Category Archives: Optics

The Case of the Bargain Optics, 1964

weatherby_scope_robberyFrom a Weatherby ad:

Like phantom smoke arising from a dead campfire, Weatherby Imperial Scopes were appearing magically in the advertisements of national magazines (and in stores) where they had never been before. And they were priced so low it led you to believe they were obtained as prizes in Cracker-Jack boxes. Of course they disappeared faster than a buck in a tamarack swamp. (Imagine what would happen if the Crown Jewels went on sale in a dime store.)

As you know, Roy Weatherby believes in the fine art of hunting. And he also holds that every serious hunter should have a Weatherby Imperial Scope with its exclusive binocular-type focusing and precision optics for greater luminosity. But not to the extent that he was altogether delighted to see products as superior as the Weatherby Imperial being sold below cost … at a profit to people who weren’t even Weatherby Dealers. There was a bear in the barnyard somewhere. So we started tracking down the mysterious “shipments.”

Back in the long shadows of the warehouse there were telltale, empty spaces. The sturdy cases, carrying the precision-made Imperials, were missing. Not just one or two scopes had skipped … but hundreds of them. Vanished! The hounds lit out on the trail, found the “fence” and tracked down the felons.

Understandably, a great many hunters profited by being able to buy the incomparable Weatherby Imperial Scope at a price that was, to say the least, philanthropic. (When you steal something, it’s not hard to sell it at a profit.) But we think hunters would be more than willing to pay what a Weatherby Imperial is worth. After all, you can’t make an Imperial with all its features, such as dual-dial adjustments for windage and elevation, for less than the starting price of $69.95. Especially when you consider the Lifetime Guarantee against defects, backed by Roy Weatherby himself. (Naturally, he can’t guarantee any of the hi-jacked scopes. He didn’t deliver them to an authorized Weatherby Dealer.)

We grant that a Weatherby Imperial Scope is enough of a prize to tempt thieves. But we disapprove of this method of distribution. We’d rather you bought one the regular way … from your Weatherby Dealer. This way, the guarantee is good, your dealer makes a profit…and Roy Weatherby can afford to keep producing this most wanted (even stolen) telescopic sight in the world. See all five models at your Weatherby Dealer.

This ad ran 50 years ago, in 1964.  For example, it’s on Page 16 of the October, 1964 Guns magazine. Those old magazines are a trip, and an education: a trip in time travel, and an education in how much the gun culture has changed in a half-century.

It’s a general commonplace that the stories in magazines tend to be more descriptive, and the ads tend to be aspirational. In 1964, Weatherby was a premium brand, as the price of $70 in dollars that predate the guns-and-butter inflation of the LBJ 1960s and the gross economic mismanagement of all three of the 1970s Presidents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator, the 2014 equivalent of that scope’s list price is $532.86, so in real purchasing-power terms, the price of a quality scope hasn’t changed much.

Of course, the $500 scope of today will be better than a Weatherby Imperial of the LBJ years on several axes of measurement. The 1960s scope most often has a very fine crosshair reticle, which evaporates in low light.

Weatherby Imperial AdThe Imperial scope had some unusual features that were unique then and are still a bit odd by today’s standards. It had two turrets, both at 12 o’clock and so close as to be conjoined, almost siamesed, with nested knobs or rings in the forward turret for fine adjustments (inner was windage, outer elevation) and one knob in the after turret for focus. Gross adjustments were done with the scope base screws when setting the scope up, so as not to use up too much travel and/or get the reticle out of center of the scope whilst getting sighted-in.

Weatherby never made scopes themselves, but they had private brand scopes made with the Weatherby name for 40 years, from 1954 to 1994. In 1954, Roy Weatherby himself selected Hertel & Reuss of Kassel, West Germany; after visiting several other scope factories, he thought the Kassel company had the best handle on producing quality optics.

The Imperial scope was made in several magnification ranges by Hertel & Reuss from 1954 to 1973, when it was replaced by the Premier line, made by Asia Optical in Japan. The Premier scopes were renamed Supreme in 1983. Asia Optic also made the Mark XXI scope from 1964 to 1989.

Hertel & Reuss was founded by Otto Hertel and Eduard Reuss in 1927. As a maker of all kinds of optics, it survived the Weimar Republic, the Third Reich and its defeat, and the rocky dawn of the Federal Republic — even German Reunification in 1992. But the company had left the rifle-scope market well before it ceased trading in 1995. A successor company owns the Hertel & Reuss trademark and applies it to opera glasses made in the old university town of Marburg. The original Hertel & Reuss plant, where the Weatherby riflescopes and other precision optics were made, now is a European call center for the schlock TV sales outfit, QVC.

