Magazines for Rimfire Race Guns

When it comes to sports like Steel Challenge and Rimfire Challenge, you’re going to need at least 5 magazines for each firearm.  I always recommend to use factory magazines if you can because they generally work better and give you a lot less trouble that off brands.

When it comes to Ruger pistols and rifles, I suggest getting Ruger magazines.  Beware of knock offs from eBay.  Some of them are listed as “Ruger OEM” magazines but they aren’t made by Ruger and aren’t always reliable.

When it comes to Smith and Wesson firearms, I also recommend Smith and Wesson brand magazines.  This is true of both the Victory pistol and the 15-22 rifle.  At local matches you can get away with a couple of 25 round magazines for the 15-22.  However, at sanctioned matches you won’t be able to do that because you’ll need to limit the rounds in each magazine to 10.  You can still use a 25 round magazine, you just need to limit the rounds to 10 which means you’re going to still need 5 magazines.

I also recommend having about 6 mags for each type of firearm.  This is because the timer will sometimes fail to pick up your time.  It’s therefore nice to have a sixth magazine there ready to go in the event you have to reshoot a string.

Reloading magazines

There are many reloaders available out there.  I’ve not found one for the factory Ruger 10/22 magazines that actually worked well for me but some have been successful with the Champion loader:

For the Ruger Mark series pistols you can use the McFadden Machine loader found here:–Ruger-MK-Series_p_31.html

The McFadden loaders are the best ones available for any firearm in my opinion.  The also make one for the 15-22 and the Victory magazines.  You can just buy one Lightning Grip Loader and then swap out the adapeters.  Or, you can get one Lightning loader for the rifle and one for the pistol.  That’s my recommendation so that you don’t have to keep swapping out the adapters.  Some of the adapters fit pretty tightly so it’s really not always feasible to swap them.

What I’d do is visit this link:

And then browse the site to find the additional adapters you need.  They have them for a variety of firearms.  There are also helpful YouTube videos that show you the best way to use the McFadden loaders.  It’s definitely a good idea to check those out.  I’ve found using some silicone spray really helps the loaders operate efficiently.

Weapon Cases and Chamber Flags

For Steel Challenge and Rimfire Challenge, you’re also going to want to make sure you have rifle and pistol bags for the match.  All firearms must be bagged when brought up to the firing position.  You’ll also want to make sure that you have chamber flags for any rifles you intend to use.  The chamber flags must be used even when you’re bagging the firearm.  If you arrive at the match and haven’t put in your chamber flag, speak to the Match Director or Range Office and they’ll get you to a Safe Area so that you can insert your flag.

Here’s a link to some good chamber flags that I use:


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Rimfire Race Gun Essentials: Part 2

Now that I’ve given the list of essentials with regard to rimfire race pistols, it’s time to talk about rifles.  There are really two primary options with regard to rifles.  One is the Ruger 10/22 and the other is the Smith and Wesson 15-22.

Essential Upgrades for the Ruger 10/22

Ruger 10/22s have been around for a long time and there are many different upgrades out there.  But there are three things that I always do first when upgrading a Ruger 10/22.  They are the trigger, stock, and barrel.  While the barrel is really nice to have and will allow you to swing/transition the rifle faster from one steel plate or target to another, it isn’t strictly necessary.  Many shooters use the factory barrel to great effect.  So I won’t consider it among the essentials, but it’s the next highest item on the list of upgrades I would recommend.

Optics: I recommend the same optics as mentioned in the rimfire race pistols section below, which was part 1 of this article.  The same goes for the mounts.  I recommend the Striplin Custom Gunworks, Allchin, and Tandemkross mounts.

  • Trigger- If you’re starting with a stock 10/22 the first upgrade I recommend is to change the trigger.  You can get complete drop in units or you can get trigger kits.  The most common one I see is the Kidd trigger kit:  It runs a little over $100 but it’s definitely worth it.  Granted, there are other companies that make upgrades.  One of the least expensive paths to a better trigger is installing a Volquartsen hammer:

It’s about $40 and is worth every penny in terms of improvement.  It’s not as good as the Kidd kit, but it’ll be much better than the factory trigger.  You can also get a full trigger replacement from companies like Brimstone if your Ruger came with a BX-25 trigger.

You have to send your trigger off to Brimstone though to get this done.  The BX-25 is a very common upgrade that runs about $60 or $70.  But for just a little more you could get the Kidd kit which is a much larger improvement in terms of a lighter and crisper trigger.

Tactical Solutions, Volquartsen and Kidd make complete trigger modules that you can swap out with your factory trigger module.  Just pull the two pins out of the receiver and pop in the new trigger.  They are a little more costly.  While I really like the Kidd trigger kit, I wish the company did more for the rimfire race gun sport.  Companies like Tactical Solutions, Volquartsen, and Brimstone do a lot more to promote the sport and sponsor various matches.

