It’s pretty impressive how far budget optics have come. For the first in a series of budget optic reviews, I put the Primary Arms 4-14X40 ACSS DMR/HUD riflescope through its paces. The Chinese-made manufacturer has a cult following of loyal customers and as this scope proved, there are a lot of good reasons for that.
Let’s get the not-so-great part out of the way first. The optic’s clarity is mediocre. It’s not horrible, but it’s not amazing either.
The photo above shows some White Tail does bedded down at 400 yards right at sunset, with the scope on full 14X magnification. That image quality is OK, and it’s certainly good enough to make the shot, but only for another 100 to 200 yards or so, not the entire magnification range. At long range, then the image becomes too fuzzy to take an ethical shot.
Now, if your target isn’t a living thing, something static, the target will probably seem clearer. But used on game or anything moving, it’s too difficult to get enough focus at long distances. That said, you have to ask yourself how often you’re really going to need to take a shot at game that’s more than 600 yards away.
What’s so impressive about the Primary Arms optics is the number of features a marksman gets for his money.
This is a front focal plane scope, meaning the image is on the first plane, not the second. The result is that the ffp scope reticle changes size in correlation with the magnification of the scope, allowing the user to estimate range and use the built-in holdovers at any magnification. On traditional second focal plane scopes, ranging is usually done only at the highest magnification.
A drawback to first focal plane scopes is that they’re usually more expensive, although not in this case. They also usually don’t have quite the precise level clarity on the reticle as second focal plane scopes do. On this scope, reticle clarity wasn’t an issue at all, as the overall clarity of the glass just wasn’t exceptional to begin with.
The illuminated ACSS-HUD-DMR reticle pops out well against a black target, and has off positions between each brightness level. I’ve seen that feature on more expensive optics, and it’s much appreciated. It is, however, too bright on any setting for use with IR night vision devices, as it simply floods the entire image.
On this model, both the windage and elevation knobs are in mils, with .10 mil adjustment clicks. It’s easy to move the brightly marked knobs, and they have very tactile and audible clicks to them to count a mil.
The parallax adjustment (and no, that’s not a focus knob) is easily finger adjustable and is capable of fine adjustments.
The magnification adjustment was done particularly well. It’s a single, large, knurled exposed turret that moves easy enough that I don’t have to change position at all to adjust it with one hand, yet stays in place once it’s set. I’ve seen a lot more expensive optics with much rougher movement. I found no distortion or lack of focus even at the highest magnification levels.
Be careful what mount you use on this scope. When I first tested the reliability of this scope, I had it mounted on a lightweight AR chambered in .458 SOCOM. It wouldn’t hold a precise zero between shots. Before I had to give the scope zero stars, I checked the mount to make sure that wasn’t the problem. In order to get proper eye relief without spanning the receiver and the hand guard rails, I needed a cantilever mount, and I had used one made by Atibal. I switched that one out and tried one made by Warne, as well as one from by Burris.
On the Warne and then Burris scope mounts, on several different guns, the problem disappeared. With those stronger mounts, the PA 4-14X44 held zero perfectly.
Some cantilever mounts can act like diving boards under recoil. If you’re using a heavier scope, (and this one is barely on the heavy side) the scope weight causes the mount to dip under recoil. That cantilever then springs back, violently shaking the mount and the glass in the optic. It likely won’t have that effect on a lighter-recoiling rifle, like a standard AR-15 shooting 5.56 NATO. The effect also doesn’t exist with traditional mounts without the cantilever.
This effect was verified by Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat. Wilson Combat used a slow-motion camera for product development. Bill told me that, with the slo-mo camera, he could watch cantilever mounts dip way down and then spring back up under recoil. The scopes inside the rings took a beating. The higher the recoil of the rifle, or the heavier the scope, the more of a beating the optic took.
Once I had the scope mounted in a more robust mount, I had no issues with it holding zero with any platform. To prove it was rock solid, I sat down with a Colt Competition AR-15 in a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest, all bagged up and stable. I put one full magazine through the rifle in one minute’s time, aiming at the exact same spot. All 30 rounds were within a 1.2 inches of each other.
No scope test would be complete without at least some semblance of a box test. I ran a very simple test at 100 yards. As the scope’s turrets are in Mil/Mil, I ran the test in centimeters. I shot a group, dialed what should have been 12cm left, shot a group, up 12cm, shot a group, right 12cm, shot a group, and back down 12cm. The last series of shots ended up right on top of the first series. Box checked.
I also simply shot a round, counted all the clicks to the right, then brought it back that number of clicks, shot, brought it left all the way and counted the clicks, brought it back, and shot. I ended up with 3 rounds within an inch.
All of this shooting was done with the scope mounted on top of a Colt Competition AR15 that has proven to shoot under 1MOA. All shooting was done in a Caldwell Stinger Shooting rest on a sturdy bench.
