Sunday, October 19, 2014

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Redot Dot & Tripler Magnifier Review

Vortex Optics Strikefire II Redot Dot & Tripler Magnifier Review

Over the last 4 years, Vortex optics has jumped in and taken market share from the big brands so suddenly it shocked the industry. Vortex has been around since 2004, however within the last 3-4 years was when everyone really started taking note of Vortex.  After notable success with the uber picky three gun and precision shooting crowd, the Vortex name became synonymous with very high quality and prices on entry to premium optics which retail 20%-30% less than those from the big names like Bushnell, Burris, Streiner, Nikon, and Leupold. At this year's 2014 Shot Show, nearly every major optics manufacturer had specific offerings designed to go head to head with Vortex's price/value leading models and more than a few manufacturers released offerings the noted to specifically go for the throat of Vortex. I noticed that Vortex was not just sitting around waiting for the giants to crush them and introduced many new products and updated models this year.

One of those updates was to the Vortex Strikefire II, the company's extremely popular market dominating red dot. According to Vortex, they wanted to stay ahead of the competition with updates requested most by customers. From a distance anyway, the older and newer models look nearly identical, however the updated Strikefire II includes updated controls, settings, and body.

The main updates were simplified more streamlined controls, 1/2" shorter overall size, and two extra low night vision settings. Features and model variants carried over are models with both red or green dots or the less expensive single color red dot model. Retail on the red dot model is $229, however street price is down around the $180 price which is extremely competitive with similar otics on the market. Other features are the inclusion of a lower third co-witness height  cantilever mount which is always an appreciated addition to the box versus having to spend another $40 on the appropriate mount.

Many people ask why use a larger format red dot versus one of the smaller micro-dot red dots. The main reason is FOV (field of view). You can see more stuff within the optic and the Strikefire II offers a very large FOV. Generally a larger FOV equals faster target acquisition. For instance in a zombie apocalypse, I would want a maximum field of view and the same goes for hunting dangerous game. The Strikefire II is far from bulky, and Vortex shaved the profile down from last year's model just to assure a trim profile as possible to maximize FOV inside and outside the optic as well as driving the footprint down a bit in the process.

My one gripe is that the Strikefire II uses the CR2 battery as a power source versus everyone else on the planet using CR2032 wafer batteries for small red dots. I remember Vortex using a really nonstandard long running battery on my SPARC red dot which thankfully could be hacked to use CR2032 batteries by using a dime as a spacer, however this a bit better. The CR2 is in essence just a smaller CR123 battery and is available at most stores. You probably are not going to pick it up a Lowes, however Walgreens should have a good supply. The advantage with this battery is that it has a much longer running than wafer CR2032 batteries. With an average battery life of around 3000 hours (6000 hrs tops and 300 worse) and an auto 12-hour shut-off, even in extreme situations, you should see at least a year of life out of each battery. I just wish they would have gone the same route as Lucid powered by a widely available AAA battery or full sized CR123, however the CR2 power source works and delivers a long run time in an inexpensive and very light lithium battery format - stick six CR2 in the AR15’s grip and call it good for a minimum of 5-6 years.

The Strikefire II is a quality optic fully fog, water and shock proof with a nitrogen purged heavy duty 30mm body. The optic can take some serious punishment and keep working. To make the Strikefire II even more useful, Vortex introduced the VMX-3T Flip over magnifier aka "tripler" in 2013 to complement any of their own or competitors red dots.

The idea of the tripler was popularized in the military to add a instant magnification option to existing optics for larger shots and target identification.  Vortex’s flip over multiplier is similar to other top quality multipliers on the market. The Vortex VMX-3T is the a standard 3x magnification used across most of the industry, focusable eyepiece, and zero-able windage and elevation so you can use the Vortex tripler with any red dot.  

The included flip over mount on the VMX-3T is a bit different in that the flip mechanism is button operated from the front.  The front mounted button allows the shooter to either reach over with the primary hand or with with support hand. Rearward mounted buttons can be harder to work for the support hand to reach. I like this setup, however I am still more fond of the Eotech spring detent non-locking style flip over mount, however I could buy two of these triplers for the price of the Eotech model. I have witnessed some flip over mounts get a little wobbly, however I found the Vortex to be pretty tight and a bit more than competitors in its class. The mount can make or break a flip over tripler optic and in this case the mount does what it is supposed to.

The Vortex tripler works extremely well, is crystal clear, and solidly durable. If I put the unit side-by-side with Sub-$300 tripler competitors like Burris, I like the Vortex VMX-3T a bit better even if you don’t own a Vortex optic… but you, know, you probably should considering their quality.