  • Stocks – Factory Ruger stocks are not the most ergonomic for rimfire racing.  A stock that has a more vertical grip is much more conducive to fast shooting and operation of the trigger.  Therefore, I recommend to look at the following options:

Blackhawk Axiom stock is a great option for youth shooters who are smaller in stature.  the stock is adjustable and those with shorter arms will appreciate it.  In addition, the grip and trigger orientation is such that those with very short fingers are able to index the trigger properly.  Adults can use it too of course.  The stock is very light but will often have a bit of flex, especially with the forend.

Other options include Boyd’s:

Of all the options I prefer the SS Evolution stock the most because it is very light.  Whatever option you choose, it’s important to consider the weight.  A heavier stock will make transitions slower.  If you can find one of the discontinued Primary Weapons System Raptor stocks then definitely pick that up.  I find it to be the absolute best wooden stock but they are very hard to find.

Other Upgrades for the 10/22

  • Barrels – There are two best options in my opinion.  One is Tactical Solutions and the other is Volquartsen.  My personal preference between the two is  Tactical Solutions from a pricing perspective.  They are also available in multiple colors.  You can get barrels with and without fiber optic sights.  I suggest the X-Ring barrels found here:

Check around on the site for other options.  You can always remove the sights and use them down the road if you want to build an Open Division rifle.  That’s what I would so that you have the option of using that barrel for Limited Division in the future.

The Tactical Solution website shows the cost at MSRP, but you can find them at places such as Rimfire Sports for about $250.

Once you have a new trigger, stock, and barrel I think you’ll find that your rifle has transformed.  It will transition much faster and you’ll be well equipped to see just how fast you can go.

You can also buy a complete race rifle if you want to.  Tactical Solutions sells complete X-Ring rifles.  If you’re starting from scratch and want the best of the best, either an X-Ring or a Volquartsen Ultralight are the way to go.  I prefer the Tactical Solutions X-Ring complete rifles because they are less expensive and ideal for rimfire racing.

Essential Upgrades for the Smith and Wesson 15-22

When it comes to the 15-22, there are just a handful of upgrades available.  It’s a great rifle out of the box and I used mine for quite a while without any upgrades whatsoever.  If you do want to upgrade it, the most important thing you can do is get a new trigger.

Optics: I recommend the same optics as mentioned in the rimfire race pistols section below, which was part 1 of this article.  The mounts are a bit different than the 10/22.  If you go with the C-More just get the slide ride version and simply attach it to the rail.  If you get a Vortex or other red dot, you’ll want to make sure you have the appropriate riser.  Keep in mind that red dots that work for the AR-15 will work with the 15-22 as well.

  • Trigger – So many options exist for the 15-22 it boggles the mind.  That’s because it can accommodate the same type of trigger you’d use to upgrade your AR-15 rifle.  However, it is important to keep in mind that whatever trigger you buy, you’re going to want to get the oversized trigger pins (best thing to do is ask the manufacturer which ones they recommend for the 15-22).

The reason for this is because the 15-22 has a polymer lower and the pin holes are just a tiny bit larger than a standard AR-15.  Thus, if you put in the factory pins, you’re going to run the risk of the pins wallowing out the holes in the lower.  What I did was get a KNS anti-rotation pin kit and that did the trick.  CMS also makes trigger pins specifically for the 15-22 if you choose one of their options.  I really like the 3.5lb CMC flat trigger.  Whatever option you choose, just make sure you address the trigger pin issue and you’re good to go.

Handguard – Many speed shooters feel that a longer handguard (such as a rifle length guard) really helps you control the rifle better.  It aids in faster transitions.  For this, you can use a variety of options but will likely need a conversion kit.  One of the cheapest options I’ve found is the Chandler Hardwoods rails.

You do need a special tool to remove the factory rail.  The tool can be found here:

And here is some helpful information about making the installation.  I also recommend searching YouTube:

So yes, it’s a bit of a process.  However I found it to be worth it.  The great thing about the 15-22 is that it doesn’t need a lot of improvements to make it a viable rimfire race rifle.


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Rimfire Race Gun Essentials: Part 1

Since my last blog post about building rimfire race guns is so old, it’s time for a new one.  The purpose of this article is to discuss the best firearms for rimfire racing and what upgrades are best.

Much has happened since my last post on this blog.  I’ll get back around to that a bit later.  The short version is the Road to the Top 25 ended in success.  And my foray into Steel Challenge has also proven fruitful.

