Then and Now: What’s Changed- #9 Working to Keep an Open Mind

When I was very young I had a very open mind and therefore could take information in very readily.  With age, experience, more knowledge, and with the realization that many people are just full of crap, it’s become a necessity to be discriminating in my sources of information.  There have been many times in the last few years that I pulled my perspective back from a situation I was in, receiving information from someone I should be listening to, and saw that I was being outright hard-headed.  That is a very strange experience because I see myself as an open-minded person.

Conversely, something happens as a person gains expertise (I’ll speak in the 3rd person to draw the attention away from myself- just humor me).  It’s a rewarding feeling to have the hard work “pay” off and to have some credibility.  Like many good things, it draws the ego into it slowly over time.  When things are gradual it’s easier to take things too far.  In this case this hypothetical person will move a little too far along the spectrum of confidence in his own knowledge and ability, edging into “know-it-all” territory.

Sometimes there are good reasons to ignore what a person says.  Other times there is not, but habit or ego makes a person hard headed.  It’s a good way to stall learning and get stuck in a swamp of stagnation.

This is another one of those things in life that requires balance.  It’s not worthwhile to listen to every “source” of information, but when the real deal presents itself, it behooves one to perk up the ears and listen carefully.  If balance is good, shooting is good, life is good- everything is good.  If balance is bad, better just pack up and go home.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #8 The Price of Hard Data

I think it’s amazing that when I started the blog I didn’t really even know what to expect, performance-wise, from my shooting. I really hadn’t taken the time to shoot static groups of sufficient sample size (number of shots in the group) to know how I shot until those first fateful offhand groups in July of 2011 where I showed the world that I wasn’t afraid to put up realistically sized (euphemism for amazing huge) groups. Maybe starting with offhand wasn’t such a great idea either.

My ability to analyze my shooting at that time was extremely primitive. Like everyone else, I was only looking at the two worst shots in my group. I was doing ten shot groups because it seemed like the right thing to do, but I didn’t really understand the relation of sample size to what my capabilities were. That was part of what the blog was really for in the beginning, but there was so much data in the targets that I wasn’t seeing.

In the past year my curiosity in analyzing my shooting has grown. I realized that knowing about how big my worst shots in a 5 or 10 shot group was really wasn’t telling me what I want to know. I want to be able to predict the probability of a hit from a given position at a given distance. That was really the tough part of the goal that I set for myself (and am overdue in evaluating), which was to be able to hit a 4” target inside 200 yards on demand regardless of conditions, terrain, stress, exertion, or if the target doesn’t want me to shoot it. How do I evaluate, from a shot group, if I can make a hit on demand?

The scope testing project I did over the spring and summer also tested my ability to evaluate my own shooting, but forced me to integrate different measures of performance into the total analysis to give me an idea of how easily I was able to do different things with different scopes. I had to figure out ways to pull out and separate accuracy from precision, and how time factored into each of those things as well. Then I had to try to figure out how to present the data so it could it could be understood.

What I’ve learned is that it’s a ton of work to really get a handle on aspects of shooting performance, and I’m not to the point yet where I’m utilizing my data to make predictions about my ability to hit on demand. I’ve also learned that my pageviews plummet when I get into stats.  I mentioned recently how I’ve been learning more lately about statistical analysis of shot groups from resources like John Simpson’s “Sniper’s Notebook” and the Ballistipedia website. I’m hoping that through some collaborative work with Jeff Block, who created the On Target TDS program, some easier ways to get at meaningful and useful data will come to light. I need to point out that I’m not a business partner with Jeff, and having nothing to gain from plugging his program, other than hopefully other people learning more about their shooting.

The point of all this number crunching is to predict with a reasonable degree of confidence, “Can I make this shot? Should I take it? Is it the ethical thing to do? Is it the safe thing to do? What are my chances of actually hitting my target, and what odds am I willing to risk under the circumstances?” The answers need to be known ahead of time, and what it should boil down to is a quick “shoot” or “don’t shoot”. Next month, when the blog goes back to “normal” mode and I start posting actual shooting results, hopefully I’ll be able to do that with my own shooting. Maybe my work can help you figure that out too.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #7 Beyond Marksmanship

This is one of those topics that people want to misinterpret as me saying that fundamentals aren’t necessary and that I think being a mall ninja is “deadlier”. We all know that if one sheathes themselves in 5.11 tactical gear, no harm can come to them, and their enemies will be dispatched without a conscious attempt being made, so I don’t even need to say that.  Okay, perhaps “beyond” is not the best choice of words, because the fundamentals never cease being important, but the title sounds catchy and I can dance to it.