For testing, I mounted the Vortex Strikefire Ii and the VMX-3T to my WMD NiBx coated Beast AR15 rifle chambered in 5.56 Nato. The WMD Beast chassis is an awesome rifle and the perfect “standard AR15” configuration platform to test what the Vortex setup delivers. The WMD Ultimate Chassis was completed with an ALG Defense Forend and Mission First Tactical grip and stock, and PWS Brake. 

The Vortex Strikefire II and VMX-3T setup mounted perfectly without problems. Like almost every red dot optic in the sub-$500 price range, the Strikefire II dot is a bit splashy and looked something like a teeny tiny squashed Nike logo identifiable when using the VMX-3T magnifier. I have come to expect that crisp totally uniform dot size is something you have to pony up big bucks for in a red dot and you just are not going to get that feature and level of quality in a sub-$500 red dot.  That noted the Vortex dot uniformity is still far above average and still better than some higher dollar red dots.

The Vortex Strikefire II remains one of the best deals when it comes to a robust military grade quality in something affordably priced in the sub-$300. The features are solid, the design is well thought out and the final performance and value is well above the price. On the WMD AR15 Beast, the Vortex combo delivered everything I could ask for from a defensive focused short range AR15 with the option to still accurately place dinner plate shots at the 300 yard mark.

My last and final observation on this Vortex Strikefire II and VMX-3T magnifier is that Vortex has not yet released a combo of what could be an awesome optic combo. These are sold separately as separate units, however I really…. really encourage Vortex to consider packaging these together as a kit for just a bit of a discount. I think it would be yet another great way for Vortex to continue it’s competitive strategy.
Cantilever Mount
Red/Green Dot or Red Dot Options
Lower 1/3 Co-Witness Cantilever Mount
Eye Relief - Unlimited
Magnification 1x
Length 5.6"
Weight 7.2 oz

Fully Multi-Coated Multiple anti-reflective coatings on all air-to-glass surfaces increase light transmission.
Red/Green Dot Option Allows shooters a choice of dot color.

Single-Piece Chassis Compact and lightweight.
Waterproof O-ring seals prevent moisture, dust and debris from penetrating for reliable performance in all environments.
Fogproof Nitrogen gas purging delivers fogproof, waterproof performance.
Shockproof Rugged construction withstands recoil and impact.
Hard Anodized Finish Highly durable low-glare matte finish.
Operating Temperature Rated from -22 degrees to +140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cantilever Ring Mount Puts the optic bore center 40 mm above the base, providing lower 1/3 co-witness with iron sights on flat top AR-15 rifles.
Unlimited Eye Relief Non-critical eye relief for rapid target acquisition.
Adjustable Dot Intensity Provides ten variable illumination settings—the lowest two settings are night-vision compatible.
Battery Life 12-hour auto-shutdown feature maximizes battery life. CR-2 Battery. Typical battery life is 300 hours at maximum brightness and 6,000 hours at minimum brightness setting.

Simple, fast, effective—the push-button design of the VMX-3T engages and disengages the flip-mount, allowing the magnifier to lock in place. The result, 3x magnified or unmagnified views at will. Optics are fully multi-coated for optimal light transmission. Lightweight and tough; hard-coat-anodized machined-aluminum construction ensures durability. Internally nitrogen purged for reliable waterproof/fogproof performance. Ultimate magnified versatility for virtually any AR-height red dot sight.

Allows for lower 1/3 or absolute co-witness mounting heights and is ideal for shooters who want to increase the effective range of their red dot sight.
VIP Warranty Nitrogen Purged Waterproof
Magnification 3 x
Eye Relief 2.2 inches
Field of View 38.2 feet/100 yards
Tube Size 30 mm
Length 4.3 inches
Weight 11.9 oz
Product Manual (PDF) Download


Other featured products -

Friday, October 17, 2014

FN SC 1 Over/Under Competition Shotgun Review

FN SC 1 Over/Under Competition Shotgun Review

My quest for a quality and capable skeet, trap, sporting clays gun lead me to the FN SC1. It was not a lengthy thought process. To me the SC1 addressed all “have to haves” serious shooters have noted all while staying far clear of typical a five digit $10,000+ price range. The FN SC1 will continue to perform far above my skill level for some time and delivers everything the pro shooter could ask for in a sporting clays shotgun just shy of custom stocks and custom height vent ribs.

I am definitely not a pro shooter, but I can appreciate all the SC1’s features without feeling like I either wasted money on a shotgun too expensive or one which is not suited for competition. The FN SC1 delivers a real competitive sporting clay, skeet, and trap gun in a sharp looking package and great price.

