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2006 Shot Show Report
Members, customers, and patrons of SP,
SHOT Show 2006 has been over for almost three months now, and thus puts this report as waaaaay overdue. I know it has been a running joke on whether the report would ever get out, but there has been a hidden reason why it has taken so long.
Ya see, I haven’t been allowed to drink beer by Executive Spousal Order (ESO) #5-06. Can’t have a SHOT show report without beer. Well, I am pleased to say my incessant whining has resulted in a hall pass this weekend, so let the writing begin!
The Liberty Optics 2006 SHOT Show Report - brought to you by Killian’s Irish Red Premium Lager.
This thread, hopefully a soon to be enjoyed tradition, is designed to give my honest (even if biased) impressions for the various optics I handled during the four days I spent at SHOT. Unlike my first “golly gee, this ain’t Kansas” tour of SHOT two years ago, I was focused nearly entirely on the optics business this go-around, and got loads more information and experiences to share with you. I even spent time with US Optics! As you know, many SP members of note went this time and it was great meeting them. My dad also made the trip, and his 67 year-old eyes came in very handy, for “confirmation” of my visual impressions of the optics examined. Keep in mind SHOT Orlando 2007!!!
I must include my caveat/disclaimer for the article, just so I can avoid the flamethrowers. My comments are not intended to diss or badmouth other manufacturers if they didn't impress me. If they didn't impress me, they didn't impress me. Not too many people get the opportunity to examine like fifty brands of scopes under one roof, and I take this responsibility to you, the customer, very seriously. Of course, my impressions are just that, merely my impressions, during the examination of the scopes. I looked through them, I turned knobs, I examined fit and finish, and most importantly, I met and talked with the company reps. I didn't go to the range, mount them, shoot with them, or give them a good T & E. But, I sincerely try to be fair here, and I do believe I am getting a good handle on this business. Remember, products, like people, tend to be verbs. They change every year. I examine each optic for clarity, resolution, defects, fit, finish, and company attitude. I make recommendations based on what I would buy for myself, and I’m picky. I feel pretty good you would agree with me on the good stuff, and perhaps much of the bad stuff. Regardless, I make the call as I see it. If you don’t like what I have to say, too bad. This is my forum, and I’m free to publish my opinion here. You can always finagle a ticket to SHOT and see for yourself, and form your own opinions. If you want the straight scoop, non-commercialized and to the point (unlike what you get in any major gun rag product review nowadays), this is for you. My attitude is: I’m the Official Optics Dealer of Sniper’s Paradise, you are my customers, it is my job to look after your interests, not mine.
I shameless flashed my SP coin at every booth, and I must say I can call it “respect in a pocket”. Many manufacturers were aware of SP and what it represented, and I think we will continue to garner attention in the future. Now if LO can get to that same respect level....
One final thing - some of my opinions may surprise you. But I am not crazy!
This is an exhaustive treatise as I can muster for you. I will try to fine tune this every year. I sincerely do hope you enjoy, and maybe learn something. As always, you may ask me questions anytime, or post your comments here. Thanks for your time!
Let’s cut to the chase and do the Cliff notes version and list what my biggest pleasant surprises and biggest disappointments were:
Biggest pleasant surprises:
Leupold (VX-L and Mark 4 tactical)
Celestron ED spotters
Simmons Master Series
Did I mention Burris?
Here are some, to me, undeniable trends in the optics industry, at least as evidenced by SHOT:
1) The use of manufacturers reps is becoming more widespread: OK, here’s my beef. Last years Leupold representation at SHOT was well documented as being less than stellar. In fact, a lot of companies seem to have employees who know nothing about the product line. Enter the factory reps. These smoothies are required to study up on the goods and present a polished public image for the company. Problem is, most have no idea what they are talking about. Almost all of them would have to “seek out” the Company Big Wig to get a question answered when I stumped them (and it was easy to do). Of course, not all companies suffered from this affliction, but the trend is disturbing. Where’s the passion and knowledge of the product, from those that work there? Engineers and research wonks would be welcomed at SHOT. Put ‘em on the floor!
2) The Chinese are almost “there”. There, as in “arrived” optically: The masters of Xeroxing anything and everything have worked at it hard enough to put out really good stuff now. In two more years, the lines between the best of China and Japan will have blurred to an insignificant difference, for less money. Other companies will have to earn business by either brand loyalty or by cheapening the goods to compete. I’m already seeing evidence of the latter, I think.
3) While some companies are doing the “crawdad” on the tactical market (e.g., Bausch & Lomb, Nikon, most Japanese brands), other companies are licking their chops and racing to bring tactical style optics to the market (mostly the Europeans): It boggles my mind, that the Japanese, arms exporters extraordinaire, would exhibit the hypocrisy of not wanting optics companies to export sighting devices associated with combat or “taking people out.” Fortunately, the American and European companies suffer no such cognitive dissonance, and good stuff is on the way!
4) For riflescopes, this ain’t Walmart (watch for rising prices!!): Quality costs, and TANSTAAFL (There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch). If you want the best, you will pay more than you ever dreamed of for it. We are now referring to midrange scopes as being $1200-$1500. What price absolute confidence in equipment?
5) For binoculars/spotting scopes, this is Walmart (watch for falling prices!!): Don’t know why, but maybe because more binos and spotters are ever made and used than riflescopes (hello birdwatchers) and they are of simpler mechanical and optical design, but the days of having to spend $1000 + on a first quality pair of binos or spotter are long gone, IMO. $600 will get you all you will ever need in terms of ruggedness, waterproofness, and first class glass. For most, you may be able to go with spending much less money, and still be quite happy.
