address next month.

I think what I learned about this position is that it works pretty darn well if I have time to set it up perfectly, or if I’m really dialed in with a lot of recent practice in it.  Under exertion, it loses out to open leg sitting.  Other than that, it’s kind of a wash, and I should look for support if I need to shoot better.

Position Analysis: Open Leg Sitting

After testing an array of supported positions, it was time to lose the support.  With the supported positions I started low to the ground and worked my way up to standing.  I decided to do basically the same thing with the unsupported positions.

I did not test unsupported prone.  I’m not saying I’ll never use it, but the only times I have used it were when I was required to use it, mostly at Appleseeds.  If/when I fire up the X15 again I’d like to give magazine monopod prone a go, but for the purposes of this test I stuck with positions that I’m more likely to use with the rifle I used for the tests.

A seated position seemed most fitting to start with, and I can hardly think of a more worthy variation of sitting to begin with than the open leg position.  I wasn’t certain how much time I would have and how many positions I would be able to test.  Open leg sitting is not my normal choice for target shooting, but it probably handles varying terrain better than any other sitting position, maybe any other position.  It’s also the most comfortable to remain in for extended periods of time.  Not knowing if I could test more than one variation of sitting, this was the one I chose to do first.

I don’t shoot from this position often, but I tend to use it more in the field at times when I don’t get to shoot much, if at all.  I’m probably not as sharp at is as I should be in this position, but I do alright.  I did no practice or preparation for this position prior to shooting the targets below.

I did not have a photographer handy when I shot from this position.  I feel that I did an adequate description and depiction of the position in my 2011 article, so if you need to know what I’m talking about I suggest you look there.

I shot this position from a location adjacent to the southwest corner of a large shop building.  My normal shooting location was near the center of the east side of the same building.  I placed a target stand at what would be the 100 yard line from my normal shooting position.  This turned out to be 115 yards from the location I shot this position from.

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I chose my shooting location for a few reasons.  It had shade and the day was hot.  There was a downward slope there, and this position is one of very few ways to shoot on a horizontal or near horizontal plane while on a downward slope.  Lastly, it was neither too close nor too far to a safe place to locate my target.

IMG_6894It’s hard to convey the downward slope, but hopefully this does.

IMG_6895
The rifle marks my shooting location.

This was the third and final position I tested on this day.  The temperature was approximately 80 degrees.  The density altitude was approximately 4500’.  There was very little wind that day, 1-2 mph, coming from my 6:00.  Both my elevation and windage were set to 0.0.  To see my testing protocols click here.

Slow fire:

Unsupported Open Leg Sitting 1 Slow

Time Stress:

Unsupported Open Leg Sitting 2 Time Stress

Time Stress Exerted:

Unsupported Open Leg Sitting 3 Time Stress Exerted

I took a photo of my ammo condition at the start of my time stress and time stress exerted phases:

IMG_6898

My notes from shooting indicate that my first shots were delayed in order to find my natural point of aim, and that I had “one bad trigger jerk” during my time stress exerted group.  The targets also seem to indicate some lateral instability in the position.

My groups translated to the following distances for my static, highly visible 4” target:

86- to Open Leg Sitting

Maximum Distance 99 To Open Leg Sitting

I was interested to compare the supported and unsupported sitting positions.  I averaged the precision of the 3 groups from each and compared that performance.  The unsupported groups were, on average, 50.5% as precise as the supported groups.  I’ll go into greater depth on this subject next month.  There’s a lot more to it.

Under time stress this position was 82.01% as precise as the slow fire group.  The average of all positions’ reaction to time stress was 87.86%.  Exertion did little to further upset the performance of this position, which makes sense because this position allows the shooter to relax.  The time stress exertion group was 80.27% as precise as the slow fire group.  The average effect of adding exertion in all positions was that they were 73.74% as precise as the slow fire group average.

I also did my best to keep track of times during these tests, and I think they are very revealing.  The time from the start signal for the time stress and time stress exerted groups until my first shot, which is the time it took me, from a standing position about a foot away from my rifle, to load my magazines, load the rifle, and assume a firing position, was 72.29 and 66.62 seconds respectively, averaging 69.46.  The average of all positions, for comparison, was 57.33.  I already mentioned that finding my natural point of aim seemed to take a while.  This was the second slowest time of all positions to get the first shot fired from.

The average split time for this position was 5.31 seconds.  The average time of all the positions was 6.53.  This was the second fastest position of all the positions in this test in terms of splits.  The sling support makes for a solid position to provide adequate resistance against the bolt work.  The position also provides ample reach to the bolt knob.  Sling supported positions also tend to lock the shooter into his natural point of aim, which hastens follow up shots to a stationary target.

The total times of each timed portion of the test were 144.33 and 132.97, averaging 138.65.  The average time of all the positions tested was 134.48 seconds.  That means that although my first shot was extremely slow, the faster than average split times and the ease of changing mags and single loading almost made up for it.

I will say that I was almost shocked at my 86% and 99% circle distances on a 4” target (and a target that lends itself to being shot, unlike a target one might encounter in the field).  My early contextual framework had been set to have me believe I’d be hitting targets out to 500 yards from this position.  Even if I doubled my target size (which would be a reasonable size animal vital zone) and settled for a probability of an 86% hit rate, 200 yards is stretching the limits a bit.  If one considers the possibility for things like 3D targets with vital zones that have to be interpreted from the outside, targets that move, the possibility of misestimating range or having a zero that’s not quite on, 200 yards is just too far.

