A Rifle Shooter's Sights, 2005

A Rifle Shooter's Sights, 2005


The world of riflescopes keeps getting bigger and better. Here's a review of what's happening today.

Browning 8-24X



The best optics are still expensive, yet affordable optics include some real bargains. Rosters of new optics continue to get longer. While refinements in lens coatings and further application of electronics account for much of what's new, Simmons and Swarovski show that mechanical and optical engineering still play a hand at market. What we've taken for granted as the final word in riflescope design can sometimes be just a stage.

Here is a look at the newest of the new in the world of rifle optics.


ADIRONDACK MAKES SMARTSCOPE SMARTER

Last year, Adirondack Optics announced a riflescope that takes a digital photo. The camera resides in the scope and operates like any other digital camera. But it can also automatically photograph an animal you're going to shoot by recording the sight picture as you pull the trigger. SmartScope was designed by Terry Gordon, a young entrepreneur from upstate New York.

"It has been a challenging and costly project," says Terry. "We had invaluable help from optical engineers, local investors, even the state of New York. We're selling three SmartScopes now: a 1.5-6x40, 3-10x44 and 6-16x44. All have 30mm tubes, and there's a parallax adjustment on the 3-10X and 6-16X. The standard Mil-Dot reticle lies in the front focal plane, so reticle dimensions stay the same in relation to your target. There's no way point of impact can shift during power change because the reticle is stationary, and the lens movement is behind it. Also, you can use the reticle to estimate range no matter the magnification."

The Czech-made SmartScope is at first look a conventional sight, with quarter-minute adjustments and three inches of eye relief. The internal digital camera is what makes this ADK product different. Powered by a pair of 1.5-volt AA batteries housed at midsection, it incorporates a screen atop the ocular bell. The camera uses standard digital cards. "They're Smart Media now," Terry says "but a CD card is coming."

To photograph game as you shoot it with a rifle bullet, set the camera to "ready" mode when you begin your hunt. Then you need only trigger the rifle. SmartScope records a digital picture automatically upon recoil. It's not a blurry image because the camera captures what it saw seven milliseconds before recoil--an average lock time.

I tried SmartScope on a rifle range with a .14-caliber wildcat shooting 12-grain bullets. The very mild recoil triggered the camera every time. Photos confirmed the center holds from my slinged-up prone position, and the target agreed. Next I put my sling on a .300 Ultra Mag. The bruising recoil didn't affect camera function, but it did impair my shooting. Reviewing the five photos, I saw the crosswire off-center in three. Camera images compared with those I get from midlevel digital cameras. By the way, SmartScope is as much a slave to light conditions as any camera. Shooting into very dark shadow, I got useless images.

At 22 to 26 ounces, ADK's SmartScope is half again as heavy as many 30mm scopes and would look out of place on a lightweight rifle. Free tube space is limited by the battery housing, but a Picatinny rail increases mounting latitude. SmartScope is expensive: $1,500 to start. On the other hand, it's the only way to hunt with camera and rifle at once.

www.adkoptics.com

AIMPOINT'S 50,000-HOUR BATTERY

"Our red-dot sight gives you up to 20,000 hours on the low setting," Kenneth Mardklint told me at the Aimpoint factory five years ago. Now there's a model that offers more than twice as much dot time.

I'd used Aimpoint's Model 7000 on two hunts and found it ideal for shooting in timber. Because you see all the target around the dot, it's easy to make precise hits to 100 yards and beyond. On the range I fired sub-two-minute groups.

One reason is Aimpoint's compound front lens that corrects for parallax. An ordinary single lens up front still reflects the dot produced by the diode in the rear bottom of the tube. But Aimpoint's "doublet" always brings the dot to your eye in a line parallel with the optical axis of the sight. The reflective path of a single-lens sight varies with your eye position. If the dot isn't centered in the sight, you'll have parallax error at distances other than the one for which the sight was parallax-corrected. With an Aimpoint, you'll hit where you see the dot. And because Aimpoint red-dot sights offer unlimited eye relief, you can shoot your rifle as fast as if it were a shotgun.

While military sales account for 75 percent of Aimpoint's total revenues, the firm's hunting sights are marketed in 40 countries. "One of every 10 Swedish hunters using optical sights carries an Aimpoint," says Mike Kingston, who represents the company stateside. "And this year we have ACET."

