SHOT Show, Part III: New Optics

In the wonderful multi-coated world of optics, the most interesting development I see is the effect that Nightforce is having on everyone else. Despite its prices, which range from high-medium to Who just Punched Me in the Solar Plexus?, the Nightforce booth was so mobbed that I had to enter it at 8 AM before the hall was open to the lumpenproletariat. The Nightforce rep with whom I spoke said that the day before, he had tried to move a bit to allow people to get in, and did not have so much as 12 inches in which to shuffle his feet.

An executive at one of Nightforce’s competitors, a very bright guy and an astute analyst of the market, said, “Their engineers are all active long-range shooters. That shows up in everything they design.” Nightforce’s glass is not the best on the market (I don’t know whose is, if indeed there is such a thing) although it’s certainly in the top rank, but their ergonomics, adjustments, and general toughness are the best around, and this has made an impression both on the shooting public and other manufacturers, prices be damned.

All of a sudden I’m seeing scope brands whose adjustments used to feel like stirring your finger in a bowl of congealed oatmeal turning out something that, if not stellar, is at least usable. Where this impetus comes from is not a mystery. That said, Nightforce does not have anything major that’s of interest to hunters that I haven’t covered already this year, so let us press on.

Zeiss
In past years, Zeiss outraged the faithful by producing good, but moderately priced, scopes and binoculars. This year I'm pleased to report that they've gone back to expensive with the Victory HT. This is their new top-line scope, and incorporates every feature that Zeiss can think of, and some stern price tags to go with them. This list starts with Schott glass (a foremost maker of optical glass, which makes possible an advertising slogan: "No schitt—it's Schott") extends to illuminated reticles, and a new range compensating feature called the ASV + Ballistic Turret System.

With each ASV + scope, you receive 9 metal rings, which makes you Lord of the Rings. The rings are engraved with adjustment marks for nine different bullet trajectories, one of which will match whatever you’re shooting. After you pick your ring, unscrew the elevation knob, insert the ring, replace the knob, sight in your rifle, and when it comes time to shoot, crank in the setting that you want and blaze away. No thought is involved.

The ASV + system is simple and robust, and the scopes themselves are gorgeous mechanically and optically. They range from a 1X-8X (which I would look at very, very, very hard if I were looking for an all-around scope) to a 4.8X-35X. I asked Joel Harris, Zeiss’ PR guy, how well these top-line scopes sell, considering the prices. Very well, he said. Europeans usually own only one big-game rifle, and need only one scope, so they’re willing to spend the money. Americans are willing to spend the money, period.

Meopta
This company, on the other hand, doesn't charge enough, considering the value of what they sell. I argued with Reinhard Seipp, who is Meopta's General Manager in the U.S., that if they increased their prices by one-third across the board, that people would begin to appreciate Meoptas for what they are. He listened politely, and probably wondered how he could have me locked away in some place where I could not annoy anyone.

That notwithstanding, you need to know that there are two Meopta lines: MeoPro scopes are made in the Czech Republic where vowels are not allowed, and assembled here. It’s the lower priced line. MeoStars are based on 30mm tubes and made and assembled in the C.R. They cost more.

This year, the Meo action is all in the higher powers. There is a new 6.5X-20X MeoPro hunting scope, an HTR version of same (HTR stands for Hunting/Tactical/Range), a MeoStar 8X 56mm fixed power, and the ZD 6X-24X tactical scope. My favorite, however, was the Meo-Tac 3X-12X. This is a 34mm-tube beast with all sorts of wonderful features, a reticle in the first focal plane, and a release date sometime in early fall. The price, for what you get, will have you digging frantically for your credit card and making little whining noises.

Leupold
Leupold has taken its bread and butter VX-3 scope and given it a complete overhaul, renaming it the VX-3i. They have redesigned the power selector knob, gone over to a second-generation argon/krypton gas to keep out humidity, added springs to the adjustment system to increase repeatability, replaced the first-generation scratchproof coating with DiamondCoat 2, and incorporated a new Twilight Max Light Management system that extends your shooting time.

There are 15 models, starting with a 1.5X-5X at $519, and ending with a 6.5X-20X for $1,169.

And yet, what stands out about Leupold is this: Last fall, I pulled a brand new Leupold out of the box and dropped it on a concrete floor, badly bending the objective-lens bell. I sent the scope to their repair department with a note explaining what happened. They had it back to me in something like a week and refused to charge me for it, even though the bent bell was my most grievous fault and I damn well should have paid. I doubt this was because of the position I occupy; it's simply the way they do business.
Thank you.