I still think that open leg sitting is one of the more useful unsupported practical shooting positions.  If you can get support take it, but you won’t always be able to find it.  That being the case, many of us are in need of re-defining our effective distances.

 

 

Position Analysis: Supported Standing, Part 2

IMG_6881

It’s nice to get a car hood to support your rifle when you can get it, but it’s not realistic that one will always be there.  Even a surface that would afford a similar type of support, like the top of a rise or a rock ledge, is rare.  The more common means of support in standing are trees and fence posts.  To test this variation of supported standing I used a t-post of which there were many to choose:

IMG_6837
There are many like it, but this one is mine.  The target board, a pallet, is visible ‘downrange’.

There are a few different ways to use vertical support.  I outlined some of them in my original article on the subject here.  To recap the general methods, a.) the support hand can grasp the support and the forend, b.) the support hand can grasp or plant firmly against the support and suspend the rifle by the sling, or c.) one leg of the bipod can be used by holding it against the support.

I have tried the sling suspension method, but it makes bolt manipulation difficult because the rifle has a strong tendency to roll away from the support when the tension from the firing hand is released.  I found that the bipod method is similar in that respect, so I chose the first method.  Two of the three options are pictured below, bipod and the simple hand interface.

IMG_6878

IMG_6880

Regardless of position, it is advantageous to ‘load’ the position against the support, both to stabilize the position and for recoil control.  By grasping the sling firmly, I could lean forward at an angle and have most of my weight supported by my support hand.  A good deal of the rest of my weight was in my firing shoulder, straight into the rifle.  It would have been better to be completely squared off to the rifle for recoil management purposes, but my support arm would have needed to be longer, or the position of my support hand farther back on the rifle, which would make any movement I put into the rifle have a greater effect on the rounds point of impact (as a shorter sight radius seems to intensify wobble).

IMG_6882

IMG_6887

I knew ahead of time that my ability to keep my group in the black, or even on paper would be significantly diminished as compared to any of the positions so far in this test, so I reduced the distance for this one.  I ended up at 141 yards.  My elevation correction was 0.1 mils.

This was the second position I fired on this particular day.  The weather was approximately 80 degrees and the density altitude approximately 4500’.

Here are my three groups.  For details on the testing protocols, click here:

Slow fire:

Supported Standing Vertical 1 Slow

Time Stress:

Supported Standing Vertical 2 Time Stress

Time Stress Exerted:

Supported Standing Vertical 3 Time Stress Exerted

Those groups translated to the ability to hit a highly visible, stationary 4” target under identical conditions at the following ranges:

Maximum Distance 86 Supported Standing Vertical

Maximum Distance 99 Supported Standing Vertical

There are a couple ways that the results struck me.  The first was that the precision is not what a person might call ‘good’.  The second was that the performance is what I might call ‘consistent’.  That is one thing I can love about this; I know what to expect.

My average split time between shots, excluding loading and reloading was 9.05 seconds (low 4.0, high 9.98) versus the average split in of all positions of 6.53.  The time to fire my first shot after loading my magazines was 57.26 and 51.13 seconds, versus the average of all positions which was 57.33.  The total times to my last shot were 162.14 and 157.03, versus the average total of all positions of 134.48.  This was the second slowest of all positions, and it was not because it’s a difficult position to get into or to bring to the target.

There are a couple defining attributes of this position.  There’s a lot of wobble.  It really felt like it took a long time to find an acceptable sight picture and break a shot which is the primary factor that made the slow positions slow.  Bolt work is also clumsy due to the lack of firm support on the front end to keep the rifle from rotating.  Both of these factors made follow up shots a little slower.  On the flipside, because the position is pretty uncomplicated to acquire, getting the first shot fired was actually slightly faster on average than the average of all positions.

I see the main disadvantage to a position like this being the unsteadiness.  In a situation in which the target is fleeting, the choice is likely going to be between settling for less than an acceptable sight picture or missing the opportunity for the shot.  Having said that, sometimes it’s necessary to stand due to terrain, and I can give you the following spoiler- support beats no support.  Think of this as having similar attributes as the standing position, but with support (meant to sound dumb and obvious- which I can pull off anytime, anywhere).

Position Analysis: Supported Standing, Part 1

IMG_6868

The progression of positions I tested started out from low to high, all supported in the beginning.  The next logical step in the progression after shooting from supported reverse kneeling was supported standing.  An issue with this position is that there are some variations of the position that depend on what’s available for support.  I decided to shoot it with two different types of support.  The first will be the subject of this article.  The second will be in the next article.  2 + 2 = 4, etc., etc…

The first type of support in standing that I used was horizontal, and it allowed me to rest my body against it.  My support was an automobile, specifically my sweet first gen Toyota 4Runner.  I have had excellent results with this type of support in the past, and my general results with this automobile have exceeded my expectations, although it can be a little slow to get up to speed and passing must be carefully planned.

IMG_6827
The pallet with the targets is covered with a large sheet of white paper and can be seen ‘downrange’.

