Thermal scopes evolve much like a computer or cell phone. At a recent FLIR Systems, Inc. media event, one of its employees highlighted just how significant the field of thermal optics has improved over the last 10 years. He pointed out that the FLIR One (a cell phone attachment that retails for $200) had better capability than an old thermal riflescope that cost $15,000 only a decade prior. That quickly got my, and other attendees, attention.
FLIR System’s latest thermal monocular designed for both law enforcement and civilian use is the Breach PTQ136. The Breach is one of the company’s smallest and lightest handheld or helmet-mounted thermal device. The infra-red (IR) unit features FLIR’s latest circuitry featuring 12-micron pixels that give the unit its excellent resolution.
Looking through a thermal used to yield blobs recognizable only by their general shape. Now, the Breach allows the user to identify people by body type, haircut, to an extent, facial features. The resolution is simply incredible.
During the event, I used the Breach to locate small stuffed animals that had handwarmers stuffed inside. In a daylight exercise, even though the stuffed animals were hidden in trees and bushes, they were still easy to locate. Finding them with the naked eye would have been nearly impossible.
However, nighttime is where the Breach really shines, especially when compared to traditional night-vision systems (image intensifiers). Night vision goggles (NVGs) haven’t evolved very rapidly and will never be much cheaper than they are now. NVGs utilize image intensifier tubes, whose manufacture is an extremely costly and complicated process. NVGs have always been expensive and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
Thermals, on the other hand, use sensors and circuitry and improve rapidly. So, it doesn’t take a ton of money to get a lot of performance out of a thermal in this day and age.
Where the Breach is untouchable is when looking for animals hidden in vegetation or shadows. Whether they have two legs or four, every critter gives off heat that is impossible to hide. Heat is a form of long-wave radiation that penetrates smoke and shadow like neither exists.
NVGs cannot make the same claim. NVGs give the user the ability to read signs and recognize faces, but only if there is enough ambient light to do so. They are, after all, image intensifiers. If there is no illumination to intensify, NVGs either need another illumination source or they won’t work very well.
The Breach starts out at $2,500, which is far from cheap but not too bad considering what good thermals cost historically. For that price, you get 90 minutes of battery life, a 60-hertz 320×256 VOx Microbolometer and the ability to record stills and video at the push of a button. There are even seven different color palettes for displaying heat signatures. All of that performance comes in a package that weighs just a hair over 7 ounces.
For me, the ideal application for the Breach is helmet-mounted in a Red Queen Effect (RQE) Universal Bridge helmet mount. The RQE mount allows the user to put FLIR’s Breach on one side of the mount over one eye and a monocular NVG like a PVS-14 over the other eye. This set up gives the wearer both thermal and NVG capability without being stupidly expense like a fused image.
I would use the unit to search for and identify targets like hogs and then the NVG would be used in conjunction with an IR laser to shoot accurately. When not on the helmet, the Breach would see use for everything from looking for lost pets to seeing where heat is leaking out of or coming into my house.
With a reasonable retail price and the ability to use as either handheld or helmet-mounted, the Breach is the most useful thermal device I’ve seen to date.
My first real experience with Aimpoint’s Comp M2 (or M68 in Army circles) came on my first trip to Afghanistan in 2003. I had trained with the optic stateside while I was in the 82nd Airborne Division and again once I was assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group. In 2003, while on deployment with 3rd Group, I learned how much I revered it after using it for several months on a wide variety of combat missions.
I had more than one optic from which to choose and rotated through them, but I loved the M68. Initially, I thought I would want some magnification for the wide-open spaces of Afghanistan, but soon learned that the M68’s no-specific eye relief and its field of view that mimics the human eye were much more valuable.
If I could narrow down a single, initial experience that sold me on the red dot sight – a light-bulb moment if you will – it would have to be while I was using a low-powered magnified optic in the spring of 2003. This was early in my deployment and we were doing a lot of mounted patrolling in rural areas. As our truck crested a hill, there were two Taliban soldiers about 100 yards in front of us. One did a spectacular mag dump from the hip with his AK-47. He looked like he stepped right out of a Rambo movie and he didn’t hit a thing. Post-mag dump, both took off running.
Three of us jumped out of our trucks and took off after them; my two teammates followed the one on the left and I chased the one on the right. It didn’t take long for my opponent to open his lead to 150 yards or so. What I soon discovered with the magnified optic was that I had to hunt for my enemy through the scope because of the narrow field of view. I was moving and he was moving, and it was tough to keep my sights on him, even at that modest distance. I was able to take a shot but I had to work for it. This experience left me questioning how much magnification, if any, is really required in a combat sight.
Fast forward a year later to the same area and I was in another foot race with yet another Taliban soldier. I saw him as I exited a cornfield and he was about 200 yards away. I had no problems getting my M68’s red dot on target and putting accurate shots on him, even at a couple hundred yards away. From that point forward, I always kept an Aimpoint M68 on my rifle.
Captain Beckstrand conducting a patrol in Afghanistan in 2004, complete with his SOPMOD M4A1, equipped with an Aimpoint COMP M2 red dot sight.
These experiences are very similar to those of countless other veterans returning home from our wars overseas. Like me, many probably had preconceived notions about what optic was good for a particular environment and then that opinion changed through experience.
