Selecting The Best Optics
Story by Tom Claycomb III
We can all boast life lessons that have taught us certain principles. For me, the optics lesson happened years ago. Ed Sweet, the host of Kid Outdoors, and I would take a lot of kids bear hunting. I’d write articles about the hunts and he’d film them for his show. On one of our first hunts we saw 10 bears in two afternoons. Only once did I spot the bear before anyone else. That’s because my partners had good glass. I had an average pair of binoculars and have realized over the years that I had been missing a lot of game. I started a quest to learn more.
Unfortunately, the old saying “you get what you pay for” is never so true as it is in the optics world. When you buy a set, get the best that you can afford and you’ll never be sorry. I’ve heard a lot of people cuss bad optics, but I’ve never seen anyone regret buying good ones.
I thought I knew most of the optic companies out there and had tested products for at least half of them, but then I attended my first SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor and Trade) Show years ago. Wow, was I shocked. I bet there were 50 to 75 optic companies on display.
We used a Leupold Gold ring spotting scope while hunting in the high country.
So, who’s the best? What makes one better than another? They all look clear and crisp in the store, don’t they? So how can you tell which one to buy, and why spend $2,000 on a pair of binoculars when you can buy a pair for $99? Why would you buy a spotting scope instead of just using your binoculars or the scope on your rifle? Well, let’s try to get our sights around these questions.
I teach a lot of glassing for big-game seminars, have been sponsored by a lot of optic companies over the years and I still don’t claim to know it all, but here are some of the things I have learned.
What does it all mean?
On an 8×42, the 8 signifies the power or magnification. The second number, 42, is the objective size. You preferably want your objective size to be four times the power. If it is less than four times, it won’t let in enough light for low-light conditions like dawn or dusk. The problem is, the higher the objective, the heavier the weight. Therein lies our dilemma.
If you’re a sedentary hunter, buy a 10×50, but if you’re hiking all day, buy a 10×42. I used to recommend 8×42. My thinking was that when you’re huffing and puffing up a mountain and throw up anything larger than an 8x, you wouldn’t be stable enough to focus. Years ago, however, I realized how much game I was missing, so I now carry a 10x.
What am I doing?
Basically, there are three main options: compact, semicompact and full size. You need to determine your application. Where I live, we often scramble up and down mountains all day; this is why I carry a semicompact version. A full-sized binocular would be too heavy, and I know that I would never carry them. On the other hand, if you live in Texas and hunt out of a blind, then by all means get the larger set.
Now the tough choice: What brand should you buy? There are several good choices on the market. I’m sponsored by Leica and they have top-notch optics. Leupold and Bushnell also offer models that meet different budgets, and both offer decent warranties as well.
To strap or not to strap?
Years ago, everyone used leather straps to carry their binoculars. After a hard day of scrambling up and down it would feel like my neck had been dislocated by all the bouncing around. This is when I discovered Butler Creek elastic straps. They fit like a bra – not that I’ve ever worn a bra – and hold the binoculars against my chest. A lot of people make straps that are similar, but back in the day Butler Creek owned the market.
Now let’s cover spotting scopes. Why buy a spotting scope? Why not just use your binoculars? Because you’ll miss a ton of game. What size should you buy? Because of weight, I choose to carry a 35x, which is sufficient for me here in Idaho. If you’re sheep hunting in Alaska, you may want a 60x. You will need to determine where and how you hunt before making your decision.
How to glass
When I glass, I do what is known as “zoning” – no, not fall asleep. I’ll climb to the top of a high ridge and set up. I start viewing towards one end of the mountain and glass across horizontally, then drop down 50 yards and go back. I will do this until I get to the visual bottom. Try to avoid randomly looking around. Have a system or you’ll miss game and never even know it.
If you hunt long-range areas with just a set of binoculars, you might be surprised at what you don’t see. To see elk on far-off ridges you’re going to have to have a spotting scope.
Animals feed in and out of cover, so wait a few minutes and repeat glassing. If you glass an area long enough, you’ll grow accustomed to odd-shaped rocks and stumps, and notice when something new appears that wasn’t there before. As the sun moves, shadows may cause things to look different throughout the day too.