Advanced Circuit Efficiency Technology reduces power demand, so batteries in the new Aimpoint 9000s last 50,000 hours. That's with brightness set on seven on a dial numbered to 10. The 9000 series comprises three models, and you can choose a two-minute or four-minute dot. A weak dollar means Aimpoints are still expensive, but Mike insists they're the best red-dot sights you can buy and the best sights of all for low-light deer hunting. My experience with the 7000 bears him out.

www.aimpoint.com

NEW SCOPES FROM BSA

"Entry-level pricing for popular scopes"--that could be BSA's company mantra. Four new Panther models feature fully multicoated lenses, built-in sunshades and finger-adjustable dials. These waterproof scopes come in 3-10x40, 2.5-10x44, 6.5-20x44 and 3.5-10x50 versions. Also recently introduced: Sweet 17 Mach II riflescopes. Says BSA's John Schild, "They're designed for .17 rimfire rifles. A trajectory drum calibrated for the .17 Mach 2 bullet helps with zero and holdover." Sweet 17s have adjustable objectives. Choose 2-7x32, 3-9x40 or 4-12x40.

www.bsaoptics.com

Burris 2-7X Short Mag

SHORT SCOPES, LIGHTED RETICLES AND A TACTICAL LINE FROM BURRIS

Always keen to expand its selection of practical scopes for North American hunters, Burris came out this spring with "Short Mag" s

copes: 1X, 4X, 2-7X, 3-9X and 4.5-14X. These short-coupled sights have generous 31⁄2- to five-inch eye relief and resettable windage and elevation dials. Variables can be equipped with Ballistic Plex reticles. Retail prices range from $316 to $581.

Last year the Signature Select line of riflescopes offered several useful refinements to Burris' top-quality one-inch sights. Rubber grips on power and AO rings, plus a more convenient turret location and index-matched lenses, are now available in LRS versions that offer lighted reticles with up to 60 hours of battery life. If the battery does expire (or when you don't want a lighted sight), you can aim as with any scope; the black reticle is still there. Signature Selects with LRS come in 1.5-6X, 3-10X and 4-16X configurations, all with resettable windage and elevation dials.

Burris has also been working on tactical sights and related gear. It's a good bet that a lot of civilian shooters will buy the new Burris XTR sights. Xtreme Tactical riflescopes in 1.5-6X, 10X and 3-12X feature 30mm tubes with side-mounted parallax adjustments and steel-on-steel target-style windage and elevation knobs. All models offer illuminated reticles but without the bubble of the LRS ocular housings. The Burris Tactical series includes a SpeedDot sight and Laser flashlight you can mount on the rail of your black gun. To install your XTR scope securely, Burris suggests you use rings of the same name, with six screws each. Available in four heights, from a quarter-inch to one inch, Xtreme Tactical Rings are designed for Picatinny rails.

www.burrisoptics.com

BUSHNELL IS NOT JUST SCOPES

Reporting on the annual Bushnell announcements is like delivering a wrap of Major League baseball rosters the first day of spring training. Bushnell sells more sporting optics than any other U.S. firm. Bringing Tasco and Browning into the fold has not diminished its own new-items list. This year there are cameras that shoot movie clips at 20 frames per second, cameras that you set on game trails to catch a photo of that buck you never see at his scrape, cameras you can also use as binoculars, even a camera in a spotting scope.

In rifle sights, Bushnell offers two more Firefly models. They're Elite 4200 scopes, a 1.5-6x36 and a 2.5-10x50, priced at $604 and $748. "The reticles can be illuminated by the blink of a flashlight and give you a bright aiming point just when you need it, without batteries," explains Laura Olinger at Bushnell. "The charged reticle goes to black until shooting light fades; then it glows." Elite scopes come with the RainGuard lens coating that breaks up water droplets so you can see clearly through a wet lens. RainGuard has been improved for 2005.

