Perhaps the biggest improvement to the basic M-16/AR-15 design was the move away from the integral hand guard in favor of a more optic-friendly “flattop” design featuring M1913 Picatinny rails adorning the upper receiver. This change set in motion a great deal of technological innovation in scope design for assault rifles. Civilian AR-15 / SCAR shooters seeking the flexibility of using both a red dot/ holographic optic for close in work while switching to magnification for longer range shots (200-600 yards) now have a number of options. Bushnell makes an excellent optic that strikes a good balance between optical clarity, weight, ruggedness, and price: the SMRS 1 – 6.5 x 24. Chris Dumm and I spent over two years testing the second focal plane (“SFP”) version of this scope on at least ten different rifles and can now give a full report on the experience . . .
Since many (a majority of?) AR-15 and SCAR users are now running optics, scope makers are dedicating a big chunk of their R&D budget into designing more capable optics to support these platforms. This evolution in AR scope designs can be seen in the military procurement of AR optics. The military first started equipping special operations forces with fixed 4x Trijicons (1989), and later outfitted line units with 1x Aimpoint M68 red-dots (1996) and 1x Eo-tech SU-231/PEQ holographic sights (2001). Stand-alone 3x magnifiers were also introduced.
Over time, the realization has set in that what is really needed is a variable power optic that can be set from a true 1x all the way up to 4x, 6x, 8x, or even 10x. Various tippy-spear JSOC units have been fielding these types of scopes for years, although it seems unlikely that Big Army will follow suit. Folks shooting 3-gun have also seen the advantages of these types of scopes. So whether you are a real-deal operator, competition shooter, or just a regular guy “down ranger” who wants a cool optic for your AR, HK, or SCAR, etc., these 1-4s and 1-6s are the hot ticket. Well, unless you got a lot of dough, in which case the 1-8’s are even cooler.
Via the SMRS, Bushnell is really taking the concept of the dual-purpose optic to the next level by offering a high quality scope that runs from 1x (no magnification) all the way to 6.5x, all while keeping the entire package at a $1,299 – $1,399 price point (MSRP). Particular note should be made of the 1x end of the magnification; it is relatively simple for optics makers to produce an inexpensive scope that gets down to 1.5x or even 1.25x, but squeezing that last bit of optical range out of the scope is much more difficult and expensive to produce. That is why the 1x – 6x scopes run from $1000 – $2700: you gotta pay if you wanna run with the big dogs.
First thing: SMRS stands for Short to Mid-Range Rifle Scope. It comes in four models: you have your option of first or second focal plane versions and you have your choice between the BTR-1 or BTR-2 reticle. These reticles are discussed below. In this review we test the second focal plane model with the BTR-1 reticle.
Regardless of the model you choose, the weight and dimensions stay the same: 18.5 ounces, and 10.6 inches long. The outdoor diameter of the tube is 30mm, and the front lens diameter is 24 mm. Both versions are argon-purged to prevent fogging.
Priced between $1300 – $1400 ($1,100 – $1,200 street), the Bushnell SMRS is not cheap. Good glass never is. Nonetheless, the Bushnell compares favorably price-wise when stacked against some of the other players in the same / similar optical range, such as the U.S. Optics 1.5- 6 x 28 ($1200-$1400), the Trijicon VCOG 1–6 x 24 ($2,380), Leopold Mark 6 series 1-6 x 34 ($2,199), Kalhes 1-6 x 24 ($2,350), and the uber-expensive Swarovski 1 – 6 x 24 ($2,590), The second focal plane Vortex Razor HD is the same price as the first focal plane version of the SMRS, and the SWFA 1-6 x 24 is cheaper at $1,000. With the higher priced scopes mentioned above, you are generally getting a few ounces of weight reduction when compared to the Bushnell, and perhaps some improvement in optical clarity, however slight. But IMHO, you can quickly reach a point of diminishing return as you head up into the top tier of the price range, so you have to decide if the extra cost is worth the extra performance.
The BTR-1 reticle is shown in the first of the two images below, and BTR-2 reticle is featured on the second image:
The T&E sample combines the BTR-1 reticle and second focal plane. The manual describes how to use this combination, as follows:
“Once zeroed at 100 yards or meters, the center dot of the BTR-1 reticle is used for shots out to 200 meters, based on the 5.56/.223 Rem caliber. Below the center dot, you will find a series of four upside down “T’s” that represent 300, 400, 500, and 600 meter ranges. The “T’s” are used as a bracketing system to best fit a 12”x18” target. When acquiring your target, find the best fit bracket and send your shot. With the reticle in the second focal plane, the scope must be set at 6.5x magnification to insure the accuracy of the holdover points.”
