BigJimFish Review of Bushnell Elite Tactical SMRS 1-8.5x 24mm Illuminated Rifle Scope.

Table of Contents:

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  • Background
  • Unboxing and Physical Description
  • Reticle Description, Explanation, and Testing
  • Comparative Optical Evaluation
  • Illumination Evaluation
  • Speed Testing and Exit Pupil Testing
  • Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion
  • Summary and Conclusion
  • Nightforce
  • Nightforce

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Background:
Bushnell has a history that strikes me as more like that of a 21st century optics corporation than its 1948 founding would suggest. I say this because most of the recently founded optical companies I know of are importers of products made overseas. Bushnell is also one of these, but they started doing it back in 1948. It is notable that container shipping, a technology that now forms the backbone of international trade, had not yet been invented in 1948:  Bushnell was ahead of its time.

What it means to think about an optics company that is an importer and a brand, rather than a manufacturer, is that different product lines often come from different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and are therefore no more comparable with each other than products produced by entirely different makers, because that is, in fact, what they are. Of course, which OEM is used for which product or product line is not information made publicly available, so it can be difficult to make general statements of any kind.

With that being said, I will proceed to make general statements about the Elite Tactical line. It has generally been well received. The features have been up to date with current market trends. Matching 10 mils per rev locking turrets, compelling reticles, zero stops, and other features are in demand; and Bushnell has delivered them on many products in this line. On top of that, the clarity and durability of scopes in this line have also proven to be good. If these optics come from the OEM that I think they do; this is not surprising. That Japanese OEM dominates the $1,000 – $2,000 price range and its products rarely rub anyone the wrong way. With that in mind, I went into this review expecting a well designed scope with no obvious optics problems. I was a little curious about the $2,150 price tag though. It is well above what I expect to see from either Bushnell or that particular OEM.

Unboxing and Physical Description:
The demo that I received from Bushnell was a bit sparse when it came to extras. I have to admit, I expect some caps, or at least a lens rag with a $2,000 optic. All that came in the Bushnell box was a thin stack of owner’s papers. This despite that fact that that box was quite cavernous, even for the substantially sized SMRS 1-8.5.x.

The Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5x is a stocky, knobby affair. It has large, heavy adjustment knobs that still look big even on the 34mm tube. The result of this combination is that, at 25.9 oz, it is very close to the heaviest optic in the class. The only two heavier, the IOR Eliminator and Kruger DTS, are unusual optics with features that necessarily add weight. The Bushnell is just plain heavy and I don’t think it had to be. It does not need a 34mm tube, as a 30 mm would provide more adjustment than anyone could need and the objective in the 34 mm is the same size as is common in 30 mm optics. I also can’t help but think those adjustments could be shrunk down a bit. Smaller 10 mils per turn adjustments do exist. At the very least, these big honkers should include a zero stop. They are locking but do not have a zero stop.

I believe that many of these design choices were made, not to enhance function, but to provide a muscular appearance. In the end, though, I don’t think that this is one of the finer looking optics I have seen. I can identify some of the aesthetic reasons for this. The scope lacks a flare in the tube at the objective, as many other scopes have, to prevent mounting rings over top the objective. That always adds something. It also has a very extruded looking power ring that appears low end. I’m not sure these features add up to the overall impression though. It looks kind of plain and bulky to me – like the image Volvo paid so much to not succeed in ridding itself of.

The mount used throughout this review is a prototype of Bobro’s new 34mm Cantilevered Precision Optic mount. Bobro was good enough to supply me with one so that I would be able to mount all the 1-8x optics I had on hand for this review simultaneously. I took the opportunity to review  the mount as well.

Reticle Description, Close Quarters Performance, Explanation, and Ranging:

Reticles aren’t everything; but it can be easy to forget that – for good reason. They are pretty important, though. Having designed a few of these myself at this point, I understand the difficulty in balancing simplicity of use and up-close speed with accuracy, speed, and versatility for ranging, drop compensation, and drift compensation. It is also nice to have a small precise primary aiming point for doing load development and accuracy testing.