One good thing about using a spotting scope is if you see something, you can back away from the optic and let your partner look through. How many times have you seen an elk across a mountain and it’s taken five minutes for your buddy to see it too? Problem solved!
Which is best? A straight or a 45-degree angled optic? Over the years I’ve started favoring an angled neck. To me it’s a little more user friendly and causes less muscle stress throughout the day.
At the end of a hard day of glassing your eyes are going to be strained. You’ll go to bed feeling like you’re seasick or worse, hallucinating. I know everyone is on a budget, but as an old buddy used to say, “On this purchase, don’t leave any change in your pocket.”
Mounted scopes and covers
Let’s move onto scopes. For fast shots you’ll want a 3x to 9x. They use smaller powers so they can pick up game fast. For hunting out West, you’ll want more magnification for the longer shots you’ll take.
I love the idea of a scope cover because the last time I hunted deer in Nebraska during a blizzard, I found a deer, threw up my rifle, looked through the scope and it was full of snow. Needless to say, I missed. I’ve tested numerous scope covers over the years and every single one has managed to get hung up on a limb and disappeared. This also goes for the covers on my binoculars. Maybe it is just me.
Some people will tell you to spend more on the scope than you do your rifle. This is somewhat true, I feel. I have a stainless-steel Remington 700 .338 Winchester Magnum. The scope is a Leupold VXIII 4.5x to 14x, so it’s half again as expensive as the rifle. This must mean that I somewhat agree with this concept.
Optic care and cleaning
It goes without saying, baby them! I don’t strap my rifle on my four-wheeler and go bouncing around. I baby my scope and consequently it stays on tight. It is also not a good idea to leave optics in the blistering sun either.
To properly clean them, Hamilton Boykin at Leica told me to hold them upside down, blow off any loose dust and then pour water on the lens to rinse off. Then with a soft, wet lens rag, wipe them clean in swooping motions. Don’t wipe in a circular motion or you will grind in sand particulates. Spitting on the lenses and wiping them off with your dusty shirt tail doesn’t cut it either.
Try a good optic once and you’ll never go back. AmSJ
Posted in Scopes Tagged with: binoculars, glassing, Gold ring scope, How to Choose Optics, Hunting, Leupold, Long Range, optics, Spotting scope, Tom Claycomb
The FLIR T50 ACTS is a thermal weapon sight that is almost a decade old. But it does not feel out of date and has some interesting features that many modern day thermal sights do not have. The T50 is a clip-on thermal weapon sight designed for military and law enforcement.
I have dabbled with thermal sights before but they were budget thermal sights like the Torrey Pines and Leupold LTO. The T50 is a bonafide thermal sight designed to be used on a rifle. It was a collaboration between FLIR and Trijicon. It was designed to interface with the Trijicon ACOG while maintaining the same field of view and zero. The T50 displays the thermal image on a small LCD screen inside the optic. Since the LCD screen projects light, the T50 has a rubber shroud and comes with a coupler to seal out the light from illuminating the user and giving away his position.
Photo banner by Trijicon
The T50 can be used as a stand-alone handheld thermal device. However, due to the small screen and how it interacts with the ACOG, the screen is rather small. Look at the image above. The soldier is holding the T50 sideways. This is due to how the screen is oriented in the housing. When mounted to a rifle the screen is positioned in a portrait configuration.
This is what I see when I look through the T50 with just my eye.
FLIR T50, Not Just For Trijicon
The T50 can be used with other day sights. I prefer to use the Browe BCO optic with the T50 since the objective lens is flat compared to the ACOG.
T50 paired with my Browe BCO
The T50 pairs perfectly with the Browe BCO.
Here are some other setups I have tried with the FLIR T50 ACTS.
Aimpoint T2 Micro
Optics on Optics: Optic Inception
Since Trijicon helped design the T50, they had an RMR mount integrated into the top of the T50.
Holy height-over-bore Batman!
I bought an RMR when they were being cleared out at Cabela’s and found an immediate problem. The interfacing lugs are out of spec so the RMR cannot sit flush to the FLIR T50.
