Gear Review: Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Reticle Scope

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A year ago we reviewed the .22 LR version of Primary Arms’s ACSS reticle optics line, which is made to quickly and intuitively range cans, bottles, and clay pigeons out to 200 yards. Focused more on combat use, the 1-6x scope‘s patented ACSS reticle is designed to range, well, combatants. It blows traditional range-finding reticle technology back into the stone age with the simplest, fastest method of ranging a human-size target, compensating for bullet drop, leading a moving target, and holding for crosswind short of having Rain Man as your spotter.

The ACSS’s biggest coup was marrying accurate ranging into the reticle itself. There’s no conversion from reticle measurement units to distance units. No calculator or math needed. It’s the WYSIWYG of ranging reticles. But the ACSS didn’t stop there; it merged range-finding and bullet drop compensation holdover marks together, too. Match your target to the appropriate range and you’re already holding properly for the distance, ready to pull the trigger.

PA-ACSS-reticle2

I’ve added some brown silhouettes to the image above to show how some of the reticle’s features work. The primary feature is the center tape — 12-level illuminated in red — for use at 6x magnification for ranging targets from 300 to 800 yards.

Each horizontal line corresponds to the width of an 18-inch-wide target — your average male torso width — at the designated range. A 300 yard target would fit between the bottom-most corners of the horseshoe, and the top of the ranging tape post acts as the crosshair. From there, the farther away the target is the smaller it is, and ranging it is as simple as matching its width to the width of one of the range lines or judging it as in-between two of them.

In the picture above, the silhouette has been ranged at 600 yards, the bullet drop holdover is already done, and all that’s left is to pull the trigger.

To the right and left of the ranging tape are illuminated wind hold dots. These represent the necessary hold to compensate for a 5 mph crosswind. This distance can easily be halved (2.5 mph wind) and fairly easily be doubled (10 mph wind).

Off to the right side of the primary ranging tape is effectively a backup ranging tape. Should your target present itself at an angle that doesn’t allow for torso-width ranging, this tape will estimate range based on a 5′ 10″ average male height. Feet at the bottom, and wherever the head stops is your range. In the picture above, he’s ranged at 600 yards. This tape can also work if the enemy combatant is only visible from the waist up; range with that and then simply cut the tape’s range estimate in half. Note that the horizontal lines still correspond with an 18″ target at the given ranges.

PA-ACSS-reticle4The biggest focus of the reticle is the illuminated horseshoe with center dot, which is, indeed, the center of the scope image. This is designed for CQB work, for use primarily at 1x magnification but it can be used at higher zoom levels as well (and at full zoom, a target at 200 yards goes outside edge-to-edge on the horseshoe).

Well off to the left and right of the horseshoe is a large, non-illuminated dot. This is for leading a running target. Apparently a handful of separate military studies showed that a man running with a rifle in hand does so at a pretty reliable 8.6 mph. Between 100 and 300 yards, I believe regardless of zoom level, these dots will work for leading a running target.

PA-ACSS-1x

There are a lot of variable zoom optics out there claiming “1x” as the minimum zoom level, but not actually delivering. It’s surprisingly common to find a “1x” that’s really somewhere in the 1.1x to 1.4x range. Well, Primary Arms’ 1-6x doesn’t suffer this issue, and its 1x is a true 1x with zero zoom and no distortion. This is actually an important distinction, because a true 1x with an illuminated center dot — the entire horseshoe in this case — makes a scope like this just as fast as a red dot or reflex sight. It rocks both-eyes-open, CQB, red dot-style shooting like a champ.

PA-ACSS-6x

Zoom in to 6x and the quality of the glass and clarity of the picture stays way beyond what’s expected at an MSRP of just $269.99. Unfortunately, taking photos through a scope is a bit of a trick and I struggled to show the clarity of the reticle itself. Even at full brightness, it’s completely clear with no bleeding (it would get weird through the camera lens, though).

PA-ACSS-wife-range

The best I could do was this photo, showing an in-focus reticle at illumination level 8 or 9 of the 11 “on” settings, but a blurry background. This is partially due to having the diopter adjusted for my right eye’s marginal eyesight, and partially due to heavily cropping the photograph to where it’s pixelated. Anyway, other than the blur and some illumination bleed (again, the camera adds that) it’s a fairly realistic representation of what the reticle looks like at 6x in real life. That’s a consenting human target out there on the paddle board, being ranged — by a loose scope not mounted on a firearm, for the record — at approximately 400 yards.