There are a couple of issues to be aware of with the hood of the car.  First of all, muzzle blast will plant hot black junk on the hood.  Knowing that I was going to be doing this ahead of time, I put down some nice linen over the hood (only the best right?).  Secondly, if your steering wheel is on the left of the vehicle, shooting from the driver’s side will send the brass at the windshield.  In my case this meant that it came back down and wanted to burn me occasionally.  I ended up putting a tarp over the windshield as a protective measure for the car.  I don’t mind the scars because they look like ringworm and people want to stay away from me (I call this a conversation non-starter).

I couldn’t use a bipod due to the height of the target relative to the vehicle.  This would have been a perfect application for one of the front bags I used to sell, but I didn’t have one with me.  Sometimes it’s necessary to improvise.  I had a wool watch cap in my pack (nights are starting to get chilly) and a boonie in there too.  I would have rather have had the boonie on my head because the sun was bearing down, but I needed a front rest.  I folded the watch cap in two, put it inside the boonie, folded it over and put my fist on top of the ball I had made.  I was not aware of Mr. Winderweedle ready to gun me down with his .275 Rigby at that point yet, so I took my time preparing my impromptu rest.  During the excruciatingly slow “slow fire” portion of the test, the hats needed refreshing every few shots to keep them tall enough.  The butt of the rifle rested on the car hood.

IMG_6833

The one idiosyncrasy of this position that stood out was that being so low on a flat position put my firing hand and arm in the same position as it would have been with an extreme elevated elbow (chicken wing).  This is not very comfortable with a vertical grip, such as that on my A5.  It altered my grip position, but it didn’t really seem to matter.

IMG_6863

This means of support allowed me to really rest my whole body against it.  The height of the hood is basically perfect for me, and I encourage you, when shopping for a car to make this the primary attribute you use to choose your vehicle, unless you’re one of those sissies who won’t like all the scratches and powder burns.  I used the front wheel to brace my legs on.  Yes it looks ridiculous, like maybe I like my car too much (I do like it a lot), but it works and I go with function over form at least 57% of the time.

IMG_6867
This was obviously a staged photo, as the dog is not wearing hearing protection.

My target was approximatley 214 yards away from the location I parked my 4Runner.  At 200 yards 0.5 mils of elevation had worked nicely for me.  Shooter on the ol’ iPhone was telling me that I needed to increase it to 0.6 at 214, which didn’t really sound right, but since a computer said it I should probably listen.  Maybe not.  I think I need to check some of the inputs to make sure my sight height isn’t wrong on it or something.

My slow fire group was pleasing:

Supported Standing Horizontal- 1 Slow

Adding time stress did degrade the quality of the group.  It was actually very similar to my prone group with time stress.  My notes indicated that it was harder to obtain a steady (non-shaking) hold, and that the rifle from this position has a slight tendency to shift unpredicably, although none of my shots were affected by this:

Supported Standing Horizontal- 2 Time Stress

Adding exertion to the mix really took a toll on my group.  I completed 83 jumping jacks in the one minute and it took me approximately 16 seconds to get my 20 pushups in.  I felt during this stage as though it was becoming easier to manipulate the ammo and magazines under the time stress and exertion.

Supported Standing Horizontal- 3 Time Stress Exerted

Those groups translated to distances on my 4” target as follows:

Maximum Distance 86 Supported Standing Horizontal

Maximum Distance 99 Supported Standing Horizontal

The big surprise to me was that I shot in this position better than prone in the first two phases of the test.  My time stress exerted group was 91.74% as precise as my slow fire group.  I think it’s understandable that adding exertion took a greater toll in this standing position than it did in prone, and the toll was significant.  The exerted group was 54.96% as precise as my slow fire group.  This was the biggest degradation of any of the positions I tested.

There is a little bit of a problem in the predicted distances, in that some of them are greater than the distance that the position was shot from.  I’m not really too concerned with anything in the 99% circle chart, but in the 86% chart, my 4″ slow fire circle was predicted as 340.58 yards.  This is so much farther than the actual distance tested that I would need to retest the position at that range.  It’s likely I would end up with a lower number in terms of the distance.  If I wanted to extrapolate the results to a larger target I’d need to go much farther out for testing.

My average split time between shots, excluding loading and reloading was 5.86 seconds (low 3.90, high 8.96) versus the average split in of all positions of 6.53.  The large deviation from low to high in this position was caused by having to occasionally ‘refresh’ my front support or reacquire my point of aim.  The time to fire my first shot after loading my magazines was 46.04 and 47.00, averaging 46.52 versus the average of all positions, which was 57.33.  This position had the second fastest first shot of all positions, approximately a half second slower than the fastest.  The total times from loading all magazines and single loading two rounds to my last shot were 121.15 and 107.09, average 114.12, versus the average total of all positions of 134.48.  This was the third fastest position of all positions, behind standing and bipod prone, first and second respectively.

The times indicate a very easy to use position in most respects, near the top in most measures, and above average in split times.  Combined with the precision and it’s a g-o-o-d position.

A drawback to this position is that the range of elevation is limited.  In this case I needed a couple hats to get me on target, although I think the Atlas bipod would have worked with the legs in the 45 degree position.

This position has a lot going for it.  This was the most precise for me of all that I tested in the slow fire phase and was as accurate as prone under time stress.  Exertion really impacted the precision, so that’s important for me to keep in mind.  Your results may vary.  Talk to a qualified auto mechanic before trying this test with your own vehicle, yada yada yada.

