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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
Length: 319.1mm
Adjustments: 1/10 Mil
Eye Relief: 109-83mm″
Tube: 30mm
MSRP: $230

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.

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  1. Thank you Nick, “Pop Tart” is spelled with a hyphen but otherwise a good review, will keep this one in mind, think this will be ok for an M1A? I was thinking of getting a primary arms red dot for my AR, but am gonna get the aimpoint PRO

  2. I am a huge fan of inexpensive glass, and have had luck with scopes usually shunned by most serious shooters. The best example is a Barska 6.5-20×40 FFP mil-dot. At 20x it gets a little mirage, but up till that point it is tolerable. The adjustments are in 1/8 MOA, so calculating longer shots tends to be more of a mathmatical nightmare the further out I shoot. At $125 I couldn’t go wrong.

    Optics look pretty clear from what I can see in the pics. It would me nice to get a down range pic in there. This scope is definately going on my “to get” list.

  3. This is the problem with reviewing things that you buy for yourself. You always want them to be better than they are since you took money out of your own pocket… thus a 4 star rating for a Chinese POS with questionable optics that happened to withstand an afternoon on a benchrest while mounted to one of the lowest recoiling centerfire guns out there. Remind me how many stars you gave the Swarovski Z6 3-18×50? 3? The Leupold Mark 4 MR/T M2 1.5-5? 3? And you gave your new PA scope and the Konus 4×32 gets 4 stars? What’s with your love affair with cheap Chinese optics? Looking forward to a nice NCStar review… I’m sure that will peg the scale.

    • It may suprise you, but Chinese glass is getting better every year.

      One of two things will likely come of this. Either the big names in scopes will find a way to reduce costs, or the imports will eventually come close enough to the big name quality to draw away buyers.

      Oh, third option, the Chinese manufacturing bubble breaks and prices/quality will normalize to the point where the sellers might consider moving the manufacturing to the US to avoid the month+ customs and shipping delay to their biggest market.

      • I sure hope so, but we are a long way off in terms of durability and optical clarity. I own a couple half decent chinese scopes (low end vortex and bushnell) which are great for the 10/22 and 9mm carbine, but not to be trusted for hard use or anything over 50-100 yards.

        • I also own a couple of these “Chinese optics” that can shoot past 100yards all day on M4’s without losing zero – used on 3Gun matches. I’d say that’s pretty hard use.

        • In the 70’s nobody would buy Japanese cars because they were terrible. You can pretend that Chinese products are crap because that is way they were in the past but you are only fooling yourself. They are not all the garbage you make them out to be. 90% of the computers made today come out of China, read that again…. 90%. They produce 74% of the solar panels and are the technology leaders in the field. They are quickly catching US producers in heavy equipment and other areas. They don’t make the best yet but they are gaining by leaps and bounds. If I can get 80-85% of the quality of a Zeiss or Leopold for a quarter the price I would have to be an idiot not to at lease consider it.

      • That makes even less sense than your ratings. Your “price range” assertion would mean that your 4 star Konus rating was an indicator that there are better scopes (with 5 stars) to be had for $65? I would question that. Heck, you can’t even get nice irons for that these days. I guess that also means that there is a $3,000 scope that you would give one star to (i.e., the bottom of that “price range”)?

        Perhaps you meant to say that price is a factor in your ratings? That would at least provide a plausible explanation. But that fact that I have to provide you with the explanation indicates that you are making this up as you go along… which is fine… I’ll still read this blog every day (as I do now) and give your reviews about as much credibility as I did before (good for anecdotal experience based on limited use, not a true test or review in any way).