Many people (mostly new shooters) have been asking me to build rimfire race guns for them or to provide parts lists for them.  Therefore, I’m going to share the parts that I would recommend based on what is absolutely essential when it comes to making a race-ready firearm and what parts may enhance performance but aren’t required.  Granted the concept of what’s “required” changes depending upon what your goal is.  If I’m trying to gain a couple of tenths of a second per string, a thumbrest might be something I consider a requirement rather than something that is optional.

I’ll start out by naming the firearm and then will list the parts for it.  Links will also be provided.  Keep in mind two things: 1) Links can change over time and 2) it may become necessary for me to update this article as new parts become available.

There are two types of race guns with regard to rifles and pistols.  One is referred to as “Open” and the other one as “Limited”.  Open guns have optic sights.  Typically these are red dot sights with no magnification.  For the most part, if it uses a battery, you’re going to be shooting in the Open Division.  If you are using iron or fiber optic sights, then you’re going to be in the Limited Division.  In both RCSA (2 Gun Rimfire Challenge) and Steel Challenge, there are Open and Limited Divisions.  Likewise, one can have all sorts of upgrades to Limited guns, which can include upgraded sights, compensators, thumb rests, etc.

Rimfire Race Pistols

When it comes to “bang for the buck” there are really two pistols that one should look at assuming you don’t already have one.  Those are:

  1. The Ruger Mark IV Lite.
  2. The Smith and Wesson Victory.

If you’re looking for an Open Division race pistol, I cannot recommend the Ruger enough.  That’s because it is light and the new model is much easier to disassemble for cleaning that the previous versions of Ruger Mark pistols.

If you choose the Ruger Mark IV Lite for your Open gun, then I highly recommend the following parts.

Essentials: Ruger Mark IV Open Pistol

  • Optics – My personal favorite is the Cmore with an 8 or larger MOA dot.  The plastic body with the non-click knob is perfectly fine.  It runs about $210.  The other option is a Vortex red dot of some sort.  There are many options there and the prices vary.  I don’t recommend going smaller than a 6 MOA dot no matter which one you choose.  If you’re shopping for a C-more I recommend getting it from Allchin Gun Parts.  You’re going to need to mount it to the gun too.  So I’d choose an Allchin mount if you want it to be in an upright configuration.  Many people like the 90 degree mounts because it gets the dot closer to the bore axis and therefore closer to what a normal sight picture would be.  For many, this allows them to pick up the dot much quicker when they start firing a string.  The Allchin website is experience some sort of issue right now so you’ll need to do a web search for it.  (Also you’ll want to make sure the mount you order comes with the correct screws for the Mark IV.  The Mark III screws are too short.  Call John Allchin and he’ll help you out).  To get a 90 degree mount, the best one available is produced by Striplin Custom Gunworks.

The Striplin Custom Gunworks 90 degree mount also has the zeroing directions engraved into the mount which I find very convenient.

  • Trigger and Sear – Upgrading the trigger and sear is perhaps the most important improvement you can make.  You can choose the Volquartsen kit or the Tandemkross kit.  My personal favorite is the Volquartsen for the trigger.  However, if you like a flat trigger, the Tandemkross is the way to go.  The real key is the sear.  You’re going to want to get a polished sear no matter what sort of trigger you end up with.

Volquartsen kit:

Tandemkross links: Sear –

Victory Trigger:

Other Upgrades for Ruger Mark IV Pistols

A C-More sight and a light, crisp trigger gets me most of the way there when it comes to outfitting a race gun.  But there are other upgrades that can make a difference.

  • Thumbrest – The next best thing on the list outside of the sight and trigger is a thumbrest.  This is a topic of some debate because some people would argue that the next item on the list should be a compensator.  For me this is a hard call to make because I believe both are important.  Some would question why a compensator and a thumbrest, which are more prevalent on centerfire race guns, are needed for a .22LR pistol.  The fact is, once you get up to a certain speed, you’ll find yourself fighting for tenths and sometimes even hundredths of a second.  That’s where these types of accessories will make a difference.  It can be hard to tell.  But if you time yourself shooting several strings with and without these accessories, you’ll be able to tell that they do indeed help.  The timer doesn’t lie.

For the thumbrest I recommend the one produced by Striplin Custom Gunworks.  Tandemkross resells them as well.  But they are produced by Striplin.

The installation does not require that any holes be drilled in the frame.  It’s a very simple and easy install.

You can also choose to add an additional thumbrest that replaces the safety lever.  I find the addition of this along with the Striplin thumbrest, provides an extremely stable grip and makes recoil very controllable.

  • Compensators – For compensators I recommend the Tandemkross Gamechanger.  There are two different ones.  The Pro is the new version.  The older version is aluminum and while lighter, it is my understanding that it isn’t quite as effective as the newer one.

