Category Archives: Optics

A Sad Scope Story

An AR newbie posted the following to Reddit, under the alarming title, “Frustrating Weekend of Zero”. See if you can figure out why his weekend was frustrating.


So I just added a new Sig Sauer M400 Enhanced to my family this last month, and got a shiny new Barska to go atop it. I finally found a range that was outdoors and had a 50 yard target to me to get a 50/200 zero on.

This is the Barska scope on an AR from the Barska website. Note that it is not made to be used with a flip-up BUIS -- without messing up eye relief. But that's the least of its problems.

This is the Barska scope on an AR from the Barska website. (And yes, it’s on a full-auto post sample lower). Note that it is not made to be used with a flip-up BUIS — without messing up eye relief. But that’s the least of its problems. 

Some of you will have sussed the answer already. For the rest of you, we’ll drag a red herring in the form of his first couple frustrations…

First frustrating bit is that they tell me AFTER pay range fees for the day that no FMJ is allowed on the outdoor rifle range. Ok…so I buy their up priced ammo just to save me a trip to the closest store (~10 miles away) for range/target 5.56 ammo.

First: what odds that ammo restriction is on the range’s website?

Second frustrating thing was the staffer. I started with the iron sights at the 50 and the RSO there is literally pestering me every firing iteration about how I should be zeroing it at 25 yards. Anyhow, I get it nice and zeroed at the 18 round mark. 3 rounds each group. Still feeling pretty OK at this point. On goes the scope.

A lot of outdoor ranges are requiring frangible ammo now under EPA, etc., pressure. Until the bureaucrats are displayed along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway like Spartacus’s army, our only choice is to live with it. But he put the scope on, and as we are fond of saying, Then His Troubles Began™.

By the way, if anyone here has a similar setup be aware that the rail on the M400 is BARELY long enough to fit both the scope of this length and the rear sight on it. I had to put the sight on the forward-most slots and the sight on the rear-most. It actually extends a couple of mms over the bolt handle.

One of those “sight on the forward-most and sight on the rear-most”  was obviously meant to be the “scope.” The normal thing to do would be for the scope to be forward, but we have limited confidence in this guy’s gun savvy.

For most people, back-up iron sights are somewhere between an affectation and a gimmick. With a solid scope, you will not need them.

Anyways, the next frustrating part is that this scope is not intuitive to zero in. Even with the manual in hand. I field boresight to get on paper with the RSO looking at me like I have lost my mind. Looking down the open bore and then getting the scope close to where I can see it. This gets me on the paper. I quickly realize that this scope has these “locking rings” to keep the adjustment wheels from moving. The frustrating bit is that if they are locked in, you cant adjust (duh) but if they are TOO lose, the knobs will turn without clicking and without moving the sights at all. So its a freaking pain to sight in this scope.

This: “I quickly realize that this scope has these “locking rings” to keep the adjustment wheels from moving,” makes us wonder if he did anything with that manual except wave it around as a magic talisman. On the other hand, is the manual on any Chinese scope any good?

One gimmick that is a red flag for low-quality Chinese glass is the multi-color reticle.

One gimmick that is a red flag for low-quality Chinese glass is the multi-color reticle.

Because here we’re getting to the root of the problem: in terms of optics, nothing from China that’s exported here is any good. (Chinese optics on their own military firearms are fine, but that’s not the lowest-bidder crap they send us). Even if the manual weren’t in an uncharming patois with English, Chinese, and Christ-knows-what elements to it, the scope itself is likely to have any of a number of problems: DOA, reticle out of place, won’t hold zero, won’t adjust, fogs up, etc. etc. etc. It’s not just Barska, which name is a watchword for bottom-drawer, Airsoft-quality junk, but TASCO (These Are Simply Crappy Optics), Leapers, NCStar, Simmons, and any other trademark that’s now emblazoned on the products of Peoples Re-Enlightenment Prison & Factory #4628. (ETA: UTG, BSA, same junk with a different name).