PA-ACSS-side

Odd to get most of the way through a scope review without even talking about the physical scope itself, but the ACSS reticle just steals the show. At any rate, the scope is anodized 6063 aluminum and is 10.75″ long and weighs in at 17.4 ounces. It’s waterproof and fog resistant, with fully multi-coated lenses, and comes with a 3-year warranty. Tube diameter is 30mm. Turrets are capped.

PA-ACSS-elevation

Click adjustments feel clean and precise, and are easily accomplished by hand on the serrated outer ring. Each click is 1/2″ at 100 yards. The ring with adjustment markings can be rotated independently of making actual adjustments in order to align with a zero mark on the scope body (this has not been done in the photos).

PA-ACSS-windage

The windage adjustment turret cap hides a spare CR2032 battery. Another one comes pre-installed under the illumination turret on the left side of the scope.

PA-ACSS-zero

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: will this work with my gun/ammo? Well, if it’s in 5.56/.223, 7.62×51/.308, or 5.45×39 then most likely the answer is “yes.” Above is the suggested zeroing chart to ensure that the bullet drop compensation tape works for your barrel length and/or ammo choice. The only real standouts are the suggestions to zero M193 through a 14.5″ barrel at 50 yards, to zero 75 grain and 77 grain .223 a half inch and full inch high at 100 yards, respectively, and to zero 7.62×51/.308 an inch high at 100 yards. With that done, all of the holdover distances are correct, and point of impacts are within an inch for all caliber and barrel combos listed.

On The Range

I really can’t express enough how much I love this scope. I’ve owned it for over a year now and it has been a total rock star. On my very first range outing with it I was presented, conveniently enough, with 18″ steel gongs at random, unmarked distances out to ~600 yards and then animal silhouettes beyond that, out to 880 yards (a half mile). With cheap .223 I absolutely crushed those gongs, ranging and engaging them near instantly. It was all too easy until a cross breeze picked up and I missed a shot. Then, watching the wild grasses, it became easy again using the wind hold dots — between half a dot and a full dot hold — to accurately compensate.

Turns out even casual familiarity with animal sizes can translate into accurate ranging with the ACSS as well, whether coyote or buffalo. I took a guess at ranging a wild boar target, estimating it at a bit shy of 750 yards, and hit it. Now, with a 6x zoom I couldn’t tell where on the target I hit it, but I definitely hit it. Taking a few more shots I confirmed a few more impacts, and on a couple of wind-induced misses the loose sand surrounding the target poofed up in a tell-tale geyser.

For close-in shooting, it’s a red dot. Well, it’s close. Due to the long tube the field of vision is slightly more restricted than with a shorty red dot or a reflex sight, and the housing and adjustment knobs are larger so they obstruct a bit more of the downrange view. But the reticle is bright, there’s no distortion, both-eyes-open shooting is easy, and there’s almost no parallax. I tried to time myself running through a competition-style stage with this scope vs. a popular red dot, and just couldn’t conclude a reliable difference between the two, running nearly dead nuts at 18 seconds either way.

PA-ACSS-target

Adjustments appear to be reliable. It shoots square boxes and tracks close to expected. However, nobody cares. The only purpose of the elevation and windage adjustments is to get the initial zero set. Once that’s done, forget clicking. The BDC reticles and wind holds have you covered for all of your distance and windage needs.

Conclusions

The ACSS reticle — or ACSS-style knockoffs — is the way of the future. With it one can accurately range and fire on a target faster than it’s even possible to describe the method of ranging with Mils (target height in inches multiplied by 27.78, then divided by the target height in Mils = distance to target in yards). In short, it’s freaking awesome. So awesome that variants of the ACSS are now available in ACOGs, red dots, high-end 1-8x scopes, 4-14x and 6-30x long range scopes (with more granular, expanded ACSS reticles), and for other calibers like .300 Blackout, 7.62×39, and .22 LR. I’m sure its popularity will only continue to grow.

Of course, in this case there’s a $269 scope attached to the reticle. It’s a 1-6x job with a smooth-turning zoom ring and shockingly good optics. The illuminated reticle is bright enough to use in full sun and it doesn’t bleed or halo. At 1x it’s truly zoom free and holds its own against a dedicated red dot or reflex optic. The very simple turrets leave something to be desired, but then again who needs ’em? Once sighted in, the caps may never come off again.