  • Sights – Keep in mind that the suggested parts and accessories for Limited Division is the exact same as the Open with the omission of the C-More or Vortex optics.  Instead, I would suggest upgrading the sights by switching to fiber optics.

The Williams Fire Sights are an excellent upgrade:–71053–Ruger-MKIV-2245-LITE_p_312.html

You can keep the factory rear sight and get a Tactical Solutions front sight.

Please note that I believe the threads might be different from the Mark III and Mark IV Ruger pistols.  So you’ll want to make sure you retain the factory screw to install the new sight.

Essentials for the Smith and Wesson Victory

The Victory pistols have a number of upgrades but not quite as many as the Ruger Mark IV.  However they are a tremendous value and are wonderful Limited pistols.  If you just want to get a factory Limited pistol and not have to mess with it out of the box, go ahead and get yourself a Victory.  It will come with a nice trigger and fiber optic sights right from the manufacturer.

It is a bit heavier than its Ruger counterparts.  But that’s not a bad thing with a Limited Division pistol.  The weight keeps the pistol more stable and there’s less disturbance of the sights under recoil.  It also makes a fine Open Division pistol so long as you add the optics and proper mount.

Striplin Custom also makes an upright mount for the Victory:

As does Tandemkross:

The Tandemkross mount looks like it might be made by Allchin but I cannot confirm that.  Either way, these are excellent mounts.

  • Trigger – A trigger also helps the Smith and Wesson Victory pistols.  This is a little bit less necessary than the Ruger because the factory Victory trigger isn’t bad.  But Tandemkross did an excellent job of making the aftermarket trigger crisp and light.  It can be found here:

Personally, I find the Victory factory grips to be a bit slick.  That can present issues during the summertime when your hands are sweaty.  For that reason I recommend getting a set of rubber Hive grips from Tandemkross.

Other Upgrades for Victory Pistols

My biggest issue with the Victory pistol, especially when used for the Open Division, is how much it weighs.  It’s simply a heavy pistol.  This means that sometimes transitions can be a bit slower than you’d like, and once the gun is moving its inertia can make it harder to stop on a dime (or in this case, the stop plate).

  • Aftermarket barrels – There are a number of manufacturers that make lighter barrels for the Victory.  That’s where the majority of the weight is and is the simplest place to reduce weight.  Volquartsen was the first to market with carbon fiber wrapped barrels.  Tactical Solutions also makes an aftermarket barrel.  Both are exceptional options.

My favorite aftermarket Victory barrel is made by Striplin Custom Gunworks.  It transforms the Victory into one of the best Open or Limited race pistols you can possibly get.  However, you’ll need to contact Striplin directly in order to get this done.  Striplin take the factory barrel and does a weight reduction with a carbon fiber wrap.  He also installs one of this custom compensators which may well be THE most effective compensator available for .22LR.  Striplin can be reached at and his prices for this service are very reasonable when compared to other options.

  • Thumbrest – There’s one available for the Victory but it requires drilling and tapping the frame. The finished product is worth it.

Other General Accessories

There are many other accessories such as grips for the Ruger, charging handles (which are great for avoiding getting your fingers pinched), magazine bumpers, titanium firing pins, and more.

My humble recommendation is to check out sites like, Tandemkross, and Tactical Solutions and see what’s available.  Tandemkross and Striplin allow you to shop by gun model, which really helps you see what’s out there.

The best thing you can do to get started will always be to address the sights and the trigger.  Beyond that, it’s best to go to a local Rimfire Challenge or Steel Challenge match and talk to the competitors.  Ask them what equipment they are using.  I think you’ll find the vast majority of competitive shooters are happy to help and might even let you try out their guns after the match.

If you have any questions feel free to ask them in the comments section below.  We’ll talk about rifles in part 2 of this series.


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Homemade Steel Targets


In order to practice for the rimfire matches, I needed some targets that would mimic the various rifle and pistol stages.  Plate racks and dueling trees are all well and fine, but the problem with those types of targets is that they are linear, i.e. they are either horizontal or vertical.  Here is a pic of a dueling tree and a plate rack:


Photo credit:

The matches, however, have targets that vary in height and are spread apart.  Here’s a picture of what the targets look like in a match stage:

Stage 4 Pistol

Since the range I’m a member of only has a plate rack and a dueling tree, I needed to find a way to practice that was more realistic.  (Note: I am not a member of the same range that holds the matches.  Been on the waiting list for 5-6 years and still haven’t gotten the phone call yet.)  The only solution was to build my own steel targets.  The problem is that steel plates are really expensive.  I studied the targets used at the matches and decided this was something that I could do.