6) Hello, exotic inert gases: Goodbye nitrogen, move over for argon and/or krypton. The new “it” gases are supposed to be 2-3 times bigger in terms of molecular size and weight, bringing improved protection to internal mechanical parts and lower diffusion rates through O-ring seals, for longer protection from moisture intrusion and preservation of optical integrity. Does it work? Heck if I know, but it sure sounds good!
7) You can’t fake passion for the product...and you can’t fake being all about the Benjamins: Some booths I visited were so transparent, in terms of arrogance, attitude, or the intent to communicate the desirability of selling the product in terms of margins, it was a major putoff. Yes, I know SHOT is all about doing the business of the business, and I’m small fry, but don’t just show up just to do deals in a hurry. Show up to tell the world why or how you built a better mousetrap. How does the customer benefit? Why is your stuff the best?? Why should anyone care about your product? Then we can do a deal.
OK, now it is time to name names. In no particular order. Enjoy.
Hunter Wicked Optics - Aaahhh they’re back. No snake oil salesman, and no outrageous claims of Schott glass in the scopes. Actually, Hunter looks like they make all kinds of shooting related products. As for the scopes, the 3-9x40 was surprisingly bright and clear (dem Chinese getting real good). However, the long range scopes (3-12x42, 6-24x50) were like looking through a dog’s butt. That’s all the copy that Wicked Optics gets...which is probably 100 words too long.
KONUS - a well known military guy and accomplished shooter (and a very nice guy in person) has touted these as the best budget spotter out there. I simply must disagree. But let me backtrack. The first introductory paragraph inside the cover of the weighty KONUS brochure has no less than five spelling and/or grammatical errors. Warning! Warning! Foreign produced product brochure! The KONUSPOT spotter was cheap, and a big disappointment. Save your cash and look elsewhere for your budget spotter needs. It was dark, fuzzy, and a very uninspired sight picture. However, the opposite is true for the KONUSPRO riflescopes. These things are an amazing value for the money. Laser etched reticles, fully multicoated optics, illumination, decent 1/8 MOA clicks, and a bright clear sight picture. The 10x50 mildot even has 100 minutes of adjustment. So for around $99, you can have a decent hunting/plinking scope. Skip the NcStar, Leapers, and all those other guys - The KONUSPRO is LO’s pick for budget riflescope of the year. Sure, service is an unknown quantity, but you won’t sweat too bad for under 100 clams.
Celestron - Time being a constraint, I skipped looking at these guys binos and went straight to the spotters. Copinhell and I spent considerable time here. Bottom line - they are worth the money and are my pick for lower priced quality spotters. I’m referring strictly to the Ultima series. Waterproof, multi-coated optics, good focus, and priced right (under $200 for the non-ED versions - identified by their light olive green color) and a no fault warranty, these spotters are another loud signal that dedicated Chinese manufacturers are a force to be reckoned with now. However, sticking with LO’s mantra that the top model of an optics line is usually the way to go if you can afford, let me direct you to the Ultima ED spotters (identified by their 45 degree eyepieces and dark green color). With the Ultima 80 ED, I was able to correctly read 3mm tall letters on a product label at a distance of 125 feet. The clarity and resolution of this optic was outstanding, in the less than stellar lighting conditions of the convention center. The Ultima 100 ED was bigger, badder, but indistinguishably better. For well under $500, you could have the last spotter you will ever need, and be really happy. Gee.
Leupold - I know, many of you think I’m anti-Leupold. But I’m not. I just don’t like selling over-priced optics at what had been a diminishing quality curve. Well, I’m pleased with what I saw from the big L this go-around. First let me tell you about the VX-L series. Yes, they are funky looking and the butt of jokes all over the web. Tell you what, you get behind one without opening your eyes, snap the rifle to your cheek and then look through the scope, and if you saw what I saw, you are going to have a big smile on your face. The Diamondcoat lens coating combined with what appears to be better glass this year and blackened lens edges produced a very sharp and clear sight picture, with no detectable defects. Great! By the way, our troops use the CQT scopes with Diamondcoat in the sandbox because of their serious scratch resistance. The Mark 4 tacticals were excellent, though not as appealing as the VX-L’s optics, IMO. Suspiciously, I could not find anywhere in the Leupold literature what lens coatings were used in the Mark 4 tacticals - not Diamondcoat or Multicoat4 or anything. Hmmmmmm, I’m guessing the Index Matched lens system holds the secret. Transfer that Diamondcoat optics technology to the tactical scopes and BOOM .....you have a grand slam.
As for clicks, the M1 knobs were simply outstanding in audible and tactile feel. I do wonder how dirt and debris stays out of that little upward facing space, though. But they really rock. The new M2 knobs were easy to grab, but were much more vague and mushy. Moving on to the much ballyhooed RX rangefinders, I really only have one word - cheesy. Made in China, with a cheap feel, crappy green tint optics, and a translucent display, these things reek of gimmicky and are way overpriced. They simply will not be my choice. Your mileage may vary. Sorry, Lupy. On the bright side, I’m hearing very good feedback on the Lupy Mark 4 12-40x60 Tactical spotting scope. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and this compact, very fieldable spotter warrants with mildot or TMR reticle warrants serious consideration in any rifleman’s kit.
The real difference in Lupy this year, though, were the people. Chris O’Donnell, market leader for the military/law enforcement division, was a pleasure to talk to. We talked quality, Chinese factories, taking risks, market awareness, and other “bidness” topics. I found him honest, open, smart, and receptive. Keep your eye on Lupy in the future - they may still be king of the hill, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them start to reclaim the market share they had in the glory years of the past. But let’s see improvement for more than one year.