For me, the fact that the holdovers only work when the scope is set to 6.5 is no big deal, because at 300 meters or greater I’d prefer to have every bit of that magnification in any event! At my range, I have Grizzly AR-500 targets set up at 100 yard increments between 300 yards and 800 yards, I found that the holdovers worked well with 55 grain M-193 ammunition out to 500 yards.
The BTR-2 features a vertical bar that is graduated in .5 mil increments; the larger of the horizontal lines represent 1 mil. As shown in the image below, a total of 10 mils of holdover are provided. The center red dot measures .3 mils. The horizontal bar features a series of hash-marks that equate to 10 inches at 100 m, 200 m, 300 m, and 400m, respectively.
Which model you choose is largely a matter of personal preference, but I would suggest that the core decision probably will come down to whether you expect the majority of your shooting to be done at short range or long range. If you are primarily runnin’ and gunnin’ at point blank range or slightly beyond (say, 10 – 300 yards), I think the best option is the second focal version coupled with the simple uncluttered BTR-1 reticle (see two photos above), which features bullet drop compensation. However, if you will be primarily shooting at 200-600 yards (or longer), the first focal plane version paired up with the BTR-2 reticle (above) will give you the Mil / Mil capability you will need to accurately range your shot and correct using your turrets. Unlike a second focal plane scope, the range-finding reticile will work at all magnification setting with the first focal plane reticle. That is due to the fact that the reticle gets bigger or smaller as you zoom in and out. Again, these are our opinions and YMMY.
Chris Dumm spent some quality time in the fall of 2012 with the first focal plane (“FFP”) version of the SMRS 1-6.5×24, and he noted some issues that led him to prefer the second focal plane (“SFP”) version. As Chris wrote in his preview, the 1x to 6.5x zoom range 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. Chris reported that the reticle becomes a large etched black-dot sight, and he said that he had to hunt around the viewfinder to find it unless the light was just perfect. Again, if you are primarily shooting at longer ranges, maybe that is an acceptable compromise.
According to Nick Leghorn, the Bushnell’s reticle is… “meh,” but his comment was made in the context of a comparison to Leopold’s CMR-W reticle featured on the $2,200 Mark 6. I’ll agree with Nick that Leopold’s reticle is the bomb, but that comes at a steep price increase, and I really can’t complain about the Bushnell reticle at half the cost.
The reticle is partially illuminated: the center dot and the horseshoe ring turn a bright red color when the illumination dial is set to the various “on” positions. Brightness is adjustable from 1 to 9, including two night vision settings (not tested).
The scope is powered by a single CR 3032 battery. To access the battery compartment, you use a quarter (or similar) to unscrew the illumination adjustment turret cap. The cap feels heavy and solid, which inspires confidence in its construction.
There are a series of intermediate dots or “stops” between each of the numbered settings throughout the illumination dial, all of which turn off the illumination. To turn on the illumination, simply turn the dial one click in either direction and you’re good to go.
Unlike my older IOR Valdada Super M2, the illumination is bright enough to be seen in broad daylight. On bright sunny days it was not that useful though: it is visible as red but isn’t super brightly lit. This was difficult to capture on film, however, and my photos may not do it justice.
Unfortunately, there is no auto-shut–off feature for the illumination, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve allowed the battery to die by not shutting it off. If I had one complaint on this scope, that lack of an auto-shut-off feature is it.
This scope features 1/10 milliradian (MIL) windage and elevation turrets. A 0.1 Mil increment equates to .34 MOA. When used in combination with mil dot reticles, Mil turrets enables the shooter to make quick and precise corrections. Using the BTR-2 Mil-dot reticle, the shooter can easily measure how far off the shot is in MILs, because each dot is 1 MIL apart. The shooter does not need to convert milliradians to minutes of angle in order to correct the point of aim. For example, if the shot is, 2.0 mils low, a shooter using a MIL/MIL rifle scope simply turns the turret 2.0 mils up, which is 20 clicks. In contrast, use of a traditional 1/4 MOA turret demands that the shooter convert the MILs to MOA, and then adjust the turrets, which can be confusing.
The SMRS’s turrets are capped, which is a good feature if you are generally going to rely on the BDC reticle instead of using turrets to dial in your corrections. As Nick Leghorn has noted in past articles, caps help ensure that your turrets don’t get bumped off zero by accident. In my estimation, however, capped turrets are less desirable if the majority of your shooting is long range, which typically involves more frequent turret adjustments. At the end of the day, whether you like them or not is largely a matter of personal preference.