Position Analysis: Supported Reverse Kneeling

Getting up out of prone is a perilous endeavor.  Not many shooters make it into sitting or kneeling, but this is precisely where we find ourselves at this very moment:

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My understanding of the general idea of supported reverse kneeling is that support is good.  If you can find a place to rest your rifle you’ll be much better off.  Kneeling is a quick position to get into.  Because of that, and the height of the position off the ground it can be useful.

Why reverse the lower body position relative to standard kneeling?  Since the rifle is supported it’s no longer necessary to rest the support elbow on the knee.  One of the primary weaknesses of the standard kneeling position is that the firing side elbow floats.  Given those factors it makes a lot of sense to move the firing side knee up, plant the firing side arm or elbow on it, and move the support side knee down for balance, hence the name “reverse kneeling”.

IMG_6752 altered

A stable support is preferred.  My support was marginal, in that I could get it to be stable via putting pressure on it.  It was not comfortable to shoot from due to the relatively sharp edges on the wood.  I have long been a believer in the theory that it’s not a good idea to place the hard surface of the rifle on a hard support surface.  I have not tested that theory, and I see a lot of people who just plop the rifle down, but I still like to put my fist in between.  I do this by grabbing the sling at the front swivel, as I would in the Hawkins position.  Placing the support as far forward as possible is preferred as it minimizes the effects of any movement the shooter might impart into the system (analogous to a long sight radius) .

Something that adds a bit of steadiness to this position is resting the toe of the rifle stock on the firing side knee if you can get the knee up there.  The McMillan A5 stock on my FN has a nice flat section there that makes this more comforatable:

Toe on knee 1

Be careful in how you place the stock on the knee.  When I first shot from this position in this manner, I ended up with some bruising on my knee because of the pistol grip protrusion on my Sako 75:

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I sat on my support side foot, as one would do in the low kneeling position.  Looking at pictures after the fact, this created a narrow lateral footprint.  I would like to try the position again with my support side foot out more.

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Down to the business.  I shot this position from 203 yards.  The temperature was approximately 75 degrees and the density altitude was approximately 4000′.  There was very little wind, 1-2 mph coming from 5:30 to 6:00.  My elevation correction was 0.5 mils and my windage was 0.0.

For the first few positions I tested in slow fire, I felt for some reason that I had to remain motionless like a statue in position waiting for the 30 seconds to elapse till I could fire the next shot.  I figured out later that I could look at my watch and anticipate the beeper, which allowed me to stretch out, get up, rest my painful support hand, etc…  During the testing of this position, I hadn’t figured that out, and my support hand hurt.  I don’t know if that played a part or not, but here is my slow fire target:

1- Supported Reverse Kneeling Slow Group

During the time stress group, things felt pretty much as they did in slow fire, except faster:

2- Supported Reverse Kneeling Time Stress Group

It was when I added exertion to the time stress that I felt this position become significantly less steady.  I don’t know about the heart rate, but I do know that the increased respiration rate imparted a lot of movement into my sight picture.  I wonder now if this was exacerbated by my firing side leg being in contact with my torso.

3- Supported Reverse Kneeling Time Stress Exerted Group

There were only three times out of 27 targets that I sent shots off the target paper.  Two of them were in kneeling positions.  Fortunately in this case my target backer was a pallet and I put a large piece of paper behind my targets just in case.

My effective distances on my highly visible, motionless 4″ target in calm conditions were:

Maximum Distance 86 Reverse Kneeling

Maximum Distance 99 Reverse Kneeling

You can see from the charts that time stress did little to degrade the shot group.  The numbers tell me that the time stress group was 99.15% as precise as the slow fire group.  This was the really the first position in my testing that I felt markedly less precise after adding exertion.  As I said, the increased respiration rate really messed with my hold and that played out in the numbers.  The time stress exertion group was 61.86% as precise as the slow fire group.

As far as quickness goes, my average split time between shots for this position, excluding loading and reloading, was 7.76 seconds (low 7.13, high 9.29) versus 6.53 seconds for the average of all positions tested.  My first shot on target after loading my magazines for this position averaged 49.58 versus 57.33 seconds on average for all positions.  The total time of the only run in which my timer functioned correctly for this position was 126.23 seconds versus the average time of all positions, which was 134.48.

From those numbers I infer that the position was quick to acquire a target and quick in general, but that the lack of lateral stability on the rifle during cycling the bolt slowed that operation down significantly, relative to other positions.

I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the performance of this position in terms of precision.  Like regular kneeling, it is relatively quick to get a shot on target.  It’s not an easy thing to give up any of the precision that prone brings, but sometimes it’s necessary.  If my terrain demands a kneeling height position and offers the advantage of support, unfortunately this is about the best thing available, short of having a tripod on hand, which is generally unrealistic for most applications.  Having said that, it gets better…

Analysis of Supported Sitting

I don’t know if I’ve ever actually shot in live fire from this position.  I allowed myself a little bit of range experimentation to find what seemed to work the best with the support I could find.  I started out with a variation of open leg sitting, as it is one of the more practical variations of the unsupported variety of sitting.  Here are some photos of my experimentation in that position.

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I was using my support hand to pull the rifle back into my shoulder from the forward sling stud.  Looking at the photos, I think I would have been better off using my firing hand for that and planting my support elbow on my leg for better steadiness.