One final note - Lupy’s catalog ads will no longer say “Made in the USA”. They have stated “Crafted in the USA” in the Cabela’s catalog. C’est la Vie!
Burris - Ok, ok, I know I touted Burris in the past as being a better value alternative to Lupy. It was with great anticipation I looked for the XTR series of tactical scopes. Well, I found them. Flung on a side table flea market style, like a mere afterthought. My anticipation quickly turned to disappointment. The optics on these things were subpar - looking at the sodium lights in the convention center, I saw little flare-like halos around each light. They weren’t very bright or clear. The knobs just plain sucked. The side focus was easy, then hard, then easy to turn. The fit, finish, and feel of this things was just shockingly bad. Worse, not one person came by or offered to answer questions for the 15 minutes I was there. Everyone was “busy”. Worse yet, I saw a high ranking Burris exec sitting at the Hakko table (oops, excuse me, JOL, or Japan Optics Limited now, more on that later) specing out new Burris scopes....”yeah, give me these knobs, yeah...30mm tube too...lighted reticle, yeah....” He looked quite uncomfortable and nervous. Gee, I wonder why.
I have officially soured on Burris. I apologize to those I recommended them too. It looks to me they have gone the Sightron route...make ‘em cheap and stack ‘em deep. Pass.
Japan Optics Limited (JOL) - So long Hakko. RIP. Hakko is now JOL. How do I know this? Because the elderly Japanese man in the booth with the putrid, karate kicking breath told me so. To their credit, the scopes on the shelf in the JOL booth were more substantial in heft and feel than the ones I looked at two years ago. They also resembled many “off-brand” tactical scopes on the market today, like the Holland tactical hunter. The series I am referring to is the “MP” law enforcement type scopes. Bottom line, JOL underscores how few true non-European optics manufacturers there are today. They probably make scopes for dang near everybody. The real kick was seeing who sat down in the booth with these guys to do scope specs and business. Including some big time optics dealers who I dare not mess with at this stage of my career. Funny thing is, nearly all of them had a “I hope nobody is looking” demeanor on their faces. A cool expose would be to setup a camera on the Hakko, er, JOL booth and see where your scopes are really made. But, what goes on in the locker room stays in the locker room. I still want to be on the team, so I’ll keep my mouth shut (except on Burris, because I have an a** about them right now).
ATN - this will be short and acidic. ATN’s motto should be “Nobody Does Less With More”. Case in point: 72mm objective lens scopes with a nice, fuzzy, yellow tint sight picture. Puh-leeze! If you buy ATN, my advice to you is to remain anonymous for fear of ex-communication from SP.
Nikon - One of the largest optics manufacturers in the country will have a proportionally short write-up. If you want a premium hunting scope, the Nikon Monarch Gold’s are all that and a cup of tea. My focus was strictly on the spotters (very good, compact, clear, sharp, but not exceptionally bright) and the Nikon Tactical scopes. Nikon has confirmed they are doing the crawdad on the tactical market (pincers out while slowly backing away). The 2006 Nikon catalog shows unchanged specs for the tac scopes, but this is not true. The ones I handled were shorter, lighter, less robust, with an abbreviated turret housing. Not bad, mind you, but not the direction I want to see. The price sure didn’t change either. I heartily recommend and embrace the older Nikon tacticals as outstanding scopes for the money, but I guess the spectre of having a warranty claim replacement being an “equivalent” mildot target scope down the road will always be an increasing liability. Lupy wins again.
Shepherd Enterprises - Sally Shepherd was back, sporting the curves, heels, fake bake, and big hair I remember. The first thing Glen Shepherd asked me when he saw me was “Scott, how’s the website going?” Aaaaaarrgghh.
I still like Shepherd scopes, and I talked with Glen about what I feel are the two shortcomings of the design (yes, I know about the inability to crank knobs and adjust to weather conditions for precision long range shooting....but for a 600 yards battle rifle optics, I feel the reticular BDC has merit). First, get a reticle “posi-lock” like B-bb-b-b-urris and get illumination. Glen’s response was “No, no, no”.....the answer is always no. However, he left the door open for a 50 unit minimum order for such a custom design. I predict LO will bring such a scope to our shores one day. The real story on Shepherd this year was the binos. The 8x42's won’t win any beauty contests, but DAMN, they work, period. I mean it, the clarity and resolution on these things was simply outstanding. I’m so confident you will like these binos, that I’ll offer a 3-day buy-it-back LO guarantee if you don’t think they are worth the price. Retail is $630 but the SP special price is $499 delivered, with a 12 unit minimum order. Folks, LO is all about getting the best optics in your hands at the best price, and these things are worthy of the endorsement. Try them and see if you agree! The scopes themselves have a strong following and I’m still going to work one out one day.
IOR - Valdada: I think many people now see that the IOR scopes are just darn fine optics. The only true new addition to the IOR line is the 1.5-8x26 “CQB” variable with new “.223 CQB” reticle, a finer reticle than the old CQB with a ACOG style reticular bracket and shoot holdover pattern. I like the old CQB reticle better, as I found the new reticle to be too fine and easily lost in dark backgrounds for my tastes. The scope also comes with an illuminated 4a dot reticle. I don’t like the $1000+ price tag for a max 8x variable scope either, even with 35mm rings included.
