The Truth About Rifle Optics

John Farnham writes [via ammoland.com]: Last weekend, a student brought an H&K MR762A1 Rifle to my Armed Response to a Terrorist Attack training course last weekendIt’s the commercial version of H&K’s 417, a gas-piston, autoloading, military rifle in 7.62×51 (308) with an “AR profile.” My student fitted his long gun with a 6x ACOG optic (6×48) mounted on the upper receiver.  

Like all ACOG optics, the 6×48 is rugged and thoroughly militarized. It’s also bulky, heavy, and pricey ($2,500.00). The reticle is a glowing, orange triangle with assorted other aiming points, designed around the 308 round. Reticle illumination is self-powered, so the optic doesn’t require batteries.

I’m sure the combination of rifle and optic would turn-in a superb performance at 300m-600m, but we were shooting in heavy brush, in the rain, in low light, at targets from twenty to thirty meters. Targets were steel silhouettes, ensconced within fall foliage.

Guess what? My student could not find the targets in his scope!

Trijicon ACOG 6X48mm recticle
He cast about for long seconds, alternately squinting and moving his head back and forth, trying with scant success, to determine where targets were. When he tried to illuminate targets with a high-powered flashlight, it only made matters worse. Flickering glint from glistening foliage made the task of locating targets in the brush through the ACOG all but impossible.

Offset iron sights (courtesy theprepperjournal.com)

To be sure, the task was challenging for Aimpoints and EOTechs too, not to mention the best iron sights. But the rest of my students (so equipped) were still able to do it with significant success. The second day, my student removed the 6×48 ACOG from his rifle, and ran with iron sights. He did slightly better. At least he could find targets.

High-magnification optics are convenient for making out downrange detail. As Jeff Cooper put it, they don’t improve your shooting, but they do enable you to see better than would be possible through iron sights or zero-magnification red-dots.

Through high-magnification optics, you get to see “a lot of a little.” For that privilege, you inherit considerable bulk and weight. Plus, all such optics are eye-relief-critical, and thus must be mounted so that they are just a few centimeters in front of your sighting eye.

Bottom line: the rifle and optic combination described above, wonderful though it was, proved itself unsuitable to the close, rapid, 100-meters-and-closer, low-light-in-the-cold-rain shooting that we did.

AR-15 sight alignment (courtesy youtube.com)

Red-dots did much better. And, for those with young eyes, iron sights run just fine also, be they Western-style or Soviet-style.

The lesson learned by all present was:

1. You have to run your gear, and yourself, under realistic, even harsh, circumstances, before you can be sure it will serve you adequately.

2. No one piece of gear, no matter the configuration, does everything well. You give-up some capabilities to get others.

3. When you can’t predict the challenge, high-specialized gear is usually contraindicated

comments

  1. avatar pewpewpew says:

    I agree with the sentement, but i would add that there are ways to practise around this particular problem, at least while in an offhand position.

    Hold your left hand up at the ready, note what is behind the v between your thumb and the stock. Lift rifle straight up into shoulder. Observe where you see through your scope vs what was behind your thumb. If you are far enough out then you might need to pick a new spot, but with practise you can find your target fairly quickly.

  2. avatar Shotgun Sam says:

    “3. When you can’t predict the challenge, high-specialized gear is usually contraindicated”

    Well, even a broken clock is right twice a day.

    Frankly, I would like at least one deliberate advantage rather than going average and pretending to be good enough across the board. Further, if you have a tactical advantage somehow, you are better off. Trying to keep the fight fair with mundane kit is hoping your adversary does not feel differently.

    Train your weaknesses and fight with your strengths.

  3. avatar Jon in CO says:

    Seems homeboy had way too much money to spend on overpriced gear and wanted to be the expensive guy in a “terrorist attack” class.

  4. avatar David says:

    If you can afford an ACOG you can afford a non-magnified red dot to go with it. Problem solved, problem staying solved!

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Or you could just use the 4x ACOG which doesn’t have these problems with proper technique. This is just an idiot trying to run and gun with a DMR. There’s a reason why you don’t put high magnification (>4x) optics on general purpose rifles.

      1. avatar Defens says:

        ^ This – I don’t have a lot of sympathy for paying big bucks for a class, then showing up with the wrong gear. I suppose he just HAD to show off his fancy stick, when he probably had two or three ARs sitting in the safe that would have been perfect.

        For that matter, who would spend the bucks for a high speed low drag course like this and only show up with one rifle? When I was regularly taking classes with Gonzalez, or others, I’d have a backup rifle, and generally two backup pistols – one for me, and a loaner in case some other student’s pistol went down.