        • So HT$, its pretty clear you have a bias against Chinese optics, as evidenced your very broad and unsupported statements about them. Why you feel the need, though, to be an ass when criticizing someone who takes the time to share his experiences escapes me. Whining about a review based solely on how many stars the reviewer gave is like reading the last page of a book and declaring the rest of it to be shit. Furthermore, Nick said “price range”, not price point; as in his review of said Konus should be compared to all scopes costing within $20-40, not just $65 on the button. And when someone awards four instead of five stars, it in no way indicates that there exists such a scope that would warrant 5-stars, just that the one in question has room for improvement. The same logic is true for your comment about a $3000 scope earning 1-star. Fortunately, the market typically won’t sustain a good at that price of low quality, but it could exist. The last thing that really kills me is your slight on these Chinese scopes’ durability. It’s not that you aren’t right (or wrong), but that it shows you clearly didn’t read his review. He states quite honestly that the rating is qualified based on the scope’s current performance and very much subject to change should durability be an issue.

          How about next time you try critiquing instead of criticizing, or are you just too bitter to let someone be satisfied with an optic that cost a tenth of what you paid for yours?

        • SCM, sorry you feel that I should cut NL some slack because he “takes the time to share his experiences.” I feel that the opposite is the case. It is irresponsible for someone who holds himself out to possess firearms expertise to tout a scope when there are people who may buy the scope based on the review and end up with a $250 piece of garbage. As far as NL stating that he will keep an eye on the durability, that’s a cop out. You do not have to be an expert to know this is nothing but a re-branded Falcon 4-14×44 FFP… which also got good initial reviews 3 years ago when it came out, then failed horribly with canted reticles, rattles, knob failures, moisture leaks, etc.

          In any case, good luck to NL and anyone else who buys this – you have been warned.

    • Chinese products are typically horrible because the U.S. person that designed the specs wanted them to be horrible. Spend as little money on QC, holding tolerances, materials, etc. and combine that with cheap labor and you get the cheapest products. And that’s most the chinese stuff we have, because the demand for the chinese stuff is the demand for cheapness in the absolute.

      But in a shop with proper equipment, proper QC and tolerances, a well designed product, etc, you will get just as high quality of a product in china, just paying the people punching the buttons and turning the dials $3/hr instead of $35/hr. You can have a moral/patriotic problem with that, that’s fine…but pretending that the chinese people with a high school level education turning dials on a mill are always going to inherently create lesser quality than the american with a high school level education turning dials on the mill is fantasy (and a dangerous one, consider their workers the “enemy” to our jobs if you want…but never underestimate the enemy or you’ve lost the battle). Given the same designs, same tolerance requirements, same QC requirements, same materials, etc…the product will often be the same.

    • Have you ever thought everyone can’t afford thousands of dollars for optics ya moron….

    • I would suggest you to be careful with the FAL. Those are super violent due to their heavy bolt and spring. I broke a mk4 on mine. The front lense just popped out when shooting.

  4. If those big adjustment knobs do not lock in place they will ‘self-adjust’ at will when rubbed against brush, fabric, lining of a gun case, the ground, walls, window sills.
    True the knobs are not as extreme as many of the ATAS scopes marketed these days, kudos for that.
    Still I have returned FIVE chinese scopes that retailed for more $ because they arrived with broken erector springs

  5. For roughly double that price, I installed a Burris MTEC MilDot 4.5×14 on my Remington SPS Tactical. Sighting in on an indoor range, I shot 27 rounds “around the horn”. The last three went into one hole, 2″ high (as desired for now) at 100m. This was with factory ammo (Hornady Gold Medal Match 168 grain Sierra HPBT).

    Can’t wait to finish breaking in the bore and handloading for it.

  6. I picked up a PA 4-14 FFP a couple weeks back. Sure, it’s not on par clarity-wise with my Viper PSTs, my Mark 4, and my SWFA SS HDs, but I have had/used much much worse. I currently have it mounted to my FN PBR with muzzle break. After approximately 250 rounds, it’s holding zero and the tracking is true. The turret clicks are not as positive as I’m used to, but they work perfectly fine. The clarity for the price is exceptional…definitely on par with my VX-3. My only complaint is that it doesn’t fit in a PEPR mount.