Bushnell Night Vision

Bushnell's 3200 line boasts another Varmint scope. It's a 7-21x40 with front AO sleeve and fast-focus eyepiece. You get 3.7 inches of eye relief. Another 3200, a 3-10x40, is a versatile sight for hunters who want quality at a bargain price. It lists for $298 (the 7-21X costs $550). In the Legend line, you'll find a 4-12x40 with front AO at $266. The Banner Super 17 AO scope includes a bullet-drop compensator for .17-caliber bullets, though specifications don't identify the .17 cartridge. At $134, the Super 17 lists for a couple of dollars more than Bushnell's new 1x28 Red/Green Dot Trophy scopes. Pick a red or green dot, three MOA or 10 MOA, a crosswire or a circle dot. There's always an instant choice, with unlimited eye relief. An alternative for hunters who kick the thickets for whitetails is the new HOLOsight. It's lighter in weight and lower in profile and now uses AAA batteries. With a $300 sticker price, it's less costly than earlier models.

Bushnell's rangefinder series includes the new Elite 1500. It has a 7X eyepiece and 26mm objective. It's waterproof and wears RainGuard lens coating. Powered by a nine-volt battery, it can determine distance to 1,500 yards. It costs $574.

Produced under license and marketed by Bushnell, last year's first Browning optics included riflescopes of standard specs: 2-7x32, 3-9x40, 3-9x50 and 5-15x40. This year a 4-12x40 and an 8-24x40 join the line. They're priced at $450 and $590.

www.bushnell.com

ELCAN'S SHOW-STOPPING DIGITAL SIGHT

You may not have heard of this company, though its origins go back to 1849. The company name, Elcan, is an abbreviation for Ernst Leitz, Canada. Actually, it's an international enterprise, with offices in Ontario and Spain. Rusty Mauldin works from U.S. digs in Texas. Elcan, a subsidiary of Raytheon, has been building infrared scopes for military use since the 1980s.

"The DigitalHunter is our first product for the civilian market," Rusty tells me. "The technology to complete the project was available earlier, but only recently did the components become affordable. By its midsummer debut, we expect a list price of less than $2,000."

For a scope? "It's still costly, but you can't compare the DigitalHunter with ordinary scopes," says Rusty. The Elcan sight has coated optical lenses up front, in a round housing, and a power range of 2.5X to 13.5X. Beyond that, you have to think digitally." Zeroing, for example, is a matter of pressing electronic buttons up, down, right, left.

You don't look through this device. You see instead a digital display, triggered by light focused on a sensor. The reticle isn't a physical device either. "You can download four reticles from our website," says Rusty, "or build your own. Pick different styles and even different reticle colors. Dedicate each to a load or zero distance. The SD card you use to install a reticle can also register the trajectory of your favorite load. Once you key in the data and zero the rifle, you can hold center at any range by specifying distance on the scope's tiny keyboard. Software automatically adjusts to compensate for bullet drop." Elcan could have added a laser rangefinder, Rusty confides, "but it would have meant substantial increases in the cost and weight." Elcan's DigitalHunter scales a hefty 28 ounces.

The feature that drew crowds to the Elcan booth at the SHOT Show is unique to this scope. "You can operate the DigitalHunter as a camera," explains Rusty, "and record up to five seconds of video, even during a shooting sequence. This instrument can be set for manual or automatic control. A port allows you to attach a remote screen, so you can see exactly what the shooter sees in the sight picture--a great help if you're coaching. Or you can turn on the video and get up to seven five-second clips on a standard 64-mb SD card."

Elcan is engineering a mount that attaches to the bottom of its scope and will fit Weaver bases or a Picatinny rail.

www.elcansportingoptics.com

HORUS VISION

Horus Vision has been a real pioneer in computer-based aiming systems. The Australian company's software program shows you exactly where to hold to hit your target. You program the hunting conditions, the cartridge and the specific load into a handheld unit, and the built-in rangefinding system in the scope tells you how far away your target is, and the targeting grid tells you where to hold.

This combination of targeting software and reticle design is different than anything else on the market and is being used by both military and sport shooters. It is claimed that the custom reticle system allows precision accuracy out to 1,200 yards.