This .300 Weatherby Magnum was made in California, and is topped by an Imperial scope in Buehler mounts.

This sharp .300 Weatherby Magnum was sold from South Gate, California, and is a German Mauser action topped by an Imperial scope in Buehler mounts. It has (in our humble opinion) much more classic lines and trim than some of the more over-the-top Weatherbys. A well-used elk gun, but still beautiful; this picture is from a closed auction at (Our basic training drill sergeant, Vietnam vet Antenor “Tony” Arguello, was a Weatherby fan. Wonder how he’s doing these days?)

Weatherby Imperials are the most-sought Weatherby scopes by Weatherby collectors. You may hear the sentiment that a German Weatherby rifle ought to have a German Weatherby scope. But the scopes are not worth a king’s ransom; a used, good-condition Imperial sells for $200-300, max. One not in good condition is just about worthless.

Gilbert Parson of Parson’s Scope Service (aka Parson’s Optical Manufacturing) in Ross, Ohio can still service the Imperial scopes; ABO Inc, in Miami, can handle Weatherby’s Japanese scopes. But given the advances in the last 50 years and the high cost of skilled repairs, it may be wiser to replace rather than repair these old warhorses.

What’s the Opposite of “Advanced”?

We leave answering the question as an exercise for the reader after watching this video, about 15 minutes long. Here you see the 1989-90 contenders for the Advanced Combat Rifle, a program that would have replaced the issue M16A2 rifle which was still being fielded into some low-priority units, replacing 20-25 year old M16A1s, at the time.

The video begins with a rather sloppy three-minute history of American infantry weapons (you’ll cringe at the assertion that the first Army bolt-action was “made by Krag-Jorgensen,” or that the 1903 Springfield “wasn’t much better than the Krag.”  The video also makes a curious claim — one not seen in the doctrinal literature — that the M16A2 had an effective range of 550 meters.

The reason for the program is explained: the actual combat accuracy of the rifle in soldiers’ hands degrades far below its mechanical potential. So the ACR program was hoping to double the real-world effectiveness of the individual weapon.

The four vendors trying to grab the contractual brass ring were:

  • AAI, with a flechette-firing M16 cousin, complete with early ACOG;
  • Colt, with a product-improved M16, including an adjustable carbine-like stock, four-position selector, duplex (two-bullet) ammunition, and an available Elcan scope (similar to the model later adopted as the M145 machine-gun optic);
  • H&K, with an Americanized version of their ill-fated caseless G11; and,
  • Steyr-Mannlicher, with an oddball AUG derivative firing polymer-cased rounds with flechette projectiles.

At about 10 minutes in, the video presents the modifications made to Buckner Range on Fort Benning to evaluate the novel weapons.

In the end, none of them was sufficiently superior to the issue M16A2, or sufficiently well-developed already, to justify further development.

We thought for sure we’d put this video up before, but while we’ve talked about some other boneheaded procurement events — like in this post on the Objective Family of Weapons two years ago — we don’t appear to have actually done it.

Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: Precision Rifle Blog

precision_rifle_blogWe don’t know how we missed this guy,, until now. As long time readers know, we have always admired the empirical, side-by-side A-B testing, like the tests that Andrew Tuohy carried out on his own website, Vuurwapen blog, and later at the sadly moribund Lucky Gunner Labs and The Firearm Blog (just search for his name on those sites — if he did it, it’s good. He’s a young man, but he has his stuff in one bag). It reminds us of a scientific experiment. In the same vein, we have enjoyed some of the experiments that Phil Dater PhD did with barrel length, muzzle velocity, and sound pressure levels. Science FTW!

Now, wouldn’t it be neat if somebody did something like that with rifle scopes, among other precision rifle data sets? Turns out, somebody has; his name is Cal Zant and his website, Precision Rifle Blog, promises “a data-driven approach” to long-range, precision shooting. Cal delivers that, in spades. That’s why he’s the Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week.

Let’s show you one example of his coolest recent research, an incredible comparison test of high-end rifle scopes. These are the sort of scopes you’d apply to a precision rifle for target, hunting, or war.  He has conducted a well-planned and thorough battery of tests of 18 high-end scopes, side-by-side, using a pretty solid array of methodologies. Then, he ranked the scopes according to a weighting scheme that he worked out based on what respondents to a survey said was important.


Every step of his way, he shows his work. Disagree with his weighting scheme? All the data are there; you can draft your own and see how that changes the ranks. Some features are not important to you? Delete them from the weighting scheme and recalculate. The data are all there, and will cost you only the considerable time needed to read and consider them.

The two essential links are to the Field Test Results Summary and the Buyers Guide and Features to Look For.

