I’m a miser. I don’t like to pay any more than is necessary to keep me out of “penny wise, pound foolish” territory. Still, my “main” Stoner-pattern rifle is outfitted with all the better brand name accouterments including an EOTech sight, Magpul toothpick dispenser, Leupold rear view mirror and Silencerco coffee maker. If this is too “cheap” for some readers, I suppose I could still trade one of my kids for an ACOG….
While I am averse to putting tacticool shit on my Kalashnikov rifles, I would not demure if a wealthy, lonely dowager were to be so charmed by me as to spring for a Kobra collimator from Axion (please contact the editors for my contact info).
I had built a “ghost gun” to honor California’s Senate President Pro Tem, Kevin De Leon, as well as to test out the now ATF-disapproved Gen 1 Poly80 lower receiver. With no part costing over $100, I now have a rifle with which I and my aging eyes are capable of making about 4” groups at 100 yards with just a non-magnified red dot. I’m sure I could tighten that group up with a magnified optic, but that’s not really the point of the gun. I certainly have shot better groups with it at 50 yards, which is the point of this rifle.
Now, however, I have a spare Stoner pattern rifle taking up precious cubic inches in my safe, at least until the Zombie apocalypse hits and I need to arm a family member.
With this in mind, I wanted to put a long-life “value” red dot on the rifle. I try to keep my less ballistically-inclined family members familiar with the fundamentals of operating an Ayahrr, but to compensate for deficits in the fundamentals of marksmanship, I wanted a simple “point-and-shoot” optic that would not need a new battery every two hours.
I had a Sightmark 30mm red dot lying around. It cost about $60 but has a 50 hour battery life (two LR44 button cells or similar). I did a little virtual window shopping and found the Primary Arms Classic 30MM Red Dot (mine came with a free lower 1/3 co-witness “QD” type mount, but I’m not sure if that still is an available bundle). It ran me about $82 shipped and was advertised to run for 200+ hours. Since then, the company has updated the battery life to 500 hours, but more on that later.
Both sights are loose Aimpoint Comp2/Comp3 clones/copies. The PA has a 3 MOA dot and the SM has a 5MOA dot. Both are made in the PRC. Both have identical looking objective lenses, lens coatings, flip-up lens caps and run on the same type of battery. The Primary Arms has two night vision settings while the Sightmark does not. The PA scope also has better cap tethers: it comes with braided wire tether installed and a spare rubberized plastic “bikini”-style tether similar to the Sightmark’s.
The adjustment turrets are a bit different. The The Primary Arms has more solid feeling turrets but the face of the dial seems to have the markings painted or silk screen printed. The markings on the Sightmark are engraved and held up far better to adjusting with coins and other tools.
I was interested to see if the emitter in the Primary Arms optic really was that much more efficient. I put in brand new Energizer Silver Oxide LR44 button cells in both the Sightmark and Primary Arms optics and powered both up to 3 – the mid setting – and waited.
My aim was to find the time it took for each sight, running continuously on the mid setting, to reach a point where the dot was not effective for aiming. During the day, I viewed the same various outdoor objects at the same time of the day to assess if the dot was visible or washed out. A few times I took the Primary Arms out to the range to see how visible its dot was against a Southern California wilderness terrain.
The Sightmark served as more of a control than anything. Suffice it to say that it performed as expected and maintained an effective dot for 50, maybe 53 hours. Presumably, a lower setting would extend that time.
The Primary Arms really surprised me. It ran continuously for 46 days (1104 hours) before the dot got so weak that I would not rely on it to take shots at 50 to 100 yards. At the end of the trial, I could have dialed up the setting if needed. The batteries were certainly not completely drained.
My notes from day 46 are:
“Bright, almost cloudless day. A little haze at the horizon. Dot holds up to most lighter urban colors – but washed out almost completely by illuminated light grey and light beige (illuminated sidewalk and pavement) Could still make shot. Washed out by illuminated but not reflecting white cars and haze at horizon. Barely visible against blue sky.”
Marshall Lerner, Primary Arms CEO, let me know that the optic had originally been tested with the manufacturer-provided DL1/3N battery (which looks like two generic LR44 type button cells held together in series in an aluminum casing). Hence, the original “200+” hour battery life rating. Since then, he says, the emitter (the thing that makes the dot) has been updated to a more efficient version.
The Primary Arms Classic 30mm Red Dot not only lived up to, but exceeded my expectations of run time. YMMV – especially depending on the quality of batteries you use. The power output declines very slowly and the dot does not flicker with recoil.