Last week, I was suddenly and mercilessly bitten by the bug to have a mil dot scope. I had experienced such joy on the firing line with the McMillan CS5 and its Nightforce scope that made range estimation and holds so easy that I just had to get that ability for one of my own rifles. But as I sat there on my couch, Pop Tart in hand, I came to the realization that all of the good scopes with mil dots were WAY outside my price range. At that moment something I said to Chris Dumm popped into my head and led me to eventually place an order — “when in doubt, Primary Arms” . . .
We’ve been burned by cheap, supposedly long range scopes before. Konus, another manufacturer of pretty good cheap scopes, had a version we tested not too long ago that didn’t pass muster. While it wasn’t good enough, but I was hoping that Primary Arms would be up to the challenge.
Primary Arms is a Houston, Texas-based company that imports riflescopes from a manufacturer in China. PA sets the specs and picks the components and the Chinese plant does all the magic. While that’s fantastic in terms of the price — their gear is usually only 5-10% of what you’d pay for name brand optics — the quality can be hit and miss. Their scope mount, for example, is a brilliant piece of engineering on a budget and worth every penny. But a different scope of theirs I tried out last year seemed to fall apart after a few hundred rounds. Still, at the price they quoted me it was worth rolling the dice.
On paper, their scope checks all of the boxes that I was lusting after.
The adjustments on this gun are in mils (milliradians). It’s the military-preferred alternative to MoA and, honestly, slightly more useful in the field (for more on that, see this Ask Foghorn on range estimation with Mil dots). On the other side of the scope is a parallax adjustment knob — something sorely missing from their earlier scope. It’s not in the same plane as the adjustment knobs, but that’s more of an aesthetic gripe than a functional one as the parallax adjustment isn’t only fully operational but just about properly calibrated in terms of the scale on the knob itself.
The covers for the adjustment knobs can be removed and re-zeroed as needed thanks to the screw on the top, and the markings are both clear and accurate. The knobs provide an audible and tactile “click” for each position they turn, and feel downright solid. The knob doesn’t completely stop for each click like on some better scopes, but you get a feeling for where that stop should be.
The scope is variable power, letting the shooter adjust the magnification anywhere between 4x and 14x depending on the target. But while that’s nifty, the REALLY great part of this scope is the reticle.
Yeah, it looks pretty unremarkable. It’s a standard mil reticle. But the really cool thing about it is that its in the first focal plane. What that means is that no matter what magnification you choose, the distance between the dots will remain the exact same relative to the target downrange. I’m a HUGE fan of first focal plane scopes for that reason, as it gives me a fixed reference point when I’m shooting.
That’s all well and good, but the REAL test is whether this scope is properly calibrated. Are the clicks actually 1/10 Mil? Will the scope retain its zero? Are the clicks even? And to answer those questions, we turn to the standard “box test” for scopes. Start with a good zero, then turn the knobs 10 clicks up and 10 clicks left. Fire. Then 20 clicks right. Fire. 20 clicks down. Fire. 20 clicks left. Fire. Then 10 up and right, and see if everything still lines up.
And, honestly, that’s as good as any other scope I’ve tested. The four rounds in the orange are the “start” and “end” rounds, with the others having been used to sight the scope in. And this also proves that the clicks actually do roughly correlate to 1/10 Mil, as 1 Mil at ~50 yards is ~1.8 inches (and since the actual distance is a little further, the slightly larger movement is expected).
On the local 1,000 yard range I had the opportunity to really put the glass to work. On a solid rifle with some good handloaded ammunition this scope let me see and hit a steel gong at 1,000 yards. And after 100 rounds downrange (the point at which the old scope disintegrated) it was still dead-on.
I had a chance to talk with one of the other long range shooters tapping the 1,000 yard target (with a custom built rifle and multi-thousand dollar optic) and he thought the Primary Arms scope was great. When I told him the price he laughed, but having owned a number of PA scopes himself he said he wasn’t surprised that something from them was worthy of the 1,000 yard line.
Sometimes you get what you pay for. Other times, if you trust the reputation of the company, you can really find a great deal and get exactly what you wanted for a lot less. This, I think, is one of those latter occasions. I’ll be keeping an eye on it for any issues as it ages, but as it stands, this thing is perfect. For the price, at least.
UPDATE: Following Jim Barrett’s experience with this scope on a .338 Lapua rifle, I cannot recommend putting this scope on anything above a .308 caliber. Then again, when you’re throwing five dollar bills down your barrel you can probably afford something a little better than this.
UPDATE x2: Today’s date is June 20, 2014. It has been almost two years since the initial review, and I have used and abused this thing on my .308 rifle. The scope still works perfectly, and hasn’t broken. Long term reliability? Proven.
Specifications: Primary Arms 4-14X44 Mil Dot FFP Scope
Weight: 1 lb 7 oz
Adjustments: 1/10 Mil
Eye Relief: 109-83mm″
Ratings (out of five)
Optical Clarity * * * *
The glass looks very clean and clear. I couldn’t find any major issues with the optical clarity. But it still looks a little… dirty. Compared to a Swarovski, at least.
Feel & Function * * * *
Everything feels and functions as it should. The zoom zooms, the clicks click, the zero is held and the illumination illuminates. The only place for improvement is making the clicks on the adjustment knobs discrete and precise — more of a detent-like feeling rather than the smooth feel they have now.
Overall Quality * * * *
I was honestly surprised by the quality of this scope. Coming off of their 3-9 offering that was downright terrible, this feels remarkably good and polished. It didn’t feel cheap in the least. And actually, in some places, it felt better constructed than the Swarovski scopes I’ve played with.
Overall Rating * * * *
What we have here is a piece of equipment that gets the job done. Plain and simple. If you’re looking for a scope that will give you all the super-cool long range features that you’ve been craving at a price that can’t be beat, than this is your baby. But while it functions now, rest assured that we’ll be keeping an eye on it and updating this review with how well it holds up to abuse over time.