I actually bought the RMR for use on my FNX-45 Tactical but I was curious how the T50 would look as intended with an RMR mounted. In order for this to work, I would have to either mill the lug off the T50 or mill the pocket in the RMR wider. I’m not sure if this was a problem with my specific unit as I didn’t have another to test with.
As I mentioned above, the T50 has features that other thermal weapon sights do not have. Besides the Trijicon optic integration, the T50 has a video output port. This is not as amazing now when modern thermal sights have onboard recording features.
The T50 came with this video out cable that you can connect it to a video recording device.
The cable is coaxial with a female BNC connector at the other end.
I bought a mini DVR from TNVC and found a BNC to composite adapter. I connected that to the video cable of the mini DVR.
One major downside to the video output is the orientation of the screen. As I mentioned above, the screen is oriented vertically. This means the image is sideways as it is recorded in the DVR. While it is easy to rotate a video on a computer, it is slightly annoying. Or I can hold the T50 in my hands and rotate it sideways so the video is oriented properly with the video.
Here is a video I shot at the Agency Arms shoot after they ripped apart a Winnebago with four miniguns.
And here is the video of the miniguns firing.
How far can the T50 see? Well, it seems the T50 is set for the body temperature of people. It shows people very well. When I picked up the T50 I tested it out on the balcony of the hotel I was staying at in Daytona Beach. Please excuse the shakiness. I was using my iPhone to film through the optic.
I took the T50 with me when I went to see Mt. Rushmore.
The number one feature that sets the T50 apart from other thermal sights is the onboard laser designator.
So the laser is actually why I bought the T50. The T50 comes in three flavors. NO Laser, Visible Laser and IR Laser. This one is infrared and has two settings. ON and HIGH. When set to ON, the IR laser is a Class 1 type laser. When set on HIGH it is a CLASS III IR laser that is not eye safe.
The lower right button, on the side panel, is how you activate the laser. It is momentary only and is used for designating a target.
When the laser is turned on, a square reticle is displayed in the center of the screen. LZ is the indicator to let you know you are on HIGH. You can see how this looks below. The thermal is boring and gray due to the ambient temperature. It was 38F when I took these images.
Why would you need a laser built into your thermal sight? So you can point out to others what you are looking at. I was told that this setup would have been used in the military. A single person in a squad would be equipped with a FLIR T50 while everyone else has night vision. The thermal equipped solider would scan for threats and when he sees something he does not recognize he could designate it with the onboard laser to indicate to the rest of the team what he is looking at and they can better identify the target.
A Closer Look
The T50 is powered by three CR123A batteries held in a single magazine. I often store the T50 with the battery magazine removed because the “on” switch has an oversized paddle that is easily activated accidentally. This results in the T50 killing my batteries.
The rail mount is a little odd. The lug that interfaces with the Picatinny rail is at the far leading edge of the mount.
I am sure you have noticed that the FLIR T50 has an odd shape to it. It is taller than it is long. This periscope-like shape was intentional so the T50 would not take up a lot of rail space but also so laser aiming modules would not interfere with it. The lens sits high enough to clear the top of my laser.
Wrap It Up: I’ll Take It
As I said before, I really bought this for the laser. My friend Justin was offered the FLIR T50 by his local LGS. They got a few of these as trade-in’s from a local security team for a nuclear power plant. He asked if I would want a thermal sight. To be honest, I was not interested in thermal since I do not hunt. He borrowed it from the LGS to see if it was worth the price. That is when he discovered it has a laser and that it is infrared. What interested me most was the HIGH setting. I met up with Justin and confirmed it with my PVS14 that the laser is indeed Class III.
Now comes the part about price. If you Google the FLIR T50 ACTS, you will find online retailers selling them for around $10,000 USD. Thankfully I did not pay nearly that much. Justin was offered the FLIR T50 for $3,000 but he had no use for it so he passed the deal on to me. I figured a full power IR laser would cost me around $2,000+ and in some cases $3,000 depending which one. Then having a thermal weapon sight was just the cherry on top of the icing.