The real BREAKING NEWS is the Valdada line of spotters. The collapsible 15-45x80 GA is here right now, for $999 delivered. Others, like a 20-60x80 compact spotter are on the way. New longrange binos are here also. I was wrong about Karl Kaps being the German manufacturer. They are German alright, but the manufacturer is.............Optolyth. Wish I knew more about these guys, as I have nary a piece of paper on them from SHOT. I do remember their booth, and I can’t remember anything special about them....which is why I’m concerned. At any rate, you heard it here first, only on SP.
Bushnell - The Elite series of scopes continue to exhibit their trademark brightness and sturdy construction. What I wanted to check out was the new tactical series binos...sorta of a large version of the Steiner military marine. Well, sorry, these are a big letdown. They felt just awful, blocky, heavy, unbalanced, and the optics were quite underwhelming, especially for the 7x50 configuration. Well, it turns out dealer cost on these is around $200. As JY is fond of saying, you get what you pay for. Swing and a miss, Bushy! However, the Elite 1500 series LRFs are probably the best value for the money. The are coming up with a new ARC model that adjusts for slope and gives true distance on inclines. Flea at CVT has confirmed these things just work, period. This 7x26 model features camo finish, and a ballistic holdover calculator for rifle cartridges. Optics are the best “non-Leica” out there and the value is there. Overall, I like Bushnell. Just avoid their cheapie scopes as they “boast” one of the highest return rates in the industry. D’oh!!
Viewway Optics Enterprises - A Chinese OEM supplier. Only worth mentioning because every single page in their freakin catalog has this mantra: “Trust. Cooperation. Service and Innovation, we are sincerely hoping to be one of your long-term and steady suppliers. We believe, if there is a view, there is a way!” What a wonderfully commie diatribe!!
Leica Sports Optics -We all know Leica optics are first rate, and the Leica 1200 scan LRF (STILL listed as “Water-spray resistant” in the 2006 catalog, by the way) is still one of the premier, reasonably priced LRFs on the market. The big news is the pricier, but hopefully improved, CRF 1200 LRF. It’s waterproof to a depth of 1 meter, weighs less than 8oz with the battery, and mimics the performance of the original LRF 1200 scan. Downside: The optics had a very slight greenish cast as opposed to the original’s brightest, clearest LRF optics I’ve seen (with the exception of the much pricier Swarovski). I told the Leica rep my impressions and he looked non-plussed. “Shouldn’t be any difference”, he said. Well, Chief Bootknocker, there is, and I hope you and your be-atches correct this before going to full production. Time will tell!
At any rate, these LRFs are just the thing for an SP group buy, order 10 or more pieces and save over 10%....put your collective buying power to work and get the best stuff, cheaper! How about $529 for the regular LRF 1200 scan and $599 for the new CRF 1200? A great deal on great gear.
Olivon Optics - a Swedish/Canadian purveyor of Chinese manufactured optics. They are the contract behind the KONUSPRO scopes (good) and the KONUSPOT spotters (bad). Just in case you wanted to know. NEXT!!!
Opti-Logic Corporation - A Tennessee-based company that had binos that failed to impress but do make, here in the USA, “The World’s First Affordable Tilt-Compensated Rangefinder”. The 1000XL-XT-LH models promise 1000+ yards on a non-reflective target. They use an LED readout and seem kind of chincy....but if they work, hey, they’re worth a shot. If anybody wants to order/test one, I’m all ears.
HORUS Vision - OK, in all honesty, Dennis Sammut and crew were as busy as ever, the booth was crowded, and they didn’t have time for me. But nothing has really changed, IMO. The Horusvusion reticle is a proven sniper type reticle that will let you hit with incredible speed and accuracy, one mastered. Just avoid the namesake scopes, and get the reticle in your favorite USO, Lupy, or S&B scope and happy shooting!!
Simmons Outdoor Corporation - OK, I know there is no tactical connection here, but the long awaited “Master Series” Aetec scope and spotter I predicted would make an awesome budget scope and spotter, based on the specs and the guidance of Meade Intrument company.
Boy, was I wrong.
One look through the Aetec 2.8-10x44 revealed strange optics behavior. Looking up at the sodium lamps revealed “light sabre” beams of light emanating from them, throughout the entire field of view. What a neat display....for a kaleidoscope. The spotter had absolutely nothing special going for it at all. Let’s move along, shall we?
Schmidt & Bender - OK, everyone knows that I’ve been a fan of the German optics for awhile now. S&B is one of the most respected names in the business. I eagerly made my way to their booth to check out the arrival of the new 5-25x56 PMII/LP scope. When I got there, there was a couple of “bubbas” pointing to the new 3-12x50 and saying “that’s one of our scopes right there” with an S&B rep having a rather pained look on his face, as if to say “please shut up now”. Turns out the “bubbas” were from Premiere reticles. I don’t know what is going on with this alliance to supply the USMC new sniper scope, but here is Field and Stream’s Dave Petzal’s take:
“Marines Get New Sniper Scope
For the last 25 years, the United States Marine Corps has equipped its snipers with a fixed-power 10X scope made by Unertl Optical Company. But no more. While roaming the aisles at the SHOT Show in February, I saw the Unertl’s successor, which is the Schmidt & Bender PM II LP, and is a 3X-12X variable with S&B’s Gen II mil-dot reticle. This scope is so big and so complicated that I could not comprehend the thing if I studied it for a month. It was the winner in a competition in which 25 optics companies submitted entries, and it was the only one to meet the Corps’ specifications. If you would like to get your hands on one, you can join the Corps, go through boot camp where you must qualify as expert with the M-16, and then get into scout-sniper school, which is tough, and graduate, which is even tougher. The Corps will then give you a M40A3 sniper rifle, all 19 pounds of it, lots of match ammo, and a chance to use it where it will do the most good. Or you can simply pony up $2,849, which is the MSRP for the civilian version of the Marine scope. It doesn’t have USMC on it, and the adjustment turrets revolve in a different direction, but those are the only differences. If any of you buy one, or become a Marine sniper and shoot one, let me know.”
