In this article, I will compare the three optics which received the NRA Bullseye Award for Optic of the Year in 2013. Each of the devices offer a unique purpose for the shooter. The three NRA publications chose the following as the winning optics. American Rifleman selected the Trijicon TARS (Tactical Advanced Rifle Scope). American Hunter chose the Laser Genetics ND-3×50 Subzero. Finally, Shooting Illustrated picked the Bushnell HDMR 3.5-21×5.
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While the name TARS may imply that it is solely used by military or law enforcement specific purposes, it actually has a lot to offer big game hunters or target shooters as well. Housed in a thick walled 34mm, aircraft-grade hard-anodized aluminum body, the TARS is a variable power riflescope offering 3-15 times magnification with a large 50mm objective lens. This lens is a great feature that provides extra field of vision and light gathering. The ocular and objective lenses are multi-coated to provide superior clarity and zero distortion. The TARS also offers a first focal plane reticle, which ensures that the crosshairs will remain on the same point of the target regardless of magnification. It also comes with a constant 3.3-inch eye relief so the shooter does not need to reposition through different magnifications.
The JW Mil, and Illuminated Duplex reticle scopes come with a 1/10 adjustment per click, whereas the MOA crosshair has the more standard 1/4 adjustment. Personally I feel that the 1/4 adjustment is more than enough, and is easier to calculate adjustments in the field, But that may be just because I’m used to this format.
With the 1/4 adjustment, each click adjusts MOA into quarters. In a rough estimation, you can round MOA adjustments to inches. This way a shooter can quickly determine the number of clicks to make, by the amount of inches needed in correction. For instance, MOA at 400 yards is roughly 4 inches. So a shooter with the 1/4 MOA adjustment would quickly know that each adjustment will cause a roughly 1-inch adjustment to the placement of the shot.
The optics that use the 1/10 adjustment requires more thought process, as it is more complicated. However, the impact point can be slightly more precise.
The Trijicon TARS is an amazing rifle scope, with many features that serious shooters are looking for. With adjustments and optical acuity that easily allows shooters to reach targets close-in or hundreds of yards away, the TARS has many applications in the civilian market, as well as in government use. However, this is optic is not something that you would want to mount to your bargain rifle. However, for a serious shooter who demands and expects greater precision and distance the TARS will deliver.
On the downside, the great features that come with the TARS, also come with a price to match. This is one reason that this riflescope sees limited use outside of government, law enforcement operations, or professional shooters. Despite that, Trijicon has established itself as a leader in advanced and quality optics. The TARS is another example of that high level of quality.
- Dimensions – 13.9” x 3.8” x 3.5” Length is 16.9” with sunshade
- Weight – 47 oz. – 51 oz. with optional sunshade
- Illuminated Reticle – 10 varying red light. 2 night vision
- Power Source – (1) CR2032 LED Battery. Included. 75 hours on #6
- Zero Forward Emission – Illuminated reticle doesn’t project through objective lens
- Hydrophobic Coating – Prevents moisture buildup on both lenses
- Return to Zero – Quick return to zero on elevation turret
- Waterproof – Dry nitrogen filled prevents fogging, Waterproof to 20M
- Exposed Turrets – Pull to Adjust. Push to lock. Prevents accidental moving
- Elevation Adjustments – 150 MOA/44 mil total; 30 MOA/10 mil per full rotation
- Windage Adjustments – 120 MOA/36 mil total; 30 MOA/10 mil per full rotation
- Parallax Adjustments – 40 yards without end
- Reticle Options – JW Mil; MOA crosshair; (2) Illuminated duplex versions
- Field of View – 37.5’ at 3x; 7.5’ at 15x magnification at 100 yards
- Warranty – Electronics guaranteed for 5 years from purchase date
- MSRP – $3990. (Several retailers off at $3391.50)
Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero
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The ND3x50 Subzero is an optic solution which offers an entirely different format. This device is a green laser accessory that allows shooters to illuminate targets at night. It produces the green light in an optical spectrum that Laser Genetics claims is the closest to what the human eye is accustomed to during daylight. This is also the most powerful Laser Genetics product to date.
This product has several applications for civilian and government use alike. Coming in the shape of a large flashlight, you can use the ND3x50 to illuminate a trail at night without giving away your obvious presence. This can be beneficial for a hunter, camper, soldier, or law enforcement officer. Civilians want to see obstacles without scaring off the animal. In other situations, it is beneficial to avoid attracting wild animals of the forest nearby. A soldier or law enforcement officer may need to navigate into a position of observation without alerting a target or suspect of their presence, in which the ND3x50 works well.
Once in position, you can illuminate targets in darkness as far as 500 yards away. Using the 1-inch scope mount, the ND3x50 rests above the scope to illuminate the same plane that you are examining through the scope. You can also attach the mount to a Picatinny rail for modern sporting rifles. This is an incredible feature for predator hunters, competition shooters, or even government or law enforcement users in some instances.
The Rotary Optical Collimator uses nine multi-coated lenses to adjust the beam diameter and intensity. At the minimum focus point, you can see the ND3x50 beam up to 3 miles away. Anyone in need of sending a distress signal, or signal location, can easily do so with this product’s powerful laser emitter. As the name implies, the ND3x50 Subzero uses the DPSS 532nm Green Laser, which will continue to operate at below freezing temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit without failure.