While the comany is known for its tactical scopes, the latest Horus Vision product is the 1-4x24mm Talon Hunting model. It's designed specifically for dangerous game and has a wide field of view. Other long-range (4-16x50) models are the Falcon and Super Falcon.

www.horusvision.com

HUNTER WICKED OPTICS

"We aren't offering much new for 2005," says Jim Holzclaw at Hunter. "Our goal was and is to bring practical, affordable glass to market as we design it. Last year our line of scopes and binoculars had no real holes." Adding stocking units can drive up overhead. Better, says Jim, to keep costs and prices low and watch the most popular sights stream off the shelves. But there is one new line at Hunter this year: red-dot sights with multi-coated lenses and one-piece tubes. If they're as good as the riflescopes I've examined, you'll do well to visit Hunter.

www.huntercompany.com

KAHLES PILES ON THE ZEROES

A company that dates back more than a century, Kahles has long benefited American hunters. In 1959 Kahles was the first to use multicoated lenses. In 1972 it pioneered O-rings to seal turrets. Lightweight 30mm scopes with short tubes also came from Kahles first. The Austrian firm's success is evident in its soaring sales. In 1999 Kahles' revenues jumped 300 percent, and American distribution has increased steadily since, largely because the company has catered to U.S. tastes. Kahles' one-inch AV scopes include two of my favorites: a 4x36 and a 2-7x36. They're brilliant. They also sit low and look good on slender rifles.

Kahles CL 4-12x52L

Karen Lutto, whose company represents Kahles stateside, says, "Our lens coatings transmit 99.8 percent of incident light in green/yellow bands [500 to 540 nanometers]. A little red [400 nanometers] is allowed to sift out because it is less helpful to sight pictures at dawn and dusk."

Kahles recently announced a 3-12x56 CSX Helia illuminated riflescope. Batteries are unobtrusively housed in the turret. A battery-saving digital mechanism leaves the reticle in stand-by mode. Touch the dial, and the reticle instantly brightens to the level you set before. "Because this 30mm scope was designed for American tastes, the reticle is in the second image plane," explains Karen. The 56mm objective on this scope brings total weight to just under 19 ounces. If you don't need that much power, or the list price of $1,954 doesn't suit your spouse, pick one of three other CSX models: 1.1-4x24, 1.5-6x42 or 2.5-10x50.

The latest Kahles scope series is called CL, for Compact Light. The turret-mounted "AO" dial refines focus and eliminates parallax error. Kahles offers this feature on every CL sight, not just high-power models. Kahles marketing manager Hermann Theisinger points out that parallax (the apparent shift of the target image against the reticle as you move your eye off the scope's axis) can be exacerbated at low magnification. "High power shrinks the exit pupil," he says, "forcing your eye onto the optical axis of the sight. At low power the lenses can give you a full field of view even when your eye is off-axis." But the headline feature of the CL has nothing to do with parallax. It's the elevation dial that allows you to preset the scope for multiple zeroes.

"In fact, you can establish up to five zeroes at distances to 500 yards," says Hermann. "The dial has a miniature clutch that engages to give you normal quarter-minute adjustments, but once you've set a zero, you can disengage it to set another. Each is easily recorded. Once you've set the scope, all that's needed to switch zeroes is a twist of the elevation knob to the next detent. You never lose the settings unless you change them." According to Hermann, the CL mechanism is durable, reliable and more accurate than ballistic cams--though it was an engineering challenge. "You can set zeroes for different ranges or loads or use the settings to lock in point of impact when you switch the scope from one rifle to another."

Kahles CL scopes are available in three configurations: 3-9x42, 3-10x50 and 4-12x52. Manufactured in Austria, these sights are assembled at the company's U.S. headquarters in Cranston, Rhode Island. They will retail for a little more than the AV scopes. I recently tested a CL scope on a .22-250 rifle with zeroes set at 100, 200 and 300 yards. The bullets hit the middle with a center hold every time. Hermann says the Kahles factory in Vienna is now running three shifts seven days a week to keep up with demand for CLs and its other scopes.

www.kahlesoptik.com

LEGACY KEEPS PRICES LOW

Legacy-imported Howa and Mauser rifles are familiar to many shooters. "But we also sell Nikko-Sterling optics at very competitive prices," says Janet Davis. Three Gold Crown riflescopes debut this year: 4x32, 4x32 AO and 3-9x42. "The 4x32 AO is designed for rimfire riflemen who want to zero out parallax at closer ranges but don't want the bulk or magnification of traditional varmint scopes," Janet says. All three one-inch scopes feature multicoated lenses, plex reticles and fast-focus eyepieces. They come with flip-up scope covers and list for less than $70. Even more affordable are Reflex Red Dot sights from Nikko-Sterling. New 30mm and 40mm versions with integral mounts have 11 brightness settings and five MOA dots.

