2009 Shot Show Report
Hot off the press....read on and enjoy!
Here's is my 2009 SHOT Show report, spliced and polished from my daily blog posts and completed earlier than ever before. As usual, all opinions are mine, and that means I get all the blame too!
I hope you enjoy, and as always, let me know if I can answer any questions.
Vortex Optics - Vortex continues to build on their success in 2008 with expanded offerings in the riflescopes, binos, and spotters.
Of course, the really big news, is a first peek at the new tactical scopes. Planned for a mid-summer 2009 debut, we were invited "backstage" for a preview. All I can say is "wow". Two models to start with. Vortex has REALLY done their homework and they are going to make a scope that will be made to last a lifetime. The technical details in design, features and materials set a new bar and I'm very surprised how well Vortex has been watching and listening to shooters.
Here's some details I know I can divulge:
A true 1-4x and a 5-20x
FFP illuminated reticles
MOA/MOA and mil/mil models coming (MOA reticles first)
Exposed turrets with proprietary zero stop, standard
Side focus on the LR model
Oodles of reticle travel
Internals and mechanics 2nd to none (I was impressed with the "hard core" design). Designed to track and hold zero for a lifetime.
Optics expressly spec'd to be "way beyond" the current Viper series (!)
A whole family of similar spec'd scopes to follow!!
Street price will be a bit higher than originally projected but well below the target market by at least $500.
Backed by Vortex....GTG
Now, for other news.
Viper riflescopes: Minor tweaks to the Viper line include the introduction of a mildot reticle in the 6.5-20x44 and mildot and BDC reticles in the 6.5-20x50 model.
Diamondback riflescopes: The very popular DB series adds a new 2-7x35 rimfire (V-Plex with 50 yard parallax setting) and a 4-12x40 AO model with Dead Hold BDC reticle. Prices have risen on all DB scopes for 2009.
Crossfire riflescopes: In a wise economic move, Vortex has greatly expanded the Crossfire series to include 9 new offerings. Prices have risen modestly for 2009. The big news are the 30mm tube models 4-16x50 AO and the 6-24x50 AO with illuminated etched reticles. The 4-16 has illuminated V-Plex and mildot reticles and non-illuminated V-Plex. The 6-24 has both illuminated and non illuminated mildot. Reticle travel is about 100MOA and the knobs will feature 1/4MOA clicks on the tall target turrets. For about $200 you simply can't find a better value. Another new longrange model is the 8-32x50 AO with 30mm tube and fine V-Plex wide reticle.
The Crossfire series also includes a 2-7x32 and 4x32 rimfire models with V-plex and 50 yard parallax setting. The 4x32 is simply the clearest and brightest little scope I've ever looked through for the price. A 3x32 crossbow model with crossbow reticle and 2x20 EER pistol scopes are welcome additions. Finally, the fixed 6x40 V-plex model is a fantastic, simple, all around woods-hunting scope.
Binoculars: Vortex introduces a new top of the line flagship bino, the Kaibab 15x56 HD. Looking like a Viper bino on steroids, these are designed for long range glassing on a tripod and I can tell you these babies deliver in spades. As clear and sharp and bright as anything on the SHOT Show floor. Also, the optics on the Kaibab and Vortex Razor binos feature a new proprietary coating called ArmorTek similar to the Leupold Diamondcoat but with unique anti-reflex and oleophobic properties as well as dirt and scratch reistance. MAP price on the Kaibab's is $1200.
For 2009, the Razor binos are unchanged in price and lineup.
Folks who read my posts know I love the Viper series of binos. Prices have gone up on the 42mm models a bit. An all new 32mm series (under 20 ounces) makes it debut and fit, finish, feel, and optical performance are all Viper....in a lighter weight package. New for 2009, all Viper binos are Argon purged.
The very popular Diamondback series of binos are completely updated for 2009. All new multicoatings and Argon purging and a style redesign combine to give one of the best bino values available. With a performance rating at about 90% of the best Vortex offers and a price from $140-$250, The DBs are the best value for the money in my opinion.
Finally, the completely new Raptor porro prism models are 17 ounce mighty mights in 6.5x32 and 8.5x32 models. With a street price of just over $100, these are very decent glass for the money.
Spotting scopes: Many of you know I haven't held the Vortex spotters in the highest regard, but that feeling is over. The new Razor HD 20-60x85 is brand spanking new, with a triplet apochromatic lens system with two HD lens elements, ArmorTek lens coatings, state-of-the-art dual focus, magnesium housing (just now being offered by Swarovski....) argon purging, 15.5 inches, waterproof, shockproof, 4 pounds, the performance of this spotter is now taken Vortex quantam leap to the upper echelon. MAP is $1600, and the word I'm getting in the field reviews are absolutely laudable. I apply my guarantee to this spotter, if not happy in 3 days, your money back. This spotter is THAT good. Finally.
Finally, Vortex has teamed with Manfrotto and Bogen for proprietary branded tripods of top quality. Look for exting offerings early this year.