Pros & Cons
For any rifle used at ranges closer than 200 yards, a red dot optic is ideal. The ability to use both eyes normally to identify the target without having to transition to a shorter magnified field of view means there is no hunting through the scope and no lost targets. The shooter never has to take his eyes off his target with a red dot sight.
The argument against red dot sights is the lack of magnification. This is a legitimate gripe when the range to the target exceeds a couple hundred yards or when the target measures 3 minutes of angle (MOA) or smaller.
At ranges beyond 200 yards, it becomes much harder to see and identify the target. However, the vast majority of shots taken in a combat zone or a hunting field occur inside that distance. I am a firm believer of setting up a rifle for the most likely situation you’ll encounter and that means a red dot will frequently be my preferred optic.
Very small targets can be problematic for red dot sights but never underestimate their accuracy potential. For example, I once used a red dot sight to accuracy test a hard-recoiling lever-action rifle. I chose a red dot because I wasn’t certain a magnified optic’s 3½ inches of eye relief was enough to keep the scope from hitting me in the face. Using the red dot, I got sub-MOA, three-shot groups out of that rifle.
The secret to shooting small groups with a red dot sight is to adjust the dot intensity to the dimmest possible setting while still being able to see the dot against the target. A bright dot flares and appears much larger than a dim dot. Precision requires a clearly defined aiming point and it is easy to see the clearly circular shape of the red dot when it’s dim. A bright dot will have twice the group size of a dim one.
Since many veterans are so familiar with the red dot and its shooting characteristics, it only makes sense to continue their use after leaving the service. Anything with a picatinny rail scope base is a candidate for a red dot and Aimpoint offers many additional mounting options, allowing use on multiple platforms. Just as I found in Afghanistan, the ability to aim your rifle without ever taking your eyes off the target is a huge advantage in the deer stand or while chasing hogs.
Red dot sights and AR-15s go together like peanut butter and jelly. My personal favorite is Aimpoint’s T-2 with a 2-MOA dot. I also have Aimpoints mounted on two lever-action rifles and think they would be a fine choice on any bolt action used to hunt 200 yards and closer. They are especially useful when hunting dangerous game or in thick brush.
For those times a red dot needs some magnification, Aimpoint also makes a 3X magnifier. The magnifier drops in place via a quick-detach mount. It adds some bulk and weight but it’s a “use-when-necessary” device.
The 3X magnifiers bring some parallax error with them. So, I highly recommend spending some time at the range with one prior to stepping off on a hunt. It’s important to know how much you can move your head behind the rifle and how much that shifts the rifle’s point of impact.
Aimpoint Comp M4
Optical magnification: 1x Aiming dot size: 2 MOA Eye relief: Unlimited Power intensity: 7 NVD and 9 Daylight, of which 1 extra bright Length sight only: 120 mm (4.7 in) Width: 72 mm (2.8 in) Weight sight only (incl battery): 268 g (9.4 oz) MSRP: $903
Manufacturer: Aimpoint, 877-246-7646, aimpoint.com
Pulsar’s Helion XP50 2.5-20×42 Thermal Monocular is one of the best high-quality monocular that boasts an impressive list of features.
When thermal monoculars became popular several years ago, I wasn’t immediately enamored with the new technology. Since that time, I’ve had a chance to use some of the latest thermal scopes in the field and have become a full-fledged convert to thermal imaging.
Now, there’s rarely a day that passes that I don’t use a thermal device for something, whether scouting game, keeping tabs on thieving raccoons and rabbits in the garden, or simply scanning the perimeter of my property before heading to bed. One brand that I turn to most is Pulsar.
Pulsar has emerged as one of the leading names in thermal imaging technology and their Helion XP50 2.5-20×42 Thermal Monocular is one of the best high-quality monocular that boasts an impressive list of features. For starters, the unit comes with a 640×480 high-resolution sensor that provides incredibly clear images, detecting thermal energy at a range of up to 1,800 meters (almost 2,000 yards). The Helion boasts a refresh rate of 50Hz, that translates to clearer images of moving objects. It’s also relatively compact, measuring 9-inches long and 2½-inches wide. The Helion weighs just under 20 ounces and comes with a padded hand strap for easy carrying in the field even for extended periods of time.
The Helion XP50 features a 42mm Germanium objective lens that can be removed and replaced easily. It comes with an ample focus wheel positioned just behind the objective lens. The rear eyepiece comes with a diopter adjustment wheel for fine-tuning the unit for the crispest, clearest image possible.
The Helion XP50 is Ppowered by an IPS5 lithium ion battery pack withan option to upgrade to the IPS10 battery pack.
Powered by an IPS5 lithium ion battery pack, it can be removed from the unit for wall charging and there’s an option to upgrade to the IPS10 battery pack, if you need extended battery life. The battery is held in position by a secure latch system that prevents accidental release in the field.
Operation of the unit is very simple utilizing a five-button layout that includes up and down controls, menu, power and record buttons. A micro USB port is included to allow the user to charge the unit without removing the battery or to download still and video images to a computer. There’s also a tripod mount on the bottom of the device for extended viewing sessions or when taking photos. To begin operating the Helion, attach the battery pack and hold the power button until the Pulsar logo appears on the screen and then make any focus adjustments necessary.