www.legacysports.com

LEUPOLD'S UPDATED FIXED-POWERS

I've a warm spot in my heart for Leupold and not just because its headquarters are in my part of the country. While many optics firms have abandoned fixed-power scopes, Leupold has kept them in the catalog. Now, after many years of success with M8s, Leupold is improving the series. The new 4X has the endearing profile of its predecessor. It's called the FX-II, a predictable follow-up to the VX that replaced the legendary Vari-X series. The FX-II 4x33 weighs 9.3 ounces, same as before. But lenses have Multicoat 4 coatings, a step up from the treatment given the old M8s. Coin-slotted quarter-minute click adjustments replace traditional friction-fit dials. Available in matte finish or gloss, with wide Duplex or standard Duplex reticle, this scope offers a whopping four inches o

f eye relief.

Leupold Mk 43 5-10x40

Of course, Leupold didn't stop with a 4X. The new FX-II 6x36 offers the same improvements. But you can also order this 10-ounce sight with Leupold Dot and Post & Duplex reticles. Leupold's other new 6X is the 11-ounce FX-III 6x42. The "III" means that like VX-III variables, it has a matched-lens system. Windage and elevation dials are finger-friendly. Generous objective glass gives you an exit pupil of 7mm. A competition model features target knobs and adjustable objective. It weighs 15 ounces. For longer shots, there's an FX-III 12x40 target scope with adjustable objective. Trim and lightweight at just 13 inches and 13 ounces, this is an ideal sight for "walking varmint rifles" that are often shot from the sit or prone.

If you hunt in timber, consider the FX-II Ultralight 2.5x20. At 6.5 ounces, it's lighter than some iron sights and delivers a 40-foot field of view at 100 yards. There's also an FX-II Scout scope, designed for forward mounting on the likes of Ruger's 77 Frontier. Leupold has added FXII 2x20 and 4x28 pistol scopes to its line as well. They deliver 18-inch eye relief in six- and seven-ounce packages.

Variable scopes are making headlines at Beaverton, too. The VX-I 1-4x20 features a heavy Duplex reticle for quick shooting. Both it and a companion 2-7x33 are named "Shotgun and Muzzleloader," with parallax correction set at a practical 75 yards. VX-IIs include Ultralights: a 2-7x28, at just over eight ounces, and the 3-9x33, at just under nine. They feature Multicoat 4 lenses. The EFR version of the Ultralight 3-9x33 includes a focusing (AO) sleeve up front.

Leupold's 2005 catalog lists a new VX-1 2-7x28 Rimfire scope with fine Duplex reticle and short-range parallax setting, friction dials and the multicoating once used on Vari-X II lenses. There's a VX-II 9x33 EFR for rimfires, too. Choose the FX-I 4x28 if you'd rather scope that .22 with a fixed-power sight.

Handgunners can now buy a 2.5-8x32 Leupold VX-III. A feathery six ounces, it has 18 inches of eye relief, finger-click adjustments and the index-matched optical coatings.

The company's Mark 4 scopes, designed for tactical use and law enforcement, include a couple of new 1.5-5x20 variables. The one-inch "Precision" scope weighs less than 10 ounces. The 30mm Mid Range/Tactical scales 15. It offers a new reticle, designed to permit fine aim at long range but with the speed of a Circle Dot. Another new Mark 4 listing is the 3.5-10x40 Long Range/Tactical. Choose tall target knobs and quarter-minute clicks or more compact M3 (bullet-drop-compensating) dials, whose one-minute elevation clicks allow quicker sight adjustment to extreme range. A front-plane reticle stays the same size relative to the target, no matter the magnification. All Mark 4 scopes have Leupold's best lens coatings.

