All posts by Howard

Optic of the week: AN/PVS-4 Night Vision Scope

The bottom optic in that photo is an AN/PVS-4 Night Vision Sight.

The PVS-4 is a 3.6x scope, usually Generation 2 but there are Generation 3 PVS-4 scopes out there.  While considered obsolete in the U.S. the PVS-4 still gets used around the world.

This scope is sizable, 4 pounds and over a foot long.

The PVS-4 comes with a mount that can be attached directly to an AR15/M16 Carry Handle.  A variety of other mounts, including the pictured rail grabber are also available.  The PVS-4 also has a variety of mounting options for grenade launchers and crew served machine guns.

Operation is pretty simple, everything is clearly labeled.

The PVS-4 originally used a weird battery (BA-5367/U) generally unavailable anywhere.  Adaptors exist allowing you to use 2 AA or 1 CR123 batteries instead.  Many PVS-4 scopes have two places, on the top and on the right side, where you could install a battery.  Only one battery is needed to use the optic.  These scopes have been made by many companies in many places in the world, some have omitted the side battery compartment, others were built or rebuilt to only use 2 AA or 1 CR123 batteries.

The AA battery adaptor shown above can only be mounted on the top of the scope, the CR123 adaptor shown below can use either mount.

The objective lens cap for the PVS-4 gives you 6 different options for varying the amount of light let in.  This lets you use the scope during the day, even during the brightest day in the deserts.

The downside is that your view through the scope becomes somewhat obstructed.  I’ve read that people saying they had zero shifts from zeroing with the cap on then shooting with the cap, but I haven’t had the chance to test that.

Reticles are interchangeable if you can find the relevant reticle cell.  The one pictured above is the M16-M203-M79 reticle.  Other options include a cross hair, M14-M60, M2 Heavy Machine Gun, and some assorted rocket and missile launcher sights.

Unfortunately due to the combination of the illuminated reticle, tube brightness, and the daylight apertures makes initially using the scope a little more complex.  When I went to take some photos, I initially got the tube brightness and focus set up so I could see the target clearly but then when I turned on the illuminated reticle it was too dim to see, even at max brightness.  So I had to reduce the amount of light coming in and put the reticle brightness on max to get the photo above.

The photos really don’t do the optic justice.

Much like with the Darkstar, when I tried shooting clay pigeons at 50 yards offhand I found the optic slow and awkward.  It is really best employed from a stationary position and some sort of rest.

Side note, I found on this PVS-4 someone had cut out the flaps in the eye piece.  Normally these eye pieces have 2 flaps to prevent light from spilling out when the optic is on.  Most people find them annoying because you have to press your face into the eyepiece to be able to use the scope.  Most of this style eye piece that I saw in the military had this same modification.

The PVS-4 is perhaps one of the best Gen 2 night vision optics available, and was quite popular compared to the early 3rd Gens due to how well it handles bright lights.  Early 3rd Gen Nightvision would have large halos around bright lights while the 2nd Gen PVS-4 does not have that issue.  That is why you may find some old recommendations where the PVS-4 is recommended for urban use over Gen 3.  That said, newer Gen 3 is far superior to the PVS-4.

It is a good optic, and still works well, but there are far smaller and better options available to us now.

Optic of the week: NV-224 Darkstar Night Vision Scope

The top optic is a Darkstar NV-224 night vision scope, below it is a AN/PVS-4 for comparison.  The company that made it, Tactical Night Technologies is long out of business.

This scope uses the same image intensifer tube as the PVS-4.  While these tubes were made as Gen 2 and Gen 3 models, as far as I know all the Darkstar scopes are only Gen 2s.  I’ve heard people claim that the PVS-4 tubes are some of the best and most capable of the gen 2 night vision devices and I believe them.  That said, these are a product of their time and are large and heavy.