Despite impressive high-tech features, the operation of the Helion XP50 is very simple.
Despite impressive high-tech features, the Helion XP50 is quite intuitive to operate. Once the Helion is powered up, a short press of the power button calibrates the unit and a longer (but less than 3 seconds) press turns the display off to save battery life. Holding the power button for longer than 3 seconds, powers the unit down completely. Pressing the up button allows the user to instantly toggle between hot-black and hot-white palettes. When the unit is in color mode, pressing the up button switches the unit to hot white. Holding the up button also activates Wi-Fi settings which allows the unit to be paired with a cell phone or computer, transferring images to the device which allows for remote viewing.
The down button acts as a zoom control and each press cycles the unit between 2.5X to 5X, 10X and 20X zoom settings and then returns to 2.5X. The down button also serves as the picture-in-picture (PIP) control and allows for PIP zoom. Holding down the record button for several seconds switches the record function from video to still imaging and a short press of the button either takes an image of the screen or begins video recording based on the chosen setting.
There are two separate menu settings that allow the user to program the Helion. A short press of the menu button activates the hot menu, which allows the user to access zoom, brightness, contrast and range-finding controls. In range-finding mode, two stadia lines appear on the screen and can be adjusted up or down to measure the height of an animal. Pre-programmed range settings give accurate ranges for rabbit, hog and deer-sized objects, so you’ll instantly have an idea how far away the animal is even in complete darkness.
A long hold of the menu button allows the user to access the main menu for changing Wi-Fi settings (including typing passwords), observation settings (forest, rocks or identification), calibration settings and color palettes. There are six different color options including red hot, sepia, red monochrome, rainbow, ultramarine and violet, as well as hot white and hot black settings for a total of eight separate color options. Despite this long list of customizable options, anyone who’s familiar with navigation screens on digital devices like cell phones, will have no problem navigating. An operator manual is included and a concise, simple-to-follow online video tutorial is also available from Pulsar.
There was relatively little eye strain when looking through the Pulsar as compared to similar thermal imagers.
I spent several hours testing the Helion XP50 on my farm under the cover of darkness. There’s little question that handheld thermal units provide a level of insight into wildlife movements that it is almost impossible to ascertain using white light or game cameras.
Standing in the corner of a 10-acre soybean field I was able to observe seven deer as they fed on the crops during one late night. This group included a doe and her twin fawns that approached within 60 yards of my position. Near the end of the night’s sit, I saw a young whitetail buck emerge from the woods and feed on the border of the field, his velvet-covered antlers providing just enough of heat signature to be visible in the scope.
All quality thermal scopes would have served in identifying warm-bodied deer but the advantage the Helion XP50 gives you is its incredible level of detail visible on cooler objects. I could identify single leaves on trees and the contour of the mowed path that I was following (a good thing since I didn’t bring along a white light and was relying on the Helion to navigate through almost complete darkness).
Additionally, thermal imaging allows the user to view heat signatures even when the object is partially obscured by brush and objects. I identified a hot spot in a cluster of hickory and locust trees that turned out to be a doe moving slowly out into the open to feed. As with any thermal monocular, it’s important to take breaks to rest your eyes but there was relatively little eye strain when looking through the Pulsar as compared to similar thermal imagers. One full charge of the Helion’s IPS5 battery lasted a full four hours of viewing.
Thermal imaging is certainly changing the way in which we see the world and the Pulsar Helion XP50 is a class-leading thermal monocular. At $4,400, it isn’t a cheap option but it’s worth noting that this type of technology cost tens of thousands of dollars to own just a decade ago. The field of thermal monoculars is growing but for now, the Helion XP50 is at the front of the class.
For a look at Pulsar’s complete line of imaging monoculars and other products, go to pulsarnv.com.
Specifications Pulsar Helion XP50 Sensor: 640×480 @ 17um Magnification: 2.5-20x Detection Range: 1,800 Meters/1,970 yards Weight: 19.8 ounces Length: 9 inches Max Width: 2.5 inches Color Palettes: 8 Power Source: Lithium ion battery Extras: Charging cord, USB cable, carrying case, user manual, hand strap, lens cloth, warranty card MSRP: $4,400 Contact:pulsar-nv.com
The new Trijicon MRO with a 2 MOA adjustable green dot can be had with or without a mount. Mounts that co-witness with the dot or place the dot in the lower 1/3rd with reference to back-up sights are available as well as three mounts with quick-release levers. $613 – $750
Red is an irritating color to the human brain. Red grabs our attention, which is why stop signs, red lights and sports cars all are bathed in it. Irritating doesn’t always mean a bad thing. In reference to gun sights, red is quick for the eye to pick up, for the brain to process and contrasts against almost every background, which makes it easy to distinguish red hues in the visible spectrum.
Besides fiber optic sights, red is almost exclusively used in miniature reflex sights as the dot reticle. It’s so common, in fact, that “red dot sights” has become the collective label for this optic category. Compared to other colors, red LED emitters have been all but perfected, as they now require less energy to run for longer durations between battery changes. Red dots have proven to be very durable and resistant to the stress of recoil impulses generated and transferred after a gun is fired.
The color red isn’t without drawbacks, however. A red dot can appear harsh to some eyes, and tends to bloom and create aberrations or flares as the intensity is cranked up. Like staring into a bright light, some human eyes don’t perceive or are not as sensitive to the color red.