After some experimentation I ended up preferring a cross leg position with the support.  This afforded me the ability to plant both elbows.  Note that I was squared up with the rifle rather than bladed, and that I did not use a sling for support.  I find it unnecessary to use the sling for as a shooting aid when using actual support under the rifle.  Ideally the bipod would be loaded, but there’s not much give in a Harris bipod on a smooth wood surface.  A pack, bag, or other rest probably would have been about as good.

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The distance to target was 203 yards.  It was approximately 77 degrees and the density altitude was approximately 4000’.  Keeping in mind my previous elevation correction and point of impact, my correction this time was 0.5 mils.  There was almost no wind and my wind correction was 0.0.

Slow fire (approximately 30 seconds per shot):

Supported Seated Slow Group

Time Stress:

2- Supported Seated Time Stress Group

Time Stress Exerted (77 jumping jacks in one minute immediately followed by 20 pushups in 16 seconds).

3- Supported Seated Time Stress Exerted Group

In terms of distances to hit my 4” target, if I allow for what I would consider a reasonable margin of error in most circumstances, my distances are as follows:

Maximum Distance 86 supported sitting

If I reduce my acceptable margin of error, my effective distances are reduced accordingly:

Maximum Distance 99 supported sitting

I simply added the results for this position to the chart that I had for bipod prone.  I will continue to add them as I analyze new positions so you can compare the positions.

The Time Stress group deteriorated to 87.88% of the slow fire group’s precision in this position.  The Time Stress Exerted group was 75.13% as precise as the slow fire group.

The average split time excluding loading and reloading for the Time Stress Group was 8.30 seconds.  The average split of the Time Stress Exerted group was slightly faster at 8.04 seconds.  The overall average split time for this position was 8.17 seconds (fastest 5.60, slowest 13.16).  This is slower for the average split time of all the positions, which was 6.53.  I take that to mean that the lack of control at the forward end of the rifle cost me some leverage to operate the bolt more vigorously.  A slow split could also mean that obtaining an acceptable sight picture was more difficult than average, but that was not the case with this position.

Beginning with this position I took the time to load both mags prior to firing the first shot in the Time Stress and Time Stress Exertion strings of fire, and I think that it’s worth it to note the time of the first shot.  It’s a good indicator of how ‘fussy’ the position is in the acquisition of natural point of aim.  My first shots in those strings of fire respectively were 52.94 and 50.0, averaging 51.47 seconds.  The average first shot time for the nine positions tested was 57.33.  My total times to load the magazines, load the rifle and fire the ten shots were 130.7 and 127.4, with the times averaging 129.05.  The average total time for all positions was 134.48.

What the above seem to show is that this position, compared to other positions, lends itself to slower follow up shots, but allows for faster first shots on average with close to average ease of other gun handling, such as loading.

I thought the precision of this position was decent especially considering it’s a seated level position and I had not shot from this variety of the sitting position before.  If prone is not an option this position is good, but there are better.  You’ll just have to wait and see on that.

Bipod Prone Analysis

I started my analysis with the bipod prone position.  I did not have a rear bag on hand.  Once again, my rolled up nomex flight gloves (I don’t just shoot my rifle- I fly it) came to the rescue in the form of improvised rear support.  The ammo throughout the test, was a Black Hills loading of the Hornady 155 grain A-max bullet with an average muzzle velocity of 2684 from my rifle.  I used my FN PBR-XP with a pillar bedded McMillan A5 stock, Bartlein 20” Remington Varmint 1-10” twist barrel, and my usual SWFA SS 3-9×42 scope.  A Near base and Seekins rings provide the scope to receiver interface.

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My target backer turned out to be 204 yards from my shooting position.  I tried for exactly 200 but had to settle for where I could put the backer and find a flat spot to shoot.  It was approximately 80 degrees and the density altitude was approximately 4500.  It was a calm day with a very little wind 1-2 mph coming from 5:30 to 6:00.  The FDAC and the iPhone ballistic program Shooter had a disagreement on the necessary elevation correction.  I usually use the iPhone and remembered it being a little off, so I went with the FDAC, and a 0.6 mil correction.

I shot all three ten shot groups in the span of approximately a half hour.  I was trying to give the barrel an opportunity to cool down to a reasonable temperature that would not induce any mirage, but I would have needed to wait longer.  I only had so much time to spend shooting.

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I began to discover with the first ‘control’ group, that 30 seconds between shots is a long time.  It’s difficult to ride the correct balance between taking too long, keeping the barrel as constant in temperature as is reasonably possible, maintaining sufficient comfort to shoot one’s best, etc., etc…  It’s a decent time interval for a slow fire group.

Here is the resulting group:

9-8-14 Bipod Prone Slow

The time stress group in the photo below was evidently more comfortable for me in this position, as I shot a bit better.  The average split time between shots excluding loading or reloading, was 5.72 seconds, the high being 6.76 and the low 4.41.  The average split time of the entire testing of all the positions was 6.53 seconds.  I think that the split time is an indicator of how easy it is to acquire and maintain an acceptable sight picture in the position, as well as work the bolt.  This position is easy in both regards.

9-8-14 Bipod Prone Time Stress

With exertion added, my group degraded a bit as is expected.  I did 73 jumping jacks in a minute and it took approximately 23 seconds to get my 20 good pushups in.  I had a problem with the iPhone shot timer, in that it stopped recording times at shot #2.  My stopwatch indicated a total time that was approximately 7 seconds slower than the time stress without exertion added.