All I know is the 5-25x56 PMII/LP just failed to impress. No, I am not drunk, it just failed to impress me. Yes, I know it’s an S&B, and it boasts every bell and whistle found in the optical world, but optically, it seemed like a cruel joke. Nearly $3000 worth of riflescope and all I could think of was that Lupy VX-L seemed much better for a fraction of the price. What the eff is going on here?
Perhaps a clue lies in the specs. Sure, it boasts an impressive 85 MOA of adjustment at 100 yards. But let’s look at light transmission.....”min 90%”......
Shoot, Bushnell Elite 4200 boasts 95% transmission, Lupy Index matched lens system up to 98%,
Zeiss Diavari has published 92% from objective to eyeball, what the heck is this about? Good binos boast 90% light transmission...but they have a folded light path. There’s more..
“By using novel types of high quality glass, our optical designer has succeeded in producing an optical system of extraordinary brilliance and natural image quality. Moreover, newly calculated thin-film formulations ensure maximum transmission right until dusk”
Fire him!! Leave the old calculations alone! You’ve only been making premium optics for how long, for crissakes!!!
S&B, an LO surprising disappointment from SHOT Show 2006.
Zeiss - OK, let’s kick a few more “krauts” around. The 6-24x56 Diavari, when sighted on the edge of the field of view on the soon-to-be-infamous Las Vegas Convention Center sodium lights, reminded me of the Jimi Hendrix song...Purple Haze. Purple clouds of flare coming from the lights...what IS going on here? This just isn’t supposed to happen with these scopes!! Zeiss also introduced the LRF and scope in one, with the LRF reading taking up the bottom of the field of view, a 3-12x56 called the Victory Diarange. I’m not really pushing these new scopes and LRFs in one, as I see them as a lazy man’s substitute for true marksmanship skills. Burris and Bushnell also unveiled their versions of this...and to borrow what Thomas once said...I hope they go the way of the dodo bird. Otherwise, I just was completely underwhelmed by the Zeiss optics....the “Wow!” factor just wasn’t there. My dad, looking through the scopes, came away with the same “what’s the big deal” feeling. The Conquest series have some new low mag additions, but nothing that knocked my socks off. I’m not sure what to say, except Zeiss is another, improbable 2006 LO SHOT Show disappointment.
Nightvision - I purposely did not spend a lot of time worrying about this, as I’ve learned the market is limited, and so is my capital. But, if you are ever serious about super quality, super value night vision, do me a favor and contact General Starlight Co Inc (GSCI). Number (416) 223-6122, website www.electrooptic.com Tell ‘em Scott @ Liberty Optics sent you. I need all the exposure I can get. And you won’t be sorry, these guys rock with the night vision. A very aggressive, innovative, and courteous night vision company with the real goods!!!
Hensoldt - Listen up....everything I said about Zeiss, just wad up and throw away when I shift gears to Hensoldt here. Available currently in 3-12x56 and 4-16x56 configurations, in both FFP and logical SFP (calibrated at 6x and 8x, respectively), brilliant optics, illuminated mildot reticles, 34mm tubes with a respectable 80 MOA (4-16x56 FFP), great 105 MOA (4-16x56 SFP and 3-12x56 FFP) or mind boggling 140+ MOA (3-12x56 SFP) reticle travel, 92% total light transmission, 3-4 arc seconds of resolution, and built like a freaking tank, you may hold me personally accountable if you ain’t happy with your Hensoldt, as I would be as happy as a pig in mud if I owned one. The 3-12x56 retails for $1999, and is the way to go for an imported top shelf sniper optic, IMO. Best of all, custom, customer supplied reticles are an option! Outstanding. The knobs are excellent and color coded to help you keep track of all that travel. Best of all, I found Claud Schutz and Stephan Kern very receptive to my rants about going to a smaller objective size and they hinted a 50mm objective was in the works. I told them, keep up the good work. I got a warm and fuzzy feeling about Hensoldt, and suggest if you want the best, better put them on your research list. If you aren’t pleased with Hensoldt, please show me the straight jacket as I’m just plain nuts.
Trijicon - Ok, I’ll never mess with the Martyr Maker again. But seriously, I spent a lot of time with David Spencer, technical services representative for Trijicon, and spent a lot of time with the ACOG and Accupoint riflescopes. All I can say is....wow! What a huge improvement in clarity and sharpness, across the entire product line. The Accupoint riflescopes were light, rugged feeling and CLEAR. The ACOGs seemed light years away from what I examined two years ago. I told the story about how I put down the ACOG in the SP forum, and how a real operator opened up a can of whoop a** on me, backed by a boatload of WhoTF and WTF exhortations of many fellow brothers/soldiers, and the Trijicon reps roared in approving laughter. Hey, I’m man enough to admit when I step in it, and I’m very glad to see what I perceive as a better product than ever. Oh, and we sell them too.
L3 Communications - these is the new parent company of Eotech, a company with 60,000 employees. You can see the glazed look on the longtime Eotech employees when referring to their new adjustments required of their new masters. But, I digress. As JY has stated, in the field, there are those with Eotechs and those trying to get them. The big news is the arrival of the new M553, sitting a little taller (for optimum cheek weld), with a dark earth color, new 123 lithium (x2) power (1100 hours of battery life), dual A.R.M.S. throw lever mounts for Picatinny rail attachment, Eotech will continue to be a leader in real CQB optics technology. Don’t forget LO is a true Eotech distributor, made to serve the members here. We are even on the L3/eotech website.......and we couldn’t be prouder!
