It's no secret that 2014 saw a sizeable slump in gun sales and gun-related equipment sales. It was inevitable; folks stretched their purchasing budgets during the 2011 to 2013 buying frenzies, and last year spending had to convalesce.
As a consumer, there's a silver lining: Manufacturers put the wizards in their research and development departments to work, tasking them to produce exciting new products that offer previously unheard-of features in order to drive future sales.
Optics benefited. Across the board various manufacturers stepped up their game, rolling out advancements and features that make their new products honestly attractive. Some branched into areas of the optics market that they'd never competed in. Want a Trijicon binocular? Now you can buy one. Want a Swarovski spotting scope with a lighted milling reticle? A purpose-designed Zeiss crossbow scope? A hunting-size Nightforce for under $900? Read on, friends. We couldn't come even close to covering all the new optics available, but here are the ones we felt most interesting and innovative.
Burris XTR II
Now available with an MOA reticle and MOA turrets that offer an astonishing 25 minutes of elevation per rotation, the latest version of the XTR II is a fantastic precision scope for competitors, hunters, and precision riflemen of all disciplines. Its turrets' zero-stop-type mechanism is rock solid and allows unlimited upward rotation; the reticle offers MOA holdover/holdoff tics and is in the front focal plane; and Hi-Lume multi-coated lenses provide superb light transmission. Magnification offers "five-times zoom," and is available in 2-10x 42mm; 3-15x 50mm; 4-20x 50mm; 5-25x 50mm and 8-40x 50mm in the MOA variants. All are built on ultra-durable 34mm tubes. Light they are not, but they'll go the distance and offer refined features coveted by the most discriminating long-range riflemen. Price ranges from $959 to $1,499.
Bushnell Elite One-Mile CONX
This powerful rangefinder pairs via Bluetooth with a Kestrel windmeter/weather unit, wirelessly importing critical data such as air pressure, temperature, and similar factors that affect bullet drag. Best yet, it calculates the effect and provides corrected holdover info in inches, MOA or mils. Plus, it calculates wind holds derived from the Kestrel-provided data. Don't have a Kestrel? No worries, pair it with your smart phone and import data run with your favorite ballistic app. Multiple firearm/ammunition profiles may be entered and saved in the unit. Price: $699.
One of the best precision hunting scopes introduced last year was the LRHS 3-12x 44mm Elite, with mil-rad reticle and turrets and front focal plane G2 reticle. However, some shooters requested more magnification, and metric-challenged hunters like myself wanted a version with an MOA reticle and turret adjustments. Voila! Meet the new 4.5-18x 44mm Tactical Hunter. Available in either MOA or mil systems, it has outstanding low-profile turrets, a solid, reliable zero-stop mechanism, and Bushnell's RainGuard lens coatings.
Additionally, Bushnell has added two new Elite scope lines — the 3500 and 4500 — to the existing 6500 line, as well as three price levels in the Legend bino line.
Lastly, an Elite Tactical 1-6x 24mm SMRS should prove tremendously popular with AR-15 shooters.
For the first time (that I'm aware of) Leica is building hunting scopes in the U.S.A. Worry not: they're still engineered in Germany. Sleek and beautifully built, they cost significantly less than the classic German-built lines. Several magnification ranges are available: 1-5x 234mm; 1.5-8x 32mm; 2-10x 50mm; 3-15x 56mm; 4-20x 50mm and 5-25x 56mm. Various versatile reticles may be chosen as well. Prices range from $749 to $829.
In a complete departure from anything we've seen, Leupold introduced the D-EVO (Dual Enhanced View Optic). Using a dog-leg shape that offsets the objective lens, the D-EVO is a 6x magnified optic with a ballistic reticle that — when paired with a reflex optic such as Leupold's Delta Point or Trijicon's RMR — enables the shooter to use both optics without moving his or her head. As it's a first-time-ever concept it's a bit hard to explain. Suffice it to say that you owe it to yourself to get to the nearest gun shop and check one out. Price: $1,875.
On a completely different note, the excellent CDS dial system is now available with a Zero Lock feature that prevents the turret dial from moving unless manually depressed.
Traditionally made in the Czech Republic, Meopta optics often fall beneath the shadow of Europe's "big three" optic manufacturers, but many knowledgeable sportsmen consider them to be premium glass at a sub-premium price.
Recently the company brought a portion of its manufacturing business to the states. Dubbed the MeoPro line, it's available in 3-9x 40mm; 4.5-14x 44mm and 4.5-14x 50mm magnification ranges with several versatile reticle options. Weighing in at 15 to 20 ounces depending on model, they feature .25-inch clicks and are priced from $517 to $920.
A new binocular line and HD 8mm spotting scope are worth checking too.
Last year the new, sub-$1,000 SHV (Shooter Hunter Varminter) 4-14x 56mm scope won Outdoor Life's Editor's Choice award — but it's just too big for many hunters and shooters. Meet the new 3-10x 42mm SHV — the perfect blend of quality, features, and price. Lighter in weight yet still offering 90 MOA of elevation, it's a minimalist's way to shoot far at reduced cost in weight and dollars. Speaking of dollars, it retails at $900 — way south of what any Nightforce has cost in the past.
Also of interest to hard-core precision shooters is a downsized ATACR in 4-16x 42, which offers all the extreme bells and whistles any long-range aficionado could desire, and a new "standard" line of scope bases. Made of aluminum, the bases cost half ($59) what the all-steel "extreme" line does, and is available in 20 MOA and parallel versions for a broad selection of action types, including obscure rifles such as Mauser 98s and T/C Contenders.