Specifications: Primary Arms 1-6x ACSS Scope

Build: 6063 aluminum, anodized black
Length: 10.75″
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Ocular Diameter: 42mm
Weight: 17.4 oz
Click Adjustment Value: 1/2″ at 100 yards
Magnification Range: 1x to 6x
Field of View at 100 Yards: 115 feet at 1x, 19.2 feet at 6x
Eye Relief: 4″ to 4.5″
Exit Pupil: 10mm at 1x, 4mm at 6x
Illumination: 12 brightness settings, CR2032 battery
MSRP: $269.99

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):

Reticle * * * * *
Absolutely love it. It doesn’t get any easier, faster, or more intuitive to range and engage a target.

Build * * * 1/2
The feel of the scope is more or less on par with what I’d expect from a known brand at this price point. Maybe slightly above expected with the smooth-yet-snug feel of the zoom ring and the clean clicks of the turrets, but the cheapo lens caps and spinning turret adjustment marking rings don’t really do it for me. It has proven to be very reliable and durable — passing many internet “torture tests” — but it just doesn’t feel as quality as it actually is.

Optical Clarity * * * * 
Amazing for the price point.

Value * * * * * 
Great optics, incredible reticle, decent warranty, and reliable function at an MSRP of $269.99 is a heck of a value.

Overall * * * * *
I love these scopes. They’re probably impossible to beat for the money and, really, I gravitate towards this optic for all of my practical shooting even with a couple of ~$3,000 scopes available. The .22 LR one will probably never leave my CZ 455, and I’m fairly sure my next optics purchase will be a 1-8x ACSS.

comments

  1. avatar Chad A says:

    FYI, I just got an email today that the 1-8x is out.

    I should really give one of these a try, it is a good bit cheaper but I get tempted by the similar offerings from Vortex and SWFA that “seem” like they’d be more durable and have lifetime warranties…

    1. avatar Joe Grine says:

      The Vortex appears to be the same scope, with only cosmetic differences and a less fancy reticle. I’d be willing to bet they are made at the same factory.

  2. avatar pwrserge says:

    Ok, you just sold me on this sucker. I’ve been looking to step up to a variable power scope with a “true” 1x for a while, and this thing is a fraction of the cost of some of the other glass I was looking at. The 1-8x version is ~$400, which is less than 1/2 the cost of a Burris scope that has not come out yet.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      1-8x is $379.99. If the $100 extra bucks is doable, I’d say it’s the fairly obvious choice over the 1-6x especially considering it isn’t any longer or heavier. However, I haven’t played with it yet so can’t be positive that it’s as clear at 8x as mine is at 6x. I’d take a crystal clear 6x over a dimmer or fuzzier or washed out 8x any day, but if they’re the same then awesome and the 8x gets my vote.

      I know I’m going to pick one up. I have to figure out if it’s going to be the $379.99 version or the $1,299.99 Platinum series one. I could care less about the WAY nicer turrets on the Platinum one (for the reasons mentioned in this review), but it does have finer adjustment clicks and apparently some truly premium glass. I’d probably go for it if I was competing regularly or hunting regularly, but for my purposes I’m thinking the standard 1-8x at $380 is going to be the ticket.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        With the BDC reticle, I’m not sure I would even use the turrets on the rifle that I plan to put this on after zeroing, so it’s a non-issue to me. The plan is to put this on my 14.5″ SBR upper for 3Gun.

      2. avatar Chief Master says:

        The $1299 optic is also FFP, if that matters to you.

    2. avatar BDub says:

      I’ve been really pleased with the Primary Arms optics. They are a great value.

      1. avatar jjimmyjonga says:

        yup…

    3. avatar Sixpack70 says:

      I bought this scope a while back and it is indeed great. I will say, the magnification was probably 1.1 not a true 1x. There was some minor distortion at close distances that was not noticeable past about 5 yards. The reticle is bright enough to use in the day. I tested in on my Tavor, SCAR 16, Parts build AR-15 and AK-74. It worked well on all of those guns. I’m really looking forward to the 1-8x.