At 4 pounds and nearly 12 inches long this is not a small optic.  I tried doing some rapid target acquisition and firing at 50 yards and I found the scope very slow and awkward for that purpose.  Usable, but far from ideal.  It would be better for use in a stationary position off a rest or support.

It runs off two AA batteries.  On this particular one the plate for the batteries has broken loose and has to be popped back in place for the scope to work.  Battery life is suppose to be 20 hours, but I didn’t get the chance to test that.

An Elcan mount provides the ability to attach this scope to a Picatinny rail and all zeroing is done on this external mount.  Once zeroed, the dial for elevation and be adjusted for 300-800 meters.

Operation is simple.  If you are using it during the day, you leave the protective cover on the objective lens.  At night you remove it.  There are a couple of brightness settings on the power switch.  By the objective lens there is a focus for target clear, and by the eye piece there is an Eyepiece focus.  I was able to clearly see the target and the environment.  Unfortunately the pictures above do not do the sight justice.

The Darkstar objective lens.

The rubber eye piece cover has a shutter in it that opens when you press your face up against it.

Overall I like the Darkstar NV-224, but it is old and obsolete.  If you can find one cheap I think it is worth while, but it just is not competitive with more modern night vision devices.

A copy of the manual and some additional information is available here.

I don’t get the appeal of Nickle Boron coatings.

That is rust on that bolt tail.  As you see with this bolt, Nickle Boron coated item will stain black over time.

I swear that I think all these people who say that NiB bolt carrier groups just wipe clean don’t actually shoot their firearms.

I’ve found the Ionbond/Diamondbond coatings have held up much better than Nickle Boron, but personally I don’t feel they are worth the cost.

Optic of the week – SU-231/PEQ Eotech 553

Around a decade ago it was common knowledge that Eotechs were faster to use and better than Aimpoints.  Just like how not very long before that it was common knowledge that the Earth was flat.

The Eotech sights use a laser to project a hologram of the reticle in the optical window.  This allows for a greater variety of reticle patterns then a diode sight like the Aimpoint.  Most common in Eotech sights are a 1 MOA dot with a 65 MOA circle around it.  A downside to holosights are shorter battery life.  Battery life on the Eotech is advertised to be about 1000 hours.

There are other variations with additional dots to function as a drop chart.  There are also machine gun reticles.

For the life of me, I could not get the reticle to show up nicely in a picture.  Despite how it looks in the photo, the reticle is bright and easy to see.  If you focus on the reticle, you will see that it is comprised of a bunch of dots, it will appear to be fuzzy if you have the brightness cranked up.  That is just due to the nature of how it works.

Windage and Elevation is easy to adjust using a coin or similar tool.  Both adjustments have positive clicks and are easily accessible on the right side of the sight.

Brightness is adjusted using the up and down arrow buttons on the rear of the sight (there are some models where the adjustments are on the left side of the sight).  If the sight is off, hitting one of these buttons will turn on the sight.

The Eotech will automatically turn it self off it preserve battery life.  Turning it on by hitting the down button will have the Eotech turn off after 4 hours.  Hitting the up button will have it off after 8 hours.  Holding both buttons will turn the Eotech off immediately.

Some models, like this 553 have a NV button that will dim the optic for night vision use.  While you can sorta get away with using most optics with night vision by using a dim setting, that can damage nightvision over time.  NV setting reduce the brightness enough so that you will not damage your expensive night vision device.

I did some shooting with this Eotech and with a Aimpoint T-1 on the same rifle.  Shooting from the bench, or rapidly engaging multi targets off hand was quick and easy with either optic.  Both were fast and easy to use, but I would not say the Eotech was any faster or easier than the Aimpoint.  The only real noticeable difference in use was that this Eotech 553 felt much heavier on the rifle than the T-1.  Looking at the stats on them, the Eotech is about 3 times heavier.  That is an additional half pound on the rifle over the weight of the T-1.