Even though the FLIR T50 ACTS is almost 10 years old (they came out in 2009) it works very well as intended. It easily displays heat signatures in the range of human body temperatures. It is designed to work in conjunction with a day optic so you can attach this to multiple guns without needing to zero anything. It is important to note that it is not recommended to use high magnification with the FLIR T50. At most, 6x magnification works but anything higher the image is difficult to use. You are zooming onto an LCD screen and the closer you look the worse the image appears. The price is the hardest part to swallow but if you can pick one up, I would highly recommend it.
Posted in Product Reviews Tagged with: FLIR, optics, Reviews, Thermal, Thermal weapon sight, Trijicon
[su_heading size=”30″]Modern range ﬁnders, scopes and custom turrets make it simpler than ever to shoot accurately out to long ranges.[/su_heading]
STORY AND PHOTOS BY BRAD FITZPATRICK
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he aoudad were camouﬂaged in the dry grass and rocks above us, but there was no way to stalk any closer to the herd in the barren west Texas landscape. It had already been a difficult hunt, with lots of vertical climbing in the heat of the day. The band had several sentinels, and these sharp-eyed young sheep hung back behind the rest of the herd watching our position. If we were going to get a shot, it would have to be right at that moment, and from right where we were positioned.
The ram we were looking for was near the back of the herd, grazing and totally unaware of our presence. I asked for the distance and my hunting partner – Ben Frank of Browning Ammo – called back to me that it was 277 yards. With a normal scope, that would mean accounting for the drop and holding somewhere above where I wanted the bullet to strike. But with the Leupold VX-3i scope with CDS turrets I had another option.
Author Brad Fitzpatrick (right) with an aoudad taken with Leupold’s CDS system on a Browning rifle. The old holdover method of shooting works fine in some cases, but there are a number of shots at game in country like this that you may have to forego.
Based on the load and the accompanying chart I had printed with the trajectory for my .30-06, I knew that I needed a 1¾ minute-ofangle elevation adjustment to be dead on-target at 275 yards. Simple enough. I turned the dial, held right where I wanted the bullet to strike, and pressed the trigger on the riﬂe. There was a crack and a thump, and even in the recoiling scope I could see that the ram was hit hard. He went down within 20 yards.
The new LRHS from Bushnell comes with either a mil or MOA reticle and easy-to-use windage and elevation knobs. It’s also a front focal plane scope, which means you can use it to estimate range because the relative size of the reticle stays the same as you change magnification.
A FEW YEARS AGO, hunters and shooters faced a challenge when they sought to extend their effective range. The serious long-range equipment of a few years ago required some knowledge of milradians and MOAs, and relatively few had a good grasp on how to range targets and make windage and elevation adjustments in the ﬁeld.
But as new laser rangeﬁnders hit the market, that process became simpliﬁed. Suddenly, it was easy to know how far away a target was, but there was still the matter of hitting that target.
Scope makers also did their part to help simplify tough shots. Today, most scope companies offer custom turrets that are precisely cut to your own speciﬁcations for your load based on a variety of factors (bullet weight, velocity, altitude, and more). Nikon offers their Spot On turrets, Leupold their CDS (Custom Dial System) versions, and there are many, many more. And, if the optics company doesn’t provide custom turrets, custom builders such as Kenton Industries will ﬁll the void.
The advantage of a custom turret is that you no longer need to cheat the scope up and guess holdover. Many shooters do just that because, frankly, that’s what they’ve always done, trusting rough estimation more than the wizardry of custom scope knobs. However, if your scope does its job, your turrets are properly cut and you’re using the right load in the riﬂe, you’ll be amazed at just how accurate these turrets really can be.
For example, on the Browning hunt mentioned above, some of our scopes had turrets cut the particular load we were using, and all we required was a range estimation to quickly get on target. After that, it’s simply a matter of turning the dial to the correct range and pressing the trigger. And, if you want to change loads, most turrets are easily removable.
The Leupold CDS offers a custom dial option or, as shown here, you can opt for mil or MOA adjustments. This helps take the guesswork out of long-range hunting.
