Day 1 has come and gone. Right up front I'll say I didn't have my "A" game today. I've come to the realization that I really do not dig Vegas at all. After nearly 2 years in Big Sky country coming to a place like this is like landing on another planet. It started with the rude, foreign cab driver that picked me up at the airport (after being herded by an obnoxious security guy to a numbered waiting station to wait for a cab). I asked him to take me to my hotel (on the strip)and not use the interstate (a common ploy where they drive fast but take the long way to get to your destination, for extra fare). He didn't like my suggestion, but off we went. I asked him how he was doing, he said fine, then cranked up the radio. Hey, I can take a hint. Then he took a call on a cell phone and spoke in I don't know what language until all the way to the hotel. My fare was $19.30. I gave the jerk a $20.
I'm at the Venetian, which is fairly luxurious digs for this country boy. It better be for $250 a night. The advantage is the SHOT show is walking distance from my room. The disadvantage is no refrigerator. I mean, not one fridge in the entire place, and here in Vegas, where anything and everything is for sale, I can't BUY a fridge for my room. $250 a night and no way to stock up on cold beverages, are you freaking kidding me.
Add in the crowds, the smoke, the high prices for everything, the new venue (more on that shortly) and forgetting my map and I wasn't on fire for opening day.
Two silver linings: 1) The housekeeping lady did an awesome job, even folding and stacking my dirty clothes, arranging the bathroom toiletries on clean towels and tucking my dirty socks into my shoes. 2) The Canyon River spa, which I paid $20 extra on top of my daily $15 resort fee to use the steam and sauna facilities. The steam room did wonders for the aching muscles, but they also had two new items, "Experimental rain" where you stand in a stall and push a button on either "Cool fog", "Caribbean rain" or "Tropical storm" and down comes the cool water, scents, and lighting to simulate the aforementioned scenarios, very refreshing, just like getting caught at the beach in a downpour; and then "The Igloo" which is a 35-40 degree room with more cool water, with the choices of scents being "Aroma 1", "Aroma 2", or "Aroma 3". Now that's descriptive. For the record, Aroma 2 has a minty smell and feel that is the "go to" choice here....
Obviously, this has nothing to do with optics, but hopefully you are channeling my mood, and giving me a mulligan for a somewhat unproductive day.
On to the show...
First off, I want to tell you the Sands Expo is a terrible choice of venue for evaluating optics. The show floor is broken up into 10 different rooms of all sizes, from very large to very small, with very low ceilings, high walls between manufacturer booths, and uneven "ballroom" style lighting and fixtures. There are few lines of sight of any appreciable distance, and no windows to the outside world. It's pretty lame. At least in the old Convention Center or even in Orlando you had real tall ceilings, with tons of point source lighting, dark shadows and nooks and crannies up in the rafters, and the ability to focus on objects from 200-300 feet away. You also had the ability to peek outside sometime. But all that is out with the Sands. So the subjective evaluation of the glass just got a whole lot more difficult. We'll see how it pans out after a few more days, but I didn't get all warm and fuzzy playing with the glass today.
The first stop was Vortex Optics, who had a small booth in the 2nd level LE section and a larger spot on the first level section. I've been ringing the bell on these guys since their debut at SHOT a few years ago, and I must say they have not disappointed. Still the best folks in the industry, great business model, strong ethics, a pattern and history of innovation and listening to the customers needs, and great quality for the price, Vortex is where most of you should look when in need of glass, at any price point.
Vortex introduced the Razor HD 5-20x50 riflescope late in 2009, and those of who aren't hip to this beastly scope, are really missing out. Featuring an excellent rangefinding FFP illuminated reticle in either milrad or moa subtensions, 125+moa of travel, huge exposed 1/10 mil or 1/4moa knobs with patent pending zero stop, top notch Japanese glass, 35mm tube, and construction and tolerance specs similar to a Swiss watch, the Razor HD is a combat-ready optic for under $2K. We have this scope in stock, and it will earn its due in the near future.