I sketched out the basic idea and bought the plates from a local gun store.  I ended up with six of the 3/8″ thick 8″ wide round plates.  While the targets in the matches vary in size and shape, round will be fine for practice.  I made each of the stands two feet wide.  The uprights were varied in length.  I made two of each length: 2′, 3′, and 4′.  Since each target could be set up individually, this allows me to move them around and set up various scenarios.  While it won’t allow me to completely duplicate some of the match stages, it gives me a chance to practice shooting targets that are spread out and vary in height and distance.

It is also worth mentioning that the uprights can easily be removed from the bases.  This makes transporting much easier.  Here are the new targets all set up and ready to go to the range.


Now that I had my plates, I had a new problem: how to get them from the parking lot to the pistol pit.  Since I sometimes want to shoot by myself and didn’t want to have to carry them 100 yards every range session, I needed a way to easily move them around.  So I went to Lowe’s and bought a cheap garden cart.  It does the trick.

target cart

There are drag race stages that I cannot emulate without buying some very large plates.  I’ll need two rectangle pieces (18″w x 24″h) and one 12″ circle.  What I’ve got is a step in the right direction, and it only took myself and a friend of mine a few hours to cobble together.  The nice thing about 3/8″ steel is that I can also shoot these with centerfire pistols.  This allows me to practice with 9mm, 38 Special, and 45 ACP.

Who knows if this will translate into making me a better shooter?  Either way, it’s certainly fun to shoot at steel because you get that immediate feedback.  One of my concerns was making sure the steel had the correct rating (these are AR500).  The other big concern was making certain that I wouldn’t get ricochets.  I used a carriage bolt, washers, and a spring to attach the plates to the uprights.  This is how the targets are hung at the match, and thus far my new plates have been safe.  In the future, I’ll be purchasing some professionally fabricated plate mounts.  For now, the goal is to be able to practice inexpensively.  The biggest reason I have chosen rimfire matches is because the time and monetary commitment is relatively small compared to just about every other shooting sport.  A brick of .22LR at Walmart means you can shoot a match without killing an entire afternoon reloading ammunition.  If I wanted an expensive weekend hobby, I’d have picked golf.

If you want to make your own steel targets, I highly recommend it.  I saved a lot of money doing so.  The main things you want to focus on are getting the right kind of steel and making sure the method of attachments puts the steel at the correct angle to eliminate ricochets.  Don’t mess around with the plate attachment.  I can assure you, from personal experience, that you don’t want to dig an extremely deformed 45 ACP round out of your shin.  It should go without saying, but ALWAYS wear good eye protection while shooting steel.  If you don’t feel comfortable coming up with your own plate mount, these are an inexpensive and effective choice:

target hanger

Safe and happy shooting to you and yours,


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Ruger LCP Custom


For several years now I’ve been carrying a Ruger LCP.  It’s been my primary carry gun, and its small size meant that I could carry it in my right front pocket.  While I don’t carry every single day, it is nice to be able to simply throw it in my pocket and know that I had some measure of protection.

As far as the holster is concerned, I’m a firm believer in the DeSantis Nemesis Super Fly.  It has a panel that prevents the pistol from printing in your pocket.  The sticky exterior makes the holster stay put during the draw.  While I like my Ruger LCP quite a bit, it didn’t have much in the way of sights, which made it more of a point and shoot weapon.  It also had an extremely long trigger pull.

For those reasons I decided to “upgrade” to the LCP Custom.  This has two primary advantages over the previous Ruger LCP models.  The first is an improved trigger with a much shorter (albeit still rather heavy) trigger pull.  The second advantage is that it actually has sights.  While this is still a pocket pistol, it does help to actually be able to aim it.

Here’s the old and new LCPs:IMG_1165.JPG

LCPs updated

The next step was to test out a few different kinds of ammo to make sure it would reliably feed them.

All of these are 6″ Shoot-N-C targets that were placed at seven yards.  They represent the first rounds I fired from the pistol, and I’ll admit the trigger takes some getting used to.  A better shooter would no doubt have gotten tighter groups.  But this proves that even a mediocre shooter can keep on target with the LCP Custom, even if they are firing somewhat rapidly.  I broke each shot as soon as the sights were aligned.

Here are the results.  Please note that this isn’t a deliberate test of accuracy.  But for what it’s worth, it seemed that the Hornady Critical Defense did the best for me.  Also, I had a couple malfunctions with the Remington Golden Sabre.  I believe this has to do with the shape of the hollow point bullet.


The most reliable seemed to be the Hornady Critical Defense.  This might have something to do with the shape of the bullet.  Normally, one would suspect the most reliable bullet design would mimic, as close as possible, the contours of a round ball projectile.  However, I believe the aggressive taper of the Hornady Critical Defense is even better.  As the round travels up the feed ramp, the taper of the bullet keeps it from dragging all the way up the ramp.  Instead, it is almost perfectly aligned with the chamber before it begins to feed.  Other bullets may make contact right at the top of the feed ramp, but I don’t believe the Hornady’s have that issue.  At any rate, they seem to feed very well in both of my LCPs.