For more info, visit www.vortexoptics.com
Trijicon - I've been a Trijicon convert, and the new ACOG horseshoe reticle is one of the best and most intuitive reticles ever offered. Available in .223 and .308 configs, this new design is FAST and as Ilya Koshkin, the Optics Talk "Dark Lord of Optics" states, the human eye naturally draws to and aligns with circular shapes and thus their utility in reticles. New reticles for the 6.8 SPC are also online for 2009.
I also want to tell you that the "often overlooked" 3x30 ACOG is fully deserving of your full attention. Excellent, forgiving eye relief, simplicity in the reticle design, lightweight, this ACOG is highly regarded by Trijicon staff and I was quite impressed with it. In fact Ilya directed me to check out this model and optically and in overall execution this is as good as any of them. Price is better than its big sisters 3.5x35 and 4x32 models too.
On to the Accupoints. The new 30mm 1-4x24 with capped turrets has an unecessary 100MOA+ of reticle adjustment, but eye relief is quite steady throughout the magnification range and the 30mm tube is a big plus. The knobs look like a carbon copy of the Vortex Viper, and were quite good for a capped turret. Great optics too. I think this new offering will be a market leader in the low powered variable market for the AR crowd. I prefer the red triangle/picket post over the others.
Curiously, I wasn't too thrilled with the new 5-20x50 model. 50+MOA of reticle adjustment in the 30mm tube, 12MOA of travel per turn, and optics that exhibited a bit of flare/aberration in them was a turn off. The side focus seemed a bit too loose in feel for me. The mildot reticle=good, the picket post = ? in a long range optic. Overall, I felt the execution of this optic was a bit off the mark, with a street price of about $900.
The new Accupoints, available first quarter 2009....
For military and LE customers, the new Advanced Thermal Weapon Sight is a FLIR sight that can be hand carried or integrated perfectly with any 4x32 ACOG. I was amazed at how well the two worked together. Trijicon policy will be "no commercial sales" to make Obama happy so I won't expound anymore.
Finally, the new Ruggedized Miniature Reflex (RMR) red dot sight was on display. Now hear this: I like the CR2032 powered version better as an optic. Why? Clear optics and finer red dot reticles. (4 and 8 MOA vs 9 or 13 MOA). I know, for you SHTF types the tritium and fiber optic powered reticle is appealing, but I can't get past that annoying "coke bottle green" tint that is NOT present in the battery powered model. Buy lots of batteries!!
Kowa Optimed: The Kowa Prominar line of spotters (especially the 88mm series with flourite crystal lens elements) is world class. In the TSN-883 20-60x angled I was able to read 1/4" tall text consisting of 1mm thick lines inside the dimly lit show floor at a lased distance of 125 yards, through a plate glass window, at 60x. Just another performance benchmark for you to consider. New for 2009 are 33mm objective Genesis XD models of binos with super-wide field of views and 2 XD glass lens elements per barrel, at 20 ounces these are superb and every bit the equal or better of the Nikon EDGs for a fraction of the price. I love the 44mm models and while a touch heavy they are awesome performers for outdoor use. The Genesis are particularly strong in color rendition and contrast, a real joy to look through. My colleague Ilya Koshkin felt the 33mm were more technically sound than the 44mm, but I'm still partial to the larger exit pupil.
Other news, the old flagship 82mm TSN-821M series is done, but it is replaced by the new TSN-82SV model, which is angled eyepiece, green rubber armored, and takes the same eyepieces as the 66mm and 60mm models. As Kowa likes to say..."the legend lives on"...
Finally, hear ye, hear ye, prices on all Kowa products are going up 10% across the board for 2009, beginning February 1. There is never a better time to lock in what results in a 10% discount by ordering your Kowa product before then. If you are considering buying a Kowa product but are on the fence, call me!! You won't regret ordering before the price increase.
Oh, by the way, it's pronounced CO-wa..........
Swarovski Optik - Still awesome glass...but here's some news. Kahles is done...didn't even show up at the show...while a stake is still owned by Swav, there is a definite disconnect. No US distributor either, as Legacy Sports has come and gone with Kahles...
The new Ballistic Reticle is a mish-mash of the prototype Kahles tactical reticle from last year and a mildot. Swarovski is unequivocally not going tactical per communication of floor staff...and this reticle (and the knobs) make for an expensive paperweight....avoid.
The SLC binos are as good as ever, and pricey too....
Finally, the LRF, although having the narrowest beam divergence (2.2 mils wide by 0.5 mils tall) and a well documented track record, I was not overly impressed with. NO ONE on the Swarovski floor new what the reticle diameter was, the reading was slow, and the reticle itself has distinct bubbles and/or skips that imparted a cheesy aura......pass....but only b/c of the new Zeiss Victory LRF!!
News Flash - Rumor has it that Kahles, long the unwanted stepchild of Swarovski (but still owned by them) has been bought by Leica and commissioned to lauch a new series of proprietary Leica riflescopes .....I have no further info, but I wouldn't get too excited, while likely having novelty and killer glass, I doubt Leica's ability to field scopes with features that make sense to real shooters....but time will tell.
Now we interrupt this optics report for.......guns!!
Arsenal Bulgaria: OK....totally not an optic...but Arsenal AKs rule the current market, but big news are true Ishmash factory receiver AKs (Saiga)with stamped Russian (Ishevsk marked) receivers, AK-74 style gas blocks, and plum, green, or black factory stock colors. In 7.62x39, these new Section 922-R legal rifles just looked and felt AWESOME...checkout the SGL20 models at a dealer near you soon!!!