Green Science ne-in-twelve males have some degree of red/green color blindness. A red reticle may appear fire engine red to one person, while the same is processed by the brain as a light orange. Shooters with aging eyes lose the ability to focus on fine points as well as the color red to a certain degree. Further, older shooters generally see green more consistently, as green is more forgiving to the unfocused eye.
Green isn’t just for aging eyes, either. The human eye is more sensitive to green and can see more shades (i.e., tones) of it than any other. Green is a cooler, calmer hue that the eye immediately recognizes and is not irritated by. The rods and cones within our retina process green better than red, especially in low-light conditions. Think about how you acquire a sight picture in changing lighting conditions. Moving from a light room to a dark room, your eyes try to adapt.
The eye can detect even a dim green dot faster than red. Green provides a higher contrast against almost any background.
Trijicon has been offering green reticles in its fiber-optic based sighting systems for several years. However, Trijicon is just now entering the green LED market and it begins with the award-winning MRO.
Why now? In a nutshell, green LED technology has advanced during the last two years. They can now make them small and robust enough to withstand the abuse of a firearm. Simply put, Trijicon is now willing to stand behind green dot sights.
Not all greens are created equal. ike all colors, green is available in many tones. Trijicon chose to equip its new MRO with a green color on the spectrum at 575 nanometers (nm). Green can be described by a color number. A bluish green, for example, would fall in the 480nm range, whereas leafy, light green tends toward 500nm. It appears as a yellow-green color near 580nm. The 575nm that Trijicon uses is not yellow. Rather, it closely resembles the green found in green phosphate night vision devices. It stands out well against green foliage.
Trijicon also changed the color of the lens with green dot MROs. They use a notch filter that reflects back a specific color wave length to the eye that allows the user to see a clean, crisp dot. The lens has a slight purplish tint, but is less obvious than the bluish coating seen on the red dot MRO. While the glass is clearer, Trijicon didn’t change the len’s prescription. Parallax performance remains the same.
Battery life is half of the MRO red dot. On setting 3 of 6, its battery lasts 1 year. Because green LED tech is not as advanced as red, green LEDs are driven harder, which requires more power. The green MRO is not temperature sensitive, however, and will operate in the range of -60o F to 160o F and is waterproof to 30 meters.
I like Trijicon’s 575nm green dot a lot. I can’t wait for a green RMR.
Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle, that when fully assembled, creates one of the most recognizable gun profiles of all time. The C96 Mauser, or as it’s more commonly known, the Broomhandle Mauser, is not only a machine of warfare, but the finest expression of Victorian era gun making, and maybe the ultimate steampunk pistol.
Strangely enough, the C96 Mauser was not invented by Paul Mauser. Rather, the three brothers in charge of Mauser’s experimental workshop, Fidel, Friederich, and Josef Feederle created the prototype without Paul Mauser’s knowledge or approval. Mauser did, however, name the pistol the C96 Mauser Military Pistol in the hopes of spurring adoption by a major military. It didn’t work.
Broomhandle truly was a jigsaw puzzle. Only one screw, which holds the grip panels on, and one single pin are used in the gun. All the other parts assembled into a single elegant, and complicated firing mechanism. Maintenance in the field was, shall we say, challenging. Although never issued us a primary sidearm, the Broomhandle saw service around the world in the hands of German, Chinese, Persian, Turkish, Norwegian, and Indonesian troops and law enforcement.
Broomhandles also found their way into the hands of T.E. Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, who carried his in World War I. A smaller gripped, shorter barreled version called the “Bolo” was popular with Russian Bolshevik Cheka secret police officials. Even some American Texas Rangers were fond of the big pistol with its detachable stock.
The most famous Broomhandle in history was, of course, the modified movie prop blaster used by Han Solo in the wildly successful Star Wars movies. Most notably, Han used his blaster on Jabba the Hutt’s bounty hunter, Greedo, leading to years of controversy over whether Han or Greedo shot first.
The C96 Broomhandle carries with it, a Victorian elegance, and pristine versions are still enthusiastically sought after by collectors around the world. By the way… I believe that Han Solo shot first.
A reminder that we shoot to protect the gun rights of the next generation.
“Daddy, I hit it!” my daughter exclaimed as she came off the rifle having fired her first shot. Perhaps I placed too much pressure on myself before that moment, but I felt relieved afterwards. Before I had kids, I was sure that I’d start teaching them how to shoot when they were four years old. After all, that’s when Dad started teaching me. Like my own memory, I wanted to make the experience special and positive, but I became uncertain when my kids would be ready.
I procrastinated these last few years and let my responsibilities at work and home get in the way of the effort to make time for my family at the range. I often thought and debated with myself about how I would introduce my children to firearms, and I grew less confident in my abilities as time ticked away.
It became obvious that anticipation was building. Surprising to me, it was my daughter (and not my son) who first asked that I take them shooting. At the end of every day, she watched as I routinely unholstered my carry pistol before securing it in one of our home’s Tactical Walls. I often remind her not to discuss guns (or Daddy’s job) with friends at school, the NRA safety rules and to never touch a gun without my direction and supervision. I’ve been in awe of her maturity and obedience, and have been encouraged to begin teaching her.