I recall hearing someone say something to the effect of “if someone wants to shoot at me they’re gonna have trouble getting inside of 400 yards”. This was a person who was an accomplished known distance shooter with the loop sling in the primary orthodox positions, but who maybe hadn’t considered that folks trying to shoot him may not act according to his plan. I also have frequently heard shooters decry the type of training that the Army has gone to and criticizing that they abandoned the more formal marksmanship type stuff.

The common point of those two ideas is that they both assume that marksmanship by itself translates to effectiveness in the field.  It’s easy to fall into that line of thinking after becoming somewhat decent at rifle marksmanship.  I used to say the same things until John Simpson called me out on it (he studies the history of U.S. military marksmanship compulsively).

It turns out that the military didn’t just make up its mind to change for no reason. They actually have a rather large pool of people to study (whooda thunkit?). I hope that my synopsis is not too wildly inaccurate, but here goes. The problem really wasn’t the formal marksmanship, but the formal style marksmanship really didn’t turn out to be a panacea either.

A long time ago, they found out that even after extensive marksmanship training, folks couldn’t hit targets in a non-range, simulated “battlefield” type environment (partially obscured humanoid targets, unknown distance, non-range type terrain, etc.) any better than people with no training in marksmanship. What did help people hit targets was actually practice in related skills, with a big emphasis on range estimation and target detection.

In the old days (I think post WWI), they used to follow up the marksmanship block of instruction with something called “Musketry and Combat Practice Firing”. This is part of what made that generation so effective with their rifles. At some point, some muckety-muck type (or a qual-obsessed marksmanship crank) figured out that all that silly target detection range estimation junk didn’t do anything for qualification scores and eliminated it. Then some other white lab coat types had to figure out why folks couldn’t hit anything anymore under battlefield conditions (I believe that study culminated in the Trainfire program). There’s kind of a cycle in place.  It always seems great to bean counters to save time and money by eliminating something that doesn’t seem important in a field they know next to nothing about.

I do believe in the necessity of marksmanship as a component of effective field work, but I don’t think it, by itself, puts the rubber on the road. Estimating the range within the danger space of the round and correctly compensating for it,  using positions that optimize the advantage of cover, making use of support when it is handy, detecting targets, etc., aren’t tacticool optional operator (I still don’t get that- don’t they just answer phones?) skills. There are simply a number of skills outside the realm of pure marksmanship that are necessary to put a bullet on target. If you consider that real life can occur outside of flat, non-uniform terrain in unpredictable conditions, and that targets can appear at distances other than numbers rounded off by hundreds, then these truths are self-evident.

And don’t forget to wear the proper tactical clothing at all times!!!  You think anybody wants a roundhouse kick to the face while I’m wearing these bad boys (American flag parachute pants)?  Forget about it!

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #6 The Gun Will Be There When I Get Back To It

When I was little I had a book called “The Giving Tree”. It was kind of annoying because the tree really loved this boy, who grew up and ended up chopping it down. The point was that even though the boy had to leave all the time, the tree would still be there for him when he came back, and it would still love him just as much. Maybe if the tree had a gun he wouldn’t have cut it down, but that’s beside the point.

Practice, training, the idea of constant improvement, should all act as constant drivers within us. It’s important to always keep growing and improving in some way. The alternative is unacceptable. This is my basic default attitude.

Life, being full of irony and of the unexpected as it is, makes it difficult to stick to any plan. What could be a life of constant improvement and mammoth expenditures of copper jacketed nuggets of pure love, is instead an actual life, which has far fewer Ferraris and way less silver pistols in shoulder holsters than I would like. But it’s real, and real is good (most of the time).

The times in life when I couldn’t stick to my practice schedule used to really get me down. It was like being in a constant “RED ALERT”. There was this little meter in the back of my head, and it was just sitting idle, because I wasn’t working with my rifle.

That’s happened a few times. What I’ve realized in the last year or two is that even if I can’t do a serious amount of shooting for a couple of months, I do have the ability to work off the rust fairly quickly. I think taking a little break can be productive. The important thing is not to give into the idea of giving up just because things didn’t go according to plan.