Back to our regularly scheduled program....
Zeiss Sporting Optics: The quality of Zeiss optics is no big secret, so let's focus on the new stuff....
First off, a new Conquest 2.5-7x32 EER handgun scope was on display. Featuring an average of 13+ inches of eye relief, designed to handle 1500G forces, 1/4 MOA clicks, parallax free at 75 yards, this may be just the ticket for pistol/shotgun/scout guns. Eye relief was very forgiving at 2.5x and not so much at 7x. Finally, a quality EER scope that should sell at a reasonable price.
Another neat scope that was a prototype is the 85mm spotter with objective lens zoom and intregral camera...the Victory Photoscope 85T*FL....completely eliminates the need for digital SLR "digiscoping"....and probably a hefty price tag to boot.
I am going on record as saying I prefer the Zeiss Victory LRF over the Swarovski LRF....cheaper, with a beam divergence of 2.5 mils by 1.5 mils (horizontal), ballistic compensation capable, lightweight, faster to range, 2 mil circle ranging reticle, and Made in Japan!!!! This is poised to be the best value on the market and we aim to buy and sell a bunch. Street price should be well under $700
The Victory LRF rangefinding binos were on hand but at $2500+ we won't be featuring them in this economy....
Some new Victory riflescope models in SFP (vs. FFP) made their debut. 2.5-10x50 and 3-12x56 models were on display. Typical Zeiss quality.
Finally, from the horses mouth, the Victory 6-24x72 scope is nearly identical in build quality and spec as its Hensoldt cousin!!! Food for thought.
Sidebar: I want to thank Ilya Koshkin (the OpticsTalk "Dark Lord of Optics" and frequent forum visitor) for explaining the finer elements of optics evaluations. His technical expertise on materials and design puts my comprehension to a whole 'nother level. Not to mention he's a great all around guy. I'm glad we have the opportunity to work the show. I learned a lot from him that will make me a better dealer.
One mission we have is to search for new brands or models that will fit in our philosophy of offering customers a superior value/quality at each price point. True innovation is somewhat rare but you never know what you will see or learn at an event like this. Anyway, we were introduced to Hawke Sport Optics www.hawkeoptics.com which is a decidedly British company that markets a series of Asian optics here in the US. Hawke's specialty is a series of ballistic holdover reticles that are matched with a proprietary free downloadable software that lets you get the appropriate holdovers and aiming points for your particular load. While most of Hawke's optics are made in China, the Frontier series of riflescopes are made in Japan. Featuring 1-inch tubes, the side focus models are the flagship scope for Hawke. A 4-16x42, 6-24x50, and 8-32x50 are the models offered, with 1/8MOA clicks on the latter two. I like the 4-16x42, which had about 80MOA of reticle travel. It's simply a very nice scope but a bit over-priced at $499 street price. Mildot reticles are available in all Frontier models. The non-side focus Frontier models can be thought of as the generic equivalent of the Sightron SI, with a street price in the $125-$155 range.
Probably the most noteworthy of the Hawke products is new Frontier ED binos, featuring phase coated ED optics, great field of view and open hinge design. Optically, these were very good, but the over-sized focus knob did not have a consistent feel for me. Still, for $350 you get the "Best from China" in a bino I've seen.
My only concern with Hawke is the 'Worldwide Warranty" which is not explained in writing but told to me it only applies to the original owner. I counseled the corporate "powers that be" that a "no hassle" warranty service is a huge key for success in a competitive market, and strongly advised a revision. I'll leave it at that. Overall, Hawke's bread and butter is the customizable printout ballistic reticles in certain models (check out the Sidewinder scopes) that offer a unique variation to play with. There is nothing overly compelling about the lineup to recommend them but there's another option for you.
Brunton: Brunton is a fine outdoors company based in Riverton Wyoming. They make neat camping and outdoors gear. They also sell optics. The cream of the crop binocular they sell is the Epoch. I looked at the 8.5x43 model. Bottom line: I still don't understand why they want $1200 for a rather ordinary Japanese bino. I wouldn't give them $600 for it. Go figure. The new compact 60mm spotters were actually pretty decent, featuring a rugged rubberized design, but I feel that Brunton offers optics to round out the product line, not because it is their passion. Another bottom line: We won't sell them in 2009.
Leupold: I visited Leupold's hunting booth thinking I was going to stay awhile, but this was not the case. The big news is the new VX-3 riflescopes. I spent some time looking through them. At lowest power, all had serious vignetting and fuzzy edges and a narrowed field of view (much like the IOR scopes), which opened up slightly with increased magnification. Optics were OK. The regular fast focus eyepiece has been replaced with a coarse thread traditional style ("old school") eyepiece. The standard low profile knobs pretty much suck, while the new Custom Dial System is pretty decent with it's low profile exposed design, tailored tothe ballistics of your load. Another thoughtful touch is the rangefinding markings on the magnification ring for hunting. Still.....I am not impressed with the new VX-3 and the laundry list of features and matching hype do not live up to expectations, IMO. The new Northfork binos, positioned under the Gold Ring on the quality gradient, are OK. But we know what we have with the Gold Ring binos, which are decent, but over-priced optics. The new RXB-IV LRF is the lightest and most compact, with a very bright LED display, but I still couldn't figure out how to use it. The display is too busy and the function is not intuitive. Why doesn't Lupy take a page from the high end LRF makers? K.I.S.S.