        1. avatar Joe R. says:

          “For that matter, who would spend the bucks for a high speed low drag course like this and only show up with one rifle? ”

          Ya, you sure he wasn’t just trying to implement the small chunk of “dogma” he retained from his last class? You know the guy – the one who gimped in on the small blind, and all the other attendees (with ACOGs and different conditions) did ‘better’ than him, so he took a second mortgage to afford the types of gear everyone else was running, for his next class. It’s a classic case of a great solution (to something else) becoming the problem. THIS is a “training problem”.

  5. avatar Greg Bell says:

    What a shock, Farnham has a negative story with an HK in it.

    1. avatar Ken says:

      The negativity didn’t have anything to do with the HK. The optic could have come to class mounted on anything and the same issues would be present.

  6. avatar strych9 says:

    Variable power optics FTW.

    Did anyone else read this and think “Armed response to a terrorist attack class taking place in… in heavy brush… WTAF?!”?

    1. avatar surlycmd says:

      Heavy brush could mean the fake plants surrounding the mall Santa.

      1. avatar Joe R. says:

        Shubbery around the front entrance, and the pool, of the Mandalay Bay.

    2. avatar Jeremy B. says:

      How far away was the Texas church shooter? The Armored LA bank robbers? Battaclan terrorists?

      Terrorism tends to take place in populated areas and response to such is likely within 100 yards and probably much closer.

  7. avatar GS650G says:

    I went with a 4x on my ar10 and I’m satisfied with it. Usually I run 1 to 2 x and rarely dial it to 4. I actually use the iron sights a lot, it’s imperative to be able to use iron sights in case your scope gets broke or you are in light to low to use it.

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      Mount a small holographic on the ACOG. Boom, done.

      1. avatar Shotgun Sam says:

        There’s no such thing as a small holographic sight.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Here comes my iggorunce again; is a red dot the same as a holographic? ‘Cuz I don’t think so.

  8. avatar M1Lou says:

    Did he try the bindon aiming principle? It doesn’t sound like it and it doesn’t sound like it was taught to him. I’ve used it with decent success with 3-9x scopes and illuminated ACOGs. It should at least have made finding targets easier in brush. Maybe not as good as a red dot, but not that far behind.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Bindoning a 6x is a very different kettle of fish from bindoning a 3.5x or a 4x. The eye box on the 6x ACOG is not very forgiving.

      1. avatar M1Lou says:

        Ah, that makes sense then. I haven’t messed with the 6x, but I have messed with the 4X and below. 2.5x-4x seems to be a good range if you are going for fixed magnification.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          4x is what I’m used to. BAC is a great technique if you practice it, but you absolutely have to practice it. If you don’t, you’ll just be gooding around looking for targets like this genius.

      2. avatar Glorfindel says:

        I agree that the 6x is a little harder to BAC (Bindon Aiming Concept) with, but not due to eyebox – its box is HUGE, as it was designed as a machine-gun optic. With practice using BAC though, any ACOG will serve almost as well as a red for for close quarters. I did some informal timed drills comparing my times with an MRO versus a 5.5 chevron ACOG. The red dot was faster, but only by about five percent. I never tried it in the rain, but the ACOG’s performance was superb in brush under any light conditions sufficient to see the target.

        I suspect this performance was less the fault of the optic and more due to an insufficient understanding of the technique required to get the most out of it.

  9. avatar Timothy Noecker says:

    “Red-dots did much better. And, for those with young eyes, iron sights run just fine also, be they Western-style or Soviet-style.” A.)Red Dot Sights I’m O.K. With B.)I’m 47.5yrs Of Age, I Need a Maginfied Optic C.)Soviet-Style Iron Backup Sights On My AR-15 Rifle? It’ll Be a Pleasant Day In HELL Before That’ll Ever Happen!!!

  10. avatar Ansel Hazen says:

    I put an RX06 on my S&W M&P15. Co witnessed with the front blade through the ghost rings on my CARRY HANDLE (A must have accessory for me to make any AR look proper) Open eye target acquisition is good enough to drop prey on the run. I can reliably hit stuff out to 100 yards.

  11. avatar sound awake says:

    2 of my 4 ars have red dots

    ones a 16″ palmetto state armory mid-length heavy barrel 1/7 twist carbine with lower third cowitness

    the other is a hardened arms 10.5″ 1/7 twist pistol with 45 degree offset back up irons

    they both regularly shoot 1 to 2 moa to 100 yards and right around 3 moa or even less sometimes to 300 with the right ammo using the red dot

    both plenty good enough for greater than 95 percent of any jams i might find myself in

    the other 2 ars have a 1-4x primary arms and a 2-8x vortex

    they have only marginally better accuracy with scopes than the other two that have red dots…like i can get 1 hole groups at 100 yards and 5 inch groups at 300 again with the right ammo

    i spent considerably more money on the scopes versus the red dots to get only marginally better accuracy

    comparing the two scopes the 2-8x works just good enough as a spotting scope to 100 yards for .223 caliber holes

    advantage: 2-8x vortex

  12. avatar ai338 says:

    This just in: red dot sights are better at close range than a magnified scope. Who knew.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      It’s all about compromises and technique. Sub 100 yards, yeah, a red dot will be the bet sight available. Sadly, you can’t always guarantee that the bag guy will be sporting enough to get into that range bracket. It’s why we don’t see the military or SWAT armed exclusively with SMGs and red dots. The reality is that this guy had the brain storm that a good DMR makes a good GPR. That’s a bad bad idea. You don’t run and gun with a DMR any more than you take precision 600m shots with a carbine. Wrong tool for the job. It’s why my SHTF bag in my Jeep now has an MP5K in it. In even the worst case scenario, it’s the right tool, in the right place, at the right time.

  13. avatar Accur81 says:

    A good 1-8x scope on a tactical rifle, with back up iron sights that co-witness, is a great combo. Primary Arms and Burris XTR are good examples.

  14. avatar Southern Cross says:

    I’m old-school and stick with iron sights (albeit target sights).

  15. avatar AZ Shootist says:

    Don’t knock the guy just because he can afford nice gear. His magnified and heavy setup may not have been the best choice, and maybe he had 20 AR’s in his safe, so what, he wanted to run the MR+ACOG. At least he is out there exercising his equipment and taking training. There is no rule that requires mediocre equipment in order appease the other range commandos and KISS preaching instructors. I have run all kinds of “different” gear in training scenarios to learn what works and what doesn’t. I am sure the ACOG guy learned a few things too and that what training is all about.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      I think you missed the point. It’s the fact that it was the WRONG gear.

  16. avatar Joe Shaffer says:

    For me rhe best of both worlds is a nice 1-4 power trijicon scope with illuminated retical. Get a good qd mount and off the scope goes if you need iron sights. At 1 or 2 power it works just like a red dot and you can go to 4 power for longer range if needed. For people with more money to blow there are nice 1-6 power and even 1-8 power.

  17. avatar Jerrick says:

    s͆t͆a͆r͆t͆ c͆r͆e͆a͆t͆i͆n͆g͆ m͆o͆n͆e͆y͆ w͆i͆t͆h͆o͆u͆t͆ d͆e͆l͆a͆y͆. g͆e͆t͆ l͆o͆n͆g͆e͆r͆ t͆o͆g͆e͆t͆h͆e͆r͆ w͆i͆t͆h͆ y͆o͆u͆r͆ f͆a͆m͆i͆l͆y͆ by͆ d͆o͆i͆n͆g͆ j͆o͆bs͆. e͆a͆r͆n͆ u͆p͆t͆o͆ 8k͆ u͆s͆d͆ a͆ m͆o͆n͆t͆h͆. f͆o͆r͆ m͆o͆r͆e͆ d͆e͆t͆a͆i͆l͆s͆ g͆o͆ h͆e͆r͆e͆:………….http://ow.ly/Jxsw30gvGU9

  18. avatar John Haley says:

    You know what I could do without in these comments? Not that you should give a **** what it is, but the treatment of this student by several commentators here as an idiot, a rich kid showing off (by a commentor who also criticized him for showing up with only one rig!), as a pretend operator, or simply a “homeboy.” Do we really know all this? If his rig was that obviously wrong, the article would not have been written. It was written because this was somewhat unexpected. Also because the author has a personal preference for simplicity

    And even if it was obviously wrong, does that make this guy, about which we know nothing but that he ran 5.5x ACOG, a fit object for ridicule? Our gun community is a good group, but there is in it a wide thread of know-it-alls ready to claim special knowledge and status at the expense of others.

    Go ahead and disagree or instruct without the “dis.” In other words, “Shotgun Sam,” not “Jon in CO.”

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      We can make a reasonable inference that this guy hasn’t spent a lot of time in dynamic shooting scenarios with this particular rig. Even something as simple as a practical rifle competition would have shown him the drastic downsides of his gear. (The two major ones would be weight and optic FOV.) It only takes one competition / class like this for you to realize that maybe that .30 cal battle rifle might not be the wisest thing to schlep around if you have a choice in the matter.

  19. avatar Mad Max says:

    I’m old and my eyes are problematic. I can’t seem to hit the 6 in. pie plate at 100 yards with an AR. I do OK with the M1 Garand though.

    When there was a big sale, I bought a 3.5 ACOG (need the eye relief) with the RMR on top.

    I’m building an AR with a 20 in. target barrel and am looking forward to trying the ACOG.