While I recommend the LCP Custom, the sights do have one small drawback.  The DeSantis pocket holster does not fit the LCP Custom.  The rear sight will often catch on the top edge of the holster when attempting to draw the pistol.  A quick call to DeSantis confirmed that they do not make, nor do they recommend, any of their holsters for the LCP Custom.  In order to get around the issue, I cut away part of the holster so that it does not snag.  We’ll see how it works out.


Safe and happy shooting to you and yours,


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The Revolver Checkout Guide

Revolvers never went out of style, despite the onset of Wondernine syndrome in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.  Some people have asked me to go with them to pick out a nice used revolver.  One has to be careful because some have serious issues.  Others are diamonds in the rough.  Knowing what you’re looking for and being able to perform a few simple checks will make all the difference.

Back in the heyday of the Firing Line Forum, there was a gentlemen named Jim March who took the time to sit down and write out all the things that one needed to look for in a used revolver.  His first version was made in 2001.  Ten years later, he made a new version.  I’m posting that PDF here for those that would like it.  Thousands of people owe Jim a debt of gratitude, myself included.  I was also fortunate to have been taught by my dearly departed Uncle Guru, though we primarily focused on Smith and Wesson revolvers.

Here’s the thread in question on the Firing Line Forums.  There’s a link to the Google document here.  However, I didn’t want to take a chance that it would get taken down, so I downloaded it and am hosting it from this blog as well.  Here’s the link to view and download the PDF:

The Revolver Checkout Guide 2011

This is a wonderful resource and I hope that those of you looking for a used revolver will find it helpful.

Safe and Happy Shooting,


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Bargain Scopes and Red Dots

by Studentofthegun

This post has been a long time coming.  For a few years, I’ve been using an email I typed up to answer an inquiry about bargain optics.  It included my recommendations along with pictures and links to products.  The email is outdated now, so it makes sense to make a blog post.

First, I want to set anyone’s expectations about this post correctly.  I’m not an expert on optics and I am not claiming to be one.  However, I’ve been exposed to quite a few different options in lots of different price ranges.  What I’m focusing on here are “bargain” optics, i.e. things that aren’t all that expensive but are functional and reliable based on my experience.  The old adage “you get what you pay for” is absolutely true.  My recommendations here are not exceptions to that rule.  Yes, I’ve got a $40 Simmons red dot that has given me over decade of great service.  I finally gave it to a friend to put on his wife’s rifle (which incidentally gets used in 2 gun rimfire matches).  But that isn’t the optic I recommend if you want to put it on an AR-15, and goodness forbid, have to actually use the thing to defend yourself.  So I’m going to break this up into three parts.  The first will be red dots that offer a decent value if you intend to use them on an AR-15 or a short range rifle or carbine.  The second part will deal with variable power scopes for AR-15s.  The third will address scopes for longer ranges, i.e. 200+ yards and scopes that are good for precision .22LRs.

This review won’t mention Nightforce, IOR Valdada, US Optics, Schmidt and Bender, or Swarovski.  This is strictly for people who are primarily punching holes in paper, i.e. casual shooters looking for inexpensive but functional equipment suggestions.

Bargain Red Dots

When it comes to bargain red dots, my first choice is Primary Arms.  The prevailing factors are price, quality, and the great customer service that Primary Arms offers.  Even if I were to buy an Aimpoint, Vortex, Trijicon, etc., I would still buy it from Primary Arms based on their customer service.  That said, Primary Arms has their own line of red dot scopes.  I believe most, if not all, of the Primary Arms branded scopes are made in China.  Pretty much all of the sub $100 red dots are going to be made somewhere overseas.  That said, I really do like the Primary Arms branded red dots.  I’ve used them on AR-15s with no problems.  I’ve been using one on my 2 gun rimfire rifle and it has held zero through four matches now.

Before we get into my recommendations for red dots, I want to first talk about my personal preferences with regard to how the red dot and backup iron sights are aligned, which is referred to via the term “cowitness”.  The two primary types are “Absolute Cowitness” and “Lower 1/3 Cowitness”.  The best way to show the difference between these two approaches is with this diagram:


Diagram credit here.

The Lower 1/3 Cowitness is my personal preference because the iron sights obscure less of the target and the area around the target.  Usually the only sight that presents an issue is the front one if it happens to be a fixed post.  For those that have flip up front and rear sights, this is less of an issue.  One simply folds them down out of the way and the problem is solved.  But I have had some people that have fixed front and rear sights.  For those reasons I always go for the Lower 1/3 Cowitness.

