Long Range on a Budget
Oleg Volk 10.07.15
As AR15s become generic and sell for less than AK47 clones, decent accuracy is within reach of a budget-priced semi-auto. However, good optics, which are so helpful for reaching out past 300 yards, are still going to add a bit to the cost of the complete system. While spending more is usually a good idea, some of us are on a budget in which range time, ammunition, optics, and other components are a zero-sum proposition.
When I first looked at rifle optics around 1999, NcStar was just another “famous brand” known for borderline useless product. More recently, during the NRA show, I had a chance to handle their new designs and was pleasantly impressed by the variety of models and the much improved fit and finish. When my friend’s new BSA red dot failed four times in a row despite continuous warranty repairs, I suggested trying the 3-9x NcStar compact BDC scope. Retailing right around $100, it seemed like a suitable upgrade over the $30 red dot that wouldn’t even hold zero.
The scope came in a box with an extensive instruction manual and a spare battery. Mounting took seconds with the QD lever. The scope with the mount and rather serious bikini caps weighs a little over a pound. Compared to most 3-9x hunting scopes, it is very compact.
Windage knob is un-capped and can be turned with fingers, while elevation knob is capped and hidden inside the BDC turret. It should be turned with a penny. Zeroing was pretty simple: bore sight it with a multi-caliber laser, test fire at 25 yards to verify windage and approximate elevation, then move to 100 yards to fine tune the settings. Since the “sniper” reticle is fairly thick with approximately 0.8MOA lines, we had to zoom it in to full 9x to see 1″ dots on the target. The thickness makes it easy to pick up the crosshairs against busy backgrounds. Once 100 yard zero was established, the compensating turret calibrated for 16″ barrel and 55gr M193 round can be used to adjust drop for 200, 300, 400, and 500 yards. This feature has been around since at least the late 1930s with the Soviet PU sniper scopes, but isn’t as popular in the US as I’d like it to be.
The cross-hashes on the reticle are for ranging on targets of known size. The scope has provision for illumination in green (for brightness) or blue (to preserve night vision) with three brightness settings in each color. The illumination is bright enough for full daylight at 3 and for dusk at 1. It is too bright for nighttime use. The illumination seems slightly off-center relative to the etched reticle, and there’s a a faint glow around the edges of the sight picture. While distracting, it didn’t affect aiming. Since the scope is quite small for the magnification, it’s a daylight to dusk optic, not suitable for night or twilight use. On the plus side, the optics are quite sharp and the eye box is unusually generous. It was very easy to get the sight picture and keep it at all magnifications. Eye relief is about two inches, but we found the eye positioning not to be very critical. For a budget scope, the absence of eye strain is a big deal.
With a basic Windham Weaponry 16″ carbine and 55gr PMC Bronze FMJ, we were running groups of 1.5 to 2 inches at 100 yards from a sandbag. Considering how heavy the milspec trigger is on that gun, I would think most of the variation was caused by the shooters.
After zeroing, we shot it on a steel popper from Challenge Targets and found that going from 3x to 9x produced no shift in the point of impact. At 100 yards, ringing the center of the popper with splash from each next shot overlapping with the previous hit, was quite enjoyable. We didn’t have a longer range to try out the BDC feature, but other reviewers indicate that it works well. 1.5 to 2MOA in practical use makes the rifle well capable of solid defensive hits out to 500 yards. Past 500, the reticle itself may be used for further drop compensation. Since 500 yard to 600 yard drop is just a little over 4MOA and the first hash mark is 5MOA from the crosshairs, holding it at the bottom of the target would likely produce a hit.
The scope as shipped is waterproof. I don’t know how durable it is, but it should work well enough. Once the scope is zeroed, the only part that moves would be the BDC turret. The initial impression has been favorable–doubly so considering the low price.