Debuting at the show was the 5-20's little brother, the 1-4x24 Razor. 30mm tube, all the quality of Vortex's best, this little scope features either a CQMR-1 MOA reticle (sort of a crosshair) with a customized elevation knob (BDC for XM193 and M855) or the EBR-556 moa BDC reticle (a smart design but an asymmetrical reticle that would be an acquired taste in an .223 optic). Both reticles are illuminated FFP, with a 11-position rheostat on the side, and feature 200moa of adjustment. While wonderful little scopes that MAP in the $1200 range, with the choice of reticles provided, I must say "But Chuck, there just was no love connection!" Another factor influencing this is the introduction of the Razor's poorer, but sweeter cousin, the Viper PST 1-4x24 with the fast and furious TMCQ reticles in either moa or mils.....a decent segue into the long awaited Viper PST line...
The Viper PST (Precision Shooting Tactical) are a highly anticipated line of scopes that feature all the bells and whistles "my guys" want today; FFP, illumination, exposed knobs in increments that match the reticle subtensions, rugged construction, good glass, all without breaking the bank. While all I viewed were prototypes...
...I'll say Vortex has succeeded in their mission, which is good news for us!
My first impression of the new PST were "NXS Lite" as in Nightforce. The four models offered asr the aforementioned 1-4x24, the 2,5-10x44, the 4-16x50, and the 6-24x50 (the latter two available in FFP). All business in matte black, the eyeboxes are all Razor and the knobs are reminiscent of the excellent NXS turrets. While the clicks were a bit light for my tastes, Vortex has assured me they will be tightened up before the production models hit the showroom. The reticles in the long range models are similar to the Nightforce MLR and are well executed. All models a CRS (Customizable Rotational Stop) which is a somewhat crude, but effective zero stop system using stackable washers. In the SFP models there are even numbers on the back side of the magnification ring that correspond to the multiplication factor needed to correct for ranging on powers other than the synchronized one!
The 1-4x model has a great reticle and great eye relief!
All in all, I'm having a tough time imagining anyone being disappointed with the Viper PSTs. With pricing from $500 - $900, there is a ton of value in these scopes and I expect demand to be high, even with a good supply projected this year. Arriving in April or May of this year, order yours early!
Vortex wasn't done, though...
The recently introduced Viper R/T 10x50 binos were on display, featuring Armor-Tek lens coatings and the R/T rangefinding reticle. There are outstandingly clear binos, with a reticle focus, dipoter, and central focus, getting the reticle and image in sharp focus an easy task. Like most of the Viper line, the image does exhibit some distortion at the extreme tops and bottoms of the field of view, which affects the reticle also, but overall these are sweet binos. My only other nitpick are the eyecups, stiff and unforgiving, they will gouge the inside of your eyesockets; I am told a new silicon rubber matter (softer) and/or a possible redesign in the works, which would be a good thing. They do fold down or remove if you want. Price is about $680 MAP.
I think the stealthy new product for Vortex are the Recon Mountain R/T spotting scopes. These come in 10x50 and 15x50 flavors, 7 inches long, under a pound, with both a belt/Molle carry clip and a hand strap, Pic rail mounting and attachment points, Viper level glass and coatings with ArmorTek (sweet) and the R/T reticle, these things are a versatile tool. The icing on the cake is the new VMS (Versatile Mount System) which stabilizes the Recon for field use, allows an array of accessories and/or other optics (NV, thermal imaging, etc) and is totally modular. Don't wanna take my word for it? I've got it on good info that one has already been squirreled away by Jacob Bynun of Rifles Only and Frank Galli, owner of Sniper's Hide, for T/E at RO. That didn't take long. Lightweight, functional, quality made in Japan, the Recon R/T has all the looks of a real winner at $600 MAP, without VMS, and $800 with it
Vortex's innovation even extends to the lower price point Solo R/T 8x36 monocular, 10 ounces, 5.3 inches, super handy with very decent optics, the Solo R/T has a clip too and the rangefinding reticle of it's big brother, without the telemetric silhouettes.