  3. avatar Mike says:

    I have the 300BLK variant of this scope. I concur with every bit of this review, ditto for my variation on a theme – i just love it that they had a caliber-specific version of it. Incredibly reliable, clear glass (maybe not like a Razor, but awesome enough for this price range.
    Someone speculated that Vortex makes their scopes. Could well be – this one resembles my Strike Eagle on so many points, except this awesome reticle.
    Yep, the caps are cheap, but Butler Creek is a great and inexpensive alternative, and they sell every size imaginable, and who doesn’t like their red push tabs?
    Bonus for me: Primary Arms is in my backyard here in Texas. Well, it’s 1 & 1/2 hour away from my house, but that’s considered “backyard” here! They are an absolutely awesome company for any gun part, delivering all the key points: selection, price, customer service, and shipping (when I don’t do store pick up) – orders are often filled the same day, and shipping is usually in the $5 – 10 range, unless the order really gets beefy. None of this $20 flat shipping like others. One would do well to check them out.

  4. avatar Mike says:

    they just released their 1-8×24 today – $379. And…. a FFP 6-30x 56 – 2 versions/reticles. Check out the ACSS HUD DMR Reticle – very similar to a Horus. $1500.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      They put that ACSS HUD in some optics under $400 also. My buddy has had one of their 4-14x scopes with that reticle for a long time now and I’m hoping he’ll write up a review of it eventually here.

      1. avatar jjimmyjonga says:

        would love to see a review of PWS new Platinum line, perhaps comparing their 25x power model with one or two of other “premium” brands of similar features.

        1. avatar jjimmyjonga says:

          sorry…meant “PA” not pws (was just lusting after a pws mk, so on my mind)

  5. avatar Vhyrus says:

    I was probably going to get these for my primary rifles but this sealed it. I already have their mil dot 4×14 on my 308 so I know they make good stuff.

  6. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    Looks pretty awesome, but I’m going to pick a nit:

    Seems like there’s room to include an extra set of windage dots (for 10 mph crosswind) on either side of the ladder. Otherwise you’re using the naked part of the view with not much to keep you lined up correctly.

    1. avatar Vhyrus says:

      my guess is that they didn’t want to clutter up an already cluttered FOV with even more dots.

      1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

        The ACSS HUD reticle on the higher zoom scopes gets way more hold points and size reference areas, including more wind holds.

  7. avatar Kurt says:

    I had one – actually, two – of these when they first came out and had to send them both back (got a Vortex instead). The reticle on the first one shifted clockwise after a few rounds – loose glass? – and the illumination on the second one broke after a week or so.

    Be warned – even PA says that the illumination is not “daylight illumination”; this means that it’s only visible at the highest settings during the day, and even then it’s not appreciably bright. My experience is that it does not replace a red dot in any sense.

    The price is right if you’re looking for an inexpensive scope with nice glass, and can risk having to deal with returns, which with PA’s amazing customer service / returns staff, is not as big a hassle as it could be.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      They released a Gen 2 not too long after the original hit the market. I don’t actually know what the differences were, but maybe it addressed some of that stuff. I certainly haven’t had any of those issues (including finding it bright enough to use red dot style in full sun) after over a year and quite a bit of use on multiple rifles. Of course, I’m a sample of one (although the gen 2 at least has always earned consistently very high reviews).

  8. avatar James says:

    I’ve been running this Primary Arms 1-6x scope for about a year now on my 3Gun rifle. It replaced my Millet 1-4x DMS that finally disintegrated.

    I use a 50/200yrd zero and it works great up close and as far as 450yrds. It could be a little lighter but that’s a price one pays for this kind of optic. This is not US Optics, Swarovski or even Vortex HD Razor grade, but it keeps me competitive in the game for the price point. And the scope hasn’t broken after chunking it in a grounding barrel repeatedly.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      Do they not have any padding in the bottom of those barrels?

      Cripes, a few scraps of carpet would soften things up…

      (I’ll give 3-gun a try when I have the hardware)

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        You’re mostly shoving the rifle in barrel first, so the only thing likely to take an impact is your muzzle device. Your optic should only take lateral impacts or perhaps a few scrapes. (Which should not be an issue with a plastic barrel.) They only real problem I can see is if you catch your optic on the lip of the barrel. Something hard to do given the relative dimensions.

      2. avatar James says:

        pwrserge is correct. Sometimes there’s padding in grounding boxes/barrels, sometimes not. It’s the shooter’s responsibility to ground the gun safely in any manner he chooses. I err on the gentle grounding mode because I’m a cheap bastard and can’t afford to destroy my firearms.