9-8-14 Bipod Prone TSE

After all the number crunching was done, pretty much all of it by computers, here are the distances I came up with.  I have two graphs.  As I explained in the previous article, I set one distance limit at 86% and another more stringent limit at 99%.  These represent the statistical predictions of distances at which 86% and 99% of my shots will land within the 4” target, assuming that I account for wind correctly and that my rifle is perfectly zeroed (a significant assumption- and the reason you see shots outside the black at a lesser distance).

86%:

Maximum Distance 86 Bipod Pronea

99%

Maximum Distance 99 Bipod Pronea

Another thing that I’m keeping track of is how much the position degrades, if at all, as stressors are added.  That should give me an idea of whether it’s only useful for shooting static targets on the range when all is well, or if the position also works well in less than optimal situations.  I’m using the slow fire group as a baseline, and comparing the performance of the time stress and time stress exerted groups as percentages of that performance.  In this case the time stress group was better and actually added 115.74% effective distance.  The time stress exertion group gave me effectively 89.95% of the effective distance in comparison to the slow fire group.

This was the only position in which the shot group improved under any of the stressors.  The 10.05% degradation in group size under exertion was small in comparison to the amount that other positions suffered.  This is to be expected when the ground is doing more work than the shooter in supporting the rifle.  Surprisingly, this position did not yield the greatest precision.  You’ll just have to wait and see which position did.

Goal and Progress Evaluation

Exactly 11 months ago I set a goal with a deadline of May 1st, 2014. The last 10 months or so had me completely off track so I’m doing what I can to make good on my goal setting. The goal was stated as follows:

-Develop the ability to hit an uncooperative moving target, no greater than 4” in diameter, inside of 200 yards at known or unknown distance, on demand, regardless of terrain, conditions, stress, tiredness, fatigue, or time constraints.

Even with being off track, there were some serious problems with my goal. First of all, it’s unrealistic. It sounds easy because of the 200 yard limitation, but if prone is not an option things can get dicey pretty quickly. Spend 30 minutes moving into a concealed position and set up a position on a target while remaining concealed. Experience tells me that prone will probably not be an option. Then a 2 MOA target is anything but easy.

Secondly, I might as well have set a goal that I wanted to make $500,000 in 2014, without really knowing what my current income was or how I might make that money. A reasonable goal for someone in my position in November of 2013 would have been simply to identify my baseline level of skill in reference to a larger goal and put a two month deadline on it.

Thirdly, there is a serious issue of how to measure performance in relation to the goal. How do I define things like ‘tiredness’ and ‘fatigue’ in measuring how I shoot under these conditions? What type of time constraints should I implement to induce stress for evaluation purposes? How can an uncooperative target be simulated in a way that is repeatable enough to form a meaningful prediction without becoming predictable?

The short answer is that it’s really not possible to know enough about a future situation to predict what will constitute successful performance in that situation. How many variables can a person possibly measure and try to keep track of, especially given the fleeting nature of time, ammunition, and sanity? The answer is not more than two. Okay, I just made that up.

If you know me at all, you’ve already realized that I couldn’t give up that easily at an opportunity to shoot excessive amounts of ammo, crunch numbers, and drive myself a little more crazy than I was yesterday. Really though, I felt that it was irresponsible to do all this practice and ostensible preparation without making some effort to have a way to predict how I might perform than simply taking aim at a target, trying my best, and hoping for a good outcome.

Methodology:

I spent the early part of the year enthralled in measuring things. From the mid part of the year on, my gears have shifted into analysis. I have to thank John Simpson for getting me started down this road and introducing me to a wider range of statistical measures. I also have to thank David Bookstaber of Ballistipedia for helping me figure out how to take my outputs from On Target and convert them into something that was both statistically valid and meaningful to me as a shooter.

I won’t turn this into an academic discussion on statistics, but I’ll give you the skinny on how I’m getting my numbers. I measure my targets with On Target TDS, which allows the measurements to exported on a .csv (comma separated values) spreadsheet. This spreadsheet can be imported into a free online program created by Daniel Wollschlaeger called ShotGroups. Shotgroups generates a lot of things that I don’t even begin to understand, but it also calculates an ‘unbiased’ mean radius which can be used to estimate the Circular Error Probable (CEP), which is the radius of a circle that would contain 50% of shots fired under identical conditions as the sample group. The figure can also be used to calculate radii of circles that would contain different percentages of a shot group, such as a 99% circle for example.

In my goal I did not state an acceptable percentage of hits. That implies that I think I could conceivably hit with every shot, which is not possible. I decided to use two different criteria to allow more flexibility depending on what I need for the situation, an 86% circle and a 99% circle. They are easy to calculate because they represent the standard deviation multiplied by 2 and 3 respectively.

The final step of turning a statistic into something that is meaningful to me as a shooter was to turn that predicted radius into a distance. Knowing that my target is a fixed size, 4”, it made it easy to state that, given a certain sample group, 99% of the shots should land within the target at “X” distance.

I identified nine likely positions that I might shoot from that would cover a variety of possible terrain. From each position I fired ten shots in three different conditions. The first group of ten shots was sort of a ‘control’, and allowed me a slow fire pace with an average of 30 seconds between shots. To accomplish this I simply set a timer on my watch for a repeating 30 seconds. I say ‘average’ because I did not initiate a ‘command’ break on the trigger, nor did I intentionally break a shot under what I felt was an unacceptable sight picture.