After spending more time in the Leupy booth, I had an epiphany of sorts. Despite all the star power and endorsements and slick marketing and big-time budgets.....Leupold is irrelevant. There is nothing they offer at each price point in any product that isn't exceeded by a competitor in quality for less money. That is a sad statement, but for Leupold 2009 I think it's true. The best thing going for Lupy is their Custom Shop, which truly sets them apart. But their production lineup lacks any good value, which is a bad thing IMO. Perusing their catalog the tactical lineup doesn't have any extensive new changes, big surprise.
Leupold needs some real leadership in their corporate structure, IMO.
While the new hunting scopes failed to impress, I've never really had an issue with the Mark 4 tactical scopes. They do have good variety in knob choices and two mainstay reticles, and can and do work. While the hired hands at the hunting booth were pretty helpful, the guys at the law enforcement booth were abysmal. One guy in particular was like a robot. No passion or knowledge at all. He handed me a SFP scope and insisted it was the new 4.5-14x50 FFP. "No it's not" I said. "Yes it is" he said. I handed him the scope and taught him "FFP 101" (look at the reticle......) Sheesh. They also denied marking or making Mark 4 "Dark Earth" 3.5-10x40 TMR models for Uncle Sam, despite the markings on the scope and the box it came in....interesting, "plausible deniability" in action. Honestly, there was no interest in selling on their part. The sad thing is, this is not the first time I've experienced this, I've seen this in at least two of the last five SHOT shows. Maybe if the Leupold family got hit in the pocketbook, they would wake up and make the goods again, with employees/reps who had a clue. I'm not trying to beat a dead horse, but the best Lupy has to offer isn't good enough anymore. The competition is eating their lunch and blind brand loyalty and the Custom Shop is all they have left in the tank....
Sightron: A year ago I wrote on some forums that I was quite impressed with Sightron scopes, especially the SIII and SII Big Sky series, and for 2009.....nothing has changed. I am blown away by the overall execution of the Sightron premium scopes. The optical sight picture really jumps out at you inside the confines of the show, indoors. Color, clarity, sharpness, fit, finish, controls, they're really no wrong notes here. This is coming from a dealer who has never made a penny selling Sightron. The tracking and repeatability performance and reputation are second to none. Simply put, Sightron scopes are excellent gunsights that need to find a way into your arsenal. The only limitation are the options and choices, and perhaps price for some of you. But they worth the money. The service is excellent too. Suffice to say, we are making the addition of Sightron a top priority for LO in 2009.
Meopta: I've never been too excited about Meopta riflesscopes, neither fish nor fowl, never hitting on all cylinders, and this year is no different. The optics are quite fine but the finger adjustable knobs look similar to a Simmons or Bushnell Elite capped turret. On display was a 10x42 scope with 0.1 mil clicks on a BDC knob with 4 mils of travel..with a duplex reticle.....what the heck? I asked the company rep what the deal was and the reply was this was just a display prototype for upcoming scopes. I think it was better left in the lab. The new M-RAD reflex red dot (isn't everybody making one?) had a "dot" that resembled a cross, airplane, whatever, it wasn't a dot. To be fair, Meopta is not alone with failing to create a nice circular red dot but for $300+ dollars, it better be right.
I did spend some time with the 1-4x22 K-Dot, and it is a very nice illuminated CQB riflescope, but heaven help you if the illumination goes down, as the reticle is fairly useless without it.
The new Meostar B1 binos are exceptional. Very European and very well executed. Bright, clear, colorful optics and nice controls. These warrant serious consideration for European optics enthusiasts at a lower price. Do not be afraid to check these out, you might take them home. As always, I'm partial to the 42mm objectives, but 32mm, 50mm, and 56mm models are in the fleet. I think this is Meopta's flagship product.
I did not examine the Meopta spotters, I have before and they are decent but little has changed from models in the past.
Bushnell: Of the "Big 3" optics manufacturers (Lupy, Nikon, Bushnell) Bushnell seems to be most aggressive in moving "forward and upward" in the marketplace. They have many new offerings in spotters, binos, and scopes. The new buzz in the Elite series of riflescopes is the new "DOA" reticle, which resembles an upside down Swarovski TDS, used in estimated range on deer based on the average span between their ears, with MOA dots used for holdovers. There is a lot of science, both ballistic and biological, that went into the development of the reticle. Here's a link for more info:
http://marketing.bushnell.com/press/pdf/DOA%20Reticle.pdfAlso, an email from the riflescope product manager for Bushnell, Millett, Simmons and Tasco:
"The average whitetail has ears that span 17" eartip-to-eartip. While the common mule deer has a 24" spread between eartips. So at each ballistic holdover dot there is a horizontal intersecting line that extends out to subtend 24", with vertical hash marks on it that measure 17" at each respective yardage. Now a hunter has a tool that they can utilize to estimate the width of the rack of which they are viewing, no matter whether they are hunting whitetails or muleys. I always thought that the hardest thing to do was to gauge the size of antlers when looking through magnification and you had no reference for size"
It will be interesting to see how the hunting public responds to this new reticle.