Life needs balance. Consider these movie quotes: “When you can hit and move without breakin’ the string you’ll have balance. You’ll be a very dangerous person.”

“First learn balance. Balance good, karate good, everything good. Balance bad, might as well pack up, go home.”

If I can say it in a quote from a blockbuster movie from the 70’s or 80’s, is there any way I could possibly be wrong?  (Just don’t answer.  I’m basking in my own glory here.)


Then and Now: What’s Changed- #5 The Increased Importance of Functionality

My first gun was a 1911. I loved it for many reasons, as 1911s have many great attributes. Some of the reasons I really liked it were that it was made in the U.S., where it should be made, it was a design that was almost 100 years old at that time, and both the design and build quality had an air of quality and class about them. It just made it feel like more of a real gun to me.

The 1911 set a precedent for me in what I liked about my rifles. Carbon steel and wood- good. Plastic and aluminum- BAD!!! (that should read like Phip Hartman playing Frankenstein saying “FIRE BAD”). That’s why when I started the blog the Sako 75 just seemed to be right. My other bolt action rifle experience at that time was with a Remington 700. Let’s just say that there might be some disparity in the fit, finish and feel between the two.

I never really stopped liking the Sako, but about the time that I pillar bedded it I realized that it just wasn’t going to do what I wanted it to do. It was not going to be as precise a rifle as I wanted. It was not going to be as durable as I wanted (I discovered a broken bolt stop pin upon disassembly), and the sight mounting and stock options really limited what I could get in the end.

In the Model 70 I found a rifle that would do everything I wanted for half as much money. It was really the perfect rifle for me at the time. I’ve had it for two years now. It’s had a new barrel and an upgraded stock, but everything else is the same and it just works for me. The metal work may not be as pretty, but I haven’t managed to break anything on it yet.

A few months after I switched rifles, I decided that a Glock would make more sense for me than a 1911 for what I carry. I love the feel of wood and steel, but the Glock works. It’s lighter, which I appreciate in a full size carry gun. I like the increased capacity and the thing just works. I don’t worry about scratching it and I don’t worry about it rusting. I don’t have to fit extractors as a hobby (which I used to love but don’t have the time for anymore), and I don’t have to play the aftermarket parts game, which has no end.

I have also revisited the AR as a rifleman’s rifle and find it to be quite a useful and satisfying gun. The longer, smooth, rounded keymod handguard make the ergonomics fall into place, and a good barrel is really the icing on the cake. In the early days of the blog, if it wasn’t a bolt action it wasn’t a rifle. That’s a little silly.

What all this points to is that the need for function and practicality has largely displaced the appreciation of aesthetics and the emotional baggage that people put into inanimate objects. I believe that is an improvement. Improvement is good.

Thanks for reading.

Then and Now: What Changed- #4 Bogged Down

Yesterday I talked about how finding better ways to measure and analyze my groups has been a significant improvement over how I had been approaching these things in the past.  There has also been a downside.  Sometimes it seems as though I spend more time analyzing things instead of shooting.

Early this year I went a little crazy with the pains I went to get my zero on the Remington as absolutely perfect as I possibly could.  I found that even a 10 shot group wouldn’t quite do the trick, and ended up superimposing 6 10-shot groups before I was happy.  It was a time consuming process, but sometimes I have to go to great lengths to satisfy my strange curiosities about shooting.

After On Target TDS came along I began uploading a photo and/or scan of every target I shot into the computer and measuring it.  Sometimes just playing with a new toy can override the purpose that it was obtained for.  I began to devise new ways of measuring and new things to measure.

A little later in the year, the AR seemed to dominate my attention.  I think that the scope test I just finished with was one of the best things I’ve ever done, and it was a huge learning experience.  It was also a ton of work.  I think that the time I spent shooting was almost insignificant in comparison to the time I spent planning, preparing, setting up, recording, analyzing, and writing about the shooting.

During that time, I made the decision to delay evaluating my progress in meeting my last short term goal because the opportunities that came along were too good to pass up.  It’s rare that I get $10,000 worth of scopes sent to test out, and I don’t regret it.  It does, however, concern me that I’ve delayed my stated goal several months so far.