This character had the no-system-to-the-adjustments problem, which is not universal but pretty common on the Walmart & Dick’s, etc., scopes.

My grouping every 3 rounds was fine, so I don’t think firing moved the sights at all, but the adjustments were crazy. 12 clicks down to put me twice as far as I wanted, from about 4 inches above the target to 4 below. So I went 6 up…then 4 more up, then 4 more up, then 2 more up to get on target. Made no sense to me. Regardless I finally get it zeroed and Ive been in the heat for hours now. I am done and relieved to be done with it. I start tightening the lockdown rings on the scope…and I hear them making clicking noises. **** me…I knew I just ruined my zero, and I know that although I reversed the exact same number of clicks that this scope is funky. My zero is probably gone after all that work. I went from frustrated to plain pissed off, and at that point just decided to call it a day and head home. I will at least be on paper next weekend and go from there.

Elsewhere in the thread, he explains that the Barska scope was a gift. He amended his post to include:

Since I am getting a lot of comments about the scope. I understand that its not top quality. But it IS gift quality. And thus I use it. It is in itself not a bad scope to use for shooting. My groups are good, sights are stable during and after firing…its just a pain to adjust. I am just hoping that after I get it locked in I will never have to touch the adjustments again.

Unfortunately, a scope that seems to hold zero but that has no logic to its adjustments is unlikely to continue to hold zero. Our heart goes out to this guy. A well-meaning relative has given him something that looks like a scope, and that is, in true Chinese-maker style, laden with advanced-sounding features, but deficient in quality control and basic functionality.

His basic choices at this point are:

  1. Return the scope (and risk disappointing his relative) in the fond hope that another one with be without problems;
  2. Live with it, and “hope” it doesn’t get worse, which is clearly what he’s decided to do;
  3. Start saving for a real scope.

“Just as good for half the money” is not a term that has any grip in the low end of the optics market. (The high end? Maybe). And any expenditure is wasted, even $59, if it’s on a scope that you can’t trust. 

A Chinese scope is not automatically bad. Maybe one in four will take zero, hold zero, adjust correctly, and last for years. Two in four will start off like that and fail on at least one of those in twelve months or less — usually, much less. And the fourth is DOA, like this fellow’s. That is not a product you can trust, and right now China, Inc. can sell as many of these things as they can make at a profit, so they have little incentive to improve the product. There’s nothing different about Chinese people that makes it hard for them to make scopes, but their industrial and social organization is at odds with modern quality control practices. In plain English, even when they have a QC process in place, they’re incentivized to cheat on it, and they do.

How will you know when the Chinese make a good scope? When they proudly put a Chinese name on it. Ain’t happened yet.

The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune or buy a trusted name (Leupold, Nightforce, Trijicon) to have a decent scope. You can seek out a used scope from when Simmons, Bushnell, Tasco, etc. were not badge-engineered Chinese junk. (The fact that these names are now applied to Chinese scrap-value scopes depresses the prices of the older, higher-quality glass!)

Look for scopes made in the USA, Japan, or the Philippines. (Many of the Filipino scopes are made with lenses ground and coated in Japan, so they tend to punch above their weight in clarity & light transmission).

As a rule of thumb, your optic should cost you about what your gun did. (Hark! We hear squawks of alarm). It’s not an “accessory,” it’s a vital component of your fire control system. But assuming Chel$ea Clinton hasn’t taken up shooting, the rest of you may need to compromise on your optic.  The good news is that you can without going all the way to the bottom of the barrel.

For $100 more than the scope from the Peoples’ Re-Enlightenment Prison & Factory #4628, you can get a Filipino-assembled scope that will have had some quality control at the factory. You won’t be playing in Nightforce territory and the Schmidt undt Bender snobs will still sneer at you, but you’ll be spared the miserable weekend this guy just had, trying to zero a shoddy scope.