I used to be a major fan of Eotechs.  But over the years I saw multiple Eotech Holographic Weapon Sights fail in various ways.  Battery terminals would break, I’ve seen the prism break loose.  Lenses delaminate, and reticles dimming.  The biggest issue was that many Eotechs would drain their batteries even when off.  I found that my Eotech 512 would drain the batteries even when off.  I had to store it with the batteries removed.  I felt the high failure rate of Eotech sights was damning on its own.

Turns out it gets worse.  L3 was aware of issues with their like of Eotech sights, and were covering it up.  L3 paid a settlement of 25.6 million dollars over this.  The biggest issues they were covering up were that the sight wasn’t actually parallax free and that there could be massive zero changes if the optic was exposed to temperature changes and it turns out that Eotech sights also were not as waterproof as they are suppose to be.

Despite these persistent issues, you still see fans of Eotech sights defend them online.    The most often statement in Eotech’s defense is that the Navy SEALs are using Eotech sights.  I point out that the SEALs use what they are issued, are the individuals are not purchasing these out of pocket.  They also have far more range time and funding so doing stuff like rezeroing before a mission or replacing batteries each mission is a non issue.  But even NSWC Crane had to issue a Safety of Use Message about the Eotech warning about a 4 MOA Thermal Drift problem, fading and disappearing reticles, and 4-6 MOA parallax error.  SOCOM acknowledge these sights have issues.

So if you want a known substandard sight, buy Eotech.

Review: Maglula Mag Loader

Maglula

Last Saturday I was loading some 5.45 into mags and realized I should say a few words on this product.

So, here is a quick unsolicited product endorsement.  The Maglula Mag Loader is great.  The one in the picture above I bought a good many years ago and has loaded at least 20,000 rounds.  It is especially handy when I have loaded 5.45 into C-Products AR mags as they loading them is no where near as smooth as loading .223 into an AR mag.

Operation is as simple as it gets.  Slide it on the mag, and rock the lever back and forth as you drop rounds in the front.  You can also use it to quickly unload mags by holding the mag tilted down and rocking the lever.

If you load and unload a bunch of AR mags, this really saves wear and tear on the thumbs and fingers.  I highly recommend it.

Funny story.  I lent the Lula loader in the photo above to my dad for a rifle class he was attending.  When he returned from the class, he didn’t want to return the loader.  He stated he used it a good bit, and wanted to buy me a new one due to how much he used mine.  At that point I let him know that I had used it for over 10,000 rounds of 5.45.  Wear is not an issue with this loader.  I let him buy his own.

Optic of the week: Aimpoint T-1

“It is probably the perfect optic for the AR, isn’t it.” -Shawn.

I stumbled across an old email from 2013 where I told a friend that I thought the T-1 was the king of reflex optics.  Despite there being the newer T-2 and similar optics like the Trijicon MRO, I still stick to my statement.

What makes the Aimpoint Micro T-1 great is very small size, light weight (3 oz with out mount) and long battery life of up to 5 years.  That makes a combination that is hard to beat.

There isn’t much not to like about the T-1.  Now if you wanted to start a list of complaints the first would be cost.  After that is that the stock mount is low profile so you would need to either add a riser or use an aftermarket mount if you are attaching it to an AR15.  I prefer the Larue QD mounts for the T-1 but that does add to the price of the optic.

When people talk about the massive battery life of modern optics like the Aimpoints, they are referencing the possible battery life at about three quarters maximum brightness (a normal operating brightness).  When the T-1 is set to maximum brightness, this battery life is shortened to about 10 months.  But to put it in perspective, the Trijicon MRO also has a battery life of 5 years on setting 5 of 8, but only 25 days on the brightest setting.  Many older optics and cheap optics will only run for a few days.

The T-1 is available in 2 and 4 MOA models.

I have a hard time getting the reticle to show up well when I snap photos of them.

Here is a picture of a 2 MOA T-1 with the brightness on max so the dot would show up in the picture.  This one has an IO/Tango Down cover installed, and a KAC battery cover.