So my pursuit “practical riflery” has been less practical than I would like, which is a huge irony for me since I have had a range outside my back door for the last 8 months.  That is coming to an end, which hopefully will coincide with my rifle practice becoming more practical.

Then and Now: What’s Changed- #3 Measuring Groups

Some of the more substantial changes came along this year when I started to look for better ways to evaluate my performance. One of the most significant things happened was being introduced to On Target TDS. I had already been using the free version of On Target to measure my groups. My friend at U.S. Optics got me in contact with Jeff Block, the person who wrote the On Target program. I spoke with Jeff a few times about his premium program, On Target TDS (Target Data System). He wanted some input from me on how to improve it, and actually incorporated some of my suggestions, one of them being the feature that I’ve been using to make composite target composed of shots from different target and shooting sessions.

Jeff also told me about Ballistipedia. We’d been talking about statistics, and how to integrate his program into something that would run more powerful statistical analyses. I was not able to figure out how to make that happen, but the Ballistipedia site had some information about different statistics, and advantages and disadvantages. This was finally the “aha” moment for me that measuring group size using extreme spread wasn’t telling me very much about my total performance.

What’s strange is that I had already been introduced to other ways of measuring, and was aware of mean radius. I’d known about that for quite a while and just ignored it. John Simpson’s book (Sniper’s Notebook), which I’d gotten in 2013, discussed that and other statistical measures, such as CEP (Circular Error Probable), the 99% circle, radial standard deviation, and probably others. Sometimes it just takes one thing to finally click things into place. In this case, it was a description in Ballistipedia of the difference between invariant measures (Mean Radius, CEP, Variance, Standard Deviation) and range statistics (extreme spread, diagonal, figure of merit, covering circle radius). A big difference between the two is that invariant measures “do not vary with group size. I.e., taking more shots tightens their confidence interval but doesn’t change their expected value,” while range statistics “increase with group size. They are more commonly used because they are easier to calculate. But they are statistically far weaker because they virtually ignore inner data points.” (Quoted from the page at Ballistipedia linked above.)

Last spring and summer I went through an obsession about my precision. My rifle would almost be sub-minute for a few shots and then one would just go crazy. It makes a person go through a quasi-bipolar emotional cycle with the rifle. Using extreme spread as a group measure exacerbates this, as it only measures the worst shots. Statistically speaking, the very worst shots are less likely, so you might see a decent group or two before things go completely haywire, which for me made me start thinking I’d finally fixed my shooting problem (which turned out to be a rifle problem), before having my hopes smashed against the rocks with a wild shot.

When using what Ballistipedia describes as an invariant measure, the outlier really won’t affect the numbers that much. It’s just part of the total performance. Additionally, it’s easier to spot small differences in performance over the long term, for example, between the 155 grain Amax and the 168 grain Match King.

Since I’ve been primarily using mean radius to evaluate my performance, I’m much more practical and even keeled in evaluating my shooting. Realizing that “dispersion happens” has really removed most of the emotional baggage that I still see most shooters dealing with. I feel sorry for them, but it’s hard to get people to realize sometimes how something just a little different can change how they think and feel about things. Sometimes, just a little different perspective from which to view things can make the picture so much more clear.

Then and Now: What’s Changed. #2 By the Numbers?

In any discipline the fundamentals are of extreme importance. They are the foundation of whatever structure will be eventually built. I have spent a lot of time working on the fundamentals of rifle shooting. I realized at some point that I do better if I don’t think about them as much as I used to.

I probably spent a lot of time learning to walk early in life. There were probably times when I had to revisit walking, such as after I broke my femur, or maybe as I grew. Walking is a foundation for a lot of other activities. Yet despite its importance, I think I walk better and more naturally when I don’t think about it. Not only do I walk better if I don’t think about it, but walking usually isn’t an activity done for its own sake. It usually underlies some other activity. Whatever that activity might be, I’m certain that thinking about walking would detract from one’s effectiveness in it.

Walking is not perfectly analogous to rifle shooting. Trigger control and sight picture aren’t hard wired into us. I have to spend time in dry fire to keep my trigger press clean and effective. But the analogy does basically hold true to most of rifle shooting. When I am firing at a target, it generally seems counterproductive to put my attention on my trigger finger, or on any particular at all for that matter. At some level I just have to let things happen.