“Black Spot” and Night Battlefield Dominance

NC-123k period 2In 1967, the Air Commandos began to develop a night special operations gunship capability called Project Black Spot. They leveraged the capabilities of primitive imagery intensifiers to create an aircraft that could defeat the darkness and interdict enemy movement in areas where the threat situation was too “hot” for a low-and-slow-flying fixed-wing gunship. While a couple of these areas were obviously the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia, the ship was also used to hunt clandesting agent-landing boats off the coasts of South Korea.


The airframe selected was the Fairchild C-123K Provider, which after modification was called the NC-123 (formal name) or AC-123 (as used by crews). Instead of side-firing guns, the Black Spot birds had cluster bomb unit (CBU) dispensers and carried a war load of over 6,000 1-lb dual-purpose CBUs, of which 24 could be delivered (2 x 12-unit racks) in a single pass. The CBU racks could then be in-flight reloaded by the crew.

Some sources say three airframes were modified, but only two show up in most references: 54-691 and 54-698.

NC-123k period photo

The key to the system was the sensors: X-Band Radar, Doppler terrain-following radar, night-vision Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), night-vision Low Light Level TV (LLLTV), a Radar Homing and Warning (RHAW) countermeasures device, and a laser range-finder/illuminator.  Some of these systems were new, and some had been developed for strategic bombers, but taken together they greatly improved the situational awareness of the crew.

In a harbinger of what was to come, the the TFR, FLIR and LLLTC were housed in a gimbaling “ball” in the nose.

c-123k pod

The outcome of the Korean tests is unknown. The Vietnam theater tests were successful, despite the aircraft having gross weight and density altitude limitations. In addition, a limitation of the cluster bomb dispenser required the pilots to fly the plane at 4,800 feet — no more, no less.

At the end of the test, the NC-123s were converted back to ordinary C-123K trash haulers. All of the sensors proven on the NC-123 were used in subsequent gunships.

Not all experimental sensors from this period went forward. Black Crow, for example, was a truck-ignition detector that zeroed in on the ignition “noise” produced by unshielded wires in the typical Otto-cycle gasoline engine’s spark-ignition system. It was deadly effective on the trucks of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, but wouldn’t work on newer trucks. Black Crow was only installed on -698, but did become standard on the AC-130s for a time.

Proving this technology on large airplanes like transports and bombers was necessary and laid fundamental groundwork for US dominance in low-light sensing systems in present years. It is a matter of some concern that, while we continue to exploit, miniaturize and field these 1960s technologies, the rate of development has slowed, and we’re resting on our, sometimes 1960s-vintage, laurels.


Chinnery, Philip D. Air Commando: Inside The Air Force Special Operations Command. London: Airlife Press, 2008. pp. 210-218. 

Johnson, E.R. American Attack Aircraft Since 1926. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2008. pp. 210-211.

Images found here and there on the internet.

Silencerco SWR Radius Rangefinder

Silencerco says the objective of its Silencerco Weapons Research subsidiary is “to bring advanced technology to the public at an attainable price.” We had not heard of that, or of SWR for that matter, until they came up claiming mission accomplished: “with the announcement of a capability-heavy range finder for only $999, we’ve done just that.”

Have they? Here’s a silent (apart from music and maybe gunshots) video of the SWR Radius in action.

This video describes some of the capabilities:

Sure, it’s not TrackingPoint, but TrackingPoint is not available for pre-order at $995, either.

The Tracking Point system includes several other modules, such as an air data computer that accounts for atmospherics (density, ambient pressure, altitude, temperature), a ballistics computer that knows the bullet performance at a given range, an aiming point module that adjusts the digital reticle on to target, a target reference module that “understands” where a marked (“tagged”) target is in three dimensions, and trigger control that, in a digital update to the way a Contstantinesco gear interrupted fire of a World War I fighter plane unless the propeller was clear of the trajectory, only allows the trigger to fire when the aimpoint is on target.

A unit like this, if it were able to output data through an RS232/RS422 port or something like that,  could be a component of such a system, and if the rangefinder alone succeeds, the likelihood that SWR builds in this direction is increased.

