Next-Gen Riflescope

Next-Gen Riflescope

Here's a look at three leaders in the field of laser rangefinding technology.

Nikon IRT

It wasn't a difficult shot, at least not at first. We spotted the band of pronghorns down in a network of washes on the lee side of a rise, taking shelter from the howling wind of northcentral Wyoming. The stalk was short and easy, and soon the rifle was resting in the shooting sticks and the crosshairs were on the buck I wanted. I hit the button on the Burris Laserscope; the orange digital numbers at the top of the field of view read "275." No sweat.



I squeezed the trigger on the Tikka T3 .25-06, and the buck rocked a bit and started off with the rest of the group, although from his stiff-legged jog I could tell he was hit but not well. I rushed the next shot and missed him by a mile at 325 yards, then by a whisker at 375.


Most of the band hightailed it out of sight, but the buck and a few does lagged behind. Then they stopped.


The buck was quartering away, and I mashed the rangefinder button again: 438 yards. I put the second bar of the Ballistic Plex reticle just above center on the last rib and squeezed the trigger. The 115-grain Ballistic Silvertip struck right behind the rib and exited the far shoulder, dumping the buck into the sagebrush.

That was my introduction to laser rangefinding scopes, the next logical step in the progression of optics/rangefinding technology.


"The trick was to figure out how to make the laser intersect with the crosshairs," said Pat Beckett, my host, hunting partner and marketing manager for Burris. "It wouldn't do you much good if every time you adjusted your scope you'd have to reset the laser because, of course, if the two aren't pointing in the same place, you're not going to get accurate range readings."

An overseas company developed the necessary technology, which the Burris unit and the Nikon IRT share (as does Bushnell's Yardage Pro, which I did not test). Zeiss, the other company producing a laser rangefinding scope, went with a different design.

To us as users, how the scope makers accomplish their goals doesn't matter as long as the optic functions as it should. What does matter is whether laser rangefinding scopes are worth it.

Frankly, they're heavy and bulky and expensive (compared to comparable non-rangefinding scopes), and a lot of shooters and hunters simply won't want or need them. But for those who are already using laser rangefinders and are routinely faced with the possibility of long shots, the benefit is obvious: These new riflescopes provide instant feedback--no picking up a rangefinder to get the distance then having to put it down and pick up the rifle, during which time the quarry could have changed location or vanished altogether.

On my pronghorn, had I been switching back and forth between rangefinder and rifle, I would've felt more rushed. Sure, I could've asked Pat to call the distance for me, but that requires one to ask a question and then mentally process the answer instead of focusing on the shot. By hitting the button and seeing (not hearing) 438 yards on the readout, I knew right away exactly what I needed to do since I had zeroed the Ballistic Plex reticle so the second bar was dead on at 400.

The Burris Laserscope (burrisop tics.com, 970-356-1670) is a 4-12x42 which mounts via an integral rail that has Weaver-style crosscuts at the rear. The scope has twin receivers (at five and seven o'clock) to pick up signals from the supplied remote-control power unit. The remote control comes on an elastic band that slides over the fore-end of the rifle; an arrow points back to the receivers--make sure it's pointed in the right direction.

The laser rangefinder can also be activated by pressing a button on the left side of the scope at about the midpoint of the scope body. The battery compartment, which houses a single CR2, is located just forward of the magnification ring.

The laser is simple to use. The first press on the main tube button or the remote control turns the unit on; a second push displays the yardage almost instantly. Holding down the button puts the unit in scan mode, but you must keep the button depressed to continue to get constant ranging.

SCOPE COMPARISON

BURRIS LASERSSCOPE NIKON IRT ZEISS VICTORY DIARANGE
Magnification 4-12X 4-12X 3-12X
Objective (mm) 42 42 56
Max. claimed laser range (yd.) 800 766 1,092
Battery CR2 CR2 CR123
Reticle* Ballistic Plex BDC Rapid-Z
Remote yes yes no
Weight (oz.) 26 26 35
Overall Length (in.) 13 13.1 14.2
Street price** $650 $900 $3,950
* Tested. Other styles available.
* Prices for the Nikon and Zeiss come from MidwayUSA. The Burris price is an estimate based on a variety of online sources.

The Nikon IRT (Immediate Ranging Technology) (nikonsport optics.com, 631-547-4200) is similar inside and out, although the Nikon is trimmer because its objective bell is smaller--even though both scopes have the same size 42mm objective lens. The Nikon also has an integral rail, but its Weaver-style crosscuts are at the front.

Also, the Nikon can be toggled between one-shot or constant-ranging mode by holding down the activation button on either the scope body or the remote for a second and a half. In one-shot mode (you see an "O" in the display), to get a readout you must press the button each time you put the crosshairs on a new spot, but in constant range ("C"), the readout displays changing distances as you track a moving target or switch between targets at varying distances (on a prairie dog town, for instance).

Eye relief is critical on both scopes. The digital readout is located in the very upper portion of the field of view. If you don't have the proper eye relief, you may not be able to see the readout.

The remote control is a crucial element for both as well. I'm right-handed, and the main-tube activation button was difficult for me to operate with my nonfiring hand when shooting from unsupported field positions. I found it best to place the remote on the right side of the fore-end; with it on the left, the mounting nuts on the Burris seemed to interfere with the signal, at least on the Tikka T3.

As I mentioned, Zeiss (zeiss.com, 800-441-3005) went in a different direction with its Victory Diarange. Rather than have the laser emitter/receiver in the main tube, Zeiss houses its laser in a protrusion on the left side of the scope, which at least in part accounts for its heft. A lever attached to the side of the reticle housing is connected to the laser diode, and any movement of the reticle adjusts the emitter accordingly.

The Zeiss unit has a nifty mounting setup that employs housings riding on an integral internal rail. Once you assemble the housings, adjusting for eye relief is super easy.

The CR 123 battery is housed at the rear of the laser protrusion. There is no remote. The rangefinder is activated by pushing on a knob underneath the protrusion at about its midpoint, and it's ideally suited for activation with the thumb of your supporting left hand (for righties, anyway). Pushing it once gives an instant reading, which is displayed at the bottom of the scope, underneath the actual field of view.

The Diarange also comes with an illuminated crosshair, which I used on recent boar hunt in Texas. On a dim, gray, snowy (yes, snowy) morning, I turned on the illuminated reticle as a nice boar trotted through bare mesquites at about 40 yards, and the glowing red reticle made it easy to track him before dropping him with a .300 Winchester Magnum.

Back home, I put the scope on a Thompson/Center Encore in .280 Remington and headed for the range. With laser and Rapid-Z reticle (see sidebar) working in perfect harmony, I was able to ring steel targets out to 600 yards with monotonous regularity.

Comparing the three, I think you can find a lot to like about each. I like the way the Zeiss is set up--in that I can work the laser with my support hand and don't have to fool with a remote control--and the Rapid-Z is an awesome reticle. But the scope is the heaviest of the bunch and really, really expensive.

When it comes to the Burris and the Nikon, they're equals in weight and basic design. The Nikon IRT offers hands-free scan mode; the Burris Laserscope doesn't. But in my opinion the Burris Ballistic Plex reticle is a handier design than the Nikon BDC, although in fairness I've shot the Ballistic Plex more and just prefer it. And last but not least, the Burris is a couple hundred dollars cheaper than the Nikon and tons cheaper than the Zeiss.

As with all other purchase decisions, it comes down to what features you want or need and how much you're willing to pay for them. Between these three models you should be able to strike that balance.

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