It almost seems counter-intuitive to put all that time and attention into something so I can forget about it later. It’s difficult to simply let go after all that prior emphasis. It wasn’t really all that long ago that someone was yelling at me, “BY THE NUMBERS!” as I shot from the prone position. That, by the way, is not a great teaching tool (and I have done it myself).

Part of what experience brings is discernment to distinguish one thing from another. Initial learning is different than practice. Practice can be distinguished from training. All of them are different than application. When a target is downrange, it’s not the time to be thinking about the fundamentals. Rather, it’s the time to embody the fundamentals while not thinking about them at all.

We practice and we train so we can forget and act.

Then and Now: What’s Changed

I’ve been writing on this blog for over three years now. My original intention in writing it was to investigate aspects of rifle shooting that I couldn’t find elsewhere in sufficient depth. The process quickly demanded that I broaden and deepen my base of knowledge and experience.

A few weeks ago I got bored and started looking over some of my old articles. While reading over things, I started noticing things that have changed since then. Some of it involved knowledge, others had to do with attitude, and just a few points involved technique. I thought it would be a nice change of pace after several months of measuring things, filling in cells on a complicated spreadsheet, and drawing graphs, to spend some time describing how three years of public (mostly) learning and investigation has changed my take on rifle shooting.

This will be a month long series of short, random descriptions of how certain aspects of my total approach to riflery has changed.

#1: “Book Knowledge, Rote Memorization, and Conventional Wisdom vs. Actual Knowledge and Ability”

I have seen this blog described elsewhere something like this: “A rifle newbie chronicles his journey into becoming a rifleman.” That’s not accurate. I was already a fairly decent shot when I started the blog, and my rifle shooting resume, were I to share it, was already pretty solid at that point. My knowledge base was, by most standards, pretty well rounded in most areas and more than that in some.

A big difference between then and now was that a much larger measure of the knowledge that I possessed back then consisted of things I had learned from someone else, be that a book, a class, a forum, magazine, etc… To make it simple, I’ll just refer to this collectively as “book knowledge”. There were also a lot of things I had a basic proficiency in had not been tested against an alternative method.

Specific knowledge learned by rote tends to encourage a dogmatic adherence in the absence of testing or serious examination. Red flags for this include speaking with absolute certainty, a “one best way” mentality, ad hominem attacks or mockery of people with differing opinions, dismissal of people with differing opinions as “closed minded”, and an unrealistic assessment of one’s own abilities. This can actually be a difficult trap to avoid, as it strokes the ego.

Learning that has not been applied or tested belongs in the “I’m not an authority on it” category. I tend to be a lot more careful now about what I say regarding things that I don’t have first hand knowledge on in the realm of shooting. Reading back with a perspective of having done and seen a lot more, I don’t think I was in over my head by much, but it’s still embarrassing to see it.

A lot of conventional wisdom, when tested or investigated in depth, turns out to be junk. Things like “20 degrees of temperature change affects a bullet’s point of impact by 1 MOA” or “humidity increases resistance to a bullet’s flight” have been taken as gospel because they were printed in a military sniper manual (and re-printed, and re-printed). Some of it is situational, such as the first point (hint: what is true for a cartridge at 1000 yards may not apply at 300). Some of it is just wrong, like the second point.

Book knowledge” is like a seed. It may or may not grow into mature functional knowledge and ability. It takes cultivation for that to occur, and cultivation for a shooter means taking it to the range. Since I started the blog I have done a bit of that.

Comparison of All Test Optics: Final Analysis

This will be the final article in my series of articles documenting my comparative testing of the U.S. Optics SR-8c 1-8×27, the Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24, the U.S. Optics SR-4c 1-4×22, and the SWFA SS HD 1-6×24.  I also had an Aimpoint T1 Micro on hand to compare with these scopes.  I would like to extend thanks again to my friend at U.S. Optics for loaning me the Swaro, Aimpoint, as well as the two U.S. Optics scopes and to Ilya for loaning me the SWFA.  Without their kindness I would not have had this opportunity, which for me was a lot more than just being able to play with expensive stuff; it afforded me a chance to gain valuable insight a significant piece of how the visual process works in shooting an AR though the spectrum of speeds and distances that it’s commonly utilized in.

Something I really haven’t explained fully is what I expected from the rifle system that I was testing the optics on.  Part of the reason for that is I did not really have a very concrete idea of what I did expect coming into the tests.  I think I have a better handle on that now.