The SMRS’s turrets are marked visual indicators which are numbered from “1” to “5” so you know how many rotations you have made. Each complete turn on the windage or elevation turrets represents a 10 mil adjustment. In my opinion, this is a very helpful feature, especially if a fair amount of time elapses between range sessions. Even after six months in the safe, the shooter can visually determine exactly where the dope is set on the scope.
Chris and I only have one criticism of the turrets. The caps lift up fairly easily, and once they are in their “up” position, they rotate freely with very little resistance. Our concern is that the shooter could easily lose his or her zero by accidentally pulling up on the turrets in a moment of stress, etc. We realize that the turret caps are largely intended to cure that problem, and will in fact do exactly that when they are on. But shooters using the Mil/Mil system will undoubtedly be dialing in their dope using the turrets, which requires the caps to be off. Chris and both greatly prefer the T-Lok turrets featured on the excellent XRS 4.5-30×50. While we suspect that those turrets are a more expensive design, we firmly believe it would be worth Bushnell’s effort to give the SMRS 1-6.5’s turrets just a bit more resistance. In our estimation, that improvement, if made in future versions, would move this scope from 4 stars to 5. We recognize, however, that this would add to the price point, which, in turn, would cause the 1-6.5 to start competing against the 1-8, which could be problematic from a business standpoint.
Optical Clarity, Resolution, & Distortion
When you look through the SMRS 1-6.5×24 at 6.5 power, your first reaction is “wow.” The image is bright, clear and offers good contrast with only the slightest warming effect.
Nonetheless, to make some sort of relative comparisons on the issue of optical clarity, I attempted to compare the Bushnell to other scopes. It would be nice if I could have 5 or 6 other 1x-6x variables on hand for comparison, but that is simply not in the cards. So I tested the SMRS up against what I had on hand, an older IOR Valdada Super M2 fixed 6x, a Zeiss Conquest 3-12×56 set at 6 power, and a Leupold LPS 3.5 x 10, again set to 6 power. Obviously, all three of the comparison scopes represent some pretty stiff competition. While I did not expect a short, compact, high magnification range scope like the SMRS to give the same league of optical clarity as either of those three scopes, the Bushnell really held its own. After spending a ½ hour or so comparing them in different light environments, including twilight, I found that Bushnell was slightly less crisp than the other three scopes at 6x. But frankly it was a hair-spitting exercise; it certainly was not obvious at first glance. In fact, my first reaction was that the view through all four scopes were pretty much the same.
I also compared the SMRS against two less expensive Leopold scopes, the Mark AR MOD 1 1.5-4x20mm and the VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm (30mm). I set them at 2x and 4x and tried to make comparisons related to sharpness (both edge-to-edge and center), distortion, the generosity of the eyebox. In terms of optical clarity, distortion, etc, these scopes seemed to be pretty much on par with one another, with no clear advantage to any one scope. The Bushnell benefited from increased range at both ends of the spectrum, making it a much more versatile choice. For example, it was possible to use BUIS with the Bushnell still attached to the rifle, whereas scopes lacking a true 1x had to be removed before using any BUIS. One the other hand, the Bushnell requires you to pay a significant weight penalty for that extra performance, and has a less forgiving eye-box. On top of a light weight rifle such as the Beretta ARX-100, for example, the Bushnell seemed a bit top heavy. So you have to decide what is more important, because there are tradeoffs with every choice.
At twilight, the Bushnell’s light gathering ability was somewhat less that the big Zeiss or the straight tube fixed power IOR, and equaled that of the Leopold LPS. But honestly, it was a pretty close call, which is remarkable given that it was not really a fair fight. You would expect excellent light gathering capability from the Zeiss due to its massive 56mm bell. Furthermore, you would expect the IOR to perform well due to both its use of Schott™ glass and the fact that it is an optically simple design (i.e. less glass) with fixed magnification. Given that the Bushnell offers a full 6.5x range and true 1x capability, I am pretty impressed with its optical performance. Moreover, the Bushnell SMRS maintains its sharpness all the way to the edge of the image, which is a very important attribute of high quality glass.
Zoom Ring / Point of Aim While Zooming
I really detest a stiff zoom ring on a scope. It took me a while to realize that zoom rings are sometimes stiff because the scope rings have been attached too closely to them. Leupold, for example, states that the scope rings should be mounted no closer than ¼ inch from the scope’s zoom ring, and I have learned the hard way that you disregard that recommendation at your own peril. So I was careful not to mount the SMRS in a manner that causes interference. In any event, the zoom ring is very smooth and offers just enough resistance to prevent you from overshooting the desired setting. The dial is large and comfortable to use, even with gloves. Overall, the zoom ring is very well-executed.