Here are my recommendations based on my own experience as well as the experience of many of my friends and acquaintances

1.Primary Arms Micro Dot with Removable Base.  Click here for direct link.

PA Microdot

One of the really nice things about the Primary Arms website is that you can pick your mount via drop down options.  This is one of the most convenient websites for buying optics.  My personal preference is a riser that provides a Lower 1/3 Co-witness.  This refers to the alignment of the red dot with the rifle’s backup iron sights.

2. Primary Arms 30mm Red Dot.  Click here for direct link.

Primary Arms 30mm Red Dot

Anyone reading this familiar with Aimpoint optics will immediately notice that the Primary Arms products look like Aimpoint clones.  Of course, they are not the same quality as Aimpoint.  They are also a lot less expensive.  This one will also require a mount, which can be chosen from the drop down menu on the Primary Arms website.  This red dot is a bit bigger than the Micro Dot.  It’s still a nice optic for less than $100 (including mount).  Note that this requires a ring, not a riser.  My suggestion would be the Primary Arms High Cantilever 30MM Mount if you’re looking for the least expensive but functional mounting option.

3. Vortex SPARC II.  Click here for direct link.


Photo credit here.

The Vortex SPARC is, by some accounts, a higher quality product than the Primary Arms, but is still less expensive than the Aimpoint or EOTech options.  (EOTech is having some customer service issues at the time this is being written, so I advise caution if considering any of their products).  When the SPARC II is on sale it is not that much more than the Primary Arms.  Personally, I think the differences are slight, but Vortex also has a solid warranty and good customer service.  For me, it would come down to personal preference.

4. Holosun Paralow HS403g.  Click here for direct link.

Holosun HS403G copy

I’ve heard some really wonderful reviews of the Holosun products by competitive shooters.  Some have said the clarity of the glass and crispness of the dot is on par with the Aimpoint.  I’ve looked through a few of them and would agree that they seem to be quite nice for the money.  Note that this would also require a riser to use on an AR-15.

5. Aimpoint ACO.  Click here for direct link.

Aimpoint ACO copy

At this point I might be straining the definition of “bargain red dot”.  But at less than $400 this is a wonderful option, even if it is an entry level Aimpoint.  Clarity is excellent, and the optic itself is extremely durable and dependable.  Sometimes this goes on sale and drops into the mid $300 range, making it a solid option for someone that wants a simple but reliable option for defense or competition.

6. Aimpoint PRO.  Click here for direct link.

Aimpoint PRO copy

The Aimpoint PRO is very hard to beat.  It has many of the same features as the Aimpoint CompML for a smaller price tag (about $150 less).  Like the Aimpoint ACO, it comes with the mount.  The Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic is extremely durable and has a battery life of approximately 30,000 hours.  I’ve had one for several years now and have had no trouble at all despite the fact that it has taken more than its fair share of bumps.  If one is diligent and keeps an eye on the Primary Arms or Palmetto State Armory websites, this optic will go on sale below $400.  I got mine for $399 and no shipping fee.  It’s really hard to go wrong with the PRO.  I prefer it over any EOTech because I prefer the simple, clean dot.  The mount is very rugged and secure.  If the size of the mount knob is not something that you can live with, I would recommend the ACO.  Though I initially though the large knob on the side of the mount would be an issue, it turned out not to be.

Bargain Variable Power Scopes with Illuminated Reticles

Red dots scopes are wonderful for quick target acquisition.  They are simple to use and are very effective in various conditions.  They are especially useful in low light conditions.  However, I find the most versatile scope for an AR-15 to be the 1×4 or 1×6 scopes with an illuminated reticle.

1.Primary Arms 1×4 Illuminated Reticle.  Click here for direct link.

Primary arms 1x4 copy

For these scopes I recommend the Primary Arms Deluxe Extended AR15 mount for those looking to keep costs low.  My personal choice for a mount is the Burris P.E.P.R Quick Detach.  This scope has served me well for years and I recommend it with confidence.  It’s a very simple scope but does include an illuminated reticle.  The reticle illumination is hard to see in bright light, but is really helpful in low light, which is where it is needed.  For the money, this is very difficult to beat.

What I like about these variable scopes is that they can be set to 1x and used in the same manner as a red dot.  Acquisition is still very fast, but the option to zoom in on objects that are at a distance (100 or 200 yards) is a really nice feature.  A rifle equipped with a variable 1×4 or 1×6 optic would be suitable for many uses, whether it be competition, home defense, or even deer hunting.