Of course, the one nut that even TrackingPoint has yet to crack is wind.

None of these developments are really, in the truest sense of the word, inventions. They’ve all been around for a century, manually calculated and optically ranged, in naval gunnery, and for most of a half century (including laser ranging) in tank gunnery. The new development is this technology reaching levels of portability and affordability where it can be installed on (or in) an individual weapon.

There are  couple less in-your-face developments embedded in the Radius. One of these is the display of not just one, but the top three range returns. This is a big deal if you’re engaging a target screened by vegetation, a chain link fence, or any of the other embuggerments that give a laser rangefinder a false return.

Another is the selectable use of visible and IR laser. The two lasers coalign, so that the laser can be boresighted or sighted-in with the visible laser, and then switch to the IR for actual field use, and use it with confidence.

This suggests that, while full firing system integration à la TrackingPoint is one way this can go, there are other ways. For example, a unit integrating this laser capability (in milspec strength) with current IR/visible laser floodlight and point illumination would be catnip to the military services.

How would you use this? No manual is posted yet, but a .pdf spec sheet is available.

And as an exit video: here, they’re hinting at some future capabilities.

Dude, where’s my jetpack?

A Side You Might Not Know of a Company You Do

If you think you know Beretta Defense Technologies, the professionals’ side of the 15th-Century gunmaker… do you recognize this?


That state-of-the-art looking sniper rifle is a Sako TRG M10 bolt-action sniper rifle, availble in the three most common Western sniper chamberings: 7.62 NATO/.308 Win; .300 Win Mag; and .338 Lapua Mag. Beretta says this about that:

The TRG M10 is a bolt-action sniper rifle that is available in multiple calibers, manually operated and shoulder-fired, as well as magazine-fed. It has a high-capacity magazine and fully adjustable stock that make it a multi-functional system in a single weapon, suitable for many different situations. The M10 sniper weapon transforms from a compact medium range precision tool into a full-bodied sniper platform capable of engaging targets out to 1500 m and beyond–in minutes and virtually without tools.

Currently TRG M10 offers three different calibers (.308 Win, .300 Win Mag, and .338 Lapua Mag) and all these in multiple barrel lengths. Each of the calibers feature a high-capacity magazine. There are also three standard color options to select from: Stealth Black, Military Green, and Coyote Brown.

The folding stock shown on this example is an option. And the M10 is far from the only BDT sniper rifle; there are four separate sniper product lines, ranging from a light law enforcement Tikka T3 in .223 up to this Goliath in .338 LM.

That’s one of the things we learned stooging around Beretta Defense Technologies’ new website  today. BDT represents several other Beretta-owned brands including Benelli, Sako (as above), and Steiner (Optics).

Of course, Beretta has a whole line of pistols, for which it’s probably best known in the USA, as well as several carbines.

Aside — We’ve never understood why so many are eager to badmouth the M9. It deserved its selection, given the competition at the time, and back in the 1980s when they selected it we were very pleased. (Some military units had already jumped the gun and been using them, bought with a forerunner of MFP-11 money). Yes, there was the debacle of the locking blocks, and that shook the gun’s reputation badly. But once they got over that, M9s were back to running really, really realiably).

It’s almost as if familiarity with the M9 has bred contempt. And in some people, it’s such great contempt that they don’t even consider more modern weapons, like the PX4 or the new striker-fired APX.

End of Aside.

It is a mystery to us, as well, why Beretta’s rifle- and pistol-caliber carbines haven’t gained more sales.

Finally, the BDT website is a gateway into Beretta’s armorer courses, conducted at Beretta HQ in the People’s Republic of Maryland, or at various agency sites nationwide.

The Story Behind the EOTech Fraud Settlement

The sight at the center of the storm: EOTech 556.A65 Holographic.

The sight at the center of the storm: EOTech 556.A65 Holographic.