Accouterments from Beaverton include lenses you can spin onto the objective bells of late-model Leupold scopes to enhance specific colors. "The idea is to improve the target image you expect to find, on the range or in the field," says the firm's Pat Mundy. "There's a lens to bring warm colors out of foliage so you can better spot a partially hidden deer. Other lenses act like tinted shooting glasses to reduce glare or brighten the sight picture." Available for most VX scopes (except some early VX IIs), these lenses come in diameters of 20 to 50mm. "If your scope isn't threaded for lenses, we'll thread it at half price," adds Pat.

www.leupold.com

NIKON'S BUCKMARKS GET BETTER

Nikon's Monarch riflescopes are among the best values out there, in my view. They're as bright as any, but they cost less than many. A best-quality sight shouldn't require a second mortgage. Nikon must agree that there's little to improve in this line because it hasn't changed any of these models for 2005. But the second-tier Buckmasters have a new look, with rounded objective housings and a quick-focus eyepiece. AO models have been stripped of the up-front sleeve and given a more convenient turret-mounted dial. In a fit of altruism, Nikon left the prices essentially the same as last year.

Nikon BM 4.5-14x40

There's a lot of news at the company's binocular bench, where top-ranked LX roof-prism glasses have been renamed LXLs. They're lighter in weight this year and feature lead-free, arsenic-free glass. A stickier rubber jacket makes them easier to grip in rain or when your hands are cold. More binocular news is at www.nikonsportoptics.com. Nikon's 440 and 600 laser rangefinders, joined last year by an 800 model, now have a 1200 stablemate. In black the 1200 sells for about $430. The Realtree version is $20 higher.

www.nikonusa.com

SCHMIDT & BENDER: WHAT'S TO IMPROVE?

Schmidt & Bender hasn't jammed its 2005 catalog with new scope announcements. In fact, you'll find a dearth of news in the clean but elegant pages, the razor-sharp photos. What you get in a Schmidt & Bender catalog reflects, in large part, what you get with the company's scopes. The premier Zenith line is represented by 30mm variables in power ranges 1.1-4x24, 1.5-6x42, 2.5-6x56 and 3-12x50. They not only feature resettable windage and elevation dials, the dial faces show where in the range of adjustment you are. You won't run out of inches without warning. You can also use the mount to center the optical axis in the physical axis of the scope. An auxiliary ring under the dial face allows you to record several zeros. FlashDot illuminated reticles are available on Zenith sights. Unlike most lighted reticles, FlashDot will vanish if you want to use the black reticle instead. In dark cover, turn on the dot, and adjust brightness to suit conditions. A beam splitter puts the dot always in the exact center of the field. Forgot to turn it off? There's an automatic switch that kills the dot after six hours to save the battery. You'll find an extra battery under the windage cap. Incidentally, S&B also offers traditional illuminated reticles in the Classic-series 2.5-10x56, 3-12x50 and 3-12x42 and in the fixed 8x56. The 4-16x50, 6x42 and 10x42 come with a broad choice of standard reticles. The firm offers a retrofitting service, too, so shooters using standard reticles can get the illuminated feature on selected S&B scopes they already own.

www.schmidtbender.com

SIGHTRON ADDS SIDE FOCUS

Alan Orr tells me that Sightron is announcing three "SS" scopes with side-mounted parallax dials. "The 3.5-10x44, 4.5-14x44 and 6.5-20x50; Plex, Dot and Mil-Dot reticles are cataloged for the high-power models," he says. "The 3.5-10X comes with Plex or

Mil-Dot." SS scopes are fully multicoated and waterproof and are shipped with sunshades and dustcovers. A new 30mm S III-series 6-24x50 features greater adjustment latitude than do most one-inch scopes of similar power. Select plex, dot or Mil-Dot reticle.

For whitetail and turkey hunters, Sightron has a new 2.5x32SG scope with more than four inches of eye relief. True to its efforts to bring useful products to shooters at reasonable prices, Sightron is also cataloging a hunting-size spotting scope. It comes with 25X and 20-60X eyepieces, plus a Cordura soft case zippered to allow quick access to the ends. The S II WP2060x63 scope is waterproof and camera-adaptable. It is fully multicoated.

www.sightron.com

Redfield 3-15x52

SIMMONS REINVENTS THE RIFLESCOPE

When ATK bought a suite of shooting-industry labels in a deal with Blount a few years ago, it got three optics companies: Weaver, Simmons and Redfield. But ATK's focus was and is munitions, as well as high-tech military weapons and NASA projects. ATK sold the optics lines to Meade, a California firm whose success at building and marketing astronomical telescopes had earned it international recognition. Meade CEO Steve Murdock told me early on that he was committed not only to keeping the sports optics lines but to improving them. His first riflescope project: the economical Simmons stable. An overhaul of Simmons, completed last fall, would prove to be a testing ground for technology later to appear in a revitalized Redfield line.

