Each sighting unit has its strong points; to choose between them, you’ll have to examine your game and your needs.
One of the first lessons you receive in a handgun-training class is how to obtain a sight picture. When using iron sights, you strive for a sharp focus on the front sight, level and in line with the rear notch. The rear sight will appear slightly less clear, and the target is silhouetted, with varying degrees of clarity depending on distance. This system works, but is it logical to have the target come in a poor third in visual acuity? Enter the optical sight. Originally, optical sights were designed to conquer distance. Just like a telescope, they bring the target seemingly to the end of the barrel and aim the shot by using light-generated crosshairs placed across the lens. Today, sports such as Practical Shooting, which value speed as well as accuracy, have fostered a different design. With target arrays close enough to make magnification unnecessary, shooters want rapid acquisition of the target. Two sights in particular—the C-More red-dot scope and the Bushnell Holosight—are satisfying the need for accuracy and speed.
The C-More red-dot scope is used by Todd Jarrett, the reigning World IPSC Champion. The man he unseated for the crown, Matt McLearn, also used a C-More. The man who won the U.S. National Championship in 1996 was Jerry Barnhart. He shot a Bushnell Holosight, as did Bruce Piatt, who won the just-completed 1997 NRA National Action Pistol Championship Bianchi Cup. Active competitors from the club level on up are mindful of these developments, and more and more Holosight scopes are being mounted on guns that previously sported C-Mores. But of course, we wanted to find out for ourselves which product is better, so we matched up a C-More Railway model against a Bushnell Holosight to see which one adjusted more accurately, held zero, pointed best, and didn’t slow down target acquisition. The Bushnell Holosight has a suggested retail price of $599, but it sells for $350 to $370 at most locations. The C-More retails for $299, but it usually carries a street price around $270.
How We Tested
Our head-to-head test was conducted outdoors utilizing a S&W; Model 41 .22 caliber semi-automatic target pistol. Both the Bushnell and the C-More are available in a frame-mounting configuration or in the models we chose, which fit a Weaver base. We measured and weighed the units, then ran our standard optical tracking and shot-movement tracking. To check the scopes for adjustment accuracy, we mounted the 41 in a Ransom Pistol Rest with a windage base. The rest was mounted on a 24-inch-square plywood base that was 1.4 inches thick. This platform was C-clamped to a 1-inch-thick steel sheet attached to a steel pipe concreted in the ground.
To test for adjustment accuracy, we first pointed the scopes toward a target that contained a grid pattern of 1/4-inch squares. We began the adjustment tests by placing a unit’s center sighting image on large sighting dots. Counting clicks as we went, we then adjusted the device to make the dot run to the right 6 inches to the next target center dot. Then we adjusted the dot to make it move upward 6 inches, left 6 inches, and down 6 inches.
On the range, we also compared how easy it was to see each unit’s sighting image. A tester would stand with the products on and in front of him, and pick up a unit. He would check the dot clarity and brightness (adjusting it if necessary), and then pick up the other unit. Using this side-by-side elimination process, each tester would pick what unit and reticle looked the best to him.
To check each unit’s adjustment accuracy in live firing, we tried to conduct two tests. Using sandbags, we shot two patterns with the Model 41. At 25 yards, we shot three-shot groups in the around-the-world drill, counting clicks to give us a 3-inch-square pattern. Also, at the same distance, we held on the center of the Speedwell target and shot a three-shot center group. Then we dialed in a half-inch of windage adjustment and fired a shot. We continued the windage adjustment tests until we had a string of shots out to 3 inches. Then we brought the device back to zero (by counting clicks) and reshot the center group. We conducted this same test with vertical adjustments.
Here’s how each product fared in these evaluations:
C-More’s The Railway
The C-More family of sights includes the Serendipity SL, which comes with an integral mounting block for a variety of centerfire handgun frames, the Scout Sight and Tactical Sight for Colt AR15 rifles, the Slide Ride version, which attaches to the top of a semiauto, and The Railway, our test unit. The unit’s MSRP is $299, plus $55 for individual dot modules. Many sources (such as Shooter’s Supply of Columbus) sell the product for around $270.
Physical Description. The Railway has a polymer body and an aluminum base. It weighs 3 ounces, and measures 4.75 inches in length and 2.25 in height. It is 1.5 inches wide. The sight comes with 4-, 8-, 12-, and 16-MOA dots. It is powered by a DL1/3NB 3-volt lithium battery. It features nine levels of brightness adjustment, but it doesn’t have an automatic cut-off switch. The unit is warranteed for one year.