But those alone don’t tell the whole story, because he’s also included in-depth links and all his methodologies. Not surprising in the STEM world, especially in engineering, the end of STEM furthest from all the theory. And even if you read all the links, you may have further questions, especially if you’re not well-versed in optics terminology. (We thought we were; the site disabused us of that notion right smartly). So he provides an extremely useful online glossary. Confused by the difference between miliradian-based (Mil) and minute-of-angle (MOA) reticles? He’s not, and you won’t be either, if you read his page on the subject. (Short version: if you’re a yards-and-inches guy, you might be happier with MOA, if you’re metricated, you’ll want a mil reticle and turrets).

You can quibble with the weighting scheme, or bellyache that your favorite scope was not included, but we’re still just struggling with the disbelief of the whole thing: that someone would do all this work for nothing but the pleasure of doing it, and then bestow it on the rest of us.

best-long-range-cartridgesAt this point, you might think that Precision Rifle is all about scopes, and it’s not. That’s just an example of what he’s got for you over there. Here’s another example — a chart from a long article on the calibers most used by National Championships’ top 50 competitive shooters. It’s interesting that the question of caliber is now down to 6 or 6½ millimeters, at least among top 50 competitors. We didn’t know that before reading it on Precision Rifle.

Go, and return smarter, grasshoppers.

What TrackingPoint Must Do to Sell to SOF

Tracking Point ProductsWe think the guys running TrackingPoint know what they have to do. In fact, we think they’re already doing these things. But here’s what, from our point of view, is missing from the current iteration of TrackingPoint hardware and software for real penetration into the upper tier SOF market.

So, Who Do You Hit First?

SF Recruiting Poster pick it upIf we were their marketing consultants (we use our MBA, but not like that), we’d also press them to focus on sell-in to certain SOF elements that are image leaders in the international SOF community. Sell, for example, to SAS, and you will have Peru, the UAE, the Netherlands, and many other nations very interested in your product line (Indeed, sell to SAS or to their US counterparts, and you’ll get sale after sale, worldwide). It’s important, also, not to over-discount the stuff to your lead customers: confidentiality agreements are fine and good, but they probably can’t keep, say, American shooters from telling the foreign shooters they’re training with or competing against, what a good deal you gave ‘em.

Another possible launch customer is FBI HRT. As their history of reckless shots and whacked non-targets shows, they could use the marksmanship boost. Meanwhile, despite their record, they’re very influential on local police procurement. Tag/track/release technology is just the ticket for police marksmen who never get enough time for training, and yet have to make more consequential and more constrained shots than a lot of military snipers. (A military sniper, outside of some rarefied CT or HR gigs, almost always has the option to no-shoot. FBI or police sniper, scope-on a crim threatening a hostage, might lack that luxury).

Who Don’t You Hit?

While the Marine Scout Snipers could use the hell out of this thing, it’s too foreign to Marine marksmanship culture, which is a master-and-apprentice culture that demands effort, even hardship, and eschews automation or corner-cutting of any kind. So we’d put these excellent Marine precision marksmen way down the list, right now. We’ve worked with enough 8541s to know that they like to do things the hard way, and they take particular joy in doing it the hard way faster than an Army guy can do it the easy way, and take a positively indecent glee in breaking the dogface’s easy-way technology. Bringing this to the Marines first means that they will use their considerable intellect and energy to break your machine and send you away with a duffel bag of expensive pieces (so they’re great for finding unimagined points of failure — there is that). Bringing it to them after selling it to the Army is not a panacea. It might be even harder, because they will be energized to demonstrate that the Army did Something Stupid, because if Marines believe three things about the Army it’s that: we have too much money, too little guts, and way too little brains.

You’ll probably need a Marine sniper on board to sell to Marine snipers. Once you do, you won’t get quite the global reach that you do by selling to SAS or its American counterparts. But you get in with the world’s greatest military image machine, and there is that. 

You have to be very careful about selling in to Hollywood. (One TrackingPoint precision guided rifle is already in the hands of the most successful firm that supplies movie and TV weapons and armorers). The reason is that an inept display of your product can hurt sales. (It would be very Hollywood to put the TrackingPoint system in the hands of a villain, to be overcome by someone like a Marine sniper or James Bond willing to use superior skill and old school firearms).

What’s Missing From 1st-Gen Tracking Point

While the extant system has undeniable SOF applications, it also has limits, and some technical improvements — none of which are impossible or require TrackingPoint engineers to schedule an invention — would increase its marketability in military precision riflery circles.