Years ago, I shot skeet, trap, and sporting clays informally… many years ago. I was raised on upland and bird hunting with my Browning Sweet 16 gauge shotgun and it was the natural training zone for up and coming shotgun hunters. Beyond busting 1000s of blue rock clays with that gun in prep for each hunting season, I really did not have a lot of “formal” experience with clays shooting. To this day I still feel most comfortable behind Browning ergonomics which the FN coincidentally mimics a bit.

With the exception of some occasional bird and rabbit hunting over the years, I have not been a big hunting shotgun shooter either, but all that changed a bit in 2013. At last year’s Mercury One Charity Foundation God Guns and Giving event, Mrs. Pandemic and I got our first real taste of a world class Sporting Clays course at the amazing Elm Forks Shooting Sports complex and we were hooked.  Mrs Pandemic even asked that we invest in a few appropriate over/under shotguns. I bought her a Ruger Red Label and myself this FN SC1, however at this point we still have a bit more time behind the Ruger than the FN. Of course we both like the features of the $2100 FN a bit more than the $1000 Ruger after this last weekend of wringing the SC1 shotgun out at with over 300 rounds put through the gun.

Sporting Clays differs from trap and skeet in that with both skeet and trap you have a static set of shooting and trap throwing positions. Trap features a single center trap throwing house and skeet high and low trap houses on the left and right with skeet. Though challenging, the shooters basically work the same positions and clay throwing angles over and over again.  With Sporting Clays, some sadistic bastard sets up multiple stations where a set of two clays are thrown in the most challenging and difficult ways possible. Everything is totally random with clays going up, down, away and toward you at all different angles and speeds; heck, there were even some ground rolled “rabbit clays”. The Shooter moves from station to station via gun rack equipped golf carts as you would on any golf course and then shoots from a shooting stand.

An example of one sporting clays station at Elm Forks had a clays thrower hoisted about 90 feet in the air and 75 yards away in front of the shooter with the clay landing in a brush tree about 10-yards from your feet the other clay was thrown on report (gunshot) which then zipped from left to right at what seemed like no less than 200 miles per hour with a tiny 30-yard break window. Another station had a 4-story construction scissor jack which hiked a clays thrower 20-yards directly behind the shooter, but 40 feet in the air. The second clay was thrown straight up in the air 20-yards in front of the shooter after the report of the first shot. 

That position, by the way, required the shooter to start with the shotgun pointed vertically for any hope of hitting the first target. Another had clays thrown level with the skyline and were barely visible. Sporting Clays has all the sadistic long and short shots, fast, slow and the “you’ve got to be kidding me” clay targets one would expect of a real hunt. Of course with sporting clays you can train to actually begin hitting this insane shots.

Last year Mrs Pandemic and I enjoyed ourselves at the God Guns and Giving event, however borrowing other shooters guns or a different one of Elm Forks’ house shotguns at each stage was not the most optimal shooting experience. As you may know, you each shotgun shoots a bit different and you need time to adjust to each new gun that lands in your hands. We vowed to bring our own gun for 2014 and packed up the brand new still stiff FN SC1 with barely 100 rounds through it.

We only had limited time behind the new FN SC1. My lovely wife and I had escaped the day before the event while the kids were at school with our 12V electric Champion Wheelybird clays thrower and a case of clays. The rather windy day provided a frustrating environment for us to get our rhythm with a brand new gun. In the last dozen rounds, we finally found our points of aim. Though our pre-training was not confidence inspiring we both turned in respectable 52% and 65% hit score cards while at the Sporting Clays event and much of that thanks goes to the excellent shooting SC1.
Champion Whirley Bird
Electric Thrower
is the ONLY way to go for
practicing clays shooting.

FN also known originally as Fabrique Nationale has a very long storied base which dates all the way back to to 1889 when it was first founded to produce Mauser rifle for the Belgium government. FN was also the manufacturer of my beloved fine quality Browning A5’s which are still prized today if they feature the “Made in Belgium” stamp indicating manufactured by FN. From that point on FN and Browning had a very close design and manufacturing relationship with FN supporting production on the BAR, Baby Browning, Hi Power, and more. FN purchased the controlling interest in Browning and then Winchester Arms. Most people know FN these days by the defensive focused PS90 and SCAR rifles, however the SC1 proves once again that FN has not forgotten about the hunting and sport shooter.