    I cannot fathom dropping 1200-2000 bones on a scope for every firearm. The PA scope works…very well for it’s intended purpose. This is the 8th PA optic I have (4x micro dots, 1 multi-reticle, 2x 1-4’s, and a 4-16). It’s an entry level FFP scope that exceeded my expectations. For the casual shooter that’s looking for the options of a higher priced scope, this is a great choice. I bought this originally to mount on my 10/22 as a trainer for my higher end optics. After having it exceed my expectations, I’ve mounted it to one of my .308s.

    Against other similarly priced optics, I would give it a 5 star rating. It’s like comparing my Mark 4 to my SWFA SS HDs. Both are very similarly priced; I’d put my SWFA scopes at a 5 star with my Leupy at a 4 star.

    Again, the price is one of the best points and the CS from PA is top notch. Sure…it’s not the best scope you could buy. If I could afford it, I’d ditch everything for a couple US Optics scopes.

  7. great review. i see ttag as a place for noobs like me to get relatively easy to understand info w/ BENEFIT of some senior experienced advice w/ out the semi obsessive nitnoid detail that while true when you get far out there doesnt help the noob and tends to confuse and get in the way. so HTS can you be more specific fhan borderline ad hominem attacks? i’m at the entry end of my journey. why spend more money times 2or3 on my scope than my gun?

  8. ps i have a win70 in 270 w/ an old weaver 3×9 that shoots better than me out to 250 which is abt my max for deer hunting in socal. what do i get for 1200 that i can buy for 250 to upgrade this scope and how is it going to change my outcome? seems to me id get better return by investing in more ammo/range time and gas to go scouting?

  9. ps i dont want to seem dismissive of your concerns hts and have taken the long term caution into the database…err…dusty attic that is under my thinking cap.

    NICK: what do you think of the tip posted by another senior experienced type about putting waterproof advertised scopes in a bucket to check for bubbles. would PA pass this test?

  10. , I’m no expert on hiutnng with handguns, but I do have a few pointers.A 2X scope is more than enough. The more magnification there is, the harder it is to convince yourself you’re on target. Remember, hiutnng shooting is not target shooting.Likely you will need a rest to shoot from, and likely you won’t have a good one. A pair of shooting sticks, a pair of shooting gloves, and possibly a bit of padding are in order. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.I used to hunt deer with a Remington Model 6 in .243. Mine was lightened and shortened for use in hilly country and had an 18.5″ barrel. So, I have considerable experience shooting deer with a slower-than-normal .243 round. At one end of the spectrum, the biggest deer I ever killed was a 10-pointer that field-dressed at 172 pounds. A heart shot with that .243 dropped it within 20 yards, but I don’t remember what bullet I used. At the other end of the spectrum, a 100 grain Nosler Partition did NOT expand at all, drilling a pencil-thin hole broadside through both lungs on a nice doe at only 35 yards, after which a follow-up running shot at 75 yards clipped its spine and dropped it. Thus, the primary tip I can give from this is to choose your ammunition carefully. Make sure the bullet will perform properly at the lower velocity you will be shooting it at.Now for a funny anecdote.The first time I ever took that 686 Smith out for deer, I sat on a ridge top that was clear of undergrowth and had a trail that came up one side and down the other. Sure enough, a marvelous buck came up that trail and crossed slowly in front of me at about 25 yards. He had a 14-point rack: his brow tines were split and V-shaped. Quite literally, this was the biggest set of whitetail antlers I ever saw on the hoof, but otherwise he was a small deer. I fired, with a very clear sight picture of the crosshairs on his boiler room. He lit up his afterburners and was out of sight in about three seconds. I walked to where he was when I fired and found no sign whatever that I had hit him. No blood, no hair, nothing. I walked slowly back to my stool and came across a tiny hickory sapling about three feet tall, halfway between my stool and where the deer was when I fired. I was shooting half-jacketed semi-wadcutter bullets; my round had clipped two tiny limbs off that sapling and been deflected, leaving nice half-moon cutouts on their cut ends. A really nice doe came running up the same trail about a half hour later, and she didn’t stand a chance.So, this ain’t easy. But do your homework, get it right, and it’s a lot of fun.