Emission Control / Encryption / ECCM

It’s great that you have a computer in a scope, and it’s the wave of the future. But the computer can be located by enemy SIGINT. The video and wifi links need strong encryption, and in addition they need to be controllable so that emissions can be closed down. Even third world enemies often use electronic support measures these days, and so you need some RF low-observability measures, and you also need to have electronic counter countermeasures to ensure usability of the system in an electronic environment.

Two-way communications

This one engenders some risk, but there should be a capability for the opetator to hand off control of the PGM’s optoelectronic systems to someone’s telepresence from a support station. Or even from another field station.

Intelligence gathering MASINT capability

There is everything in this weapons system that’s needed, for instance, to remotely measure a prison camp or a suspected SS-20 missile TEL. This capability would also tie in beautifully with the improved communications and encryption capabilities mentioned above.

A Ballistic Development Interface, SDK or App

Now that we have that in-scope computer, fully integrated with the hardware of the firearm, we need to have a way to make it more adaptable to different ammunition loadings, including one-time, single-mission loads. And that has to be done at the unit level; otherwise you’ve got a potential breach of compartmentation.


This is a sales stopper with top tier units. They develop their own long range capabilities, including, at times, loads, and they do it because they think they, like benchrest shooters, can handload a more consistent, higher-precision round than even premium ammo suppliers can do.

Demonstrated, Documented Durability

The running joke is that a soldier or marine can break a ball from a ball-bearing — just leave him alone in a room with it, and you’re a half hour from looking at a broken ball, and hearing, “Uh, I dunno, sarge. It just broke!” (Bearing-ball, hell, these guys could do that with a wrecking ball). You want your machine to be wrecking-ball strong.

Demonstrated “Fail Safe” mode.

The capability of the system has to degrade gracefully. If you’re sneakin and peekin’ on Day 38 of a “14-day mission,” dead batteries can’t leave you in shoot-randomly mode (let alone, can’t-shoot mode). Even an ACOG, which is probably harder to break than the gun it’s atop, has cast-in backup sights. But with a TrackingPoint gun’s scope being dependent on a CCD display at the shooter end, you can’t afford to have dead batteries.

Full Auto Stabilization Mode

We can’t be the only ones who looked at this and thought, “tag, track & x-act really could up the game of a door gunner and/or Boat Guy.” Hell, those Chenoweth sandrails might come back from the dead, if the gunners in them could actually hit things instead of just contribute morale-raising decibels to a fight. Imagine this Hollywood concoction, except real, and with the boost in hit probability than TrackingPoint promises.

You know you want one (more on the movie gun soon).

Note that these are just for the military employment of tracking point, as combat weapons technology. We haven’t even addressed the utility of tracking point for big game hunting, which is what the thing was developed for in the first place. Its applications for everything from African plains game to heliborne predator control seem self-evident. We haven’t even hinted at the potential for a rimfire TrackingPoint squirrel slaughter system, something that would sell itself once the price comes down.

As we all know, the guys running TrackingPoint are not stupid. They are probably thinking of most if not all of these things already. If not, hey, our rates are reasonable; drop us a line.

New from TrackingPoint

TrackingPoint has refreshed its AR lineup in three calibers (5.56, 7.62, and .300 Win Mag) and also offers three things calculated to increase the appeal of their precision-guided firearms: lower prices, financing, and a virtual reality glass device, the Shotglass.

If you ever wanted to break the last taboo and enjoy a shotglass while shooting, now’s your chance. This one doesn’t hold a precise measure of amber nectar brewed by Scotsmen, though:


The Shotglass can be used to aim and fire the weapon from complete concealment cover. It can record video. It’s most likely use in the real world, though, is as a way for the spotter to direct the sniper on target. We expect we will see more of these used with TrackingPoint’s long-range bolt action rifles than with its ARs, but time will tell. If you buy a TrackingPoint PGF by 30 November 2014, the Shotglass is free; after that, it’s an additional $1k. We’ll probably discuss it in greater depth when TP puts up their Shotglass video; for now, we can’t imagine anyone who wants or has the gun turning the Shotglass down.

The lower prices are relative — they’re still nosebleed-high, just not arterial-nosebleed-high any more. For example, the 5.56 AR is $7,495.


For that, Tracking Point offers:

  • Perfect impact on targets out to 0.3 miles, moving as fast as 10 miles per hour.
  • The same Tag-and-Shoot™ technology found in fighter jets
  • Advanced target tracking technology
  • Comprehensive, purpose-built shooting system.

We’ve discussed the TrackingPoint technology before, but the implementation in the ARs differs from that in the bolt guns. First place, you don’t need the guided-firearm voodoo to just shoot. The optic comes up with a crosshair reticle with mil-dots and a red dot at center. Different TP releases have called this “Standard” or “Traditional” mode. Note that the interface does give you range in this mode, but not wind speed or direction.