My concept for this AR, which I’m calling the X-15 (also a cool rocket plane) during its run as an experimental platform, is to be a versatile rifle that will allow me to excel in the “very close to the close end of mid-range” distances, which I’ll define as room distance to 250 yards.  My vision for such a rifle was that it would have a barrel capable of shooting sub-MOA “all day long” (sarcasm), have a sighting system with sufficient magnification to locate, ID, and engage targets out to the maximum system distance as a precision rifle system within that range.  At the very close end, I wanted the system’s scope to have the capability for no magnification and wide field of view for rapid hits.

My vision for using such a system is that it would be zeroed at a particular distance, and holdovers utilized to adjust for targets outside of the point blank range for the target and trajectory.  Since I’m working with a ~4.2” target, in my estimation the danger space (portion of the trajectory in which the bullet will strike a target of a given size) is that it’s sufficiently narrow when taking into account a realistic amount of shot dispersion to rule out any of the “battle sight zeros”.  To that end I used a 100 yard zero.

Part of figuring out what is important to me in an optic for a rifle of this type is to weigh which performance attributes are most important.  I don’t think the optic that is the best of all worlds has been made yet, so there’s going to be a tradeoff in making a choice.  I don’t think there’s a way to make a generic matrix of how to perfectly weigh the tradeoffs for everyone, because individual requirements, situations, terrain, and targets vary.  About all I can do is look at my terrain and expectations of the rifle.

Close Range:

Initially I had been dismissive about the necessity of what I think of as a non-magnified low end (I don’t believe this is a technically correct description of how the optic works, but it is descriptive of how it’s used).   I had figured that at the closer distances in which speed is paramount, some non-sighted method of aiming would be sufficiently accurate.  That would be the only method that I know of that would be as fast or faster than using a 1x (or non-magnified) optic.  That belief was based on my recollection of results in point shooting a year or so back.

For the size target I used in these tests, in some recent testing I was not able to get a high enough hit rate without using sights to satisfy my own requirements with the 4” target at 7 yards.  I didn’t test any scopes in this comparison that did not have a 1x capability, so I can’t speak to how much time would be added by magnification, but I would guess that it is going to slow things down to some degree.  I therefore came to accept that if I require the rifle to perform to my capabilities at close range I want it to have “true 1 power”.

Based on what I experienced during my testing there were a few things about certain scopes that I appreciated for certain facets of performance.  Think of these as my requirements for the perfect scope in terms of close range shooting.

-Non-magnified “unity” image (same size as what the naked eye sees)
-Generous eyebox
-Uncluttered reticle
-Minimally obstructive visual profile
-A simple “daylight bright” red dot aiming point
-Lack of downrange signature in the illumination (not visible from the “business end”)

There were also things that I felt detracted from my shooting at close range.  Here is a brief list of things I don’t want up close:

-Significantly obstructive scope visual profile
-Tight eyebox
-Compex reticle (abundance of ‘features’)

I had no preference for first or second focal plane reticles up close.  Just give me a bright dot I can see.

A bright, clear image and large field of view are pleasing attributes to have in a scope.  When you put the big money down and bring the scope for your friends to marvel at, those are the things that generate a lot of oohs and ahhs, and therefore a sense of satisfaction.  In my testing those attributes did not play out to increased speed.  Neither the Aimpoint T1 nor the U.S. Optics SR-4c have especially bright images.  In terms of image quality, while the SR-4c has good clarity to my eye, the T1 is not at all impressive.  Both of these optics were, however, very quick.

What did seem to be the case with the optics that stood out to me for the brightness and clarity of their image was that I shot a little slower with them, but that my hit rates were higher.  These were the SWFA and the Z6i.

My knee jerk reaction in the word association game is that upon hearing the words “close range” I immediately answer with “speed”.  After some thought on the matter I decided that although proximity would seem to have a direct relationship with imminence, it doesn’t have any inherent bearing on the necessity to sacrifice accuracy for speed.  Close range carries no built in excuse for a substandard shot, although I would guess that is typically the case, close things appearing larger than far things (duh).  I can envision that in certain circumstances, depending on what else was near the target, it would be necessary to take all the time necessary to make an accurate shot, albeit in a hurry.   That is why we practice.