One of the hallmarks of a well-made variable power scope is the ability to hold zero throughout the power settings. I tested the Bushnell SMRS by shooting at the same target at 100 yards with the scope set at 1 power, 3 power and 6.5 power. While the groups opened up a bit at the lower settings (as should be expected) there was no noticeable POI shift.
Eye Relief & Eye Box
The SMRS’ eye relief is listed by the manufacturer as 3.75 inches, and my testing confirmed that this number is pretty close to the mark. This seems to be a fairly standard feature for all scopes in this category.
The “eye box” is somewhat unforgiving at its highest magnification setting. Thus, it is critical that the shooter have a good cheek weld on the stock when shooting a rifle equipped with the SMRS.
One feature that I particularly liked about the Bushnell SMRS is that you do not get a “tunnel” effect like you do in many scopes. I tried to capture this on film, with limited success. Although the background is out of focus, the above image is as close as I got to capturing what you see – note how small the “tunnel” effect is in the shot.
Another hallmark of a well-made scope is that the turrets are precise enough to give repeatable results. The gears must be made of steel so that they do not wear out. One way to test out how good the gears on your scope is to conduct a box test. A box test is a drill in which the shooter begins by shooting at the dead center of a square (typically 8” x 8”) and then marking the holes for later comparison. The shooter then uses the turrets to move the point of impact of the bullet to the four corners of a square “box,” while continuing to aim at the precise center of the square. The test concludes by the shooter again adjusting the turrets back to the original setting and shooting another group into the center of the square. If all goes well, the second group should overlap with the first group. There are many targets on the market which are designed to facilitate the use of this “test.”
To conduct the box test, I fired six 3-round strings at 100 yards using the Bushnell SMRS set at 6.5 power. I started by firing at the center target, and then adjusted both turrets 11 clicks each so as to change the POI ~4 inches up and to the left. Continuing to aim at the center target, I fired 3 shots at the upper left target, and then reset the turrets to hit each of the other three outer targets. I then reset the turrets back to the original zero and placed 3 last shots into the center target. I was pleasantly surprised to see no POI shift with the SMRS: the clicks are positive, crisp, and repeatable.
Between Chris Dumm and I, we have mounted this particular T&E sample on at least ten different rifles and have made at least 40 trips to the range with this bad boy. Based on its weight and general appearance, the SMRS appears to be a rugged, well-constructed unit.
Although I conducted no true impact or “torture” testing, I did leave the scope out on my deck overnight in an ice-storm, and then placed it in my toaster oven on the warm setting (approximately 120°F) for ½ hour. I then cooled the scope by dunking it in the kitchen sink (filled with cold water) for an hour. The Bushnell survived these tests with no fogging or water leaks. I’ve also placed it under a small waterfall so that the water hit the front lens for around 15 minutes. The photo above shows the SMRS in my fish tank. My conclusion is that this is a rugged scope that handle field use with no problems.
Rainguard™ Optical Coating
Bushnell has for a long time touted their proprietary anti-fog lens coating known as Rainguard.™ According to Bushnell, “[t]he patented RainGuard HD technology is a permanent water resistant and anti-fog coating that causes moisture to bead up and scatter less light, giving users a clear sight picture in unclear conditions.” The manual states as follows:
RAINGUARD® HD is a special water repellant coating on which condensation forms in much smaller droplets than on standard coatings. These droplets form when the scope is exposed to rain, fog or snow. These smaller droplets scatter much less light than the larger droplets on other coatings. This results in a much clearer and more useable sight picture. Additionally, water sheets off RAINGUARD® HD much more readily than a standard coating. For the first time, the hunter will not miss the shot of a lifetime because moisture was on the lens.
I’ve always been wary of hyped up marketing claims when it comes to optic coatings, because it seems that lots of claims are more snake oil that true fact. Nonetheless, by happenstance the weather here in Western Oregon provides the perfect proving grounds for any claim that relates to rain, because rain is in abundant supply in these parts. Here the T&E sample is getting a shower with the Del-ton Evolution:
Despite my skepticism, my testing results in the conclusion that the Rainguard™ coating does work effectively. As advertised, the coating really does help keep the scope visible despite being exposed to condensation from the shooter’s breath or the elements. Is it like an invisible set of windshield wipers? Well, no. Perhaps not that good. But, the raindrops tend to bead up and then roll off the scope’s glass.