Next up is “Freefire” mode, which is present, so far as we know, only in the gas guns, not the bolt guns. In this mode, you range something near a group of targets, and the scope adapts to that range and to the atmospherics (note that the wind speed is displayed in this mode). The reticle cues you that the Freefire Mode has been selected, and it eliminates the mildots. Those are not necessary in this mode, because your point of aim is computer adjusted to equal your point of impact. In “Freefire” mode, the Guided Trigger is not activated: the trigger works like any AR trigger.


In Advanced mode, the reticle changes yet again. In this case, it takes several shapes depending on whether and where the Tag has been applied. In advanced mode, the tag is applied with the red button, and then the reticle changes color and shape. The illustration below shows a tag applied to the running coyote. The blue reticle indicates that the shooter is not ready to take the shot: he is not holding the trigger back. When he holds the trigger to the rear, the color changes to red, and the weapon will fire when it is in proper alignment. At any point, the shooter can safe the gun by releasing the trigger.


Advanced mode does something that was considered impossible for centuries: it removes most sources of human error from marksmanship. This is the sort of thing that becomes possible, when you embed a complete Linux computer in a rifle optic, and tie it in to the physical rifle several different ways.

You’ve probably noticed that TrackingPoint expresses distances in decimal tenths of a mile, rather than the yards or meters common in the shooting world, which suggests that they may see their customer base as coming from outside the present limits of the shooting world. (To which we say: welcome! While it’s cool to have a gun that can calculate all this, it’s incredibly empowering to have a head that can calculate all this, and yet, it is possible and available to you. So may your new TrackingPoint firearm be a gateway drug to a new plane of existence for you).

In any event, 0.3 mile is about 480 meters (which the US Army considers the effective range of the individual rifle platform) and 530 yards.

The guns each have a limited effective range which seems like it was programmed into the weapon as a maximum “lock range” (the system has an integrated rangefinder and environmental sensors). This may be intended to ensure that shooters have a positive experience with the precision-guided firearm, but it may also serve to ensure that the ARs don’t cannibalize the higher-end sniper and hunting rifles.


The top of the AR line, the .300 Win Mag monster, offers the same claimed benefits as the 5.56 version, except that it offers “perfect impact on targets out to 0.5 miles, moving as fast as 20 miles per hour,” for a more-than-your-pickup-truck $18,995. (Our pickup, anyway: 4-banger, 2 wheel drive). (Half a mile is 800 meters or 880 yards). Unfortunately, now that somebody’s actually built an AR that’s perfectly sized as a bayonet handle, there’s no bayonet lug.

The 7.62 AR offers slightly less performance (0.5 mi, moving targets to 15 mph) for slightly less money: $14,995. If these prices seem high for ARs, well, they are, but no other ARs do these things, this well.




When TrackingPoint first announced the AR line this spring, there was a .300 Blackout version available. A prototype, using a Daniel Defense upper, was clearly visible in their first AR video, but the gun is not on their price list today. The TrackingPoint technology offers the potential to have a firearm that automatically corrects its zero for the Point of Impact shift common with suppressors; it can also, potentially, store several load profiles. (The ballistics-adapting capability of the weapon depends on it being fired consistently with a load whose performance parameters are known to the software).

The bolt-action rifles, which have not been updated, offer similar performance, actually, in similar calibers. Only the mighty .338 LM extends range to 0.75 miles (1200m — 1320 yards). The bolts are priced differently than their semi-auto kin, a little lower in 7.62 but the highest-price version of the .338 is near-as-dammit $28,000. With great power comes great liabilities, Spider-man. In addition to that, you might want to think hard about budgeting for the extended warranty and the software maintenance contract — software maintenance alone is a stiff $2k/year.

The electricity to drive all this juju comes from batteries in compartments in the stock or the AR and in integral battery compartments in the optics of the bolt guns.

TrackingPoint’s managers are keenly aware that the prices of these guns are an obstacle to sales, and so they have a financing program with decent terms: 10% down, 36 months, 10% interest. (They don’t say how it’s compounded or what the APR is). There’s also a 30-day, no questions asked, money back guarantee, “You can feel completely confident that TrackingPoint stands behind its products.”

We’re not sure it’s really, in their words, “the most incredible shooting system known to mankind.” But we are sure want one of these pretty badly. Just not $18-30k badly. Yet.

For $2k you can spend the day at TrackingPoint in Pflugerville, Texas, meet the staff, see the plant and fire the gun. If nothing else, you’d learn how to pronounce, “Pflugerville,” and maybe even who Pfluger was.