        I started 3gun 6yrs ago with a rem 870, cheap blemished m4 and a smith wesson 3rd gen 40. Shoot what you have; no one cares and you are your own competition. I’ve RO’d almost every firearm under the sun. You’ll have a great time no matter whether you’re shooting against top shot guys (who are are my friends and shoot in my squad) or want to improve in your manual of arms.

  9. avatar KenW says:

    “For close-in shooting, it’s a red dot. Well, it’s close.”
    Has anyone with moderate to severe astigmatism tried this scope yet ?
    I can’t use red dots, they turn into a star burst for me.

    1. avatar asdf says:

      The reticle is etched into the glass so it shouldn’t be an issue

      1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

        Indeed (whereas red dots are projected). Additionally, unlike a red dot you can adjust the eye focus (diopter) on this scope to compensate for near/far-sighted stuff.

    2. avatar RogUinta says:

      Yes. Thumbs up.

  10. avatar Azimuth says:

    Thanks for the ever so gentle push, Jeremy.

    Question: aside from variable magnification, what advantages vs primary arms 5x ACSS prism scope? Never used a prism, is it just the small form factor that is an advantage? I was leaning that way, but after your review…

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      Yeah the fixed prism scopes are smaller, lighter, and simpler. They don’t have variable zoom and that’s a big deal in some cases. I love having 1x and don’t like running scopes that start at higher minimum zoom on an MSR. At least not on one that will be used inside of 100 yards rather than being a dedicated varmint or target shooting gun.

  11. avatar Accur81 says:

    Thanks for the review! I was very impressed with the 1-6x ACSS version. The ACSS is just a flat out awesome CQB / medium distance reticle. I just bought the 1-8x ACSS. They should still be in stock:

    http://www.primaryarms.com/pa1-8x24sfp-acss-556/p/pa1-8x24sfp-acss-5.56/

    I linked the 2nd focal plane $379 version. I think I’ll put it on an American Defense 30mm QD scope mount. LaRue tactical is the best, but that level of cost / weight / precision isn’t necessary on this scope. Now, which AR do I put it on…

  12. avatar VF 1777 says:

    Saved a few bucks and a couple oz’s by skipping the second scope ring?

    I’m considering the 1-8x as an option or my M1a. Can’t say anything but good stuff about P.A.

    Anyway, good review as always, Mr. S. Thanks.

    1. avatar Jeremy S. says:

      Actually it’s not that cheap ($129.99) and it’s light but not as light as some (5.6 oz). It works great, but mostly I think it looks cool 😛 http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2016/03/jeremy-s/gear-review-lancer-systems-single-ring-scope-mount/

  13. avatar MapsBam says:

    There’s only one problem. Primary Arms’ customer service sucks. They were willing to help me spend my money via Facebook messages, but when I had an issue with my rifle they couldn’t be bothered to respond and told me to email them. I emailed them weeks ago and never received a response.

    Be smart and avoid Primary Arms. If you insist on buying their optics at least buy them through Optics Planet where the customer service is great.

    1. avatar notalima says:

      I have had exactly the opposite experience. On the few occasions I’ve had an issue they’ve been blazing fast in getting it resolved.

      On the flip side, I’ve had terrible experiences with some places that others have said ‘best customer service ever’.

    2. avatar int19h says:

      I’ve had good experiences with PA customer service, and overall feedback on that has been positive on the forums etc.

      Keep in mind that email is not always a reliable communications medium – emails can end up in spam, for example. Try poking them on FB again, and mention that you wrote an email and they didn’t respond.

  14. avatar Docduracoat says:

    I love my Millet DMS 1 to 4 X scope!
    On 1x it is a red dot
    On 4x I can shoot out to 250 yards
    With a 50/225 yard zero I am always within 1.5 inches of my point of aim from the muzzle out to 250 yards
    I have no place to shoot any further here in South Florida
    My Steyr Aug shoots 2 moa so this battle sight zero is perfect.
    Much as I like this bullet drop ranging reticle, I can’t take 400 yard shots
    The price is similar to the Millet with the benefits of longer range than just a battle sight zero

  15. avatar leo says:

    Great scope and I own two of them, I wish to get 1-8x but would like to read review first.

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