There are a number of very nice competitive focused crossover shotguns on the market which tetter the fine line between a field over/under and full on custom fitted clays gun optimized for your sport of choice. The FN SC1 on one hand offers all the looks of the super fancy field guns in this case with your choice of blue, black or green checkered laminated hardwood stocks. I opted for the blue which looks incredible since the SC1 also comes with matching blue tipped Invector-Plus choke tubes and blue trigger. The quality is stunning and the looks are amazing. Neither my wife or I shot incredibly well, however we still receive compliments on the shotgun over and over and every single stage. Most people could not believe it was an off the shelf shotgun. Even some of the folks walking around with $30K custom Italian (aka spaghetti guns) shotguns were commenting on how loaded the FN was with features they had to add.

The fit was so tight out of the box that I was actually a little concerned that it was too tight, however after the first 100 round practice session, the action was flipping open on demand and shells were jettisoning backward about 10-yards. Of note, the SC1’s ejectors fire out the empty shells when opened and you can definitely get some distance. My wife and I started aiming the ejected empties and hitting each other with them. Similar to the operation of most typical modern over/under shotguns, the FN features automatic ejectors which only eject the empty, so if you only took one shot the live round will stay in the chamber.

The shooter can select which barrel they would like to shoot first via the tang safety; in most cases the bottom barrel is selected to reduce recoil and muzzle rise. During our initial 100 rounds, we tested first shots with the upper and then lower barrel, however we settled on the lower barrel.

One of the USA Olympic Shooting team members provides a few quick clays and shotgun fitting tips to me which were extremely helpful. Overall he was extremely impressed with the shotgun, but noted that it provided all the right adjustments for even a serious competitor who does not have the budget for custom stocks. The SC1 provides the shooter out-of-the-box adjustment for comb height, cast and length-of-pull, adjustable recoil activated single-stage trigger (5.5 to 7.7 lb. trigger squeeze).

The features to support whatever trap, skeet, sporting, or hunting on the FN SC1 Over/Under shotgun go on and on. Most competitive shooters prefer a wide rib, so FN included a 10mm wide ventilated rib complete with fiber-optic front sight and brass mid-bead. Fn delivered lightweight 28” and 30” barrel options which have been back-bored for more uniform patterns and ported to reduce recoil and muzzle rise.  At 8.2lbs, the Fn SC1 feels light when shouldered and quick on target. I highly doubt I would have delivered the clay brakes I did with my old browning A5.

FN even includes a custom blow molded fitted case with tools, two Skeet Chokes (in gun), and one each of full, modified, and improved cylinder chokes for field work.

The FN SC1 Over/Under is an simply awesome shotgun for the money. To get into a competition level shotgun with an adjustable comb and trigger jumps right into a limited number of shotguns in the $3000+ range and ramps up quickly from there. FN has just packed features into this stunning gun. Admittedly, $2100 is not chump change, however it is a the equivalent of just the taxes on many competitive clays guns out there. At this price though and with the near weatherproof sealed and laminated stock and stainless receiver, I was not particularly worried when it started drizzling a bit last weekend. I was not walking out in the rain with a $30K gun, but one with just decent cleaning would have it sparkling new again.

The price is definitely one of the things I love about this gun. I would even feel great taking this into the field on drier days and I don’t feel bad using it, setting it in the rack and even having it get a little wet. The gun looks amazing, shoots as well as it looks all in a package I can afford with features I will grow into. I think FN has a real winner in the SC1 across the board from hunting to all areas of casual and competitive clays shooting and for me it happens to coming in my favorite color - Blue.

12-gauge 2 3/4"magnum
10mm ventilated top rib
Ported, vent rib with Invector-Plus™ choke threads
30 inches
Blue, black or green checkered laminated wood
Adjustable for comb height and length of pull (Blue or black only)
Adjustable, recoil activated single-stage trigger
5.5 to 7.7 lb. trigger squeeze
Tang safety doubles as barrel selector
White mid-bead and fiber-optic front

Designation: FN SC 1™ Over/Under
Bbl./Choke: Invector-Plus™
Overall Length: 46.38" with extended chokes installed
Sights: Ventilated top rib with white mid-bead and fiber-optic front
Ammo Capacity: 2
Weight: 8.2 lbs. (empty)
Street Price $2100


Wheelybird Clays thrower - $299 - 12V Foot pedal operated

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Geissele Armorer's Package Action Rod and Gas Block Tools Review

Geissele Armorer's Package Action Rod and Gas Block Tools Punch Review

Did you ever open a present and then graciously spend the next ten minutes stalling to figure out whether someone just re-gifted you a sex toy as a gag gift or it is some cherished heirloom you should have been aware off? 

This was kind of the case when I opened a box from Geissele which they had included a few extra instruction-less prototype products in the box. I opened the box and pulled out what appears to be a 1" steel rod with the serrations on one end and the words "Reaction Rod" on the other. Deeper into the box were these torturous looking punch like devices.  Hmmm... OK. I asked myself "What the hell is this, because Geissele is a trigger company."  