Here’s Another Scope of Tomorrow: Sandia’s RAZAR

Sandia National Labs is better known for playing around with things that go boom and make entire grid squares vanish, than it is for small arms. But the RAZAR scope (Rapid Adaptive Zoom for Assault Rifles) is right in our wheelhouse:

Sandia operates two laboratories for the Department of Energy, but has been known to turn its talents to DOD work.

Sandia says: “RAZAR adaptive zoom is a revolutionary method whereby true optical zoom is accomplished by cooperatively varying the focal lengths of multiple active optical elements in the system.” In effect, this gives you at a minimum the dual magnification of the Elcan SPECTR we’ve used, but without having to take your hand off the rifle. It also offers all intermediate magnifications and fields of view between its extremes. Sandia, again:

RAZAR, and its component lenses, are market leaders from a performance standpoint. It can zoom in milliseconds and perform 10,000 actuations on two AA batteries. The weight, power, and speed requirements for mechanical zoom make them pro- hibitive. RAZAR allows target engagement at diverse ranges and provides several distinct advantages including speed and high resolution at varying distances.

The interface at present is a plus arrow and a minus arrow, fitted on the forearm rail much like a vane switch used with a light. A better interface, if you had a RAZAR with a very wide range of magnification, would be four buttons: plus or minus increment buttons like the current design, plus zoom-to-the-max and -min buttons.

They patented the technology in 2005 (US Patent Nº 6,977,777) and are actively trying to license it to industry. Really trying. Interested?

The RAZAR is actually only one of several Sandia optics developments that are highly interesting. Foveated lenses are another; they developed these to give UAVs a light, compact wide-angle lens but it’s not hard to think of ground forces applications for such a device. And then there are variable radius synthetic mirrors… you can see an overview of these technologies in this promotional PDF from Sandia.

Hat tip: Thanks to John in the comments for getting us started on this.

Tracking Tease

Got a phone call yesterday from a friend at a range in West Virginia. Three guys including a former SF man, a former SEAL (range officer), and a dealer/gunsmith/armorer without military service cracked the box on a new TrackingPoint .300 WM rifle on a long range.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don't know yet what exact model our guys had.

This is file photo a standard TP XS3 rifle. Don’t know yet what exact model our guys had.

Quick take-aways:

  • Best packaged gun any of them had ever seen. In the gunsmith’s experience, that’s out of thousands of new guns.
  • Favorably impressed with the quality of the gun and the optic. It “feels” robust.
  • It’s premium priced, but with premium quality. Rifle resembles a Surgeon rifle. “The whole thing is top quality all the way, no corners cut, no expense spared.” They throw in an iPad. The scope itself serves its images up as wifi.
  • First shot, cold bore, no attempt to zero, 350 meters, IPSC sized metal silhouette: “ding!” They all laughed like maniacs. It does what the ads say.
  • Here’s how the zero-zero capability works:  they zero at the factory, no $#!+, and use a laser barrel reference system to make automatic, no-man-in-the-loop, corrections. Slick.
  • The gun did a much better job of absorbing .300WM recoil than any 300WM any of them have shot. With painful memories of developmental .300WM M24 variants, that was interesting. “Seriously, it’s like shooting my .308.”
  • By the day’s end, the least experienced long-range shooter, who’d never fired a round at over 200 meters, was hitting moving silhouettes at 850 yards. In the world of fiction where all snipers take head shots at 2000m with a .308, that’s nothing, but in the world of real lead on target, it’s huge. 
  • It requires you to unlearn some processes and learn some new ones, particularly with respect to trigger control. But that’s not impossible, or even very hard.
  • They didn’t put wind speed into the system, and used Kentucky windage while placing the “tag.” This worked perfectly well.
  • An experienced sniper or long range match shooter, once he gets over the muscle memory differences, will get even more out of the TrackingPoint system than a novice, but
  • A novice can be made very effective, very fast, at ranges outside of the engagement norm, with this system.

As Porky Pig says, for now, “Ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-ib-a-dee-That’s all, folks!” But we’re promised more, soon.

Everybody is really impressed with the Tracking Point system. No TP representative was there and as far as we know this is the first report on a customer gun in the field, not some massaged handpicked gunwriter version. And as far as we know this is the first report on a customer’s experience with both experienced school-trained snipers and an inexperienced long-range shooter. The key take-away is the novice’s ringing of the 850m bell on moving targets. That’s Hollywood results without the special effects budget, and with real lead on real target. No marketing, no bullshit, just hits.

We asked about robustness. This isn’t like the ACOG you can use as a toboggan on an Afghan stairway and hold zero (don’t ask us how we know that one). But it seemed robust to the pretty critical gang shooting it Friday.