EVEN IF YOU AREN’T CERTAIN about which loads you will be using, that’s not a problem. There are a variety of phone and tablet apps that take your data and develop a custom trajectory curve. You can then enter this information and it will relate your elevation adjustment. You can also print out this info in advance for multiple loads and keep it on a range card in your pocket or taped to the stock of your riﬂe. This method is especially useful if you will be traveling to country where you will have no cell service.
By using a ballistic calculation system, you can quickly adjust to the current conditions and match your riﬂe’s load exactly. It may sound complicated, but it really isn’t. The digital age has helped consumers understand how to input data in ﬁelds, so typing in your bullet’s ballistic coefficient is really no different than typing in your address when you purchase an item online. This ballistic data will give you an elevation and windage adjustment, and you can simply dial this into your scope using the turrets.
If you carry a smartphone, it makes sense to have a ballistic app. This will give precise holdover points. If you can’t carry your phone, a range card, which the author is using with this DPMS rifle with Trijicon Accupower Mil reticle scope, works well.
Need 2.25 MOAs of elevation adjustment? Simply turn the elevation knob on your scope. A half MOA of wind? Make that adjustment, too, and simply hold where you want the bullet to strike. There’s no speciﬁc brand of scope that is tied to these applications, so regardless of whether you have a Trijicon, Leupold, Bushnell, Nikon, Zeiss or other optic, one MOA is equal to one MOA – provided, of course, your scope is calibrated correctly.
Range cards give you all the data you need to make accurate shots. You simply have to print them – and use them.
What these turrets – and learning to use them – eliminate is the need to guesstimate and hold over game. If you’re planning on using the “hold a little higher on the shoulder” principle, that’s fine, and there are hunters who don’t ever plan on taking game or ringing targets outside of a couple hundred yards.
But if you want to extend the potential range of your ﬁrearm to a quarter mile or more, the notion of holdover begins to fall apart, shots become inaccurate and game suffers. I’ve known a lot of hunters who were hesitant to use turrets to dial for long shots, but once you understand how the process works, it’s no more complex than operating a remote control or programming a cell phone – provided, of course, you know how to handle your riﬂe, know your loads and have mastered basic shooting skills.
Using custom turrets is an inexpensive way to shoot accurately at longer ranges, and new technology has effectively reduced the learning curve for those new to long-range shooting. You should never shoot beyond your limits, always respecting the game and doing absolutely everything possible to ensure a clean kill, but new dial technology on scopes has made it easier than ever for you to be a better shooter. ASJ
In many places, long shots are the norm, and having a dial makes accurate shooting much simpler.
Posted in Gear Tagged with: Brad Fitzpatrick, Bushnell, optics, range finder, Scope, turret
TERRA XB75 Crossbow Scope
Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, the world’s leading manufacturer of high performance sports optics, is pleased to announce the world’s first premium crossbow scope, TERRA 3x XB75 with patented ballistic reticle. The new XB75 2-7×32 offers crossbow enthusiasts the ability to determine aiming points from 20 to 75 yards in 2½-yard increments based on the chronographed speed of the bow.
The anti-reflective coatings to produces bright, high-contrast images eliminating the need for an illuminated reticle
The TERRA XB75
2-7×32 features all the benefits of German engineering and performance that you’ve come to expect from ZEISS
, including uncompromising optical performance, all in a lightweight, extremely rugged, compact 1″ design. The XB75
features MC anti-reflective coatings to produces bright, high-contrast images eliminating the need for an illuminated reticle. Now you can hunt harder and longer by being able to stay on stand when the last bit of light is being squeezed out of the day.
“This was a much needed product for the hardcore crossbow crowd. Finally an optical device that has caught up to the high-tech crossbows out there. Gone are the days of being stuck with subpar optics for the crossbow enthusiast,” stated Mike Jensen, President of Carl Zeiss Sports Optics. “ZEISS
sets another major milestone by being the first premium optics company to launch a dedicated scope for the crossbow community. Once again, this demonstrates our commitment not only to shooting sports but also to the sport of archery.”