The Master Series Simmons has a lot to offer. The scopes are lighter, simpler and stronger than their predecessors. (At 10.5 ounces, the 3-9x40 is lighter than most competitive models.) There's up to 17 percent greater windage and elevation range, longer eye relief and a bigger "eye box" so you find targets quicker. I was treated with a 3-9x40 prototype of the Simmons Masters late last fall. Mounting the scope on a Winchester 70 in .270 WSM, built by Hill Country Rifles, I "shot around the square" 20 clicks at a time to check repeatability of adjustment. The final shots struck an inch to 4 o'clock of the first. Click values hewed close to the quarter-minute graduations specified. However, there was slight vertical shift in point of impact with windage adjustment and some horizontal shift with elevation changes.

This scope was a prototype, not a sample from a retail shelf. To get it in my hands quickly, the engineers released it before final tuning. "Windage and elevation dials have been refined," Simmons product manager Everett Jones assures me. He says the lens coatings were tweaked, too, though I was very pleased with the scope's optical performance. "We're installing a plex reticle with a finer middle wire and a cleaner step. Adjustment knobs are getting more surface for easier grip."

But innovation on Master Series sights is mostly where you can't see it. A slotted beryllium and copper ring fitted to the rear of the erector assembly holds the scope's internal lenses. The new biasing ring pre-loads the tube so it bears hard against the windage and elevation pegs, eliminating the need for biasing springs and solving several technical problems. Result: smoother, more predictable point-of-impact shift as you turn the dials and no drag from the customary forward springs.

Though the company lists eye relief as 3.75 inches, I found the actual "sweet spot" about four inches from the lens. There is a bigger eyebox. You can move your eye forward and back, even slightly off-axis, without instant blackout. That means faster aim and quicker second shots. Eye relief is often sacrificed for high magnification or a wider field. Somehow, engineers Mark Thomas and Forrest Babcock have delivered long eye relief without noticeable compromise. Another worthwhile feature of the Simmons Master is constant eye relief. It stays the same as you change power.

Simmons Master Series 3-9x40

The 3-9x40 Simmons Master lists for $150, much less than I'd expected. "Meade has succeeded in keeping sticker price low," says Sherry Kerr, whose public relations firm has long represented Simmons. "That's what hunters have come to look for in Simmons scopes. But here they'll get extraordinary quality for the dollar. This is truly a new scope, with improvements that will be implemented on other Simmons sights, including the Aetec." Only entry-level 8-Point scopes remain essentially unchanged. "They will be renamed Blazer," adds Sherry.

Steve Murdock emphasizes that Meade is already working on more improvements in riflescope design. At the 2005 SHOT Show, the company revealed a new Redfield scope, a notch up in price from the Simmons but with the same biasing ring. It will be available later in the year.

Unlike stablemates Redfield and Simmons, which have been overhauled by their new California owner, Meade Optical, Weaver shows little in the way of change. The sale of all three companies by ATK left many of us wondering if Weaver and Simmons would be sustained and if Redfield would be revived. Weaver's 2005 catalog again lists Grand Slam, T-Series and Classic scopes. To my delight, the K models remain as well. The only notable change has been the addition of ETX spotting scopes, 48x90 and 73x125. These look a lot like Meade telescopes. They're relatively short and are camera-adaptable. Magnification is right for long-range target shooting.

Weaver ETX 90 Spot

Want traditional lines? Weaver offers Classic 20x50 and 15-40x60 spotting scopes. With Meade's commitment to innovation, it wouldn't surprise me to see refinements in the Weaver line. Not that change is needed.

www.simmonsoptics.com

Swarovski PHSR Rail Scope

SWAROVSKI'S RAIL SCOPE

Rings mar a scope. They can't always be located where you'd prefer. They don't index the tube, so it's hard to ensure that the reticle is plumb. Rings can allow a scope to slip during recoil, and the inertia of heavy variables pulls mightily against them.