The Elite 4200 and 6500 are solid scopes in nearly all aspects; mechanics, optics, fit, finish. All seem to feature wire reticles exclusively, even in the illuminated models. I feel the "brassiness" evident upon light entering the ocular of the scope (such as reflecting off your face) is more pronounced than it should be. These are still a safe choice, even if they are not the "sexiest" of riflescopes.
The biggest surprise was the new Excursion spotting scope, folded light path compact models that are similar to the Lupy Gold Ring and Mark 4 models. A 15-45x60 (including a tactical version with FFP mildot reticle) and 20-60x80 are the two offerings. ED glass is standard, and these spotters feature a hard case and soft case and a tripod!! They looked quite good in the show and the focus was smoother than the Lupy Gold Ring HD I tested, but real testing outdoors is needed ;+)
I did not examine any binos but was told to try to check out the new high end models including the new Legend Ultra HDs and the new spotting scopes. Bushnell has a huge product offering!
Millett: Bushnell owns Millett now, and I was told the Millet name would continue. After having been on the forums and hearing about the value of the Millet tactical series of scopes, I had to check them out for myself.
All I can say is, the 1-4 DMS-1, 4-16 TRS-1, and 6-24 LRS-1 are the best Chinese-made tactical scopes I've seen. The DMS-1 has a splendid reticle and very even illumination. The knobs aren't anything special but for a CQB scope once it's zeroed, knobs are irrelevant. The finish on the scopes is quite good, smooth and evenly applied. Optics are much better than I expected. The TRS-1 is a good budget tactical scope with a great QC record. The LRS-1 has very large and easy to see mildot reticle and from what I understand the "bugs" have been worked out. It's hard to argue with the Millet as viable low dollar scopes. One Bushnell employee showed me an African lion he had taken with his rifle topped with a DMS-1.....that's confidence in your optic!
The big story for me was a lesson on the Millett Zoom Dot tube-style reflex sight. The Millett Zoom Dot 30mm reflex sight is a non-magnifying 1-to-1 ratio red dot illuminated aiming system that can be used in all lighting situations with one or both eyes open. The dot size can be zoomed down to 1 MOA for a long-range accurate shot, or up to 10 MOA for super-fast target acquisition under close quarters battle, by simply turning the knob. I spent some time with one of the designers of the sight and this thing is quite the technological marvel. Currently made in the USA, this thing has no wires to wear out, it's controlled by a microprocessor and an optical glass sphere sensor or some sort, i.e., if you have it turned down for viewing in near darkness and swing your rifle to a sunny window, the dot is supposed to self intensify to a visible level. Wow. The Zoom Dot has integral flip up caps that will turn the dot down to a battey saving level if you snap them on but forget to turn the reticle off. The caps remain flexible in subzero weather.
Simple, rugged, affordable, I wasn't crazy about the greenish tint to the glass or imprecise dot, but the plusses definitely outweigh the minuses. There was a a sample there that had been frozen to 40F below zero, repeatedly dropped on concrete and run over by a truck, and it kept on ticking. I keep reading about the desires of many shooters (especially over on CalGuns.net) for a lower cost alternative to Aimpoint for a "SHTF" red dot......I sincerely believe the $299 Millett Zoom Dot is it....consider this, the military has taken an interest in this rugged and affordable technology and are currently working up a RFP and have begun the process of buying up oodles of them, which means 1) less future availability and 2) higher prices.....consider this too, the 400 or so still in Bushnell's inventory are US made but future assemblies will be made in Mexico....there is also a trick Picatinny clamp rail attachment that you can get that tightens and loosens with a finger adjustable star-shaped nut.
Anyway, the 8 ounce, 5.5 inch Zoom dot was the biggest surprise to date for the 2009 SHOT. I WOULD GET YOURS SOON. This may be old news to some of you but this is new to me and my job is to give you the scoop.
Premier Reticles: A lot of people have asked what I thought of the new Heritage riflescope. A few have misinterpreted my reticence on not wanting to say anything bad....not true. I've just not seen the darn things.....until now.
I truly was not prepared for what I saw.
The Heritage is a very fine gunsight AND optic. I love the heavy, stout construction, the chunky knobs, the parallax/illumination knob design, the finish, the machining. I definitely prefer the "double turn" knob with the detent every 1 mil and the tactile 2nd turn indicator. I had trouble moving the original single turn knob "only" one click or 0.1 mils due to the fineness of the spacing. I like the locking diopter design, and the tool-less re-zeroing is just dandy. Of course, the Gen 2 mildot and Gen 2 XR are awesome functional long range reticles. Ok, so there are a few "tough as nails" scopes that hold up well to rough treatment...like Nightforce NXS.
Then I looked through the thing. WOW. Premier states that no expense was spared in the specs of the optics and I completely believe them. The Heritage has awesome German glass. Clarity, light management, image quality.... are second to none. I know this is subjective, but within the confines of SHOT, the Heritage had the "Best in Show" optics, combined with a bulletproof package.