Selecting the rifle wasn’t as challenging as I expected. I knew that I wanted a bolt gun, preferably a single shot with a short length of pull. There are other options available — some more affordable — but I decided on a Savage Rascal in .22LR long before ordering one. Years ago, I had taught another boy who had difficulty pulling the bolt to cock the firing pin. He needed to take the rifle out of his shoulder after each shot to charge the action. Then I saw another girl on a range shoot a Rascal without the struggle. She benefited from a consistent position behind the sights and focused exclusively on shooting tight groups.
I wanted my daughter to feel the pride of ownership, so I ordered a Rascal wearing a stock molded in her favorite color. Then, I had her name engraved on the barrel. Though the Rascal comes with iron sights, I decided to make aiming easier and save sight alignment instruction for later by mounting a red dot on top of the receiver. To do this, I discovered that Evolution Gun Works (EGW; egwguns.com) makes a Picatinny rail scope mount specifically for the Savage Rascal, and they only want $30 for it. With that installed, I attached a Bushnell Trophy TRS 1x25mm red dot sight. Though the MSRP is north of $100, I found that most stores offer the TRS-25 for $65 or less. It proved to be a great choice on my part because she hardly every misses hitting a target.
Not too long ago, I found a an old box of steel silhouette animals for use with .22LR only. Sure, there are fun reactive targets that you can buy from Champion for not a lot of money, but these pieces of steel brought back memories of plinking with my family in the Mohave desert. In fact, I continued using them to practice ahead of placing first in my class during the 2005 NRA Lever Action Rifle Silhouette Championships. When a bullet strikes, they spin or flip off their post and provide the shooter instant gratification, and that’s exactly what they’ve given my daughter and I.
As I write this, I’ve just returned home after competing in my first Rimfire Challenge event (rimfirechallenge.org). The youth participating were incredibly talented, and the support they received from every parent was inspirational. I couldn’t watch other fathers, mothers, sons and daughters support one another without imagining my family and our pending future at the range. It was another reminder that we shoot to protect the future of their gun rights.
P.O. Ackley was known for his experimentation and skill as a gunsmith, but he also had a passion for teaching others at his local community college and in his monthly columns. In June 1965, he wrote about how G&A readers could become a gunsmith.
Parker Otto (P.O.) Ackley was Guns & Ammo’s tell-it-like-it-is gun sage whom readers trusted with their technical firearms questions. Joining the technical staff for the October 1959 issue, G&A’s first monthly edition, his first feature introduced Dick Casull’s .454 Magnum — the most powerful handgun cartridge at that time — in November 1959. Ackley contributed until his last “Gunsmithing” column appeared in the October 1974 issue.
He wasn’t a prolific writer, but he often worked behind the scenes on a number of projects. For example, while working with Technical Editor Robert Hutton, they attempted to break the 5,000-feet-per-second (fps) barrier with a wildcat based on a .378 Weatherby Magnum. In jest, it was named the .22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer.
Long before doing cartridge development and ballistics studies for G&A, Ackley was first a gunsmith. He had run his own shop since 1936 and built a nationwide reputation for making great barrels, through which he tested and was credited with producing more than 30 different wildcats or improved cartridges, many of which are still finding their way into hunting fields.
As the father of wildcatting and cartridge improvement, Ackley had an unique approach. He required the firearm for any new cartridge be able to shoot the factory round that it was originally chambered for. He didn’t want shooters to be out of options if their wildcat ammunition ran out.
Ackley’s legacy lives on through several published works, including the “Handbook for Shooters & Reloaders”, which are considered must-reads for aspiring gunsmiths and reloaders. Ackley-improved cartridges are still found chambered in some custom and factory rifles. He passed away at 86 years of age, on August 23, 1989.
Leupold didn’t cut quality with the new VX-Freedom.
Last March, I never grew tired as I patiently waited for a mature tahr bull to join a herd of nannys for an evening graze. Although the gathering never happened, the afternoon of scanning gave me time to consider the scope mounted on my rifle: a VX-Freedom 4-12x40mm that I was using to hunt three animals during the next seven days in New Zealand.
With temperatures ranging from the high 80s on day one to near freezing the next, we hiked up the Southern Alps’ Dobson Valley. When the temperture rose again, I was faced with glassing through dense fog that produced moisture on both lenses before being showered by torrential rain. However, it wasn’t a fight between me and the scope, as the coatings on the lenses — the same used on the lenses installed on Leupold scopes for the U.S. military — beaded up and shed the moisture out of view.
“Our new VX-Freedom line delivers the versatility and performance hunters and shooters have come to expect from the Leupold brand, all while remaining budget-friendly,” said Tim Lesser, vice president of product development for Leupold & Stevens, Inc. “Whether you’re looking for your first scope or your 40th, there will be a VX-Freedom that suits your needs.”
Besides water-wicking coatings, the lenses are abrasion resistant. The low-profile power ring provides excellent grip without interfering with a tall bolt throw.
Lesser was right. When Leupold launched the VX-Freedom line at the 2018 SHOT Show, they were prepared to offer the most popular magnification ranges including 1.5-4x20mm, 2-7x33mm, 3-9x40mm, 3-9x50mm and the 4-12x40mm. These are all scopes with 1-inch maintubes given second focal plane (SFP) reticles, which means that the reticle size remains the same even if you dial the magnification up or down. Price? Depending on configuration, they retail between $235 and $390.