We wish Chris Kyle were here to see this. Maybe he already has!

Stand by for more on TrackingPoint, and on more on this range complex when the principals are willing to have some publicity.

Civilian-legal IR laser illuminator

PEQ-2 on an M4 clone. This unit was IR only -- note blue lock keeping switch on low power. TNVC image. Click to Embiggen.

2000-vintage PEQ-2 on an M4 clone. This unit was IR only — note blue lock keeping switch on low power. TNVC image. Click to embiggen.

At the start of the war in Afghanistan, we had the AN/PEQ-2 TPIAL, which is actually something pretty useful under that welter of characters. Let’s break out the descriptive acronym: Target Pointer/Illuminator Aiming Laser. What a TPIAL is, is a laser floodlight and laser sight, slaved to one another so they both align with the weapon’s zero, both working in the infrared regime where it cannot be seen with the naked eye.  The PEQ-2 was a decent unit but only worked with night vision, was bulky and took up a lot of your rail, ate batteries like Godzilla carboloading for the Tokyo Marathon, and had a bad tendency to get knocked off zero, or knocked clean out of the fight, if clobbered pretty hard. In time it was replaced by the PEQ-15 ATPIAL. (“A” for “Advanced” Target Pointer/Illuminator Aiming Laser, naturally).

ATPIAL-C on a similar weapon. Note size difference.

ATPIAL-C on a similar weapon. (This is what PEQ-15 looks like, too). Note size difference between this and PEQ-2 above.

The PEQ-15 has a number of advantages over the PEQ-2. It was smaller, lighter, and more durable. The battery life is even longer (not long enough, but it is an improvement). It has an ingenious “saddlebag” cross-section that lets it mount to the top rail of your carbine without interfering with any ordinary iron or optical sight. Taken together, these things mean it screws up the balance of your carbine less than the PEQ-2 does.

The -15 has a visible as well as an IR laser pointer (selectable), which lets you use the pointer as a day sight if they day isn’t too bright, and lets you use it at night to intimidate enemies or as a pointer for allies without night vision capability. Best of all, it cost less to manufacture, so Uncle Sam could buy and issue more of them, and they became a standard part of a grunt’s kit rapidly.

But there was a problem with these, for the civilian market. The military lasers are Class 3B lasers, and are not remotely eye-safe. (There are lockout switches to prevent military users from inadvertently engaging high-energy mode in noncombat applications). The FDA, which regulates lasers in the USA, does not permit the sale of these devices to members of the public without licenses (which the FDA chooses not to grant).


So L3 Communications, the makers of the PEQ-15, have made a civilian-legal Class 1 version, which they call the ATPIAL-C (“C” for “Commercial”). It’s basically the PEQ-15, made on the same production line out of most of the same parts, just without the high-energy mode. Even side by side they’re hard to tell apart. (Look at the laser safety label — the ATPIAL-C has a triangular warning icon, as befits its lower-energy laser, and the PEQ-2 the red starburst of an eye-unsafe laser). What you give up with the -C model is some range on the laser pointer, a lot of the range on the laser floodlight, ability to focus that light, and 100% of the risk of putting someone’s eye out or having the authorities take your eBay PEQ-15 away because it was originally stolen from Uncle Sam.

The ATPIAL-C is available for pre-order for $1200 from Tactical Night Vision Company (they charge your card when you order; shipping is supposed to be in November). TNVC has an exclusive deal with L3, at lest for the time being, for these things.

Training Smarter: Low Ready on Army BCT Ranges!

e-type_silhouetteApparently we got out ahead of our knowledge recently when we said that the conventional Army maintained cold range practices, and only some ARSOF were using hot range practices.

We thought we said that in answer to a comment on this blog, and now we think we might just have done it on another blog (’cause we can’t find the sucker), maybe Tam’s. Tam is on record that she thinks requiring extraneous manipulation of weapons on the range, creating the false idea that the weapons are now “safe,” and making people fear a loaded gun (even his or her own!), is a bad idea. We couldn’t agree more, but pointed out — to someone, somewhere — that such extraneous gunhandling, mythical “safe gun,” and situational hoplophobia, is how Big Green did it. Turns out, we was wrong.