It took me a few minutes, however I figured it out and validated my assumptions with a phone call to Geissele who then provided instructions.  The mysterious tool set was actually Geissele's new Armorer's Package.

GEISSELE REACTION ROD - Despite the deception my dirty mind superimposed on this absolutely awesome tool, it is actually used to mount to the vise to slide an upper on to mount barrels. 

The teeth on the front end of the tool match up with the barrel extensions and provides a super strong barrel lockup to apply retarded amounts of torque to the barrel nut without any stress to the upper receiver's tradition pin mounts like all other barrel mounting tools. All the torque is directly on the barrel extension. 

This is essential for those barrel nuts which seem to need just a bit more torque to line up the gas tube holes. Although most barrel nuts do not require an ape hanging off the barrel nut wrench, if you are that kinda person, the Geissele Reaction Rod allows you to bring the torque. Probably the most awesome feature is that you can rotate and clock the action so that you can attached bolts, rails, and screws to the left right and bottom of the handguard and barrel. 

This makes attaching gas blocks, handguard screws and rails on the bottom of the rails super convenient - just spin the receiver upside down and press the Reaction Rod teeth back into the barrel extension. You do this all without having to pull it off the Action Rod. This has become one of my favorite tools for working on AR15s.

GAS BLOCK INSTALLATION TOOLS - The other mysterious punch-like devices were, get this, not S&M torture devices, but "Punches".  Geissele recognized that there was an absence of quality punches for gas block installation. This includes a tapered, 1/16" punch, and pin starter punch.

The Geissele Gas Block Pin Punch set are made specifically for the removal and installation of that pain in the butt to install 0.078" roll pin that secures the gas tube to the gas block on an AR-15/AR-10. Generally the installation process for most people requires putting the gas block in a vise and then losing about seven pins because the needle nose pliers keep snapping them across the room every time you start to tap the pin in. Just push a pin in the pin starter punch and drive it half way into the gas block. The tapered Starter Pin can then be used to finish the last few taps to fully drive in the pin.

Removal of a rusted in gas block roll pin has always been a challenge since there are no commercial pin punches in 0.078" diameter. 1/16" (0.062") punches have a tendency to bend and very few starter punches are available in 1/16" diameter. The Geissele punch set make gas block work a whole lot easier. Stubborn pins can be removed by starting the pin movement with the Start 'Tapered' Pin and then reaching for the Pin punch to drive the roll pin completely out. Geissele suggests resisting the temptation to just just jump to using the straight pin punch; a hard rap with a hammer on a stuck roll pin will cause the Pin punch can bend. The stronger tapered punch should be used first.

It should be noted that although the Geissele Gas Block punches are made from properly hardened and tempered 01 tool steel, they are considered a consumable item. Geissele will not replace tools damaged from misuse or normal wear and tear. Like the Reaction Rod, you start to wonder how you ever were able to live without these tools to build an AR.

TRIGGER FITTING PIN - Geissele includes the Trigger Fitting Pin with some of their higher end triggers, however they now include it in this package as well. This simple but handy tool which simplifies trigger installation by providing a correctly sized punch to position the trigger components before pushing this Fitting Pin out with the Receiver Pins. 

The Trigger Fitting Pin is simple tool which aids in correctly positioning the trigger components and preventing swearing while installing triggers. Another use is to correctly size coated receivers to receive the receiver pins. Sometimes the trigger pin holes need to be loosened a bit for them to fit when coatings have been applied. Another perfect use is as a tool to use while trigger tuning when the trigger is required to be pulled repeatedly during tuning. I will rather pull out a long pin with a handle attached, vs needing to drive a trigger pin out over and over again until tuning is complete.

The AR15 Armorer's Package is a set of indispensable tools which previously we did not have readily available to us. The Reaction Rod is brilliant and totally bulletproof. I use this so much I have considered buying another and mounting it to my bench.  I would like to see Geissele add two holes on the end of the tool so that is could be permanently mounted to a workbench.  The pins are also an excellent investment for the consument AR15 builder and delivers a faster and more professional looking final build void of all the traditional DIY ops scratches on the gas block.  Excellent tools.

Description: AR15/M4 Armorer's Package
Reaction Rod* - 1 x AR15/ M4 Reaction Rod
Fitting Pin*  - 1 x Trigger Fitting Pin
Roll Pin Tool* - 1 x Gas Block Roll Pin Tool  
Gas Block Pin Punch Set* - 1 x Gas Block Pin Punch Set  
MSRP $131.00

Geissele Automatics -