The patented technology
of the XB75
’s reticle provides the ability to shoot distances up to 75 yards in 2½-yard increments. The scope has six separate crosshairs, the main cross section of each crosshair represents whole yardages (20 to 70 yards). The dot in between each set of crosshairs represents the half yardage marks. The top and bottom of each individual crosshair represents the 2½-yard marks. The top of the reticle wire protruding from the bottom of the reticle is the 75 yard indicator mark.
Once the 30-yard crosshair is sighted in, the scope is now calibrated to your crossbow and all of the other aiming points will be correct.
The scope’s ocular ring
has engravings representing speeds from 275 fps to 425 fps and magnification from 2x to 7x. To program, simply mount the scope on the rail of the crossbow using high-quality rings, then set a target at 10 yards using the 20-yard (1st crosshair from the top) and shoot until you hit center, then repeat at 20 yards. Once the main 20-yard reticle is sighted in, turn the speed indicator on the ocular to the manufacturers advertised speed (this may vary based on bolt length and weight). Now move the target to 30 yards and sight in using the 30-yard reticle (2nd crosshair from the top). Once the 30-yard crosshair is sighted in, the scope is now calibrated to your crossbow and all of the other aiming points will be correct. Crossbows with speeds over 425 fps and using a lighter arrow combination may require a main crosswire sight-in point of 30 yards instead of the normal 20 yards. This will require calibrating the scope at 40 yards to compensate for the flat trajectory of the crossbow bolt. The owner’s manual includes more detailed setup instructions.TERRA XB75
is built to handle the most rugged terrain and challenging conditions, and is backed by the Carl Zeiss U.S.
Limited Lifetime Transferable Warranty.
TERRA XB75 features:
Extremely low profile 1-inch tube design
2 to 7x Magnification
1/4-MOA adjustments provide 100% repeatability, click by click
Patented ballistic reticle with yardages from 20 to 75 yards
For crossbows speeds 275 fps to 425 fps
Magnification 2.3 7
Effective lens diameter 24.4 mm 32 mm
Exit pupil diameter 12.2 mm 4.6 mm
Twilight factor 7 15
Field of view (ft. at 100 yards) 46.5 ft. 13.5 ft.
Objective viewing angle 7.4° 2.5°
Diopter adjustment range ± 2.5 dpt
Eye relief 90 mm / 3.55 mm
Parallax-free 30 yds.
Square adjustment range 62 MOA
Adjustment per click 1/4 MOA
Center tube diameter 25.4 / 1 mm
Eyepiece tube diameter 41 mm
Objective tube diameter 39.5 mm
Coating ZEISS MC
Nitrogen filling Yes
Waterproof 400 mbar
Functional temperature range -13 / +122 °F
Length 11.5 in
Weight 13.4 oz
Subject to changes in design and scope of delivery as a result of ongoing technical development.
For more information on ZEISS’ award winning products please visit us at www.zeiss.com/us/sports-optics.
About the ZEISS Group
ZEISS is an international leader in the fields of optics and optoelectronics. The more than 24,000 employees of ZEISS generated revenue of about 4.2 billion euros in fiscal year 2012/13. Founded in 1846 in Jena, the company is headquartered in Oberkochen, Germany. ZEISS has been contributing to technological progress for more than 160 years. ZEISS develops and produces solutions for the semiconductor, automotive and mechanical engineering industries, biomedical research and medical technology, as well as eyeglass lenses, camera and cine lenses, binoculars and planetariums. ZEISS is present in over 40 countries around the globe with more than 40 production facilities, around 50 sales and service locations and over 20 research and development sites. Carl Zeiss AG is fully owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung (Carl Zeiss Foundation).
[su_divider text=”Think of Zeiss when you think perfection!” style=”double” divider_color=”#89ace4″ link_color=”#ed5771″ size=”10″ margin=”25″]
Editor’s note: Crossbow hunting rules vary by state, see yours for more information
As an fyi, crossbows are banned in Oregon, but can be used during Washington’s rifle big-game seasons (but not during the archery hunt). They’re also OK during Idaho short-range weapons seasons (as are tomahawks, large rocks, boomerangs, very loud and shrill yells).
Posted in Media Releases Tagged with: Crossbow Scope, Long Range, optics, reticle, TERRA XB75, Zeiss, Zeiss Sport optics