Nightforce/Lightforce USA - Jeff Huber was his usual aggressive self, talking about how the Nightforce rings were “3x stronger than Badger Ordnance rings” to a prospective buyer. I couldn’t believe my ears...why would you want to make such an outrageous claim like that??
However, I spent quite a bit of time with the Nightforce optics, and they are good stuff. They DO have some quirky features that don’t really float my boat (mag ring and eyepiece one unit, so your BC cap does the whirlybird when you change mag settings; non-rheostat adjustable illumination, and knobs and clicks that did not eclipse the Lupy M1, by any means). On 20x+, the limitations of the glass and coating begin to show. However, if you want me to cut to the chase, the 3.5-15x50 is the crown jewel in the lineup for a tactical optic and I would field with it without hesitation. Buy this model with 110% confidence, and it just may be the last scope you ever own. Buy from CS Gunworks or through LO (with assistance form CSGW....especially if you are a California resident) and be happy. Nightforce is a very fine scope. ‘Nuff said.
Meopta - At the risk of hurting some feelings.....I didn’t even grab one Meopta brochure. I spent some time checking their scopes and spotters out, and there wasn’t one thing that really impressed me. Meopta really seems to be searching for an identity....but I don’t have time to spend on optics companies that are trying to “find themselves”. Moving on.....
Steiner binoculars - Do you want the straight LO scoop? (Do I hear a hell yeah?) If you go the Steiner bino route, get the Merlin 8x42, Peregrine 8x42, or Nighthunter XP 7x50...and you’ll either shake my hand, hug me, or smooch me, depending on the circumstances. Buy anything else in the lineup, on my recommendation (which you won’t be getting, BTW), and you’d likely cold-c*** my happy a**. It’s really as simple as that. We would love to sell you the first three aforementioned models, and will take a raincheck on the affectionate gestures. Seriously, any bino in the first three series are excellent, but the rest, as they say, is the rest.
Vortex Optics - a relatively new company, firmly grounded in the roots of birding. Hey, birders are serious about their optics, as the difference between a tufted titmouse and a rufous sided towhee might me the subtle shading of some dorsal feather...you need some good optics for this stuff. Vortex began 20 years ago with Dan Hamilton’s view of the need for a truly top shelf optics as expressed by the feedback of many tough customers. These guys specialize in binos and spotters. The spotters were not ready for this SHOT, but will be good to go for 2007 SHOT. The binos I examined were the Razor, Hawk Owl, and the soon to be introduced Viper. This is some seriously good glass and Mr. Hamilton did not shy away from any applicability to the tactical market. What I love best about the company was the fine Americans that staffed the booth and their “Vortex VIP Warranty” which is an unconditional guarantee that is faultless, blameless, transferable, with no cards to fill out and no time limit. That’s LO-style service standards, which is why we are onboard as a 2006 Vortex Optics dealer. Oh, yeah, the binos kick some shiny hiney too.
Armament Technology - Better knows as Elcan, these guys definitely have a military/LE focus in every product they put out. The crown jewel is the SpecterDR Dual Role sight, the switchable 1x/4x combat sight that is brilliant in optics, reticle sharpness, mounting design, compactness, and usability. But, at $1200+ dealer, it’s just too damn expensive. The ATOS 1.0 red dot sight has a hideous forward signature and REQUIRES an ARD to be combat viable, unless you want to scream “here I am!” to the bad guys at low light/night ops. The other products, a thermal night vision infrared bino, and an all digital sighting scope (really the bleeding edge of optics technology) are excellent “out of the box” products but begin in five figures in price. So don’t hold it against me if I end discussion of them right now.
Swarovski - I only mention these guys because the optics kick butt and the Laser Guide 8x30 LRF are THE cadillac of LRFs....the priciest (MSRP of just under $1000) , but again, what price absolute confidence in your optical equipment?? But we’ll look more closely at their little brother, and rising star.....Kahles....later.
Unertl - folks, I love my country, I support our troops, and I respect how Unertl has made the original USMC sniper scope used to take out countless enemy personnel for 70 years. But, I can not look you straight in the eye and recommend the current 10x40 tactical.....looking inside, the tube in the ocular piece looked look the end of a PVC pipe..the optics and reticle I could never get in focus, and the scope is not waterproof.....for about $2500. Sorry, my advice is to pass and wait for better times.
Brunton - I’m not going to tout Brunton optics for any reason. There is just too many other viable alternatives out there. But, I do really like the company. What’s not to like about some Riverton, Wyoming cowboys and their purveyance of serious outdoor gear? They even gave my Dad a nice cold Budweiser while I checked out their wares. Brunton, an All-American company deserving of our support.
Karl Kaps - the “X-factor” German manufacturer.....another prime “Group Buy” candidate....hungry for American business, not afraid of the tactical market, fine optics, imported exclusively by OpticsHQ.com........the sniper reticle I was not crazy about, but this is a decent German optic alternative at a decent price. The one unique thing about Kaps scopes I thought was pretty cool was the lack of ring visible when thrown up to the shoulder....what I mean is the usual dark ring around the sight picture when you look through the scope (from the scope tube or ocular housing tube) is almost absent in the Kaps. They said because the ocular lens “sticks out “ further than other brands is the reason. Regardless, the effect is that the sight picture seems to “float” in the middle of your normal unmagnified field of view. The optics are very good and Kaps seems receptive to custom orders and specs. Keep your eyes on these guys in the future. Finally, they are the first manufacturer to step up and offer some freebies for testing here on SP. That scores some serious points in my book!