In short, the turrets track accurately throughout their entire length of travel.
This scope is equipped with the Primary Arms ACSS HUD DMR reticle. The point of the ACSS HUD DMR reticle is that you can use it to estimate both range and windage holds. The Primary Arms website proclaims “No math needed, no digging through the data book!”
No. Not just no, hell no. Maybe even Helz Naw! Never give up your data book.
Ballistic reticles like the ACSS — and this is a good one — provide the user with built-in holdovers for elevation and windage. But with a pretty massive caveat. They are good for a specific bullet, at a specific speed, under specific environmental conditions.
This PA ACSS HUD DMR will work for a few different rounds, all detailed in the manual. For instance, the .308 reticle will work for .308 loads that are 175gr SMK at 2550 to 2600 fps with a 50-yard zero, or a 168gr SMK at 2,700fps with a 100 yard zero or 2,600 fps with a 200 yard zero. The ACSS reticle also lines up with a few .223/5.56 NATO ammo loads as well as one 6.5 Grendel load.
Not shooting one of those loads? Then the patented ACSS reticle’s features won’t really work for you.
I was able to verify that, out to 600 yards, several of the listed loads do in fact line up. They may work even farther, but past 600 yards I was having trouble with the wind on a 1.2-MOA target.
But wait, aren’t there wind holds too? Yes, and they’re good for 5mph and 10mph wind. But I found this to be of little value with the target size I was shooting. For instance, at 600 yards, the recommended 77 grain Hornady A-Max round moving at 2800 fps (20″ barrel) hits at .9 mil or 19.8 inches of windage. What if the wind is just 3mph more? There is no 8 mph cross-hair hold, and at 8 mph it’s 1.5 mils of wind, or 31.8 inches off the center of the target. It’s about the same for the .308 168-grain SMK round at 2700 fps.
That may seem like a lot, and for many game animals that really is too much of a discrepancy to just use the wind holds to reliably shoot. After all, that’s a 12-inch difference at 600 yards, larger than the breadbasket of common game animals. But it does fit right inside a human silhouette, and it works for heart/lung sized targets if you’re at the first wind hold, the 400 yard mark. It also works past the 600 yard mark, as long as you’re considering an area target, not a human sized or smaller target.
Of course, if you get lucky, and the wind is either 5mph or 10mph, using the listed rounds, under the right conditions, it works just perfectly.
Overall, I wouldn’t use this ffp riflescope reticle. There is a lot of information in the view through the scope, and it’s too much for me to think about. I’d rather go back to lasing the target and dialing my bullet drop corrections based on Data on Prior Engagements/Direct Observation of Prior Engagements (DOPE). Or based on my own trued ballistic software.
It was much faster for me to just use the scope in the traditional manner, dialing corrections. If I used this scope with a dedicated round and shot it all the time, that would be different.
Overall, Primary Arms is giving you a lot of features for the money. No, the glass doesn’t come close to Schmidt & Bender, US Optics, or even the Vortex Viper PST line. But the PA 4-14 ACSS HUD/DMR costs a small fraction of those scopes with an MSRP of only $279.99.
Specifications: Primary Arms 4-14X44 ACSS HUD/DMR Riflescope
Battery Type: CR2032 3V Lithium Coin
Turret Style: Turrets
Click Value: 0.1 Mil
Exit Pupil Diameter: Low: 11.20 mm/High: 3.30 mm
Eye Relief: Low: 3.22 in/High: 3.14 in
Field of View 100: Low: 27.20 ft/High: 7.85 ft
Focal Plane: First Focal Plane
Illuminated Reticle, multiple brightness settings, center chevron
Length: 12.9 in
Finish: Matte black
Maximum Magnification: 14
Minimum Magnification: 4
Night Vision Compatible: Non-Compatible
Objective Diameter: 44mm
Reticle: ACSS HUD DMR 5.56 NATO
Reticle Type: BDC
Total Elevation Adjustment: 30 Mils
Total Windage Adjustment: 30 Mils
Tube Diameter: 30mm
Extras: Waterproof, shockproof, and fog resistant
Ratings (out of five stars):
Glass quality and clarity * *
Great glass still costs good money, and this is one feature — probably the only feature — that Primary Arms couldn’t squeeze into this scope at this price point. Leupold and Vortex Optics shooters will be disappointed.
Reliability * * * *
With a sturdy mount, that reticle won’t budge. Just make sure you have a strong mount if you’re going to use a cantilever mount on a stout-recoiling rifle.
Knob and Turret Quality * * * *
Good tactile and audible feedback with sure and easy movement.
Overall * * *
Glass clarity isn’t anything special, but everything else is very good. Primary Arms continues to prove that budget optics can offer you a lot of performance for your money, and you might want it on your wish list.