Red Dot Or DMR Scope? Bushnell’s SMRS Asks “Why Not Both?”

Badass military operators, 3-Gun competitors and Texas hog hunters have something in common: they don’t know if their next target is going to angling in from ten yards or standing still at 250. Bushnell’s SMRS (Short-Medium Range Scope) aims to please all of them. It’s designed to be a do-anything optic that zooms from both-eyes-open 1x up to 6.5x, with two available illuminated reticules in your choice of first or second focal planes.

We got real familiar with this optic at last month’s Bushnell expo in Kentucky, where our Band Of Merry Gun Scribes put thousands of rounds through them while running and gunning and dropping them unceremoniously into dump buckets afterwards. The top photo is one of our scratched and abused testers. It proved itself rugged, reliable and more than capable of handling everything from bedroom-distance double taps to “I can’t believe they designed a stage this long” ranges at 200 yards. (I know, Foghorn, some stages are much longer than that. Doesn’t mean I have to like them, does it?)

My favorite reticule was the BTR-1 shown here, and I was surprised to find that I liked it best in the second focal plane. The red parts are, of course, illuminated, and the inverted T’s are the width of average adult male shoulders at various ranges. A designated marksman would line up the bottom of the T with the shoulders of their hapless target, and the top of the respective T would be their aiming point. The top T is for 0-100 yards, and each lower T is another 100 yards out. (Note: the reticules are calibrated for the 62-grain M855 load; be sure to verify your zero with your own loads if you’re shooting something else.) The BTR-2 reticule is very similar, and includes windage hashmarks and more vertical stadia.

Here, Frank Galli from Snipers Hide zooms the SMRS up to full power to engage some enemy steel gongs at 200 yards. With the SMRS atop some drool-worthy JP Enterprises carbines, any of our misses were purely our own fault. I aced the standing/braced 100 yard section of the stage the first time through, then had a complete mag malfunction and had to re-start the stage. At which point I completely screwed the pooch.

I like first focal plane (FFP) scopes for distance work, since their mil-dot, mil-hash and rangefinding reticules work at *all* magnifications when they’re in the first focal plane. I thought I’d love the BTR reticules in the FFP too, but I wasn’t the only writer who found the FFP version lacking and preferred this scope with the second focal plane version instead.

Why? FFP reticules get smaller as the magnification decreases, and these SMRS scopes go all the way down to 1x. (I know you’re expecting an off-color simile here, but I’m just not going to do it. This time.) When your zoom range is from 3x to 12x, or even from 3.5x to 21x like some of Bushnell’s other Elite Tactical series scopes, this is no problem.

But when your zoom range is 1x to 6.5x, that means the reticule is vanishingly small at 1x. And it gets more complicated, because illuminated FFP reticules also get dimmer as they get smaller, and there’s an engineering limit to just how bright they can be to begin with.

With the SMRS dialed down to 1x, the reticule shrinks to the size of a large red-dot, and loses most of its luminosity. It becomes a large etched black-dot sight, and my eyes had to hunt around the scope to find it unless the light was just perfect. I wasn’t alone in this predicament.

None of these problems reared their heads with the SFP model, which was GTG at any range with a twist of the power ring. The ballistic reticule isn’t calibrated unless it’s at maximum magnification, but within 200 yards an M855 bullet only drops two inches so you won’t need a holdover anyway unless you’re shooting ground squirrels.

$1300 is real money, but Bushnell is making a big effort to step beyond the ‘Wal-Mart’ market niche, and they intend the SMRS to compete directly with Nightforce NXS, Schmidt & Bender Police Marksman, and Leupold Mark 8 scopes costing far more.

This is not a full review; I’ve got my wish list in with Bushnell, but I don’t have one of these in my gun safe for testing yet. I’ll get to freeze, drown and shoot the shit out one soon enough (Paging Todd Siegmund: Please send me the BTR-1 SFP version!) but these impressions are based on two days (and maybe 400 rounds) of CQB and DMR drills.

Specifications:

Type: Low-to-medium power variable riflescope, 30mm main tube, 1-6.5x magnification.
Reticule: BTR-1 (shown) and BTR-2 illuminated reticules, available in first and second focal plane.
Length/Weight: 10.6”, 18.5 ounces without rings or base.
Click Value: .1 mil.
Objective: 24mm.
Tube Diameter: 30mm.
Eye Relief: 3.7 inches.
Exit Pupil: 11.4mm@1x / 3.7mm@6.5x
Price: $1,300.00 street.