Aimpoint - Hands down the most serious hotties brought to bear at SHOT...(with the possible exception of www.ammunitionstore.com)....some really fine chicks.... and also the most snotty and arrogant. Their reps were the King of ‘Tude. I’m so glad JY said they play second fiddle to the Eotech in real combat ops, as I just plain didn’t like these guys. Yes, for a red dot sight, they rule the roost, but no reason to act like your s*@t don’t stink...... I’ve got to call these guys and set up an account, I guess....at least for hunteradam2001. But I was not happy with their arrogance. Maybe a well placed Comp M3 would get their attention.....
U.S. Optics - easily the biggest coup of SHOT for LO, was the distributorship with USO. Special thanks to the “Man behind the Curtain” juroku, for making this happen, plain and simple. USO is 100% All-American, a custom shop capable of making the best riflescopes on earth, combat tested and subject of a loyal following. The optics on these scopes are superb, the brute toughness and ruggedness of the current production models are to be lauded, and JBW3 is one hell of a nice guy to run the ship and easily shares the vision of customer service that LO does. We are extremely excited to be on board. Of course, we want you to buy your USO scope from LO, and we’ll give you a tip to help ensure your happiness with your purchase. Avoid the T-Pal model, and increase your chances of having a hassle-free USO scope experience by nearly six-fold. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? You heard it here, and only here. Not cheap, but what price an American-made scope, using the best Schott glass, backed by the highest standards of customer service in the industry? Worth every penny, IMO.
Minox - Hands down, the binocular value leader of 2006 SHOT. Premium German optics at an affordable price. The friendliest reps and staff of all the European optics manufacturers. Minox is a contraction of “Miniaturization of Optical Instruments” (think mini-spy cameras). But, they seem to have a knack for packing tons of value into some serious glass. Another serious Group Buy candidate. For a few hundred clams, you can have the High Grade 8.5x43 roof prism binos that are chock full of every cutting edge feature you can ask for. For even less money, try the 8x44 or 10x44 porro prism models which offer stunning “3-D” image effects, and exceptional brightness and clarity. I’ve got a great opinion of Minox for 2006, and you hear it here first, look out for their product line in the future. I offer the same guarantee as I do the Shepherd 8x42 binos...buy your Minox HG or Porro prism binos from LO and after three days, if you are not satisfied, I’ll buy them back (assuming new condition). They are that good!
Kahles - My pick for rising star in the tactical scope world is Kahles. Recall that I felt bad for Kahles for playing second fiddle to Swarovski and hoped they establish an identity back in 2004. Turns out that when the last of the Kahles family clan passed away, he requested (obviously before he really passed away) that Swarovski take hold of the Kahles name and not let it die with him. Swarovski did that and then apparently raided the Kahles cabinet of all its technology (to the victors go the spoils, eh?) to incorporate into its own line of scopes. The optics of the Kahles line were absolutely stunning. Simply the Best of Show, regardless of price. They were the only scope that my Dad’s 67 year old eyes went “Wow!! That’s nice!” when he brought them to bear. Currently, Kahles is heavy into the hunting scope market, but they do boast the ZF 95 series 6x42 and 10x42 tactical scopes with BDCs for any serious LR centerfire load (.308, 300 Win, Mag, and .338 Lapua Mag). Joel Harris, National Sales Manager for Kahles, assured me that they are planning and pushing hard to jump into the US tactical market. That is good news. However, the following transcript is illuminating, as to how far the lingo has to be absorbed before it becomes knowledge. The scope in question was a Helia CS with 30mm tube, 2.5-10x50, a good platform for a serious tactical variable optic.
Me: “So Joel, how many minutes of adjustment travel does this have?”
Joel Harris (Puffing out his chest in pride): “13 inches at 100 yards.”
Me: 13 minutes at 100 yards?
Me: “Are you sure?”
JH: “Yes....is there something wrong?”
Me: “Uuuuugghh Joel, if that is the case, then my customers won’t have much use for this scope, ever”
JH: “Really? Let me check on this, just to make sure”
JH: “Okay, how about 55 minutes?”
Me: “That’s better!”
Finally, the new “Gee-whiz” feature of the Kahles is the Multizero elevation knob, which uses “micro-clutches that connect turret to spindle” in order to “store” the correct impact settings for up to five loads/points of impact, in one knob. While nifty, I couldn’t help but recall the signed print my Dad had from Richard “d***” Marcinko, which had him posing menacingly with an AK-47 under his arm , with the paraphrased caption “It seems like complicated systems are the trademark of certain new managers that feel they are the way to succeed. I guess they feel that makes them smart sons of bitches. Actually, that really makes them dumb sons of bitches. The more complex a system is, the more likely it is to fail.”
Who am I to argue!!!!!
I won't be able to carry Kahles, since their pricing structure is geared toward the "big boys" but they are good stuff.
So there you have it. 25 pounds of literature distilled into one single tome!
I hope this was informative. I’ll go into non-optics accessories and other hardware in a future edit.
June 3 Update / Edit:
Kowa - Kowabunga dude! How the heck did I leave these guys out?? The most "hoity-toity" optics company. Straight to the point - these are damm fine spotters. while their old binos failed to impress me a few years ago, Kowa has elevated the art and science of spotting scope technology to the best it can be. Pin sharp resolution, very bright sight picture, super clear, and brilliant colors. I'm talking about the flourite lens Prominar series. Now I see what all the fuss is about. Crossing our fingers on being an official dealer! Not easy to do. Their website reveals only 3-4 dealers in the southeast.