At the 2018 NRA Convention in Dallas, Leupold rolled out six additional models to its VX-Freedom line, which Guns & Ammo is in the process of evaluating. They include an extended-eye- relief 1.5-4x28mm Scout, a 3-9x33mm Extended Focus Range (EFR) model with a fine duplex reticle — ideal for rimfires and airguns — and a 3-9x40mm that’s compatible with Leupold’s Custom Dial System (CDS). There’s even a VX-Freedom being developed for rifles that shoot the .450 Bushmaster in 3-9x40mm.
The VX-Freedom line is designed, machined and assembled in the U.S. Leupold focused development on providing the majority of American hunters, rimfire plinkers, AR-15 owners and long-range shooters with the most benefits in an affordable package.
One area the designers didn’t go cheap on were the lens coatings. Coatings are important to understand when shopping for a scope because they can function in several ways.
The objective bell is threaded to accept an optional lens shade. This may not be necessary given the glare-reducing coating applied to the lens.
Many people simply think that a lens coating on a scope is either a film that makes the objective lens appear as a certain color or something like the clear protective sheet that we peel off of a new TV screen or smartphone. Rather, a scope’s lens coatings are an amalgamation of elements that blend qualities identified by smart people that wear lab coats who work to prove the theoretical. For Leupold, the end result also has to last because the company backs each VX-Freedom scope with a full lifetime guarantee.
Let me take a pause to talk about customer service because Leupold fans who have had to use the guarantee seem to all share the same experience. For example, I sent in a pair of binoculars that I didn’t realize were no longer offered. The service department attempted to repair them, but certain parts were no longer made or unavailable. In return, I received a new — and better — pair of binos.
Coating Glass No matter what scope company you consider, they all have catchy names to describe the solution of elements on their lenses. Leupold calls one of its VX-Freedom’s proprietary coatings the Twilight Light Management System. When combined with the scope’s physical elements, the coatings work to transmit the maximum amount of light while improving the vibrance of colors and contrast of highlights and shadows at low-light hours such as dawn and dusk. Further, the coatings applied to the VX-Freedom include technology that reduces the effects of glare, which can occur when you have to look in the direction of the rising or setting sun. My experience in using the VX-Freedom 4-12X these last few months told me that Leupold’s engineers were those students who always spoke up in chemistry class with the right answers.
Dials Using the optic’s controls can be just as important as looking through it. A textured lock ring ahead of the ocular lens can be loosened to allow focusing of the reticle’s sharpness. In front of that ring is the power ring, which offers quick power adjustments without a tall shark fin to avoid interfering with a bolt action’s bolt handle.
The VX-Freedom is assembled on a 1-inch tube, which makes finding rings a cinch. Both adjustment turrets are capped, and there is no parallax adjustment dial.
In the middle, notice that the turret erector system lacks a parallax adjustment dial on the left side. Parallax has been fixed, which helps keep the cost down on these scopes even further. Even if this optic had a parallax adjustment dial on it, I probably wouldn’t use it that much. It’s not a feature that I’ve often remembered to use while hunting.
Under the turret caps are finger-click adjustments for windage and elevation. What I love about the turrets are that the numbers are easy to read and they are available with either 80 minutes of angle (MOA) or 23.3 mils of adjustment range. I have never had a problem zeroing the VX-Freedom. I also love using Leupold’s CDS, which allows a shooter to dial elevation adjustments for specific ranges based on their ballistics information gathered at the test range and then sent to Leupold for laser engraving on a custom dial, syncing up load and scope.
Eye relief is generous, between 33/4 inches at the higher magnifications and almost 5 inches on the lowest settings. The scope’s weight (13 ounces) was hardly noticeable atop the rifle thanks to the use of lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum and the absence of the parallax feature or an illuminated reticle system.
Unlike other brands’ entry-level scopes, Leupold didn’t skimp to get the price down on the VX-Freedom. It’s every bit as worthy of wearing the gold ring as any other scope Leupold makes.
Leupold VX-Freedom Power: 4-12X (tested) Objective: 40mm Tube Diameter: 1 in. Elevation Adjustment: .25 MOA per click Windage: .25 MOA per click Reticle: Leupold Tri-MOA Length: 12.17 in. Weight: 13.1 oz. Eye Relief: 3.74 in. to 4.92 in. MSRP: $390 Manufacturer: Leupold & Stevens,
Adventure meets budget with T/C’s award-winning Compass.
“Best Bang for the buck” was the phrase most often tossed around Guns & Ammo’s office when editors were trying to best describe the 2016 Rifle of the Year award winner. And the Thompson/Center Compass still stands as one of the best values and lowest barriers to entry if you’ve been considering the hot 6.5 Creedmoor. Even after two years on the market, the Compass retails for only a dollar less than $400, which means most dealers have them tagged between $350 and $375 new.
Of course, being affordable doesn’t always mean that something has value. We all know that there’s a difference between a rifle that’s affordable and another rifle that’s cheap. But T/C didn’t skimp when designing the Compass.