There has been a lot of news in recent weeks about a major fraud settlement (>$25 million) between L-3 Communications’ EOTech and the DOD, over deficient holographic sights distributed as part of the SOPMOD II case and other military and government channels. As is often the case when suits settle, it’s not entirely what it seems. Whether your narrative was “greedy defense contractor rips off troops,” or “bozo government buys crap again,” you had only one blindfolded finger on the underlying elephant of truth. You probably missed the bit about “lawyers twist negotiations to privately enrich lawyers.”

To start with, we have an allegation that some EOTech Model 556 holographic sights were defective, and that “testing” performed by L-3 consisted, actually, only of paperwork falsely representing that environmental tests were performed. From

Since 2004, L-3’s EOTech sold holographic weapons sights that they knew were defective to the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the lawsuit says. EOTech was paid tens of millions of dollars in government contracts.

“Tens of millions” is an understatement.

What was the specific deficiency of the EOTech holographic sights? It was environmental failure, to wit, collapse of performance in low (but hardly extreme) temperatures. A lot of the readers of this blog are former special operations personnel or grunts from various services (and nations). Ever needed to use your sights in temperatures below

The defects caused the optics to fail in both cold and humid environments (effective in temperatures -40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit), but EOTech claimed it tested the sights in accordance with military standards.

The lawsuit says in sub-zero temperatures the defect distorts the aiming dot within the optic by more than 20 inches fore every 100 yards.

Yes, that last sentence collapses into gibberish (it almost makes sense with for in place of fore).  But we think we understand what was intended, and we’re not going to hurl stones at the writer from our blog’s crystal chateau.

How did the .gov find out about the problem? Turns out, EOTech solved it… then decided to sell their solution to the military.

The lawsuit adds that EOTech waited to disclose the problem until 2013, when the company thought they had a solution and then pitched the fix as an upgrade.

via L-3’s EOTech to pay gov’t $25.6 million in fraud case.

Tacky. That’s what woke up the slumbering lawyers, who then pounced.

The settlement is a big loss for the military and a big win for EOTech, as it doesn’t solve the problem of the bloated aiming point, but leaves the company able to keep the majority of the money it got for the defective sights, and sell the fix for their own failure to Uncle Sam for more money.

So why did the .gov accept the settlement? It looks like a lot of money, and gives the lawyers something to crow about and put on their CVs as they seek better-paying jobs in the Dreaded Private Sector. Maybe with L-3 Communications, or another firm in the industry, or a law firm that serves such contractors and promises “connected” former Federal lawyers.

In other words, a settlement process operated entirely by lawyers has been corrupted to detriment of the nominal client, and to the personal benefit of the lawyers. Stop us if you’ve heard that one before.

Is this a “Red Not” Sight?

Screenshot from Shooting Sports Retailer, generally a really good online trade mag:



(The sight in question is a Trijicon TA01NSN scope, the model we had on our M4A1 in Afghanistan. It’s a traditional four-power scope with a tritium-illuminated reticle and bullet-drop compensation for the M855 round from a 14.5″ barrel. It’s not a red dot).

We used them mostly just like this, with the backup iron sights, although some guys ran them with a Docter or RMR red dot mounted on top of the scope for servicing both close and distant targets.

The sad part of it is, the story is pretty good. Especially when you consider what the author is trying to do, provide some primary education to gun-shop clerks about red dots so that they can better serve their customers.

You’d think they could have found a picture of a red dot sight to illustrate it. This is the Aimpoint Comp M2 aka the M68, the contemporary of the ACOG shown above. (We pulled these pics off of GunBroker, where this optic is currently up for bid).


The Comp M2 has a feature most don’t need, along with several degrees of visible-light brightness the dot has night-vision-compatible settings. (The NV “red dot” looks green through your PVS-7s, but then, so does everything).

Here is why it is called a red dot.


You’re welcome.