In any event, I decided that for my needs I have to favor the hit rate over the greazy lightnin’ fast speed.  I think that any of the scopes I tested could be used to good effect to satisfy those requirements with some practice.  While I believe the performance differences I saw were real, they were relatively minor.  I just think that some do it more readily and ‘willingly’ than others, those being the aforementioned SWFA and Z6i.  Of those, the Z6i is significantly easier to shoot with.

The “low margin” distances (25-100)

It’s hard to know how to categorize things sometimes because a person’s perspective can drastically affect how they view it.  I could call the 25-100 yard distance piece of the distance spectrum a lot of things, but in shooting it recently I felt as if it provided the lowest margin for error given the requirements I faced.  I discovered that this is a difficult range when the target is relatively small.  This was the portion of the distance spectrum that the DD25 drill (Test #3) would have gotten at if I had been up to it.  The problem with a small target in this distance spectrum is that the close proximity to the target still strongly conveys a rather urgent need for speed (cue: Top Gun high five/low five), but the target size requires care with one’s marksmanship.  My personal discovery was that the combination of requirements for speed and relative precision make this type of shooting very demanding in a way that is unique.

There wasn’t a lot that I felt like I really needed from my scope at this distance other than a bit of magnification and a reticle I could see.  I still needed about an inch and a half of holdover at 25 yards to compensate for mechanical offset, so it was helpful to be able to see the target with clarity under magnification.  The non-magnified Aimpoint T1 was a liability in this stage of testing.  As always, a generous eyebox is appreciated.

Again, I had no real preference either way for a reticle in the first or second focal plane at this distance spectrum.  I could see either one without issue.  The rationale for a first focal plane scope is the necessity to have the reticle scale be valid at all magnifications.  As far as holdovers go, any hold inside of 100 yards would be done to compensate for mechanical offset, and I would not use a reticle scale to accomplish that.  It just over-complicates something that can be accomplished with small amount of familiarization fire.  A wind hold at those distances would require extreme weather conditions that, while possible, are not likely enough to factor into features I’m going to demand from a scope.

I could see that the argument could be made for a first focal plane reticle being useful to engage a moving target in that distance spectrum.  Within those ranges there is also an argument for techniques that have nothing to do with using a reticle.  I could also make the point that 6x or even 8x for movers at that range is not an impossible mission if you really wanted to use a second focal plane mil scale and just had to turn up the scope to max power.   I’m going to withhold judgment on the subject of movers until I really try to refine my ability to engage them.

“Generic” Precision- 100 yards

I consider 100 yards to be in the “neither close nor far” category.  This was the point that I definitely felt a preference for a second focal plane reticle in terms of obtaining a precise sight picture.  As far as power was concerned, I felt that 4 power felt like it put me at a rather significant disadvantage as far as precision, but that actual disadvantage was rather minor.  The more significant disadvantage with the 4 power SR-4c was in ease and speed of use, which put the average split time with that scope almost a full second per shot behind the Z6i.  In contrast, at 100 yards 8 power didn’t seem to have any advantage over 6 power.  So for this type of shooting I’ll say that the following attributes were preferred:

-Second focal plane reticle
-≥ 6 power

At longer Ranges

While I think there is an argument to be made that in every other test of shooting the differences in scopes were relatively minor, when it came to using the scopes to hit a small target beyond the system’s point blank range, there were significant differences that could have a decisive effect in the outcome of one’s efforts to actually utilize the rifle system.  In the end I think that the total points for the long range tests gave the best indication of performance.  The U.S. Optics SR-8c and the Swarovski Z6i were both way ahead of the others.  I can say with certainty that the extra magnification of the SR-8c did help at the 270 and 330 yard markers, but before that it did not seem to be a factor.

The things that made the optics excel in the final test were:

Power: ≥ 6 power good, ≥ 8 power better
Usable reticle scale at all ranges (including inside 200 yards).
Detail and complexity in the reticle seemed to help beyond 250 yards.