SupersetCA is not only fast as s**t with his AR, he speaks the truth on the Bushnell SMRS. I watched his video and I must say that I concur with everything that he says. If you are in the market for the Bushnell 1 x 6.5 x 24, Superset’s video is well worth the 20 minutes it takes to watch it.
Bushnell is one of those companies that sometimes suffers from brand confusion. They make everything from low-end “K-mart special” Banner scopes all the way up to the top-of-the-line, professional grade Elite Tactical line. Unfortunately, I think that such diversity in a product line will tend to confuse consumers. In this case, I think folks have a tendency to associate the “Bushnell” name with the lower end products.
Case in point: After shooting the Accuracy International AX-308 equipped with a bad-ass Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50 scope, I realized that the 3.5-10×40 Leopold Mark 4 PR scope on one of my long range rifles needed to be upgraded. I was at Cabela’s looking at their Nightforce and Zeiss scopes and I mentioned to the salesman that the scope on my rifle really got showed up yesterday by a Bushnell scope and that I needed to upgrade. He said something to the effect that “your scope must really be crappy if it got showed up by a Bushnell.” I responded by saying “It is a Leopold Mark 4 PR, which is admittedly at the low end of the Mark 4 line. But in fairness, the Bushnell XRS will show up 95% of the scopes you have in your display case.” He looked at me like I was smoking crack, apparently unaware that Bushnell made anything that high end.
The truth of the matter is that from a quality perspective, the general consensus is that Bushnell’s highest-end scopes are not quite as good as the best euro scopes out there, but they are pretty close. And the SMRS is no exception. Again, there is a certain amount of diminishing return when you pay that extra $1000 – $1500 to get a Schmidt & Bender or a Leica. They may be the “best,” but for most people that last incremental amount of “goodness” is pretty small. Of course, competitive shooters may benefit from that last increment of awesomeness that you get from high-end scopes such as, S&B, Hensoldt and IOR, but most shooters really aren’t.
For me, the Bushnell SMRS has been a great scope at a reasonable price: Bushnell gives you good bang for your buck, even if it the name does not have the same cache as some of the more exotic brands. I can recommend it without any reservations.
Update: I used my SMRS in an AR build, and it continues to serve me very well.
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Adjustment Click Value: 1/10 Mil
Adjustment Type: Click
Finger Adjustable Turrets: Yes
Turrets Resettable to Zero: Yes
Zero Stop: No
Turret Height: Medium
Fast Focus Eyepiece: Yes
Lens Coating: Fully Multi-Coated w/ RainGuard HD
Warranty: “Bullet Proof” Guarantee and 2-year Factory Warranty
Rings Included: No
Sunshade Included: No
Lens Covers Included: No
Power Variability: Variable
Min power: 1x
Max power: 6.5x
Reticle Construction: Glass Etched
Illuminated Reticle: Yes
Battery Type: CR-2032 3V
Holdover reticle: Yes
Reticle Focal Plane Location: 2nd
Parallax Adjustment: Fixed
Objective Bell Diameter: 30mm
Eye Relief: 3.74″
Max Internal Adjustment: Windage: 80 MOA, Elevation: 80 MOA
Exit Pupil Diameter: 11.3-3.5mm
Weight: 18.5 oz.
Length: 10.6 inches
Field of View at 100 Yards: 107.1′ @ 1x, 16.8′ @ 6.5x
Ratings (out of five stars):
Optical Clarity / Resolution / Distortion: * * * *
It’s hard to truly test optical clarity of a rifle scope at a consumer level, because you really can only create objective rankings if you have all the competition sitting right there for side-by-side comparisons. So in the absence of that capability, let me state that I do believe that the Bushnell provides very impressive clarify and resolution for its price point, earning it at least four stars.
Ruggedness: * * * *
After using this scope for over two years, I have complete confidence that it’s built to last.
Ease of Controls: * * *
When lifted, the turrets are a bit more delicate that I would ideally prefer, but the caps seem to balance that out to a large degree.
Accessories: * * * *
LaRue Tactical makes a great scope mount for this scope.
Reticles: * * * * *
The BTR-1 reticle works great when fast target acquisition is needed, and with the some practice, the hold-overs should be adequate for shots out to 300-400 yards or so, or maybe even more, depending on your loads and skill level.
Overall: * * * *
Bravo to Bushnell – it’s a winner. All in all, it gets four stars from Chris and me. One final point: Bushnell offers one of the best warranties in the industry.