"Swarovski

's SR rail scopes eliminate the problems caused by rings," says Jim Morey, president of Swarovski of North America. The toothed rail on new PH 1.25x24, PH 1-6x42 and PH 3-12x50 models does away with the ring/tube juncture that can fail during stiff recoil. With these scopes you'll have no ring scars and no internal damage from tight rings. The tubes are machined from bar stock, so the rail is integral and actually strengthens the tube while ensuring that it will never slip. The scope tube looks sleek without rings. European hunters have long recognized the advantages of rail-equipped scopes, many of which are imported to the U.S. without rails only in deference to the American market.

Until now there's been a dearth of rail mounts stateside. Those designed for European rifles cost a lot, and few are available to fit rifles popular with American shooters. So Swarovski has advanced the prospects of rail scopes hugely with its recent mount. It's a stout, simple, inexpensive device that's easy to install on a rail scope and clamps to any Picatinny- or Weaver-style base. It looks good, too. The front attachment mates with the rail teeth; the rear clamp is allowed to float so you can position it just where you want it. Another trend?

www.swarovskioptik.com

BEST TASCOS SURVIVE

Bushnell brought Tasco into its fold with the idea not of absorbing the line of popularly priced sporting optics, but of trimming it. "We wanted Tasco optics to complement the Bushnell line," says Chris Lalik, "so we started a selective culling." The 2005 catalog still has many entries. But they're well organized and tastefully displayed. According to Chris, "They represent the better side of Tasco. We think the current offerings deliver great value." He emphasizes that, though it gets less ink in the sporting press than do companies with carriage-class optics, Tasco products sell in huge volumes to U.S. hunters. Indeed, a Tasco 6X scope I got in a rifle trade years ago has become a workhorse on test rifles. This $50 scope gives me a sharp sight picture and holds zero under brutal recoil.

Tasco's line of riflescopes spans fixed and variable power, in magnifications from 1.5X to 40X. Red-dot sights include the ProPoint series with 30mm tubes and the Red Dot series with 38mm tubes. All are 1X (no magnification). Scopes for rimfire rifles include versions with one-inch and 3/4-inch tubes. There are four spotting scopes in the new, leaner Tasco line. For these and Tasco's several binocular series, the prices are still low. Bushnell is just making sure only the best of the company's optics make the catalog.

www.tascosales.com

TRIJICON ILLUMINATES WITHOUT BATTERIES

The company known for tritium-illuminated iron sights and scopes that use both tritium and fiber optic strands to brighten reticles has announced several new items for 2005. TR22 2.5-10x56 AccuPoint is a battery-free illuminated scope with a 30mm tube and a delta-shaped, tritium-lit reticle. Fiber optic assist is adjustable. Trijicon will also bring to civilian shooters its ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight). Developed for military use, the compact, rail-mounted ACOG has been adopted by the USMC.

www.trijicon-inc.com

ZEISS' AFFORDABLE CONQUEST LINE

The news at Zeiss this year focuses on FL binoculars, brilliant glasses designed to compete with the Leica Ultravid and Swarovski EL series. Hunters owe themselves a look when they seek out Zeiss riflescopes.

Zeiss Conquest 40

The debut of affordable Zeiss Conquest riflescopes a few years ago marked the beginning of the German company's accelerated push for more U.S. market share. Now it offers 10 scopes, with the rear-plane reticles preferred in the U.S.

Conquests are selling briskly. But Zeiss hasn't abandoned the front-plane design, which, while it makes the reticle shrink and grow with power changes, guarantees against any shift in point of impact. POI shift can be minimized in second-plane scopes, but to guarantee no shift, a maker must put the reticle up front.

Another advantage is that front-plane reticles stay the same size relative to target images throughout the power range, so when estimating yardage, you needn't know the magnification.

Zeiss accommodates both European and American tastes in reticle types, too, with range-finding and illuminated versions. Zeiss currently offers the popular Conquest in 3-9X, 3.5-10X, 4.5-14X and 6.5-20X models, all with one-inch tubes. The firm also catalogs the 30mm Diavari VM/V series, costly sights so good that in my last survey of high-power scopes they beat all comers optically and mechanically.

www.zeiss.com

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