2. Primary Arms 1×6.  Click here for direct link.

This scope has it all.  It has a reticle with illumination as well as a bullet drop compensator.  Just a couple years ago, 1×6 scope options were few and far between.  What was available was extremely expensive.  However, I believe that more 1×6 scopes will become available and eventually eclipse the 1×4 options.

PA 1x6 scope

The new Primary Arms 1×6 has was is referred to as the Advanced Combined Sighting System (ACSS) sighting system.  The horseshoe shaped illuminate reticle makes short range engagements easier when the scope is set on 1x.  In this manner, it is used just like a red dot sight.  For objects that are further away, the bullet drop compensation reticle works for multiple calibers including .223, .308 and .5.45×39.  The diagram below shows how the reticle works.

PA 1x6 Reticle  copy

This is an extremely versatile scope for $270.  Granted, one must also buy a mount.  But for the price it is very hard to beat.  While I have used many red dots and still have them mounted on several of my rifles, I’ve been slowly moving toward the 1×4 and 1×6 scopes due to their superior versatility.

3. Vortex Strike Eagle 1×6.  Click here for direct link.

Vortex Strike Eagle copy

The Vortex Strike Eagle has received a tremendous amount of positive reviews.  It is on the short list of variable scopes that I would like to purchase for myself.  At $330 it is a little more expensive than the Primary Arms 1×6.  However, the consensus seems to be that it is a bit clearer than the Primary Arms.  The Strike Eagle also features an illuminated bullet drop compensated reticle.  The diagram below shows how it works:

Vortex Strike Eagle reticle copy

Photo source and additional explanation for the reticle can be found here.

Bargain Scopes for Longer Ranges and Precision .22LR

1.Nikon Nikon 3-12×42 Side Focus BDC.  Direct link here.

When it comes to good scopes for hunting, my personal preference is the Nikon Monarch line.  The scope I’m using on my suppressed Remington 300 Blackout is the Nikon 3-12×42 Side Focus BDC.  It is extremely clear and the side focus is a very convenient feature.

This scope is something I would recommend for most hunting applications as the zoom is sufficient for longer ranges.  It’s a really good idea to spring for a decent piece of glass for deer hunting simply because (at least in my area) most of the deer I’ve harvested have been right after sunrise or right before sundown.  The better quality glass will be brighter and clearer and allow more precise shooting in low light.

2. SWFA SS 10×42 Tactical 30mm.  Direct link here.

Photo source here.

These scopes were originally made by Tasco.  But for whatever reason, they were much better quality than the usual offerings from Tasco.  For several years, these scopes were reasonably priced and very desirable.  Unfortunately, the quality control began to slip.  SWFA bought the rights to the scope and brought the quality back in line with the original quality.  I can personally confirm that this scope works very well as I used one of the old Tasco models in an F Class rifle competition at Camp Butner.  The distances were 600 and 1,000 yards.  The 10x magnification was sufficient, even at 1,000 yards.  In some instances, such as hot days when there is substantial mirage, a higher power scope may have a point of diminishing returns.  The more you zoom in, the worse the mirage can sometimes be.

3. Mueller 8-32×44 Side Focus.  Direct link here.

If you want a reasonable priced scope that provides a lot of magnification, look no further than the Mueller 8-32×44.  This scope works well on everything from high powered centerfire rifles to precision rimfire rifles.  I have installed one on a friends rifle and was very impressed.  Currently, several of my friends use them for precision .22LR scopes.  I’ve got a 8.5-25×44 that I’ve had for several years.  It holds zero very well, but the eye relief is a bit sensitive.  Mueller seems to have improved that with the 32x line, and I found the 32x scope was easier to obtain a sight picture than my 25x scope.

Considering that the Weaver 36x that many people use for rimfire benchrest competitions is north of $400, this scope is definitely something one should consider at the $280.

4. Mueller APT 4.5-14×44 Tactical.  Direct link here.

Yes, the scope has the word “tactical” in its name.  Let’s try not to hold that against it, as this is a very versatile scope that deserves consideration.  For an all purpose scope, this one is very hard to beat.  It’s less than $200 and makes a great scope for rimfire or centerfire rifles.  It’s also a fine optic for hunting.  The clarity is excellent and on par with scopes that cost twice as much.  Mueller is a great brand and for reasons I don’t understand, has not received the recognition it deserves.  However, those in the know use them and highly recommend them.  If I were building a rimfire rifle for plinking at the range and varmint hunting, I would be pressed to find a better option.

Further Reading

If you want to know more about optics for AR-15s, there are some great resources at  I would recommend checking out the Optics forum as well as these other links: Optics Forum Optics Forum FAQs

The FAQ thread has links to many other topics that may help one make a decision on which optics to consider buying.  There is a wealth of information there.

Safe and Happy Shooting,




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