Vietnam Sniper Study

In 1967, the Army got the idea to study whether, how, and how effectively different units were using snipers in Vietnam. They restricted this study to Army units, and conventional units at that; if SF and SOG were sniping, they didn’t want to know (and, indeed, there’s little news either in the historical record or in conversations with surviving veterans that special operations units made much use of precision rifle fire, or of the other capabilities of snipers).

Meanwhile, of course, the Marines were conducting parallel development in what would become the nation’s premier sniper capability, until the Army got their finger out in the 1980s and developed one with similar strength. The Marines’ developments are mentioned only in passing in the study.

Specific Weapons

The study observed several different sniper weapons in use:

  • ordinary M16A1 rifles with commercial Realist-made scopes. This is the same 3×20 scope made by Realist for commercial sale under the Colt name, and was marked Made in USA. (Image is a clone, from ARFCOM).


  • Winchester Model 70s in .30-06 with a mix of Weaver and Bushnell scopes, purchased by one infantry brigade;
  • two versions of the M14 rifle. One was what we’d call today a DMR rifle, fitted with carefully chosen parts and perhaps given a trigger job, and an M84 scope. The other was the larva of the M21 project: a fully-configured National Match M14 fitted with a Leatherwood ART Automatic-Ranging Telescope, which was at this early date an adaptation of a Redfield 3-9 power scope. (Image is a semi clone with a surplus ART, found on the net).


The scopes had a problem that would be unfamiliar to today’s ACOG and Elcan-sighted troopies.

The most significant equipment problem during the evaluation in Vietnam was moisture seepage into telescopes. At the end of the evaluation period, 84 snipers completed questionnaires related to their equipment. Forty-four of the snipers reported that their telescopes developed internal moisture or fog during the evaluation period. In approximately 90 percent of the cases, the internal moisture could be removed by placing the telescope in direct sunlight for a few hours.

The leaky scopes ranged from 41% of the ARTs to 62% of the Realists. The Realist was not popular at all, and part of the reason was its very peculiar reticle. How peculiar? Have a look.

Colt realist 3x20 scope reticle(A later version of this scope, sold by Armalite with the AR-180, added feather-thin crosshairs to the inverted post. The British Trilux aka SUIT used a similar inverted post, but it never caught on here).

The theory was that the post would not obscure the target, the way it would if it were bottom-up. That’s one of the ones you file away in the, “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” drawer. Theory be damned, the troops hated it.

The use of the rifles varied unit by unit.  Two units contemptuously dismissed the scoped M16s, and wouldn’t even try them (remember, this was the era of M193 ammo, rifles ruined by “industrial action,” and somewhat loose acceptance standards; the AR of 20145 is not the AR of 1965). The proto-M21s came late and not every unit got them. It’s interesting that none of the weapons really stood out, although the NATO and .30-06 guns were the ones used for the longest shots.

None of the weapons was optimum, but in the study authors’ opinion, the DMR version of the M14 was perfectly adequate and available in channels. The snipers’ own opinions were surveyed, and the most popular weapon was the M14 National Match with ART scope, despite its small sample size: 100% of the surveyed soldiers who used it had confidence in it. On the other hand, the cast scope rings were prone to breakage.

The biggest maintenance problem turned out to be the COTS Winchester 70 rifles, and the problem manifested as an absence of spare parts for the nonstandard firearm, and lack of any training for armorers.

Looking at all the targets the experimental units engaged, they concluded that a weapon with a 600 meter effective range could service 95% of the sniper targets encountered in Vietnam, and that a 1000 meter effective range would be needed to bag up to 98%. (Only one unit in the study engaged targets more distant than 1000 m at all).

Snipers were generally selected locally, trained by their units (if at all), and employed as an organic element of rifle platoons. A few units seem to have attached snipers to long-range patrol teams, or used the snipers as an attached asset, like a machine-gun or mortar team from the battalion’s Weapons Company.