The Laser Genetics ND3x50 green laser is a powerful addition to anyone who plans on shooting at night. The powerful beam provides plenty of illumination, whether the target is up close or at great distances. The mounting options allow you to customize the use of the ND3x50 to your specific shooting platform. It also comes with a pressure switch that allows momentary power on or off. This makes this product viable in a military or law enforcement application.
Laser products are still expensive options; however, the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero delivers a lot for a price. As a police officer, I can attest to the frustration at trying to find affordable night optics that work well. The average night vision scope will usually run around $4000-$6000 per optic. Thermal optics are even higher priced, usually landing in the $8000-$15,000 range. To be realistically applied the optic should have the ability to lock into place in front of your standard scope. One that you have zeroed and have confidence in. Additionally, having a quick release option to move the night vision optic out of the way for regular lighting shooting is imperative. However, all of those options quickly raise the price tag even further.
With the Laser Genetics ND3x50 Subzero I see a more affordable option to budget-strapped agencies, or shooters. The included pressure switch option allows you to make quick illuminations of a target, with a laser light that is not easily fixated on or located in darkness and then turn off the light to return to the cover of darkness. I could outfit my entire sniper unit of six snipers for less than one regular night vision scope. The same applies to the hunter or outdoorsman, who could easily add this option to a nice rifle and optic and keep the overall price of that platform below $1000.
- Dimensions – 1” Tube 10” long, 2.35” diameter light bezel
- Weight – 13.68 oz
- Housing – Precision machined high-tech aluminum
- Resistance – Fully o-ring sealed. Keeps moisture and dust out
- Anti-Fog – Nitrogen charged tube
- Power Source – (2) CR123A batteries – included
- Beam Diameter – 50-320 MM at 1 foot
- Rotary Optical Collimator – Allows for quick adjustments to beam diameter and intensity.
- Warranty – 1 year
- FDA Safety Class – 2M laser product
- Accessories Included – Weaver style ring mount; 1” scope mount – adjustable elevation and windage; tripod mount; pressure switch; padded storage case
- MSRP $599.95 (Some retailers offer as low as $200)
Bushnell HDMR 3.5-21x50mm
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Bushnell has a long reputation as one of the finest rifle optic manufacturers. The HDMR 3.5-21x50mm scope is another addition to a large family of great products. This scope combines several features of a quality long-distance riflescope, while keeping the product in a remarkably compact package.
As I’ve mentioned before, the 50mm objective lens is a great option for any hunter or shooter, as the larger lens allows more light in to clarify the target, and the field of view tends to be larger than smaller lenses. The HDMR also has exposed turrets which I believe are necessary for long distance shooters.
Some scopes have covers over the measuring dials for the elevation and windage controls. Although these covers protect the dials from weather and foliage, it also creates an almost impossible adjustment situation for a hunter or shooter expecting to make a long distance shot on a target that may not wait around. Taking covers off, and typically needing a screw driver or other tool to adjust the scope, is just not practical in those shooting situations. These scopes are designed for those of you that will be shooting within known distances and you simply want to lock in the zero for that known distance.
Having exposed turrets allows you to immediately adjust the scope to compensate for targets at various distances or wind patterns. Though they may be intimidating to the unfamiliar shooter, exposed turrets are necessary for serious hunters and shooters alike.
The HDMR is just over 13-inches long, and Bushnell claims it out performs any scope in its class. With the broad adjustment to magnification, this scope does not sacrifice close range shots with the added magnification for long distance shooting as many other scopes do. The HDMR combines these popular designs, and goes even further to an incredible magnification power of 21.
The Bushnell HDMR 3.5-21x50mm riflescope does not have an illuminated reticle like the Trijicon TARS, however it offers a much greater magnification range for over $2000 less. Though $1000 is nothing to blink an eye at, when fellow hunters and shooters begin talking about serious optics for long range rifles, I have yet to hear a device mentioned that did not reach into the Four figure cost range.
The current reticle options are a bit of a draw back for the HDMR. Horus is known for reticles that offer a great deal of accuracy simply by using the available hash options already on the reticle. These marks allow you to remain on target and simply move the rifle so that a specific hash mark is lined up according to the distance and wind condition faced. These reticles alleviate the need for manual turret adjustment.
However, these reticles can quickly become cluttered and confusing, even if you are an experienced shooter. Each option requires a great deal of understanding in trajectory, mil-ranging, and MOA or mil adjustments to ensure that you are lined up on the correct cross hair. A determined level of practice shooting at various distances will also be required for you to master the complicated reticle systems.
- Dimensions – 13.2” long, 34mm tube
- Weight 32.5 oz
- Reticle Options – Horus H-59 (ET35215) or Horus TRMR2 (ET35215T)
- First Focal Plane – Same target point at all magnifications
- Parallax – Side mounted without end
- Multi-Coated Lenses – Magnesium Fluoride reduces glare and increases clarity
- Eye Relief – Constant 3.75″
- Rain Guard HD – Protects lenses from fogging due to weather or bright light
- Ultra WB Coating – Anti-reflective on each lens for greater Light and Color
- Waterproof – Argon filled tube instead of nitrogen, for long term waterproof integrity
- T-Lok exposed locking turrets – Turrets lift to adjust and push down to lock in place; mil adjustments are exposed 1/10 mil per click
- Mounting Length – 6″
- MSRP – $2182.95 (Some retailers offers as low as $1050)
With the great options and functionality, it is easy to see why each of these optics each received the 2013 National Bullseye Award. Each one offers a little something that the other two do not offer. This gives you a great choice when finding the right optic for your rifle.