This is a 4 MOA T-1 on a Larue LT660 mount.  The dots show up clearly and bright in person, I don’t know how to get them to show up in pictures well.

Adjustments are 1/2 MOA.  Adjustments require a tool, which is provided as the cap for each adjustment.  Be careful as it would be easy to lose the adjustment caps.

Flipping the cap upside down allows you to use it as the adjustment tool.  It shows you which direction you need to turn for the adjustment.

Now I would say that the only real downside to the T-1 is cost.  But if you run it co-witnessed with fixed iron sights, the small window makes it a little harder to use.  You might want to consider a larger optic if you are running it with fixed iron sights.

It is normally recommended to go with the 2 MOA models.  You can turn up the brightness if you want a larger visible dot, and it is suppose to look better if you are using a magnifier.  I have a mix of 2 MOA and older 4 MOA models, and much to my surprise when I was using them size by with with a magnifier the 4 MOA dot was crisper under magnification.

For a long time I said I never saw an Aimpoint fail, but more recently I have.  Both cases were user error.  The first was an used T-1 I purchased where the previous owner cross threaded on an aftermarket KAC battery cap.  When they attempted to remove it they put a wrench on the stuck cap and turned the brightness adjuster past its stops.  I sent the optic back to Aimpoint and while it took a while, they repaired it and sent it back at no cost.  The second case was my fault, and a really simply error.  I have a KAC battery cover, and this cover has a space so you can put a second spare battery in it.  I didn’t have the second battery under this cap, so then under recoil the battery would pop out of place and my sight shut down.  Installing a second battery (as per the aftermarket cap requires) solved this issue.

I love how small and light the T-1 is.  When used you can sort of see around it when you keep both eyes open and it takes up much less space in the view than most other reflex sights.  I’ve bought all of mine used, as they are hard to screw up and and you can save a good bit of money getting it used.  The Micro T-1 is easy to use and I highly recommend it.

Optic of the week: Trijicon TA01NSN ACOG

The TA01NSN ACOG is a classic at this point.  A compact fixed 4x scope with a bullet drop chart calibrated for M855 out of a carbine barrel.  People assume it is calibrated for a 14.5 inch M4 barrel, but every time Trijicon has given numbers it sounds like the Bullet Drop Chart (BDC) was based around a 16 inch barrel.

The main thing that sets the TA01NSN ACOG apart from the majority of the other models of ACOGs are the iron sights mounted on it.

The iron sights on this ACOG are more for emergency use, for example should you manage to break the ACOG, or for use in heavy rain at close distances, etc.

The front sight is adjustable for windage, the rear sight is not adjustable.  This front sight also has a vial of Tritium in it allowing it to be seen at night.  In the past, there have been people who expressed a concern about this revealing their location.  If this is a concern to you, the sight can be removed, or simply taped over.

I’ve found some of the TA01NSN ACOG iron sights to shoot massively off left or right, so you will want to check it out before you rely on them.

Older ACOGs have 1/3 MOA adjustment that requires a tool like a coin to adjust.  Newer ACOGs have a 1/2 MOA capped turret that is tool less.

The adjustment caps on the TA01NSN are not tethered.  On some other models they are.  When I was zeroing this old ACOG, the O-ring used to seal the elevation knob broke apart.  I notice this O-ring is amber, while ever other O-ring on the ACOGs I own (and on the windage) are orange leading me to believe that this was a replacement done by the previous owner.  You can see the failed amber colored O-ring in the picture above.

I have seen the adjustment cap threads cross threaded or stripped from abuse.  While ACOG scopes are tough, nothing is impervious to user error. & abuse.

ACOG adjustments can be very annoying.  First, don’t try to turn the adjustments to the extremes, that can damage the scope.  Second is that the scope adjustments can hang.  The scope is compact due to a prism and the adjustments rely on the prism moving against a spring.  This means that sometimes when you dial in an adjustment the scope prism won’t actually mode until you smack the scope or fire a couple of shots.  Normally this would be considered very unacceptable in a scope, but in this case it is considered a quirk of the compact tough ACOG.