Our Evaluation. Scopes like the C-More and Holosight are meant to be used with both eyes open. A common sight picture produced by a dot scope is a sharp focus on the target, with two scope rings and one dot in the peripheral vision. You have to ignore the multiple rings and just let yourself see the dot on the target. The nonmagnifying projected dot system will help you shoot your fastest if you avoid trying for a hard focus. Instead, try to imagine the dot lighting on the target.
The two types of contests in which a dot will be most helpful are IPSC and Action Pistol. For Action Pistol, you need a precise sight picture that can be picked up quickly, but which doesn’t have a lot of protrusions around the sight picture. In our view, the C-More Railway offered the cleaner sight picture. It was also substantially lighter than the Holosight, which is an aid to speed.
That said, we believe the Railway is a pro’s scope. Why? The cleanest sight picture means the least material to pick up visually and index out of the holster or after heavy recoil. A common practice among competitors is to index off the top of the scope tube, and the C-More gives fewer visual cues than the Holosight.
Another consideration is the nature of the gun you choose. Reloading a revolver in the quickest fashion involves a complicated slight of hand maneuver. The right thumb pushes forward the cylinder latch and the middle two fingers of the left hand push the nice hot cylinder through the frame. The left thumb works the ejector rod with the gun being held muzzle up to eject spent brass. The gun is then snapped muzzle downward to help feed fresh ammo from a speedloader or moon clip. As soon as the rounds move into place, the shooter sweeps the gun up in an arc to create centrifugal force and seat the bullets as you slam the cylinder shut and look for the dot to appear on target. You’ll likely be doing this on the run, all the while trying to pay attention to where you’re stepping. It doesn’t help to push around 9 ounces of Holosight sitting on top of a 50-ounce revolver. The C-More helps steer the gun more quickly, we think.
The first step in getting the C-More set up is mounting it properly. The sight comes with three bolts to lock it to a Weaver base. At least two bolts must be used. Coating the bolts with Loc-Tite red (271) is recommended. Once finger tight, lock each bolt down while turning the screw with a coin and pushing forward from the rear of the scope. After an adequate drying time, check the position of the dot, aiming the gun naturally offhand. If the dot does not appear in the center of the lens, correct it using only the elevation adjustment.
The C-More is different from other scopes because the windage and elevation adjustments are coarse and not entirely linear. In most scopes you remove a cap that protects the adjusting screw, and you can bring the point of aim left or right, up or down monitored by minute clicks in each direction. On the C-More you loosen Allen bolts and turn your choice of two very stubborn screws. With no way to index the changes, you find yourself clueless about how much movement you get. Then you tighten the Allen screws.
Here is where the C-More becomes troublesome. Pulling the windage to the right also raised the elevation on our test unit. Then tightening down the set screws tweaked it again. If you’ve ever played with a toy called Etch-A-Sketch, you remember it having only two controls, one for vertical lines and the other for etching horizontally. You had to modulate them together to produce an arc. This is the type of patience and control it takes to properly set up the C-More. In our tests, we tried sighting the unit in at 15 yards. The first shots were low and left of center. Beginning with elevation we loosened the locking bolt and turned the adjustment screw. Each time this operation caused a squeaking sound from the metal screws and bolts being driven into plastic. The C-More’s plastic body saves weight, but all the threads have to be coarse to prevent stripping. This also results in coarse adjustments. Forget about what one click equals; one whole turn of the elevation screw equaled an 18-inch difference at 25 yards. Accordingly, we couldn’t conduct our regular optical and shooting tests.
We tested a variety of reticles in the C-More. All C-Mores are shipped with an 8-minute-of-angle dot, and we also had 12- and 16-MOA dots that appeared huge. We had to be careful not to get them mixed up because they all looked alike and were not marked. The 4-MOA dot had a clean, precise look. To change the dot size on the C-More, two screws must be removed before a diode can be unplugged and replaced with another unit.
Bushnell Holosight 400
The 400 model shares the new-sight spotlight with two other Holosight-branded articles: The 430 Comp and the 450LE. The 450 is differentiated from the 400 by the former’s detachable “ruggedized” hood. The 430 has an integrated mount suitable for use on 1911-style semiautos. The Bushnell Holosight has a suggested retail price of $599, but it usually sells for between $350 to $370 on the street. The item comes with one reticle, and extra reticles (eight total) retail for $136.95 each.
According to Bushnell, the Holosight operates when a laser built into the sight’s body illuminates a reticle pattern on a heads-up display window. The resulting “holographic” image becomes visible at the target plane. Perhaps we’re being overly picky when we disagree with the use of holographic used in this sense. Our American Heritage Dictionary (Third Edition) says holography produces a three-dimensional image, whereas the Holosight renders its display in but two axes. Oh, but these are the musing of cranks and ne’er-do-wells who haven’t popped enough caps lately, because on the gun the Holosight brings a lot to the table.
