A brief history of low powered magnified rifle optics
“The ACOG mounted on the M16 service rifle has proven to be the biggest improvement in lethality for the Marine infantryman since the introduction of the M1 Garand in World War II.” – Major General J.N. Mattis, Commanding General, 1st Marine Division, Operation Iraqi Freedom
Interesting quote from the “Warrior Monk” about an even more interesting concept. “The biggest improvement in lethality” since the introduction of the M1 Garand?? That’s a pretty bold statement. This means more of an improvement than ALL the equipment that was introduced from 1936 until the General made this statement a few years back. In the general’s opinion, which I am inclined to agree with despite his recent political statements (warriors should abstain from politics and politicians should stay out of war) which paint him poorly, all the machine guns, sniper rifles, explosives, radios, packs, camouflage, night vision and etcetera haven’t increased the infantryman’s effectiveness as much as a magnified optic on his rifle. Think about that.
So as impressive of an improvement as that is, it’s also a shame that it took the U.S. military 50+ years to figure out what the Soviets already did on the eastern front (and later in the war the German’s by virtue of the fact they were suffering horribly at the hands of the legions of Soviet “snipers” armed with semi-auto SVT-40’s and Mosin Nagants with 3.5 power PU scopes). Apparently when you give a capable shooter a good rifle and a good optic it increases his effectiveness. Who knew?
So what is it about the ACOG and the PU scope that made their users so effective? For starters, they are both low power magnified optics, 3.5x for the PU and 4x in the case of the RCO version of the ACOG General Mattis was talking about. This of course gives the shooters the ability to spot and identify their targets easier, without so much magnification power that they suffer from tunnel vision and a small field of view. This works great when you are in the field and need fast target acquisition and the ability to engage with follow up shots when necessary.
The next reason the ACOG and PU scopes are so effective is that they have built in methods for compensating for the ballistic variables a rifleman faces; target distance, wind drift and bullet drop. In the case of the PU, this was done by marking the elevation turret every 100 meters out to 1300 meters and using milliradian adjustments on the windage. In the RCO ACOG, this is done using a BDC reticle, although there is no built in windage holds in the reticle, but it does allow for fast ranging of man sized targets.
These are the two best examples I know of that support my belief that your “go to” gun should have a low powered magnified optic mounted. There are also no other examples with as much prominence of any type of optic being mounted on any rifle, with over 279,000 PU sniper rifles manufactured in World War 2 alone and hundreds of thousands of ACOG variants in US service currently.
But, and there always is a but, the ACOG isn’t perfect either. While it does have a large field of view thanks to the design of the optic, it still is a fixed power and in very close engagements it’s been proven that a non-magnified optic still is ideal. It’s also only a 4x optic. While that’s a vast improvement at distance over iron sights or a red dot, it’s barely dipping its foot into the shallow end of the pool compared to most magnified optics.
A long time ago I read somewhere that you only need about 1.25x magnification per hundred yards you intend to shoot and I’m inclined to agree. So going by that logic, if I intend to shoot out to 600 yards, I need something in the range of an 8 power optic. What this does is it allows me plenty of magnification to engage with, anything from 3-6 power would be sufficient on a person, but it also gives me a little more for spotting the finer target indicators. I can always dial back a little if I want to, but I can’t squeeze more magnification out of a scope if it isn’t there to begin with.
So having an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the RCO I was issued I’ve always thought an optic in the 1-4,6, or 8 power range would be ideal. Obviously 1 power on the low end gives me the most field of view and helps me to quickly focus on targets at very close range. I’ve tried a few low powered variables in the last ten years or so but I’ve since settled on the Primary Arms Platinum 1-8 for my 5.56 DMR style rifle.
For those unfamiliar with Primary Arms they are a smaller company designing optics that are meant to be some of the most practical and useful optics you can get at a price that regular people can afford. They are the originators of the Advanced Combat Sighting System (ACSS) which is the best reticle system available for a practical fighting rifle. It’s so good that Trijicon offers it in the ACOG. Throughout thorough testing I’ve pushed my 5.56 to 600 yards utilizing the BDC and have complete faith in its accuracy.
Primary Arms separates the different lines of optics they produce into the Silver (SL), Gold (GL), and Platinum (PL) lineups. Silver is the entry level with price and quality both going up through the gold and into the Platinum. It’s important to note what level of optic you are looking at because there are differences that are important.
For instance a very important difference to me was that Primary Arms’ different lines are built in different places, just like every other scope manufacturer. The Platinum series is built by Light Optical Works in Japan, the same manufacturer who is contracted by Nightforce, Leupold and Bushnell for their high end scopes. In addition to that, the Platinum 1-8 is built to the same specs as the 1.1-8 Leupold Close Quarters Battle Sniper Scope (CQBSS). This was a very important fact to me since the role this scope would be playing is essentially the same as the CQBSS.
The scope is built on a 34mm tube versus the standard one inch or 30mm tubes most scopes use. This allows for larger, more durable internals as well as a larger field of view. When the optic is properly adjusted to my eye and on one power the reticle just seems to float in the air, the large field of view nearly erasing any shadow from the scope body itself. This is much better than most 30mm tubes I’ve used and creates a very fast sight picture for close range shooting. Typically red dot sights have the upper hand on low powered magnified optics because of the scope shadow present, but upgrading to the 34mm tube makes it nearly the same as a red dot. Combine that with the “doughnut of death” reticle and it becomes a very intuitive and natural feeling to shoot with it.
The glass quality is fantastic, and while I admit I’m not a glass snob, I do appreciate the very clear image. Not long after I got the scope I was able to compare it side by side to Nightforce’s 1-8 and I can honestly say they were equivalent in image quality. Not really surprising since Nightforce utilizes LOW in Japan as well. I didn’t run them through any scientific testing, just my calibrated rifleman’s eyeball. Never mind the fact that the NF didn’t have an ACSS reticle…
The turrets are perfect, locking in place by pushing them down. Just lift up to unlock, dial your adjustment and your set. They have very clean and snappy clicks and are better than they need to be for this style of optic. I’ve found the turrets to be repeatable and accurate and deserving of the “Platinum” name.
As far as durability and reliability, I’ve been using the scope exclusively on my 5.56 AR for over two years and a couple thousand rounds and have had ZERO ISSUES. It maintains it’s zero faithfully. I’ve dropped the rifle twice, both times impacting on the scope and have suffered not so much as a loss of zero. I don’t baby my rifle either, no gun case or drag bag. It’s treated and used roughly to ensure its durability and identify any weakness before it’s a problem.
I can’t honestly say enough good things about it, it’s an enabler that combined with a good rifle makes for an extremely effective shooting system. It’s simple, reliable and rugged, and while it’s not cheap at roughly $1200, it also punches way above its weight when compared to the price of other optic’s designed to serve a similar, professional role. History has shown time and again the effectiveness of a rifleman with the proper equipment and skills, and I feel this optic and reticle combination pushes that bar even higher.