The second 10 shots were fired under simulated time stress. I started with an empty rifle, empty magazines, and a container of 10 rounds lying next to the magazines. I started a shot timer app (which I can’t recommend for serious use) and at the signal, loaded my magazines as quickly as possible and fired ten rounds at a single target as quickly as possible.

The third 10 shots were also fired under the same simulated time stress, but a component of exertion was added. I did one minute of jumping jacks followed by 20 pushups prior to setting the shot timer. This doesn’t represent any form of maximum exertion, simply a repeatable marker that will give me an idea how a given position might deteriorate with increased heart rate, respiration, and a very small amount of muscle fatigue.

The numbers I come up with are not intended to cover the gamut of possibilities of the interaction of human variables. They just give me a better idea than I had before. For example, if the statistics predict that under time stress and exertion, 99% of my shots from unsupported standing will be within my 4” target at a distance of 20 yards, how does that explain that my normal hit ratio working on speed drills with the AR from 7 yards was approximately 90%? The answer is that the conditions, methods, and expectations were different. I was pushing my speed to my edge and just beyond, and was trying to walk the fine balance of hits and speed. I expected some misses. The thing I measured with the AR was not the thing I measured in these tests, where hitting the target was the primary goal.

The positions I tested were bipod prone, supported sitting, supported reverse kneeling, two forms of supported standing, open leg sitting, cross ankle sitting, squatting, kneeling, and standing. Instead of being reasonably “in shape” as a shooter who is trying to accomplish a goal, I came off of a short break that followed my epic episode of number crunching, chart drawing, and writing about scopes and how they affected my performance. I was not in prime shape for me.

The rest of this month will detail my results in shooting from those positions, and what distances I might be able to predict with some confidence a hit on my well delineated, highly visible, extremely cooperative 4” target. I will keep it relatively short and sweet. It was an interesting process for me, and I hope you’ll like it too.

The SWFA SS 3-15×42

A Significant Improvement Over Its Predecessor

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Yes, I’m a little late to the party. My OODA cycle is running a little slow in the area of new gear coming out. Rifle gear is expensive, and I tend to want to work on software rather than hardware, so I’m not always able to keep up.

If there is anything that is difficult to keep up with, it’s rifle optics. They seem to be advancing so rapidly in the last five to ten years that by the time I have sufficient cash to get something that seems worth of releasing said cash, the piece I buy ends up being obsolete.

I’ve been aware of the 3-15×42 since it came out. I had considered upgrading to it from the time I was aware of it. Among the things that held me back were that it would be a pain to sell my scope and it would cost me more money to buy a new one. I worried that there would be something about the scope that I didn’t like. I was turned off by the reticle.

I recently didn’t jive too well with the SWFA SS1-6×24, so I think my expectations of the 3-15×42 were a little low. I was really holding tight to the idea of the plain jane mildot reticle that is in my SWFA SS 3-9×42. I really like the way all four of the large stadia lines bracket the point of aim at low power when the fine lines get a little thin in low light or in the “brush”. To say it succinctly I was skeptical.

The “Specs”

The 3-15×42 is a front focal plane scope with a mil based reticle and 0.1 mil knobs. The tube is 30mm. The scope was initially unveiled in March of 2013 and they began hitting the streets in late April/early May. The scope is made in a different factory than the 3-9×42, which is evidenced by certain easily recognizable attributes, such as the turret design. The 3-15×42 reflects the design of the original SS scopes, such as the fixed 10x.

Reticle:

The Mil-Quad Reticle reticle was, to the best of my recollection, first introduced by SWFA in 2011 with their 5-20×50. The reticle differs from the standard mildot by the inclusion of half-mil hashes, and more significantly by the use of diamond shaped outlines rather than dots that are completely filled in.

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The reticle also differs from the older SWFA mildot by the doubling of the length of the mil scale on the bottom stadia, for a total of 10 mils available holdover rather than five. This is the one thing that I really still don’t care for, but after using it I’m not as against it as I was with the concept.

Other details:

The scope is advertised as having 36 mils total travel. Some users report having a bit more, around 40. That should be enough for most applications. It’s way more than I need before my .308 runs out of practical steam (trans sonic).

The magnification ring has a screw in stud that acts as a “cat-tail” lever, to increase the ease and rapidity of magnification adjustment. From the appearance of the device, I did not think it would be of much use.

 

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Impressions:

One minor grip about my 3-9 that I’ve had is the tunneling, which is the shrinking of the apparent image, usually at the lowest power settings. I really don’t like it, although it’s not very prominent on that scope. I was happy to see that with the 3-15 there is no tunneling whatsoever. I’m not really a glass aficionado, but the glass appears at least as clear as the 3-9, which has been more than sufficient for me in the time I’ve been using it, which is two years so far.

The increase in power is a significant advantage over the 3-9. I see 3-15 as an ideal power range. With my 5-20, while I use 20x on some occasions, with a lot of shooting the mirage really kicks in and affects my sight picture. Also, most of my shooting is not farther than 400-500, so while more power isn’t a bad thing, it usually isn’t necessary. For quickier shots in the 25-50 yard range, and for field of view, I really like no more than 3 power for my .308, so I feel that the scope does exactly what I want it to as far as power.