The Total Experience:

If I combined the attributes I listed for each piece of the required distance spectrum of the rifle system it would read about like this:

-Maximum power ≥ 6 power good, ≥ 8 power better
-Non-magnified “unity” image, i.e. “true 1 power”
-Generous eyebox
-Uncluttered reticle, but…
          …with more detail in the scale below the 0.5 mil mark.
-Minimally obstructive visual profile for the scope overall, i.e. high image to overall visual
          signature ratio
-A simple “daylight bright” red dot aiming point illumination
-Lack of downrange signature in the illumination (not visible from the “business end”)
-Tube and saddle configured to allow for flexibility in mounting options
-Turret adjustment increments ≤ 0.1 mils, as a good zero is kind of important (sarcastic
          understatement?  Yes!!!).
-Clear, bright glass
-Second focal plane reticle preferred
-I’ll also add in low profile capped turrets.  I don’t plan on touching them other than zeroing
          and I’d rather not run the risk of having them bumped and affecting my zero.

What I Would Buy:

First of all, I need to point out that I didn’t spend all that long with any of the optics.  That was kind of the point- to see how easily they meshed with me without much opportunity for me to adapt to their idiosyncrasies.  I got a good idea of what features seem to be inherently superior for different applications, all other things being equal.  The thing to remember is that we use practice to ensure that all other things aren’t equal in order to gain strategic and tactical advantage.  I think that some of the nitpicky points I made, such as the visual complexity of the SWFA reticle, and the liability of the relatively low power of the SR-4c, could be overcome with some more intensive practice.

I also felt that I needed to be especially frank in my evaluations.  To that end, if something had even a slight tendency to annoy me, I made no attempt to get over my annoyance.  On the contrary, I tended to dwell on my dissatisfaction.  That is completely contrary to my normal tendency when using my own gear.

I also tried to control any enthusiasm I had for any of the scopes that I seemed to naturally gravitate toward, like the SR-8c and the Z6i.  Sometimes feelings and impressions can be misleading.  My goal was to let the test results do my deciding.

If money were no object:

Objectively I would have to say that the SR-8c was the most solid performer across the spectrum of shooting that I did.  I’ve already written a lot about it specifically, but just to recap, although it’s heavy, it’s all business.  Nothing about it is superfluous.  It works.  The reticle is simple and effective.  The illumination is, all in all, about the best I have seen (I give it extra points for the lack of downrange signature), although I preferred the control module of the Z6i.  I have also been told that the drawback of that style of illumination is the slightly darker image, which did not bother me.  The only things I would change on it would be finer adjustment knobs and more mounting room on the tube on the front end.  This would free up some mounting possibilities, which would be very welcome.  I would also prefer a second focal plane version with a simpler reticle (I drew one and gave it to my friend at USO), but not so much as to sway me.

Subjectively I absolutely loved the Swarovski Z6i.  In the tests I felt that the Z6i kept up with the SR-8c up to the 230 yard mark, where the extra power of the SR-8c gave it a definite edge.  The BRT-I reticle is almost perfect.  I believe that second focal plane is the way to go in this application.  The eyebox is very forgiving.  The illumination is nice to the eye and the control module is very well thought out, but it does have a downrange signature which does bug me a little.  I would prefer 0.1 mil knobs (or finer) to the 0.15 mil knobs it has.

If my shooting were likely to be limited to shorter distances or included larger targets I would also seriously consider the SR-4c.  In my opinion it beats the Aimpoint at its own game up close and leaves it in the dust as the range increases.

Choosing in the real world:

I’m torn.  I am considering selling some rifles to better outfit the X15 (and change out the X designation eventually).  It’s such a handy and usable platform that it makes more sense to make it all it should be when I have guns that I don’t use much and only still have because they are kind of cool.  What makes it difficult is that it’s hard to cross the emotional barrier of selling something like an M1A and still not having enough cash to buy one of the scopes that I think would be best.  $2500 is a lot of money for someone with a family to spend on anything that won’t pay the bills or provide a shared benefit for everybody.

The ~$1000 price tag of the SWFA is reasonable to me.  There was nothing substandard about the build quality or anything like that to rule it out.  The quality of its image really was almost up there with the Z6i.  There are a lot of people out there with no negative comments at all with reference to that scope.  The fundamentals of that scope are nicely done and solid.  I just didn’t like the reticle for the application and the illumination is not up to what the others provide.  There are so many scopes that I haven’t tried that I’m not ready to lay my money down on the SWFA.

The Vortex Gen 2 Razor 1-6 looks like it has a very nice set of attributes.  Sightron has an interesting 1-7.  Ilya is testing out a Meopta 1-6×24.  There are other possibilities.

For the time being the rifle is bare of any sighting system, so it will be going on the shelf for a while.