An appendix from the USAMTU had a thorough run-down on available scopes, and concluded with these recommendations (emphasis ours):

a. That the M-14, accurized to National Match specifications, be used as the basic sniping rifle.

b. That National Match ammunition be used in caliber 7.62 NATO.

c. That a reticle similar to Type “E” be used on telescopic sights of fixed power.

d. That the Redfield six power “Leatherwood” system telescope be used by snipers above basic unit level.

e. That the Redfield four power (not mentioned previously) be utilized by the sniper at squad level.

f. That serious consideration be given to the development of a long range sniping rifle using the .50 caliber machine gun cartridge and target-type telescope.

(NOTE: It is our opinion that the Redfield telescope sights are the finest of American made telescopes.)

Note that the Army adopted the NM M14 with ART (as the M-21 sniper system) exactly as recommended here, but that it did not act on the .50 caliber sniper system idea. That would take Ronnie Barrett to do, quite a few years later.


The Effects of Terrain

Terrain drives weapons employment, and snipers need, above all, two elements of terrain to operate effectively: observation and fields of fire. Their observation has to overlook enemy key terrain and/or avenues of approach. Without that, a sniper is just another rifleman, and snipers were found to be not worth the effort in the heavily vegetated southern area of Vietnam.

In the more open rice fields and mountains, there was more scope for sniper employment. But sniper employment was not something officers had been trained in or practiced.

The Effects of Leadership

In a careful review of the study, we found that the effects of leadership, of that good old Command Emphasis, were greater than any effects of equipment or even of terrain. The unit that had been getting good results with the Winchesters kept getting good results. One suspects that they’d have continued getting good results even if you took their rifles away entirely and issued each man a pilum or sarissa.

Units that made a desultory effort got crap for results. Some units’ snipers spent a lot of time in the field, but never engaged the enemy. Others engaged the enemy, but didn’t hit them, raising the question, “Who made these blind guys snipers?” Sure, we understand a little buck fever, but one unit’s snipers took 20 shots at relatively close range and hit exactly nothing. Guys, that’s not sniping, that’s fireworks. 

The entire study is a quick read and it will let you know just how dark the night for American sniping was in the mid-1960s: there were no schools, no syllabi, no type-standardized sniper weapons, and underlying the whole forest of “nos” was: no doctrine to speak of.

Vietnam Sniper Study PB2004101628.pdf


Is it Time to Scope Out Scopes?

its dead jimIron sights are obsolete. Britain saw this one, and acted on it, before the United States did. (So did Germany, even earlier; but then they backed off). The plain truth is that iron sights are obsolete, outdated, dead; they’re not just resting or pining for the fjords. They’ve shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the Choir Invisible.

They’re dead, Jim.

As a shooter, you should still understand and be able to use the many kinds of iron sights that have been used on rifles, pistols, and machine guns over the last few centuries. The shooting fundamentals work the same (with the self-evident exception of sight picture and sight alignment) regardless of what kind of sight you’re using, but the iron sight imposes physical, temporal and human factors obstacles that optical sights do not.

The most important of these factors is that an optical sight, whether it’s a traditional telescope, a red-dot, or a holographic sight, puts the aiming point and the target in the same focal plane. How important is this? It’s vital. It reduces the time spent to align the shot (more than compensating for the initial delay imposed by a magnified sight with a limited field of view, it lightens the shooters neurocognitive load, and it reduces hit dispersion downrange.

It’s the nature of a human eye that, unlike a camera, its an extremely complicated piece of hardware that is normally used in pairs to collect a dynamic and changing amount of light that is resolved, not upon the focal plane of a retina, but by the software of a brain resolving, merging and interpolating light data.

Unlike a camera, where the focal plane is just that, a plane, a retina is curved. Unlike a camera, where one pixel receptor of a charge-coupled device (or traditionally, one chemical grain of film coating) resolves the same shades or colors and responds the same to a given amount of light towards the periphery as its companion does at the center, our retinal cells are not all the same. The different kinds, which respond differently to light and color, are distributed unevenly. Unlike a camera, the human visual mechanism with its two eyes, brain, and “software”-driven focus is, at once, a wide-angle lens (with pretty lousy off-axis resolution, but good for movement) and a telephoto (which can perceive great detail, but only straight on).