Another new system that made it's first appearance is the VOTRS (Vortex Optics Tactical Reconnaissance System), which is a fancy moniker for a series of kits that feature the Razor HD spotter with new 30x R/T eyepiece, either the 15x56 Kaibab or 10x50 R/T binos, choice of the CBX or Dakota tripods, adaptors for cameras and mounts, instructions, all in a fitted Storm case. I'll presume there is a cost saving in the package deals but I haven't crunched the numbers yet in the $3600-$4200 package prices.....
The last item I checked out was the SPARC, a fancy acronym for Speed Point Aiming for Rapid Combat, which is a fancy name for what is basically a smaller version of the Strikefire red dot, except it costs more, $199. A little Chinese made red dot for $200, OK, color me not excited, I'm yawning now, we'll sell 'em if you want 'em :)
That's all I have for Vortex, but it's a lot. I expect them to have a good show and to see a groundswell of dealer and customer interest in what they are doing. The kicker is....they assure me, the best is yet to come!!!!
Please, for more info, visit http://www.vortextactical.com/ and then visit our newly redesigned website when you are ready to purchase :+)
Nightforce Optics - I'm a broken record with Nightforce, great track record of reliability, precision, performance, a great rifle sight but in my experience a mediocre optic. I'm convinced there are two grades of NXS scopes out there, those for the hotshots and mouthpieces and those for thee. At least when it comes to sight picture. I can't prove it but empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. I'm not a fan of the "rheostat-less" illumination and the rotating eyepiece, features which many shooters regard as quirky but Nightforce seems to view as the penultimate in function.
Like last year, "Nightforce Ken" spent some time with me - this guy is a class act, very polite, very professional, a real credit to Nightforce. He understands the difference between business and personal. He went over what's new. The first is the new Velocity series SFP reticles, for all intents and purposes a reticle in the mold of the PFI Rapid Reticle or the Zeiss Rapid-Z. The subtensions come in three flavors for low, medium and high velocity cartridges. From what I can gather these will debut in the 2.5-10x models of the NXS line, with expansion into the longer range models sometime later. I did see the 2.5-10 models in two new colors, a dark earth and a coppery brown finish.
The other "new for 2010" are the "hi-speed adjustments" knobs, which feature 1/4moa (20moa per turn), 1/10 mil (10 mils per turn), and 1/8moa (I believe 20moa also). I heard a whisper that these new knobs might be a problem due to the close spacing.
I'm here to say that won't be the case. The knobs (even the 1/8moa) are very distinct, tactile, precise, and will please every NXS aficionado. No worries on the new knobs.
That's pretty much it for Nightforce. It's easy to criticize, but IMO Nightforce is starting to walk a finer line here. On one side of the line is the great success and accolades the brand has accomplished over the years, on the other side is complacency and stagnation. Heck, even the F-150 pickup has been the number one selling truck for how many years? And every few they change things up with no loss of loyalty. It's obvious Nightforce takes a lot of pride in their product, but it's also apparent change is slow to come in Orofino.
Of course, they give a rat's butt what I think!
IOR-Valdada: Val has never been one to let the grass grow under his feet, but this show they introduced a trio of truly new scopes for the first time since the 2-12x32 made it's debut in Vegas back in 2004.
A new 6-24x56 illuminated FFP mil/mil leads the pack. Featuring a HUGE eyebox, long mounting areas, 35mm tube, digital illumination (two rubber buttons on the side of the turret housing behind the side focus, a "+" and a "-" button stacked one over the other), new knobs with a prototype zero reference system, new, smooth mag ring adjustment, and the MP-8 A5 reticle that all interior lines light up, this is an impressive scope. Even more impressive, were the ring marks on the scope. I was told this scope was tested on .338 edge, .338 Lapua, and .50 cal to the tune of 800 rounds by Mike McIntyre of MPI Rifles in Dillon Montana with nary a hiccup. I'm glad to see this type of testing prior to release of the scope. IOR has new internals for the 3-18x42 FFP, 2.5-10x42 FFP, and these new scopes. IOR glass and reticles, tracking, etc, have never been an issue, but the durability has been suspect in some models. Val is looking to dispel these notions with the new design. The new 6-24x56 will MAP for under $2000 with rings, and will be available in a few months.