Physical Description. The Model 400 weighs 8.7 ounces and is 6 inches long, 2 inches tall, and 1.25 inches wide. Its body is made of aluminum. It takes two 1.5-volt batteries to operate, providing 20 brightness levels. An auto-cutoff switch may be set to 2 or 8 hours. Nine reticles are available. The viewing screen is rectangular with rounded corners. A dusk-and-dawn filter is also provided. Our Evaluation. The Holosight and the C-More are nearly the same length and height, but when mounted, the Holosight seemed too long for the Model 41. The difference in center of gravity gives an entirely different visual impression of the sight, in our view. The Holosight ended up being mounted further back than we would have liked. The weight of the Bushnell could be an advantage for Action Pistol competition, but we think you must use the right scope mount in a well-thought-out position to be satisfied.
User-friendliness starts out with big, easy-to-decipher adjustments. The on/off and brightness control are push buttons. Initially, the reticle lights up at a brightness level of 15 out of a maximum 20, but it can be adjusted by the user to start at maximum intensity. In bright daylight we could have used a position 25. If you leave it on, this scope will turn itself off in eight hours. Even though battery life is rated at 30 user hours, this should be revised downward, in our view. The command for shut-off can be changed by the user to just 2 hours, which we think should be the maximum. An automatic cut-off at 30 minutes would be helpful, we think.
The Holosight uses traditional click adjustments for windage and elevation. The manual that came with the scope included a misprint that read one click of elevation at 25 yards equaled 1/4 inch but one click of windage equaled 1/2 inch. Actually, they are both 1/4 inch. In our tracking tests, we found the Bushnell Holosight returned to zero. However, contrary to the item’s user manual, changing the reticles did change point of impact. Our tests showed such changes generated as much as a 6-inch point of impact movement at 25 yards.
The reticle choices are varied. The reticles included a 1-inch dot, 3-D crosshairs, and 10- and 20-MOA rings, among others. Using a 4-minute dot reticle was hard on the eye, we thought, in part because when the viewer moved his head up and down, the dot would be still, but when the viewer shifted his head left and right, the dot appeared to shift in the sight box. One other reticle suitable for fine shooting used an arc above a 4-minute dot and a pointer running toward the dot from the six o’clock position. The additional reference points made it easy to shoot accurately, we thought. 1996 USPSA Open National Champion Jerry Barnhart used the diamond reticle. Also, changing reticles was easier on the Bushnell. The process involves only one Allen bolt, and each reticle comes clearly labeled.
The Holosight’s main advantage is you can see the target you must hit and the target you intend to transfer to as well. You literally frame the target instead of pinpointing it. It offers a balance of visual reference for moving quickly straight up and down, right and left and diagonally. Having shot with it indoors, we found it fast and easy on the eyes. Outdoors in bright light, we felt it was either too dim or lacking in fine definition when turned up. The laser produces a patterned, grainy line rather than a solid one. We were disappointed by the Holosight’s lackluster line definition in certain lighting conditions.
Performance Shooter Recommends
In choosing one scope over another, you have to start with the gun you intend to mount it on and what game are you going to play. Following are the situations in which we would clearly choose one model over the other:
• If you are shooting a revolver and need to make fast reloads, the lower mass of the C-More makes sense. On an Open-class semiauto race gun intended for IPSC competition, you have a dilemma. If you steer with your eyes and your gun is light enough to begin with, the Holosight might be for you. If you prefer a more open sight picture and feel unsprung weight is the key to driving the gun fast, you should favor the C-More Railway model. In our view, the C-More Railway product is a good sight for the serious competition shooter who makes very little changes in sight adjustments.
• Nonetheless, for a pure Bianchi gun, we can’t see anything better than the Bushnell Holosight 400. In the Action Pistol game, the weight of the Holosight can be an advantage, since Action requires more precision and smoother swings through moving targets. Also, shooters in other games are more likely to find exactly the reticle they like in the Holosight designs, even though they’ll pay handsomely for the privilege.
If these specific recommendations don’t fit your needs, then consider these more general impressions of the products. After as many as 60 changes from its original design—changes suggested by the shooters who use them—the C-More Railway sight is a proven winner. However, the Holosight is currently more flexible; at the same time, we think it produces a less refined sight picture than the C-More. In sum, we think the “holographic” sight needs to be improved in substantive ways—making it lighter and clearer, most importantly—before we give it a clear recommendation as the better overall product. As consumers, we are tempted to wait a year and see if it can be made even better.