And unlike a camera, human depth of field is not variable, although the location of focus is. What this means is that you can’t simultaneously focus on the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. Well the most important of those three items is the target, with iron sights you’re likely to miss it if you don’t focus on the front sight. Shooters must be trained (and must practice) to focus on the front sight like that.

So the eye is an awesome piece of engineering (or engineered hardware/software integrated system, really). But it has its limits. In optic land, your aiming point (whether it’s a dot or a crosshair) is superimposed on your target, in a single focal plane. Again, you must train for this, but it takes less training, and it leads to a more rapidly acquired sight.

The aiming point can be a crosshair, another reticle, or an illuminated dot. Each has its pros and cons. For rapid training it’s very difficult to beat the red dot. For distance shooting, numerous compensated reticles are available. Some sights try to provide both: any sight with a complicated reticle rewards study, understanding, and practice.


The military forces of the world have been slow in seeing this and issuing optics on a general, wide-scale basis. In fact, it’s taken most of a century for them to catch on worldwide. Before they were able to do so, of course, optics needed to improve: first they needed to be weather-sealed and fog-resistant (first achieved just before WWII), then needed coated optics for improved light transmission, and finally they needed to be ruggedized, or grunt-proofed, if you will. This last is not a small task, as the grunts of any army you could name take a perverse pride in their ability to destroy flimsy gear, and their definition of “flimsy” is eye-opening, if you are not a grunt.

Now, the armies of the world understood the benefits of optics for various artillery, aviation, and even machine-gun uses. (The US issued a dreadful Warner & Swasey telescopic sight for the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle of 1909; the Imperial Japanese Army had scopes for the Type 92 (1932) medium and Type 96 (1936) light machine guns.

Germany started to do it in World War II, but they lost the war before they could universalize their general-purpose infantry optic, the ZF41. (ZF41, seen here on an FG42, was more common on G.43 and MP/STG.44 type weapons).


After the war, the Federal Republic was slow to adopt optics again, but by the 1960s was issuing a Hensoldt scope to designated marksmen. The current G.36 has its issues, but is optics-ready and issued with a range of optical sights.

Britain, bruised by international opinion, introduced a low-magnification, lighted-reticle optic in 1973, first in Northern Ireland for designated marksmen, then throuhgout the British Army. It never achieved universal issue, but its successor, the SUSAT for the problematical SA.80 rifle, did.

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the  UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?

This SUIT (Trilux) sight appears identical to the UK model, but is marked in Hebrew. Gee, wonder who used it?


Meanwhile, in 1977 the Austrian Army adopted the revolutionary Stg.77, known to the world as the AUG (Armee Universal-Gewehr), its trade name. The AUG was a bullpup design with a 1.5 power optic in an M16-like carrying handle, with rude backup sights on top of the scope housing. (Later AUGs used standard, rail-mounted modular optics).

Steyr AUG A1

In the 1980s, Canada issued the domestic Elcan C79 as standard on their new rifle, the Diemaco (later Colt Canada) C7, and the C9 general purpose machine gun. The US Army, whose motto in small arms sometimes seems to be “First? Us? Never!” adopted this sight as the M145 Machine Gun Optic (MGO). US SOF drove the adoption of optics in the 1990s, formalizing what had been a lot of single-unit experiments with the circa 2000 SOPMOD initiative. SOPMOD I saw the first version of the Aimpoint M68 and the Trijicon ACOG adopted. (General purpose forces adopted these optics, or improvements on them, very quickly thereafter).

Russian and Chinese forces are seen more and more frequently with optics and with modular sighting equipment.

If you’re still aiming with a peep or open rear sight and a bead or post up front, good for you. It’s great for marksmanship basics. But small arms history is leaving you behind. It’s time to scope out some scopes.

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.