Everything You Need Above all other details, the Compass has earned a reputation for being quite accurate among consumers during these last two years in the field. T/C has enough confidence in the Compass to back it up with a minute-of-angle (MOA) guarantee. Best-selling of the 11 calibers offered? The 6.5 Creedmoor! What I’ve found with it chambered in 6.5 is that it can deliver sub-minute, three-shot groups with any premium load. T/C can credit its 5R rifling and the fact that their barrels are button rifled for this accuracy. Inside the bore, the lands are opposed to the grooves, and the lands are gently sloped rather than a normal barrel’s squared edges that scrape and claw on a bullet’s jacket as it passes through. The 5R rifling translates to less bullet deformation, consistent results downrange and less fouling. And when it’s time to clean the bore, you’re going to notice that you have to use fewer patches, too.
The Compass’ single-stage trigger measured a clean 31/2 pounds on Lyman’s Digital Trigger Pull Gauge. However, it is user-adjustable once the stock has been removed.
A guarantee for such accuracy wouldn’t be possible if the trigger was rough. The Compass’ single-stage curved trigger allows its firing pin to spring forward after 31/2 pounds according to our trigger pull gauge. Want it lighter? Prefer a heavier trigger for peace of mind? It’s easy to remove the stock and adjust the trigger’s pull weight. Given that most decisions on whether or not to buy a gun take place across the counter after the trigger is pulled, I think that T/C made a great choice in offering the Compass with such a great, adjustable trigger out of the box.
Time Tested Certain features are not unique to the Compass, but they are generally favored. Let’s start by considering the Compass’ 60-degree bolt lift, for example. The two most common bolt lifts measure roughly 60 and 90 degrees. A 60-degree bolt typically has three lugs while a 90-degree often has two large lugs. A shorter bolt lift (60 degrees) can mean that it is easier to cycle the action quicker because you are not lifting it as high, and it offers more clearance for a scope that’s mounted low. (Ever scrape your index finger on a scope’s power ring when working a bolt quick?) Some will argue, however, that a 90-degree bolt lift requires less force per degree of rotation to cock due to the spring rate and compression distance that has to be overcome. They’re right, too. And many of those rifles have severely downturned bolts to prevent them from hitting a scope’s ocular housing. Me? I prefer 60.
Some economy guns that compete with the Compass cheat the feel of lifting a 60-degree bolt by reducing spring rate, which can lead to light primer strikes. The T/C didn’t compromise reliability, so the Compass’ bolt may feel a bit heavier to lift. But, when the threshold of cocking has been met, the process is still quicker than lifting a bolt in the same action size with a 90-degree lift.
The three-position Winchester Model 70-style safety lever can be used to lock the action, leave the bolt unlocked for unloading with the trigger locked, or be completely unlocked to fire.
The Compass’ safety lever is a derivative of the legendary Winchester Model 70 three-position, so-called “winged” safety lever. The forward position allows the rifle to fire, while the middle position allows the user to work the bolt action without firing and the rearward position locks the bolt action and trigger system. This horizontal-style safety lever has been providing a visible and tactile status of the action’s condition for more than a century.
The stock looks like other economy-rifle stocks in that it’s black, has some molded lines for tactile grip and is made of some plastic that manufacturers often advertise as a proprietary blend of modern polymers. As with other economy rifles, it’s not wood, wood laminate, kevlar, carbon fiber or fiberglass, which means that this was a big cost savings. There are two sling swivel attachment points and ribs to tell the hands where to grip. The stock is straightforward and doesn’t mess with the accuracy of the rifle because it’s molded with such generous proportions that it can’t touch the barrel — even when hot.
A five-round, flush-fit rotary magazine is included and is very robust. Constructed of polymer (to include the magazine release latch), it is rustproof and spares are affordable to purchase.
Not so ho-hum is the Compass’ detachable rotary magazine. Yes, it’s made of plastic, ahem polymer, but it feels robust enough that you could throw it against a brick wall and chip a piece of brick with it. It’s flush fit, too. Though it holds five rounds of 6.5 Creedmoor (four rounds of magnum cartridges), its rotary design makes efficient use of space so that the magazine doesn’t protrude from the base of the stock. It’s brilliant and spares cost $32 each.
Field Tested It seems to me that more hunters are adding a trip to New Zealand as part of their bucket list. Once you bargain shop for a ticket that delivers you to either Auckland on the north island or Queenstown on the south, you’ll find a country in love with the outdoors and shooting sports. To hunt in this isolated paradise, visitors traveling with guns have to be sponsored, which is easy if you’ve booked with an outfitter. I went last spring with Glen Dene Hunting (glendenehunting.com) and saw more of the islands’ culture than I could have possibly experienced on my own. The outfit’s third-generation owners, Richard and Sarah Burdon, offer epic landscapes and access to 15,000 acres of free-range red stag hunting as well as chamois, Arapawa rams, South Pacific goats, tahr and fallow deer. I went working with a small budget that afforded me the opportunity to hunt red stag and tahr.
On arrival to one of Burdon’s lodges above Lake Hawea, you can’t help but be impressed with the view and contrasting colors on the waters at the bottom of the Southern Alps. My guide was Stacey Shuker, and though I don’t typically call attention to gender, she is one of only two certified female guides in New Zealand. Her strength, stamina, determination and knowledge of the animals and environment were cause for a successful hunt.