This was, indeed, the “Way it Used to Be,” but over the last dozen-plus years of war, the Army’s gotten smarter (admittedly, they’re rising up from a low baseline here). There have been a large number of training changes, even in Basic Rifle Marksmanship, which are oriented towards the idea that the end product is not hitting targets on a range, but being able to “fight with a rifle.” That’s a quantum improvement, and it appears to have changed some of the Army’s excessive safety orientation. Here’s a chart of some of the differences:


It’s taken from this PEO Soldier document from 2011. To break out some of the acronyms, BRM is Basic Rifle Marksmanship, taught to all soldiers in initial entry training. ARM is part of Advanced Individual Training for infantrymen. “Up and Downrange” referred to the way weapons had to be carried on the range: muzzle up, and pointed in towards the impact area at all times. The Army still clears weapons at the end of a firing evolution, but the trainees continue to handle their weapons as if they were hot, in the expectation that soon enough they will have to go about their business, confidently and safely, with a hot weapon.

The first bullet point in the comparison chart is the reason that we hot range advocates are hot range advocates: Students are trained to be comfortable with a rifle, not to fear it. You train as you fight, or should fight.

The Trainfire range system was a sort of physical world video game, in which any hit on the E-type silhouettes (used from 100 to 300 meters range) of F-type partial silouettes (for targets inside 100m) caused the silhouette to drop. These were used in field firing practice and for rifle qualification. The Trainfire system could also be cheated or gamed in several ways, for instance, a shot short of the target would often throw enough rocks, dirt, or debris onto the target as to make it drop.

The Army has finally woken up to what everyone else (including many armies) knew decades ago: optical sighting systems are superior, period. Ten years ago, using an optic was “cheating.” Now they understand it’s “training.” (The Army’s standard optic is the M68 Close-Combat Optic or CCO. The same designator is used for the Aimpoint Comp M2 and Comp M4. In the conventional Army, certain specific troops also get an ACOG M150, but that’s not used in basic combat training). Train as you fight.

Even ten years ago, range firing, even for qualification, was “admin”: if your weapon failed or jammed, you got a mulligan, called in Army range fire an “alibi.” Stages were designed to use the rounds you had in a given magazine, so that your mag change was never on the clock. Now, the qual fire is more releastic. If you have a jam, you have to conduct immediate action and reengage your targets — just like in combat. If you run out of ammo, well, they taught you how to reload an M4, do it and drive on. Just like in combat. And some of the e-hadjis (or enemy of your choice) out there in the target array will take multiple hits to be incapacitated — just like in combat.

As noted on the slide the minimum qualification (“Marksman”) on Trainfire or reduced-distance ranges was (and is) 23 hits out of 40. (Bear in mind, this might be done in any weather, so it’s not a completely unrealistic evolution — just mostly unrealistic). The max qualification, Expert, required and requires 36 hits.

In the long run, these training changes will produce soldiers who are more confident and more effective with their individual weapon, especially if in-unit sustainment training also makes similar advances.

This cultural change won’t happen overnight. It needs to have sustained command emphasis, and we need to have young people come up, especially in the NCO ranks, who trained like this, to replace those sergeants and sergeants major who aren’t bright enough to follow the reasoning of the policy, and can only do what they saw others do before them. So firming up this policy may require 25 or 30 years of emphasis and effort, but it will produce more lethal combat units, and support and service-support units far more capable of self-defense, one soldier at a time.

The biggest threat to this change is, indeed, personnel policy. Currently, the Army gives little weight to combat experience and is throwing experienced combat leaders out, while promoting combat-shy ticket-punch collectors, who rode to the sound of their careers while the Army was off fighting a war (the current Sergeant Major of the Army, who spent most of the war hiding out in Army schools and did one, late, tour as a sergeant major on a FOB, exemplifies this perfectly). But the same current Army leadership doing that are the guys who signed off on this, which illustrates, perhaps, that the leaders are doing the best as they see it.

When is a Used Scope Worth $5k?

With a couple hours left to go, this scope is over $4,800 at the CMP Auction site. It’s worth a lot because it’s a rarity, of no small historical significance.

USMC Sniper scope2

Anybody can stamp “USMC Sniper” on a scope, but when Unertl did it, the scopes went to the Marine Corps scout-sniper program — he never sold one to the civilian world. So everybody who’s a fan of Marine snipers, whether they’re real ones like Carlos Hathcock or the fictional kind like Bob Lee Swagger, wants one of these scopes.

Many years ago they were rebuilt by US Optics, and stored. And they wound up at CMP. They have a mil-dot reticle.

USMC Sniper scope3

You’re on your own for a mount… but if you need this you can solve that little problem.

USMC Sniper scope1

CMP Auction here.

We want this so bad we can taste it, but then we’d need to build the whole gun, and we’re not Marines around here… better to let the authentic Marines have it, but we’d sure like to see (and shoot? Pretty please?) the gun when it’s built.

Now, we SF guys need a 1980-vintage M21 with Leatherwood ART II. Sooner or later.


The scope sold for exactly $5,000. CMP doesn’t have another scope auction scheduled at present.