Then we got lucky enough to step outside with them.
Specifically, I had the opportunity (along with Ilya Koshkin) to take the prototype 5-25x56 outside for some outdoors viewing (thanks to Jerry from Premier). The inside venue where Premier was situated had a long distance of about 35 yards to the wall....not exactly suitable for evaluating a long range scope (the width of the SHOT Show main floor was a lased 165 yards, and the length was an estimated 500 yards). Ilya and I wanted to see how well the Heritage performed as an optic with some distance to work with.
The Heritage did not disappoint.
The long range resolution, clarity, color rendition....simply outstanding. What was most amazing was the incredible depth of field the Heritage displayed. What I mean by this is the Heritage has the ability to keep two objects in the field of view in focus despite a big disparity in their distance. For instance, we were focused on a building several hundred yards away and a palm frond at a fraction of the distance could wave into the field of view and be in focus. This is exceptional from an optical engineering standpoint (so sayeth the Dark Lord of Optics). The utility of this from the practical standpoint of a combat riflescope should be obvious. The Heritage would seem to confer a decided advantage to the enduser in a variety of competitive or tactical environments.
In my my opinion, this is the single best all-round riflescope I've probably ever seen. American-made and the best? It's nice to put those two concepts in one sentence! Best of luck to Chris Thomas and crew. We will do whatever we can to sell as many Heritage scopes as possible.
I love the Premier Heritage.
I have no data on long term reliability, but otherwise I am very fired up about this scope! I know the NXS is much more proven, but IMO the NXS can't hold a candle to the Heritage. I sincerely wish Premier the best in getting this scope out there and we are going to do all we can to get these in the hands of serious shooters!! Nice folks to meet and deal with, too......
US Optics: Those who know me know that the folks at USO are some of my favorite people, first class all the way. This year, they are offering perhaps their most practical all around scope ever, the 1.8-10x37 T-PAL w/ 30mm tube. With 100+MOA adjustment and the same stout construction and crisp reticles you expect from USO, this scope should be a winner. Also new for 2009 are their new proprietary ballistic software and the patented new "Milestone" detent knob, which allows extra resistance to be set at any internal milestone in BDC, MIL, or MOA configuration. With these products US Optics continues their rich custom-building tradition!
We again interrupt this report for......workout equipment!
The Burn Machine: This item is a funky asymmetrical dumbbell system that utilizes 360 degree rotating handles and a sliding weight system to provide an efficient upper body and core workout. I remember these guys from last year but since they made the trip again I'd thought I mention them. What I appreciated is a little postcard showing how the Burn Machine can "improve your shot" and your "holding endurance" through strengthened upper body and hands. Any company that shows up and caters to shooters (even in a non-traditional sort of way) deserves our consideration, period. Just go to www.TheBurnMachine.com and check it out. We have the ability to purchase through a SHOT Show order so if interested let me know!
Back to optics.....
IOR-Valdada: Three new offerings highlight the 2009 lineup for IOR. The most unique is a 36x42 benchrest scope with 1/8 MOA clicks, 30mm tube a new MP-8 style MOA reticle. Priced right at the Leupold Competition fixed power scopes at $1125 MAP, benchrest shooters have a new option with better optics for the same $$. Advantage: IOR. Next in line is the 2-12x36 Tactical with a BDC style exposed knob and a MP-8 or CQB style of reticle and 35mm tube. No parallax adjustment but a simpler and more robust construction priced about $50 more than the (still available)2-12x32. Finally, an all new 1/4x x 30 with 35mm tube was on the table. Very short and stout, the scope utilizes a new CQB reticle with 1x or 4x magnification settings, sort of a poor man's Elcan Spectre. Quite frankly this new optic did nothing for me, but it might catch on with the AR crowd.
A modest 3% price increase (on average) takes effect immediately but LO customers have until February 1 until the new prices take effect. It is to your advantage to order early!
Schmidt & Bender: We all know S&B are awesome scopes. I looked through a variety of offerings and of course the 5-25x56 is flat out impressive. Keep in mind the Gen 2 mildot and Gen 2 XR offerings are just about done in the S&B, extremely limited quantities on hand. There are a very few 5-25x56 with 0.1 mil clicks, double turn knobs and illuminated Gen 2 XR reticle available, so heads up on a sweet riflescope package. Keep in mind service (if you need it) is S&B's responsibility, not Premier Reticles.....
Looking through some of the PMII scopes, I did note some chromatic aberration at the extreme edges of the field of view...which was a little disappointing, given that the Heritage has none I could see....
Also, the vaunted 1.1-4x24 Short Dot series, I will say that I would not spend $2K+ for that scope, maybe not even half that, I would rather have several Millett DMS-1 or Bushnell Elite 4200 1.25-4x24 4a dot scopes than one Short Dot....wire reticle and "nothing special" turrets....what the heck is the big deal????
The big news from S&B is their coordinated effort to level the playing field and streamline their distribution/dealer program to they can run a legitimate business model that is fair and equitable for everybody...and plug the "leaks" that skews the whole affair. We would like to carry these but we have been sitting on the sidelines until "market conditions" improve, so to speak......