Shuker, T/C representative Danielle Sanville and I were sent to hunt a remote camp set near a sheep farm. To get there, we drove 3 hours north in a flatbed Toyota to the Dobson Valley. Then we glassed the island’s glaciers and rock slides.
Tahr hunting in New Zealand often requires climbing 3,000 feet to the rugged and often wet terrain high in the Southern Alps. Due to their thick, bullet-busting coat, shot placement is critical.
Tahr is a wild goat introduced to the island (like all game animals on New Zealand). They are native to the Himalayas, which means they thrive near the peaks of the mountains, so be prepared to climb. They wear a beautiful coat of long, straight, dark-brown fur with short horns on their head that can be difficult to age. Their sparring rituals proved fascinating to witness.
Each day we hiked miles of steep, grassy and rocky terrain using boulders for cover while glassing. Though I arrived to New Zealand expecting the most out of the stag hunt, the tahr was the most arduous and rewarding. After arriving at the top of a mountain on the morning of the second hunt day, we were washed out by a rainforest-like storm that forced us back down the mountain. It was demoralizing to know that we’d have to hike back up the same difficult path once the storm had passed. And we did just that five hours later under a blanket of fog.
That afternoon, on our ascent, Shuker spotted a herd of tahr unaware of our presence, which allowed us to crawl and set up for a 140-yard try. Hornady’s 143-grain ELD-X bullet planted one of the herd’s mature, six-year-old bulls with a single shot.
Two days later, Shuker and I hunted the mountains near Lake Hawea for the legendary red stag. I found it interesting that the value of a stag is determined by the guide as you observe it through binoculars. Once you’ve shot and it’s recovered, the antlers’ dimensions are scored, which place the animal in one of several categories that include the largest: gold medal, silver and bronze. Most local Kiwis consider a bronze to be a grand-enough animal to spot on free-range property, while wealthy hunters tend to upgrade to silver- and gold-medal stags that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
After another morning mountain climb, Shuker identified a bronze stag through her spotting scope. We hiked and crawled along at a brisk pace with the sound of a running creek masking our movement until we ran out of cover just 100 yards from the stag. To our surprise, we discovered the bull among two other giants, a silver and a gold. Setting up to shoot, I realized that this was the first time I had ever intentionally aimed to shoot the smallest animal of a group. How ironic.
That beautiful bronze stag was the most regal animal I had ever hunted, and I remain very proud of it. Back at camp, I realized that I still had enough in my budget to hunt one other animal. The affordability of the T/C Compass and new Leupold VX-Freedom scope that I had mounted atop the rifle’s Weaver bases meant that I had saved the difference to enjoy an extra hunting experience by not purchasing a more expensive rifle and optic.
That savings took Shuker and me to an entirely different landscape to hunt for New Zealand’s South Pacific goat. The challenge required more climbing, but a different approach to shooting. Goats don’t mind narrow ledges against flat-faced, loose-rock cliffs. To position ourselves for a shot, we had to walk out on a narrow ledge a few feet wide that was surrounded on three sides by a canyon drop to a creek a few hundred feet below. I didn’t know I was fearful of heights, but I had to fight back the urge to turn back and quit. Ultimately, we were only 10 feet above a herd of pale goats with wide horns. My opportunity came at the largest goat, which was grazing on the opposite cliff at a negative-20-degree angle. Though only 75 yards away, the shot was one of the steepest I’ve attempted. And so was the recovery. This trip certified the Compass’ award-winning value — especially when chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Thompson/Center Compass Type: Bolt action Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested) Capacity: 5+1 rds. Barrel: 22 in.; 5R riflfling; threaded Overall Length: 41.5 in. Weight: 7 lbs., 4 oz. Stock: Black synthetic Length of Pull: 13.39 in. Finish: Blued Trigger: 3 lbs., 8 oz. (tested) Sights: None; Weaver bases (incl.) Safety: Lever, three position MSRP: $400 Manufacturer: Thompson/Center Firearms
Kali Parmley, Managing Editor at Petersen’s Hunting, spoke with Kyle Brown, the Director of Public Relations & Product at Zeiss Sports Optics, at OSG Roundtable 2018 to discuss Zeiss’ new line of riflescopes. This new line of feature-rich, rugged optics are ideal for both hunters and shooters.
Brown gave Parmley a look at the new models of the Conquest V4 riflescopes. Those models include the 1-4×24, 3-12×56, 4-16×44 and 6-24×50. The Conquest V4 line comes equipped with 30mm main tubes and 90 percent light transmission. There are multiple reticles available for this new 4x zoom ratio optics line.
Brown and Parmley also took a look at Zeiss Sports Optics’ new laser rangefinder binoculars; the Victory RF Binoculars. These binoculars are Bluetooth compatible with Zeiss Hunting App. There are four different models of the Victory RF: 8×42, 10×42, 8×54 and 10×54. The Victory RF Binoculars meet their advertised max 2,500-yard range. They weigh approximately 32-40 oz.
These products from Zeiss Sports Optics come with come with a Limited Lifetime Transferable Warranty and 5-Year No-Fault Policy.
The Zeiss Hunting App is Bluetooth compatible and can connect to a mobile device or tablet. There are multiple settings available for configuration including the weather, location and ballistic information.