    1. avatar skoon says:

      If you want the longer sight radius but retain the 16 inch barrel you could try a dissipator set up

  20. avatar matt o says:

    so variable is the way to go? I’m pleased with the 1-6x i use, its a bit bulkier than a 1-4x but the extra magnification really helps with target identification at distance.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      My jury is still out on variables. Unfortunately, nobody makes the 1-6 FFP tritium and fiber illuminated optic I actually want.

  21. avatar Carl B. says:

    I use a Nikon Black Force 1-4x with an American Defense QD mount + BUIS on my FN M-4 clone. The illuminated reticle is useful as a “red dot” at 1x and of course 4x, if needed, is great for my old eyes. In a CQB situation I am confident I can drill anything I can see inside 200 yards.

    Best part is the optic/QD/BUIS setup didn’t cost me $2500.

  22. avatar =BCE56= says:

    I had a PA red dot on my AR. Perfectly adequate for quick shots at medium range but it had an aggravating tendency to cut out unexpectedly.
    I replaced it with a compact Simmons 4X SKS scope in medium rings. This combo is nearly as fast as the red dot at close range and improves acquisition at longer ranges.

  23. avatar Mike says:

    We assume he was a “homeboy. rich kid with wrong equipment.”
    Maybe he was military/LEO and this set up as issued. So he was training using issued equipment for a not ideal situation.
    You don’t always have the ideal equipment. You cannot stop in the middle of a fight and go to your truck and switch guns.
    He was paying to be on the class. So he was a customer paying your wages!1

  24. avatar MLee says:

    When it comes to equipment, the cold fact of the matter is the skies the limit. A person could spend a HUGE amount of money on equipment. A person could literally spend upwards of $20,000 on a single optic!!! Not very many of have that sort of disposable income and it can be a real challenge spending money on optics efficiently and wisely.

    A potential buyer must determine what their rifle is intended for and what their budget and actual needs are. It’s a balance of wants and needs and then the financial aspect.

    Right or wrong, the shooter in the story was shooting his weapon and learned something. Even in failures, lessons are learned. No value can be put on experience.

  25. avatar Al Bondigas says:

    Sounds like a lot of these commentators are going to be sorely disappointed if the s*** never hits the fan.

    1. avatar Carl B. says:

      Not as much as unarmed cucks will if it does.

  26. avatar Doc Hendo says:

    There are a lot of reasons I’ve built in fixes to essentially every problem mentioned here that the student had. First… too much magnification for short distances. Fix: RDS, irons, or best (Dr Evil voice) frikkin’ laser beams! I have ALL 3. Irons cowitnessed to my RDS (it’s actually a green dot) with red laser so that I can identify which dot I’m seeing. Where sights are hard to pick up the laser makes it far easier to get on target, especially when combined with the green dot and/or the irons. Add to this a 6x swing-away magnifier when necessary and I can easily reach out to the effective ranges of my 300BO pistol. Sounds like a lot of stuff, but to be honest the Redfield Counterstrike is a nice little combo package without being cheesy, and the sights are the Magpul steel BUISs that lay extremely flat when not deployed. All in all it’s a nice compact package with lots of capability and few limitations, especially compared to the $5k the student had wrapped up in a weapon that bordered on useless under those conditions. Need any MORE proof that less is sometimes more?

    1. avatar Art Norton says:

      I use a 3.25 MOA Trijicon Adjustable RMR Type 2 on top of the same 7.62 scope on a Sig 716, expressly for that purpose. I live in New Hampshire where there is a tree, behind every tree. Long shots are few and far between. So the RMR sighted for 100M is a big help.

  27. avatar Aaron says:

    I cannot imagine a situation in which a civilian non-LEO could justify in court why he was shooting at terrorists 300m – 600m away. Especially in heavy brush. And if you have to shoot at terrorists in heavy brush 600m away, the best gun to use is a M230 30mm mounted on an AH-64 – turns those goat-f***ers into FLIR-smears even with near misses.

    In fact, shooting at “terrorists” in heavy brush at 100m, the training scenario in the story above, is rather a silly scenario for civilian non-LEOs.

    You could sum the article up as, “a student brought a silly piece of gear to a silly training event”.

  28. avatar raptor jesus says:

    Iron all the time.

    I wish I could upload jpegs – I’d put my “Nyet Comrade, Rifle is fine!” image up.

  29. avatar little horn says:

    good read and advice.

  30. avatar Fred says:

    This is why God invented 1X6/8/whatever illumination scopes. Mine works great at 1X, even though it’s FFP. Works as good as a red dot, even in the NM sun.

    I have always said people tend to run over powered scopes. NO FIELD OF VIEW! It may be no big deal for benchrest shooting, but in combat it makes men dead.

    Too, there are 45 degree iron sights for this problem. Just got me a set.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email