I believe the big news is a new 2.5-10x40 hunting scope which is a nice trim package with a sensible objective size.
Carl Zeiss Optronics / Hensoldt: After years of badgering and begging, and even questioning their manhood (sort of), the boys at Hensoldt lined up HDC, LLC to bring the Hensoldt line of long range riflescopes to the US. Basically military grade Zeiss, Hensoldt features 34mm tubes and both FFP and SFP configurations. The initial family of scopes include the 3-12x56, 4-16x56, 6-24x56, and 6-24x72 scopes. Quite frankly I was a bit disappointed with the easily visible chromatic abberation and a touch of internal flare when scanning the ceiling and lights inside the building. No question the overall quality is top rate and the big advantage Hensoldt has over S&B is the oodles of reticle travel (a worst case 58 MOA in the 6-24x50 and a best case 144 MOA in the 3-12x56 SFP model (108 MOA in the FFP model) so long range "dialing in" is easily obtainable. Price will be an average MAP of well over $3K, and availability should be 6 weeks from now in a worst case scenario, so if Hensoldt tickles your fancy, contact us ASAP.
The other super cool Hensoldt product is a military grade spotting scope with illuminated FFP mildot style spotter reticle and bulletproof construction and Picatinny accessory rails...but quite expensive at around $4500......
Nathan Hunt, President of HDC, was great to meet and seems to be a fine fellow, so it's time to realize that there are more top shelf choices in riflescopes than ever before...
Finally, Nikon Sport Optics......while I'm still more than a little peeved that the Tactical series of riflescopes was sniped for political reasons, Nikon is simply too big to ignore. The Monarch-X series of riflescopes do boast the Ultra Clear Coat optic system but the tube and knobs are definitely a bit different (not better) than the old Tac...more random scope observations....the Monarch 2-8x32 is simply a DANDY optic and performs above its counterparts (thanks to Ilya Koshkin for the inside scoop there)..I like it in the BDC reticle (though not crazy about the hollow circles)....the 4.5-14x40 Buckmaster mildot reinforced my belief and faith by being quite exceptional for the price point...no worries there. Nikon introduced some new fancy schmancy reticles of the BDC genre but frankly I'm getting a little burned out on the hype......In binoculars, the new high priced EDGs were all the rage, and they were very nice glass...but for less $$ you can get similar performance from the Kowa Genesis XDs......Nikon also re-introduced the Premier series of binos..which they seemed quite proud of...but when Ilya looked through them and wondered about some optical deficiencies which weren't apparent in the "old" Premier binos...Jon LaCorte from Nikon claimed the binos were "only a prototype"....hmmmmmm.
I'm a big fan of the Nikon ED Fieldscopes so with much anticipation I checked out the ultimate EDG spotters....specifically the angled 85mm model (which does NOT have the dielectric coated prisms of the straight eyepiece model). Quite frankly, while decent, I have no idea what all the fanfare is about. Featuring body (objective) focus and extra-low dispersion glass, the EDG simply underwhelmed in the confines of SHOT, so it's hard to get excited about it....I'm not sure what the problem is, but the sight picture was absolutely nothing special....go figure....maybe it too was a prototype?
Nightforce (Lightforce USA): I've been fairly consistent with my assessment of Nightforce NSX riflescopes the last couple of years...excellent mechanics with rock solid reliability, excellent QC, excellent finish and build quality, quirky features, "tunnel vision" field of view, reticles that on average are too fine for my tastes, and mediocre optics, especially considering the price point. Despite claims to the contrary, there is nothing redeeming about the optics in the NSX.... period, end of story. Nightforce has gotten away with it because they are more rugged and reliable than the two closest competitors (IOR and Lupy Mark 4) and track and hold zero like nobody's business. NSX are great gunsights, but so-so optics.
Having said that, I made the pilgrimage to the Nightforce booth again, and for the first time in 6 years, somebody actually walked up and helped me. That somebody was Ken ("NightforceKen" on longrangehunting.com). Ken and I had corresponded briefly in the past and I found him to be friendly and personable. He showed me the exact goods I came to look at, the 2-12x32 and the new 3.5-15x50 FFP model. The 2-12x32 is a newer model and judging by availability it's very popular. I like the mildot reticle model. This is a nice "medium-sized" optic that could do about anything except extreme long range shooting (no parallax adjustment). The FFP scope is also a new model and is simply waaaay overpriced. Same story, it had iffy optics that failed to impress. For roughly the same cash, you can (and should) get a Premier Heritage that is better on so many levels....... I realize that several Nightforce FFPs are working out just fine at Rifles Only...but I predict the new Vortex tac scope and the Heritage will deal a one-two punch to the NSX that will hurt a bit before the end of the year.
At any rate, Ken is a class representative of of Lightforce USA, passionate about the scopes, a great salesman, and he exhibits great professionalism. Thanks for taking the time, Ken.
I finally caught up with Glen Seekins of Seekins Precision and he debuted a new AR-15 lower of unique design. While I'm not an AR-15 aficionado, the lower had a sleek, curvaceous style that was very well received (pun intended). Like all Seekins products, machining and detail were second to none and Glen just keeps on innovating. Of course, we will continue to stock as many of his rings and bases as we can get our hands on. Another top notch American made product.