While it doesn't offer earth-shattering innovation, the new Monarch 5 riflescope has a nice selection of features. The company's new Advanced BDC reticle provides — for the first time — windage marks to compliment the holdover circles. More important to lens snobs, the Monarch 5 uses Nikon's ED glass. And like many of today's top new scope lines, zoom range is 5x, making for a riflescope with both spitting-distance low-end magnification and precision-capable high magnification for long distance.
Available in a broad selection of magnifications ranging from 2-10x 42mm to 6-30x 50mm, Monarch 5 scopes are priced from $550 to $950.
In what I believe is the first of it's kind, Steiner introduced a fixed-power 6x 40mm optic with on-board laser rangefinder and ballistic calculator. Termed a "true electro-optical aiming device," the ICS (Intelligent Combat Sight) is programmable with your cartridge's ballistic info. In use, it ranges target distance and shot angle, computes hold, and provides a red aiming dot. Just hold on and squ-e-e-ze. Reticle brightness is adjustable. Windage and elevation adjustments offer 120 MOA of travel, and the waterproof unit is powered by one CR123A battery. The laser is eye-safe. And don't worry about abusing it: according to Steiner it is "ruggedized" for combat-level abuse. Price: $4,599.
On a different note, the company announced a tiny red dot. Engineered for both-eyes-open use on moving targets and for CQB, the new MRS (Micro Reflex Sight) is robust in the extreme, waterproof, and offers up to 550 hours of operation per CR1632 battery. Eye relief is unlimited, and the 3 MOA dot is just the right size — big enough but not so big that it obscures distant targets, and it is settable for automatic illumination control or manual brightness control. Windage and elevation adjustments are in 1 MOA clicks, with 30 minutes available in both directions. An integrated mount makes for easy attachment to 1913-type rails. Price: $530.
Featuring an internal, illuminated reticle — in your choice of MOA or MRAD — that may be activated and deactivated at your pleasure, the new STR 80 offers long-range shooter/spotter teams the ability to more accurately pinpoint misses, which results in more precise corrections and more second-shot hits. At $3,689 they're not cheap, but neither are the features. Eyepieces are sold separately, in 25-50x and 20-60x configurations.
Disciples of the legendary ACOG and Trijicon's other gun-mounted optics rejoice — the company has just introduced binoculars and a fine-looking spotting scope. Initially, the bino line offers just two options: an 8x42 and a 10x42, but they are loaded with features. Rubber armoring, tripod adapter threads, slim roof prism shape, included harness — not strap — for comfortable packing, you name it. Completely waterproof and nitrogen filled to prevent internal fogging, and sporting fully multi-coated fluoride lenses in a magnesium body, these HD binos are worth more than their introductory price of $799 (8x42) and $849 (10x42).
The spotting scope looks just as appealing, and at $1,899 represents a milder hit on your wallet than similar products from other top brands. Can it keep up with them optically? It's going to be fun to find out.
Optimized for the AR shooter who needs versatile capability from 10 feet to several hundred yards, the Strike Eagle is a 1-6x 24mm scope — and yes, the 1x setting on the bottom end is a true, non-magnified setting that enables two-eyes-engaged shooting. An incredible 280 MOA of elevation and windage adjustment make it easy to zero with any rifle, and dial-capable if need be for distance. But "need be" isn't likely; the Strike Eagle features an advanced reticle optimized for the .223/5.56 cartridge, offering holdover and range estimation tics for use out to 600 yards. Lenses are fully multi coated and purged with nitrogen gas to prevent fogging. Waterproof, rugged, and capable, the Strike Eagle is well worth the $429 price.
While perhaps the greatest new Zeiss product is the Victory SF binocular (see below), the biggest departure from the norm is the Terra XB75 crossbow scope. Parallax adjusted for use inside of 100 yards, it is fitted with a special reticle with holdover tics for 20 to 75 yards in five-yard increments. Best of all, the 2-7x magnification ring is marked with a velocity scale from 275 to 425 fps, so you can dial it to match the speed your crossbow provides — and thus match the trajectory of your bolt to the second-focal-plane reticle. Windage and elevation adjustments are in .25-MOA clicks, and the scope is nitrogen filled and waterproof. Price: $444.
Circling the wagons back to the Victory SF bino: It's arguably the most advanced, most ergonomic, clearest binocular available today. With an incredibly wide field of view, unsurpassed — indeed, unequalled — clarity, color integrity, and light transmission, and extremely broad range of focus — 1.5 meters to infinity — it vaults Zeiss to the top of the leader board in exceptional binoculars. Plus, courtesy of a new, innovative system that uses fewer lenses, it's light — shockingly light. Of course it is waterproof, fogproof, is made of the best glass available, and so forth. Initially available in 8x42 and 10x42, SF's are priced at $2,889 and $2,944 respectively.
EOTech's superb holographic sights need no introduction to action shooters or warfighters. The new 518 (and it's night-vision-compatible sibling 558) provide a whopping 1,000 hours of continuous run time (that's a month and a half) on a pair of lithium AA batteries. The reticle is a 1 MOA dot surrounded by a 65 MOA ring for use when the action gets western. Key difference from past models? The control buttons are located on the side of the unit, making it user-friendly when paired with a magnifier. Suggested retail price on the 518 is $539; the night-vision version (say that three times fast) is $629. VIDEO: EOTech 518 & 558