Badger Ordnance - For the record, I stopped by to talk to Marty three times during SHOT, and each time he wasn't there. I finally dropped off my sales tax and corporate info and haven't heard a thing. I'm not surprised though, who am I?? At any rate, when the time is right, we will look to stock as much BO products as possible....just like everybody else in the tactical market. Baaaa-aaaa (that's my sheep noise).
A.R.M.S. - Another neat company with a catalog chock full of goodies...especially for the AR crowd. I've always liked their throw lever ring mounts...now integrated in Elcan Spectre and the Eotech SOCCOM HWS. The gap between dealer price and retail is pretty narrow...but probably realistic. I need to give these guys a call. However, it will be awhile before I really get serious about carrying their stuff....too many other priorities. Great stuff, though.
Cold Steel - My dad bought me one of the original Trailmaster Bowies back in the late '80s, with the then innovative Carbon V steel and a sweet rolled edge that would cut through 'gator hide like butter
I've always been a fan of CS fixed blades, but preferred Benchmades for folders (still do). So when the chance to jump on a SHOT SHOW "Dealer Special" came up, I jumped. I bought all kinds of CS knives to sell to anybody and everybody. Boy, what a sucker I was. Still haven't received all of my order, I cancelled the last item, because the sales rep is a complete jerk. What should have cued me was that Lynn Thompson's wife (Mrs. Cold Steel) dissed my Dad at SHOT. Hmmmm how to avenge Dad? I got it....Mrs. Cold Steel, I sentence you to a lifetime of bumping uglies with your short, chunky, bald, ex-real estate hairball karate dude husband, 'till divorce do you part (he is wealthy now, isn't he ). I think that's punishment enough.
Cold Steel has a staggering array of products now, and even bought the rights to the old J.R. Stupero blowguns....featuring the .625 Magnum...of which I have an original At any rate, the only good reason to sell them, is to buy them for yourself!
Benchmade - I like these guys. I own two of their knives. Their sales rep was friendly and knowledgable, and they make auto knives, which are now legal in Florida. I'm not a knife genius, but my favorite steels are Cold Steel Carbon V and D2 tool steel found in some KaBar and Benchmade knives. Maybe I'll have better luck selling Benchmade...and can't be any worse than Cold Steel.
ZERO Tolerance knives - ZT is a Kershaw line of knives that consists of one fixed and three folding models. These knives are made of either CPM3V, 154CM, or S30V steel. These knives are designed and manufactured in conjunction with knifemaker Ken Onion and Strider knives. I really like the fact that a portion of the sale of certain knife models goes to the PVA - Paralyzed Veterans of America. I don't know much about knives, but Alan Elishewitz (sp?) was drooling over them and passing all kinds of compliments. Here's the website: ZT Knives If you like what you see, drop me a line...dealers need to order only a handful to qualify...I'm all about it!!!
Gransfors Bruks - A neat buch of people headquartered in South Carolina, of all places. Their axes were razor sharp, and they offer a huge discount to SHOT show attendees for their woolen undergarments.
Here's an excerpt from their websight:
"Gränsfors Bruks, Inc. is located in Summerville, South Carolina. The Company, since 1986, manufactures, markets and distributes Swedepro® Chain Saw Protective Apparel and other products that allow the chain saw operator to be safer when working with a chain saw.
Gränsfors Bruks, Inc. markets and distributes KLAR® Ullfrotté Original Performance Thermal Undergarments and Socks manufactured by our sister company in Sweden.
Gränsfors Bruks, Inc. also markets and distributes the Swedish hand forged Gränsfors® Axes and Tove® Swedish Spring Steel Wrecking Bars. Gränsfors Bruks has made axes in Sweden since 1902."
I picked up a copy of "The Axe Book" which is chock full of axe and wood wisdom...highly recommended!
Surefire - Everyone knows about these guys. I would hate to be a newbie at this company, their catalog is has TONS of products now...I can't keep up. Sort of like Cold Steel on pricing.....Big bucks rules.
Finally....some other odds and ends
Paraclete Armor and Equipment - some serious looking protective gear and uniforms for law enforcement and military personnel. These look top shelf. Just thought I'd mention it.
ALOKSAK - Brought to you by Watchful Eye Designs Website these are clear waterproof and airtight bags covered by five patents. I got a camera-sized free sample. Pretty nifty. You can stick radios/GPS in them, or your wallet, or food, papers, or....also make map caddies and such. Nice folks.
SOG Survival Bar - Brought to you by California Advanced Labs Website these high performance bars feature "250 mgs of energy blasting caffeine" BUT is "non-thirst provoking" They tasted good at least, but were a little dry...hey I'm getting thirsty
The Buck Bomb - You remember those flea fogger canisters.....the ones where you have to vacate your home while the aerosol pumps through your dwelling? Somebody decided to pack hunting scents into these canisters and wa-la...the "Buck Bomb" is born. Website I scored a free can of vanilla curiousity scent. It actually is a neat idea, but I'd want a little wind to use one...somehow sitting in a cloud of vaporized doe pee doesn't seem appealing!!
IST Designs - We conclude our report with this Bozeman, Montana based company. IST Website No question, hands down, the friendliest and hardest working sales staff around. the two linchpins of the product lineup are the Montana sling and Sidewinder cell phone recharger, IMO. The sling was awesome, not a "tactical" sling but simple and super for hunting. Please let me know if you are interested!! I want to sell these.