Aimpoint: I've been meaning to bring Aimpoint into the fold ever since my struggles dealing with L3/Eotech. I own an older model Aimpoint that has resided on my muzzleloader for years. I finally met up with Gilbert Russell of Aimpoint and he was a fine gentleman that was a credit to his company. The T-1 Micro is highly lauded and I examined one residing on a Glock pistol that was attached to a special mount that utilized the rear sight dovetail. When I realize that the sight will be riding the slide during every single shot, I understand the confidence that Aimpoint has in the ruggedness of the T-1. With my customers demanding a top quality red dot sight for their AR-15 platforms, I promise I'll be reading the Aimpoint catalog on the long flight home to get re-acquainted with this family of gunsights. Anyone wanting a quote on any Aimpoint sight, we will be placing an opening order sometime soon, drop me a line. Also, I want to know, what's your favorite Aimpoint red-dot??
Optolyth-Valdada: Optolyth spotters are made 100% in Germany by Sill Optics, excellent quality spotters. Valdada has introduced a new wide angle fixed eyepiece with a reticle that utilizes a grid pattern on the outside and some aiming points that allows a spotter to call in corrections to point of aim utilizing the mil system. After about 30 seconds behind it I could comprehend how it works and this is an "outside the box" alternative to standard crosshair reticles that seems it would really work. I'll post a pdf diagram of the reticle as soon as I get one. Contact Valdada IOR optics for more info.
Bosma Sport Optics: For some reason, I lingered unnecessarily long at this booth and a polite Chinese gentleman behind the counter took up some conversation. I checked out some rifle scopes that I simply filed away in the NSL (No Second Look) pile. However, I eventually realized that these guys were the Chinese factory for Fujinon. After connecting some dots I found out that Bosma make a pair of ED glass binos (8x42 and 10x42) that I spent quite some time with. Audible and tactical clicks on the focus wheel mounted diopter adjustment, a decent focus mechanism and surprising good optics that were free of chromatic aberration and any serious physical flaws. Hmmmmmm. When I got my price quote for some quantity buys on these binos, well, all I can say is that those who believe the Chinese can't provide good value on quality optics simply have their head in the sand. Chinese optics factories can do anything they need to. I've seen it year after year here at SHOT.
Zero Tolerance Knives: I witnessed the debut of ZT several SHOT Shows ago and I've always pined for them as a staple LO offering (along with Chris Reeve knives, which I missed this year). Looks they are just rolling along just fine. Beefy liner lock and fixed blade knives as well as new models like the JB2 Shroud Cutter and 0500 Manual folder demonstrate ZT's continued commitment to excellence. Neat stuff!
Rokon: The Rokon 2x2 is a clunky but rugged looking motorcycle made in New Hampshire. Featuring low-displacement Kohler or Honda engines and a 3-speed Kevlar belt drive moving both wheels via a set of chains, this beast apparently can do some amazing things in rough terrain. Whether climbing logs, running through streams or negotiating steep rugged terrain, the Rokon seems ready for anything. Lightweight at just over 200 pounds (ever weigh a 4-wheeler lately?), the Rokon can be floated through deep water, top 40mph and haul 1000 pounds payload and pull 3000 pounds. These buggers were very intriguing and if any readers own them or have any experience with them, I would love to hear from you.
Chinese ED binos: I had a response to my posts about Hawke Frontier and Bosma ED binos, and it seems there is an explosion of new models, like the Promaster ELX ED and the Zen Ray (neither which was at the show, I think) which are seeming to push the envelope of price vs performance. More support of my theory that the Chinese manufacturers are starting to come into their own with the higher end stuff. Bosma apparently is an OEM/ODM for Vixen Optics also, which was at the show with a display of HUGE telescopes and other optics. Still, the warranty/service should be a deciding factor. I know Vortex Optics will take care of you with no hassles, even if you are not the original owner of the optic. What about those other guys? The other thing to realize is the inherent prejudice against Chinese-made products, I experience it weekly in this business. Bottom line: When push comes to shove, the dollar rules in a slow economy and these look to provide great bang for the buck, so you need to know about your options.
Finally, a quick story....
During the flight home from Orlando, a somewhat familiar face stood up in the plane looking unhappy. Walking to the back of the plane, the gentleman offered $200 to a young lady to vacate her aisle seat. Being that she was a college student, he didn't have to ask her twice. After staring for a bit, I asked "Lynn Thompson?"...."In the flesh!!! he roared back with a hearty handshake to boot. Lynn Thompson is the president of Cold Steel knives. Given I own quite a few of his knives, striking up a conversation was easy. Lynn apparently was tired of the guy's behavior sitting next to him, and was going down the path of knocking his block off, which would have been a big "no-no" on a plane, so he bought his way to sanity. Say what you want about Lynn (and I've heard the gamut), the guy is successful, innovative, and doesn't let grass grow under his feet. It was a pleasure talking with him, and I just "accidentally" discovered he hunts almost exclusively with Leupold scopes....
I suppose we can help him get past that.....
Well that's it. We look forward to taking care of your optics needs for 2009!!
Until next time (January 19-22, 2010 in Las Vegas) folks!!