    • “Remember, hiutnng shooting is not target shooting”

      That’s nice. Did we read the same article? This one isn’t about hunting, it’s about a scope. A scope that could be used for target shooting.

      2X sucks for target shooting.

  11. Any reliability reports? I’m thinking of putting one of these on a Savage 110 30-06 but I ‘d rather spend more if this one looks like it may not last.
    Great review by the way!

  12. I run the ACSS tactical reticle version of this scope on my AR10; it has held up well after 500 rds/2 years. The ACSS’s etched holds for wind, range, and three speeds of target movement, along all BDC ranges, plus the etched ranging horizontal mil hashes, beats ALL tactical scope reticles in scopes under $1400, bar none! The features on the scope are good, Controls work well enough. The optical qualities of this scope are moderately good enough for what I need in a SAPR CSASS configuration shooting out to 980 yards at Pala. I’d love to have the same scope at a $500 in-glass pricepoint, such as what Burris and Leopold offer in that price range, but I can still get by with this, so It’s a BIG WINNER for those of us who aren’t rich enough for Voxtex PST and beyond.

  13. Nick,

    Thanks for your stuff. As a fellow San Antonioian, I wouldn’t mind hitting you up to get some hookups on training and events.

    What do you think of Vortex vs Primary Arms as they both come out of China?

  14. 111 in 300 WM. 3 yrs 1000 rounds range & hunting time, from 90 to -20 wet and dry, getting banged around the car, trees etc, still sold, holds zero, everything works as it did, minus a few extra scratches at this point. Durable……yes. Will i buy another for next rig not a seconds hesitation

  15. Been looking hard at this optic in the ACSS configuration. Looks like a great DMR optic. It’s just too big and heavy for a 5.55 recce.

    I SO wish they’d do it in, say, a 2.5x10x32, 19 oz, SFP, HD, Platinum version with their superb ACSS HUD DMR reticle. Add a real, Swarovski-style firedot and who’d need an NF 2.5×10 NXS? With a sharp, fiber optic fire dot, you could run it occluded, both eyes open, with the front cap closed and do CQB all day! Then pop the front cap and hit as far as you and your stick can go! It would be THE recce scope to rule them all. If it had all that and was NF tough I’d gladly pay $2K for such an optic.

    Hear me PA…the one to rule them all. You could out-NF NF.

  16. It may be based on expectations or experience or just luck. I work for a living (most of us do) and while spending a career in the military, did not have much knowledge of firearms, optics, etc. So I went to the professionals for information and knowledge. Found it was basically similar to my high-end Hi-Fi days. Anyway, I purchased an affordable (and still current) 1-4 optic based on stellar reviews and recommendations. Well my sample was not good or useful at all. Neither the glass or reticle were clear (or focused), and the eye box was terribly limited, which I thought defeated the purpose of a tactical scope. At any rate, the scope was unusable. Maybe my sample was a fluke, or maybe those reviewing it did not actually use it or knew even less than me. Anyhow, the Steiner P4xi I now have is tremendous (IMO) and easily exceeds what I expected for the price. Too bad the rest of their tactically oriented models far exceed what I can afford. Need something for an SPR.

  17. I have several vortex and I bought a couple primary arms scopes and the primary arm scopes have proven to be wonderful I don’t know what this one’s person’s problem is if it’s just because they are Chinese but the mid range and higher in primary arms scopes are just as good as any vortex mid or high in scope that I’ve used. I’ve been using a primary arms scope very heavily on my 308 in my creed more and it’s hell perfect and true over thousands of rounds.

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