A new 3.5-15x50 illuminated FFP mil/mil and SFP moa/moa were the other two surprises. Same digital illumination as above, these scopes have a longer rear tube to counteract the previous mounting issues some experienced with the 3-18x42, new mag ring and massive eyebox. The FFP mil/mil features the MP-8 A5 (designed by the guys over at Sniper's Hide) and the SFP moa/moa version features a sweet new moa reticle, with a floating dot and 20moa windage lines on either side of the crosshair and 30moa of holdovers. In the SFP model only the center dot is illuminated, which I like.
The digital illumination allows you to memorize your last setting, or press the "+" button for brightest setting on or the "-" button for a lowest setting that won't shock your night vision.
The lines of the new models also offer a more "German" look, really pleasing appearances here.
Prices on the new 3.5-15x50 will be $1895 MAP, which is less than the 4-14x50 ultra and the 4-28x56 MX-7. Better scopes for less money = my kind of value.
US Optics: You know, I had an epiphany with these guys, I've been doing this for seven years and each SHOT I see the same faces and names....that says a lot about a company when you have little turnover. Always as friendly and down to earth as it gets, too. I've always liked the guys at USO, and their scopes can compete with the best in the world, but it didn't make sense for us to do business with them in the past, for business reasons....and sometimes for product reasons.
I think things are changed now.
First, I took a lot of USO scopes in trade this past year, and I'll say guys gave up some real gems in long range precision optics. Wonder glass, features, controls, ruggedness, as close to 100% made in the USA as one can get. Ever check out the purity (yes, I said purity) of the illumination of a USO scope? It's among the finest illumination I've ever seen. So clean and precise, with brilliant color saturation.
I spent a lot of time talking to JW3 and Jeff, and I'll say I'm gonna rack my brain on what we can offer as a Liberty Optic edition USO.
Crack open the USO catalog and you have a choice of, oh, 26 reticles...but who's counting?
Check out the RDP mil and RDP moa reticles, with super fine center crosshairs. I really liked this reticle!
I also like the mil scale MPR for ranging....it may be a little busy for some but when ranging reticle precision is a requirement it's right at the top....
A couple of the scopes featured at the booth had a new internal bubble level, one at the top of the FOV inside the scope, the other had it on the bottom of the FOV. Suffice to say it's a work in progress :+\
- An MP-8 A5 reticle clone with Horus-like windage points
- Circle dot reticle with BDC holdovers
- A new "baby EREK" elevation knob. All the functionality of the EREK, in a compact knob. If you're at the show, G.A. Precision has got 'em mounted up.
Upcoming: Electronic Push button rheostats with 48 illumination settings.
Seriously, USO has been around a long time, and have elevated their game to new levels. We will do our best to get in on the action for 2010.
SnipersHide.com : I made the mistake of seeking out Frank aka "Lowlight" on the first day of the show. As usual he was gracious and we got some QT in but he knows about anybody and everybody and gets swept away in the current of humanity. After losing him for awhile, I asked Jacob Bynum if he knew where he was. "Sure" he said, "right down the row here in front of Badger Ordnance." "Can't you see him?"
I turned around, and easily spotted the bald guy whose white dome looked like it was polished with Zymol wax, with long flowing goatee and a very dark designer suit. Lowlight literally stood out from the crowd.
OK, not literally. heehee
Thanks for the time, Frank.
Team Blaster was spotted in the house! Rob, Tony, and Kevin were all smiles. Well, Rob and Tony were anyway. Kevin had his poker face on. Good to see you guys.
Had quite a few people "recognize" me through the name tag and introduce themselves, including many former/current customers. A very gratifying experience!
That's all for tonight folks. Up on the agenda tomorrow, I'll be hanging out with Ilya Koshkin from Opticstalk and checking out Premier, Hensoldt, possibly Zeiss, Bushnell, Lupy, and whatever else crosses our path. See you tomorrow.