Bushnell’s BTR-2 places substantial focus on speed. At 1x it takes up very little of the field of view. This is generally good, although the large central circular feature is just a bit smaller or thinner than I would have chosen. It is almost there, but, as you will see, in close quarters testing most reviewers thought it a little on the inconspicuous side. The reticle primarily ranges using a vertical mil scale graduated in .5mil increments and labeled. Well enough, it is almost always better to range vertical objects than horizontal ones owing the orientation of most things to gravity. The increment size chosen for the scale and the labeling markings of the scale  are well executed and also proved to be the correct size on the calibration target. The markings on the horizontal crosshairs are less easily deciphered. It turns out that the height of the hashes on the horizontal markings forms a stadia ranging section for ranging objects of 10″ height between 100 and 800 meters. I expect this is meant for the 10″ plates common in Three Gun, though human heads aren’t too far off that size. It has been my experience that objects of this small size are very difficult to range with anywhere near the accuracy needed for that ranging to be useful. So, while I am generally a fan of stadia systems for their speed, I don’t think this one will deliver enough accuracy to be useful. So far as I can tell, the markings on this horizontal crosshairs are not all at exactly 1mil increments. No mention is made of the horizontal distances in the manual. It mentions that these markings may be used for windage holds. However, they did not measure out to be each equal to a mil in my testing, so I have my doubts about the usefulness for this purpose. This is a  disappointment, as it diminishes the value of the giant 10 mils per turn elevation turret. I expect that, for most shooters, windage will need to be dialed instead of held. All in all, I think it is a marginal reticle. I am happy to see that some thought went into the design instead of just throwing a mil-dot at the thing, but I believe it came up short in a lot of areas.

Comparative Optical Evaluation:
The Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5x’s optical performance was, in many ways, exactly what I expected. That is to say, I expected no major optical problems such as heavy distortion or curvature of field, but I also didn’t expect it to boast the clarity of many of its competitors. With regard to sharpness, it was not as sharp as the Leupold MK8 or MK6, the March, or the USO. However, the USO displayed distortion, curvature of field, and a small field of view such that the Bushnell was easily preferable. The coloration of the Bushnell was on the warm side, similar to that of the Leupolds. Given the price differences between the scopes in this lineup, I did not feel the optical performance of the Bushnell was either exceptional or lacking. It seemed about right.

Illumination Evaluation:
Bushnell appears to use convention reflected illumination in this optic. They have elected to light the central dot and semicircle but not any part of the scale; so you will not be ranging or holding based on these in low light. It is clear to me that they really gave it their all when it comes to cranking that technology as bright as they could get it. Despite that effort, while daytime visible, this illumination is not daytime bright. Users doing close quarters testing did not find it any faster to use the illumination than not to. While I have no doubt this illumination, especially coupled with the nice small semicircle, will speed things up in low light; it does not achieve a red dot feel.

Speed Testing and Discussion of Contributing Factors:

Over the course of the last couple of reviews, I have had the opportunity to evaluate, in cooperation with eight or nine different testers, some 14 different optics, with a 1x setting, engaging close quarters targets.             For this I use an air-soft AR and pie pans:  I’m not made of money. It’s a lot of fun and you can go though thousands of rounds for the cost of fast food dinner. What I have found after doing all of this testing is that what counts for close quarters is not exactly what you would expect. Here is my summary of the major factors and what part they play:

1) Optical Design:  Having a distortion free, flat field of view at 1x is, by far, the most important factor to speed. Pincushion distortion, barrel distortion, or curvature to field throws off your ability to merge the data coming in from your left and right eye into a single image. The result is slow and a little disorienting. This disorienting effect is not noticeable when you are focused on a stationary target, but as you move across the field of fire, having the objects viewed through the optic bend as the field of view moves across them is very hard to deal with. At 1x the Bushnell did pretty well with regards to flatness of field of view. It is not perfect, but it is not problematic either.