The center of the TA01NSN crosshair is meant to be zeroed for 100 meters.  Then each hash mark represent a 19 inch width (a mans shoulder width) at the distances of 200 to 500 meters.  The very top of the bottom thicker bar is the 600m mark.

The 4x magnification aids in locating and identifying targets.  When used on a rifle with a fixed front sight base the shadow of the base will appear in the field of view.  Personally I don’t think it seems as bad as it shows in the picture, but I know it really irritates some people.

I took this opportunity to try the Elcan Specter DR in 4x mode and the TA01NSN side by side.  For speed of acquiring a target, or moving from target to target I felt they were the same.  I would say the increased eye relief of the Elcan may make it a far better choice for a .308 or other higher recoiling rifle.  But for shooting 4x on a 5.56 I didn’t feel one offered any significant advantage over the other.

A last point, the ACOG scopes have tritium illumination.  There are some newer models that use batteries.  The idea behind the tritium is to provide battery free illumination of the reticle in low light situations.  I’ve found that often when it is dark enough to use the illumination, I can’t see the target.  Since the half life of Tritium is about 12 years, some of the older ACOGs got gotten very dim.  Trijicon will relamp a scope for a price, but it will likely be more cost effective to sell an old ACOG and just buy a new one.

I really love the old TA01NSN, but now variable 1-X scopes are taking over that nitch.  While the newer 1-X power scopes tend to be larger, heavier, and far less durable than the venerable ACOG, the capability they offer are leading more people to choose that over the ACOG.  If you are primarily expecting to identify and engage man sized targets at 100-600 meters the ACOG is hard to beat.  If you need the fastest speed for up close, or precision sub-MOA shooting, look elsewhere.

Optic of the week: AK sights

Ok, so this week is sort of a cheat for me as these are iron sights and not an optic.

I’ve found that people unfamiliar with the AK tend to be surprised at how narrow the rear notch is.  AK sights can be quite fast to use if you are used to them, but I have seen novices struggle to line them  up.  It is not uncommon to see AK owners here in the states widen the rear notch.

The AK rear sight is adjustable for distance.

You zero by adjusting the front sight.  It is adjustable for elevation and windage.

You will need a tool to adjust AK sights.  Adjusting elevation requires rotating the front sight post.  1 full turn of the front sight post is about 8 MOA.  You could turn the front sight post with needle nose pliers, but it would be better to use a tool made for it.

Windage is adjusted by pushing the rear sight drum.  This is a friction fit in the front sight base and can be a real pain to adjust.  You might be able to get it to move with a hammer and punch, but it is preferable to use a sight pusher.  It is also not uncommon to hear about cheap sight pushing breaking on AK or SKS sights.

I use the Magna-Matic sight tool, it is the best one that I know of.  While not obvious, the top of the tool is cut to go over the front sight post for adjusting elevation.  The O design instead of a C shaped design helps prevent it from slipping off the sight or breaking while it is in use.

How much windage  adjustment you get per turn of sight pusher will depend on what thread pitch the sight pusher uses.  Rule of thumb is that it will be approximately 1 MOA per 1/10 a turn of the sight pusher.

It is very common for AK sights to be canted, and for them to require excessive windage adjustments to zero, such as this Arsenal AK pictured above.

Some AKs use the “RPK” rear sight.  This has a windage adjustment built into it.  The knob on the right side of the rear sight is spring loaded and can be pulled away from the sight and rotated to adjust windage.  I have no clue how much adjustment per click, but they are very easy to use.

There is also a rare rear sight for suppressed AKs that has a cam for switching between different ammunition.

AK have simple and effective sights, but sometimes they can be a real pain in the ass to get zeroed.