While the appearance of the cattail did not impress me, I found that it made the power significantly easier to adjust. I do worry about it getting loose under extended periods of heavy use, so a light grade thread locker may be appropriate, although I would want to research that a little more before I applied one.

One of the things that impressed me most about the scope was the side focus knob. Yes, I have seen one before, but what I really liked about it was that it adjusts down to 6 meters. I have become accustomed to dry firing on scaled down targets that appear as fuzzy blobs. Actually having a scope that allows a focused sight picture in dry fire is a very welcome development. I believe that must have come about because someone listed to the feedback of a shooter when designing this scope.
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I have already mentioned that the outward appearance of the turrets is markedly different than those on the 3-9. The more significant difference is in the adjustments themselves. One minor gripe I have had with the 3-9 is that the lines don’t match up between the turret and the marks on the saddle. They fixed that with the 3-15 (and probably more recent 3-9 scopes as well).

 

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The adjustments are also much more positive on the 3-15. At first I thought the clicks were a little too audible. As I used it the adjustments didn’t bother me. They were very easy to use. The real enlightenment hit when I remounted the 3-9. The adjustments have always been ‘adequate’, but I felt like the world had turned to mush after becoming accustomed to the 3-15. I didn’t feel nearly as sure of where my knob was when I put the old scope back on.

I did begin a box test. The design was an expanded box in increments of 5 mils, going out to a total of 15 mils in each direction to make a set of squares within a larger square. In retrospect a better way to test the adjustments is by using a calibrated target and fixing the scope so that it can be tested visually without relying on shots hitting paper, as in the Precision Rifle Blog scope testing protocol.

Things were going fine in the box test. I was marveling at that the lines were matching up on this scope. I’m serious, I was really enjoying that. Then, after about 15 rounds into the test, it stopped happening. Right after that it stopped adjusting. The three small allen screws that hold the turret to the mechanism underneath had loosened and allowed the turret to spin freely. Because I live in a time crunch, that really marked the premature end of my box test.

I spoke with ILya, the donor of the test scope, about the way the turret is fastened. The 3-9, which uses one large allen keyed adjustment at the top of the turret, is undoubtedly more secure, but the design does not allow for the same tactile quality of adjustment. I have had the turret slip on the IOR 2.5-10 as well, and I believe it has happened on the Razor as well. The screws are so small that I have always been wary of stripping or damaging them. ILya mentioned that getting it just a bit tighter, and applying some clear nail polish may be enough insurance against the turret slipping.

The reticle was probably the aspect of the scope that I had been most skeptical about. Using it really turned my attitude on it around. I had basically accepted that reticles designed to be in the front focal plane had to be thicker. The problem with front focal plane reticles is that they appear to get smaller as the magnification is dialed down (they actually retain the same dimension in accordance with the image). At low power if the reticle is too thin it is not very usable. That set the mold for front focal plane reticles up until very recently.

What SWFA has pioneered with front focal plane reticles is using different parts of the reticle to do different things. In this case, the crosshair portion of the reticle is thinner than is traditionally used on a front focal plane reticle. They get around it being too thin at low power by using very thick lines on the outside of the reticle that are only visible at the edge of the sight picture at higher magnifications.  The larger parts act as guides to draw the eye in to acquiring the fine crosshair intersection.

I would have preferred to have the thicker lines on all four sides, but they chose to eliminate the bottom line in favor of providing the extra 5 mils of holdover. What you end up with at low power is kind of an inverted German #4 type arrangement. I did not think I could get used to having a sight picture that looks like it’s upside down, but I was able to get used to it fairly quickly. I found that it seems to make the reticle perfectly usable in more dense environments. I did not conduct extensive tests measuring my ability to engage close targets with a timer or anything. It just seemed like it would work fine.

IMG_6686At 3x “in the brush”.  The crosshairs are more visible actually looking through the scope.

The finer crosshair portion, coupled with the extra magnification available, makes the scope much better to use at distance than the 3-9. I also did appreciate the diamonds, in that they are much less obstructive than a dot. Coming into the test I was biased against the diamonds as I thought they were gimmicky, so I think it’s significant that they won me over.

 

Through the scope at 15x close15x close reticle detail.

Through the scope at 15x
15x through the scope.

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At 9x at the same point of aim as the above photo.  There is a lot less detail in this photo. Having the extra magnification available is really an asset for precise aiming in my opinion.

Conclusion:

The scope exceeded my expectations. It won me over, despite my significant skepticism. I think that the 3-15 marks an upgrade over the 3-9 in almost every way I was able to observe. There’s more power, no tunneling, the feel and sureness of the adjustments is miles ahead, the reticle is better for precision although it may give up just a little in low light or dense brush to the 3-9 mildot. The method of securing the turret in the 3-9 is stronger, but there seem to be ways of mitigating that with the 3-15.
IMG_7137I made a big ding in the objective of my 3-9.  It has definitely stood up to some abuse.  It isn’t good, but it is easier to decide whether or not to get a sunshade if I can’t thread it on.

I find it surprising that they only charge $100 more for the 3-15 over the 3-9. While I consider the 3-9 to be robust enough for hard use, I don’t have enough time or any abuse to speak of with the 3-15 to know that for sure. The extra magnification really seemed, to my eyes, to offer a significant boost in total performance. For the money, this scope is very hard to beat. Without considering money, the scope is quite good.