2) Reticle:  The reticle is a little more subjective. Not every tester has always agreed. However, in general, an open field of view with a few thick objects in just the center is the desired combination. Crosshairs are generally disliked. Had the semicircle in the Bushnell been a little bit thicker, larger, or been brightly lit; it would have had an excellent reticle. As it stands, the testers frequently lost track of the circle amidst the background. I think the function was probably still preferable to big, thick, distracting crosshairs, but was in no way optimal.

3) Illumination:  It may come as a surprise given optics makers’ quest for daytime bright illumination, but it comes in a bit down the list. To be sure, having a daytime bright dot can eclipse reticle design in importance to speed if the reticle is thin and therefore not distracting, but it will not make up for a bulky distracting reticle. Reticle design and illumination can be seen as working together to determine speed, but, in my experience, the reticle is the bigger part of this pair. During the daytime testing, the Bushnell was run with and without illumination with basically no difference in results. It was visible, but the reticle wasn’t bright; it just looked red in color. The illumination was certainly effective as the day wore into dusk, but was not effective in full sun.

4) Eyebox:  It should come as no surprise that having more freedom of motion while still getting a picture is good for speed. However, what I have found is that, within reason, this factor plays less a part than you might think. It is true a tiny eyebox can make an optic slow, but most scopes have enough leeway that it is not a big factor. No tester found the eyebox of the Bushnell to be unduly restrictive. It was not tops in this area, but also did not display any problems.

The Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5x generally placed on the lower half of the lineup near the middle in terms of speed. It scored better with more experienced shooters who had less problem losing the reticle (or more likely simply weren’t focused on it) than it did with less experienced marksmen.

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
This optic is equipped with 10 mils per turn, .1 mil per click, locking, uncapped turrets. They are bigger and bulkier than those on most long range scopes. The locking feature is a simple pull up to unlock, pull down to lock system and the zero adjusts by removing the coin slotted fastener in the top. There is no zero stop. The clicks feel good and, given the distance between them, are easy to count.

For the adjustment testing of Bushnell as well as the other scopes being reviewed this year, I made up a new target shown below. I spend a good deal of time shooting at my local 100-yard range with scopes that are adjusted in mils. It annoyed me that I could not find a target made on a mils at 100 yards grid. I therefore made one and furthermore, made it have six bulls so that I can shoot a box and power change test on the same target. The grid on the pictured target is .1 mil at 100 yards. I will make the PDF of this target available just as soon as I can figure out a way to get the CAD program to make a PDF of the correct size. (It seems to be able to print out the correct size, but the PDF is not right. I will have to use some printer plug in.)

A box test checks for the accuracy in magnitude and independence in direction of the adjustments. To perform this test, the shooter aims at the same place when firing all shots, but moves the adjustments between groups such that a box is formed by the groups fired with the last group landing back atop the first. This box should be square and the corners (i.e. the groups) should be the correct distance from each other as dictated by the scale of the scope’s adjustments. As performed on this target, all of the groups should have the same position relative to the exes. The Bushnell passed this test with no difficulty.

In a power change test, the rifle is fired at two different targets with one being shot at maximum magnification and the other at minimum. The targets are then compared to make sure that the scope does not shift with regard to point of aim when the power is changed. Some shift will be expected with a second focal plane scope, but a front focal plane scope, such as this one, should exhibit no shift. The Bushnell exhibits no shift.

Summary and Conclusion:
Had some different decisions been made in the marketing department with regard to size and weight, and had the reticle gone though just a bit more development, it is likely that I would find this scope a good choice at its price point. The underlying optical design is solid and the mechanicals check out. As is, I have a hard time getting past the unwarranted mass, uninspiring reticle, and perfunctory looks.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
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    • Clarity commensurate with price
    • No optical aberrations of significant degree
    • Good adjustment feel and perfect function
    • Excellent warranty and Bushnell even allows customers to return a product they try out and don’t like

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Cons:
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      • 24.9 oz is too heavy
      • Illumination is not daytime bright
      • Reticle is lackluster
      • In the lower half of comparison optics for close quarters speed
      • Perfunctory looks

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Lester (Jim) Fischer – editor, SnipersHide.com