Hunters should purchase the Simmons 2.5-7X optical product over a trio of 2.5-8X, 3-9X, and 2-6X glasses from Leupold, Bausch & Lomb, and Burris.
Telescope manufacturers have always faced greater problems in building handgun optics than rifle optics. As late as the mid-1970s, many experts thought putting a scope on any handgun larger than a .22 rimfire caused more problems than it was worth. Even ignoring eye relief and field-of-view limitations, keeping a functioning scope on a gun was no easy trick, since the G-forces generated by the severe and violent recoil of a big-bore handgun simply was more than what the products could endure. However, as time passed, the internal parts of the scopes were beefed up and their designs were modified until they could survive—and even thrive—under the recoil of a big handgun.
Still, until very recently, structural and design limitations made variable handgun scopes an impossibility. It was said that a workable design tough enough to handle a big hunting or silhouette caliber would never happen. Of course, the naysayers were wrong. Today, variable handgun scopes are available from just about every manufacturer, and as handgun makers have continued to escalate the race to see who can chamber the biggest and baddest caliber in their guns, these scopes face challenges unthought of two decades back. The scopes today, even in their variable incarnations, are able to handle the recoil of most, if not all, of these wicked calibers. Eye relief problems have been solved for most shooters, and the field of view, while still not great, has also been improved.
We decided to take a look at four of the best variable handgun scopes on the market today—the Burris 3X-9X LER, Bausch & Lomb 2 X 6 Handgun 30-26326, Leupold 2.5 X 8 Vari-X Extended Eye Relief Multicoat 4, and the Simmons 2.5-7X 28 Black Polished Model 22001—to see what they offer in terms of clarity, repeatability, accuracy, and other performance-related features.
We mounted all the scopes in Burris Pos-Align Zee Rings. These rings feature a split inner ring of plastic that fits over the scope. The inner-rings have a convex radius on the outside that fits into a concave radius of the steel outer ring. This allows the inner rings to self align and prevent any twisting or torquing of the scope caused by misalignment of the base mount. This misalignment can sometimes be the cause of scope problems, particularly in tracking adjustments, and the product also has inner rings with different degrees of offset that can be used to compensate for more drastic misalignment. The rings put the scopes on a more level playing field, in our view.
The scopes were tested for repeatability and tracking in two ways. First they were mounted on a Competitor single-shot handgun using a universal mount. The gun was in turn clamped in a Lohman handgun model Sight Vise. After removing the gun’s recoil muzzle brake to access the muzzle, a Bushnell Bore Sighter was installed. Each scope in turn was carefully zeroed to the center of the Bore Sighter. The adjustments were then turned to the extreme in each direction until they bottomed. The adjustments were then returned to the zero settings.
Next the scopes were used on this same Competitor to check actual tracking on the range. Each was mounted on the .30-06 handgun and, using Remington 125-grain ammo, two shots were fired to establish a zero. The adjustments were then turned an amount determined to keep the point of impact on the paper, and two more shots were fired. This was done in each of the four adjustment directions before returning to the zero position, whereupon we fired two more shots. The resulting targets were then measured for consistency in distance from zero and tracking direction. Also, we confirmed the return to zero.
To check clarity, we used an eye chart (produced on a laser printer) that consisted of the alphabet in successively larger sizes. In each line a letter was omitted at random. The scopes were mounted on the Competitor, which was again mounted in the Sight Vise. We placed the chart at 75 feet, a distance we judged appropriate to discern the middle line of letters on our chart. We placed the chart in bright shade, and housed the scopes on a solid platform inside a building looking out toward the chart, so that glare would not be a factor. We set the scopes to 6 power, which corresponds with the highest setting on the Bausch & Lomb and adjusted to the best focus for each of the two testers. The subjects would then read each line until reaching one that they could not complete.
The scopes were then placed side by side on a table and the testers viewed each one and rated it for ease of eye alignment. This test was repeated with the scope mounted on the Competition handgun and the test subject holding the gun in shooting position. The scopes were rated on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the best.
To test eye relief, we mounted the scopes on the gun and clamped them in the Sight Vise on a table, then the testers would move their eyes until reaching a full-tube sight picture in the scope. We compiled measurements for the minimum and maximum eye relief of the scope at the lowest and highest power settings. We then averaged our testers results to arrive at our final eye-relief readings. Here are our findings.
Burris 3X-9X LER
This is the biggest and heaviest scope of the four. At 14 ounces, it is more than 60 percent heavier than the Simmons scope’s 9 ounces. It is also more than a full inch longer (11 inches overall) than any of the other scopes. The extra weight stresses the mounts each time the gun is fired, and, of course, makes the overall weight of the gun higher, which increases shooter fatigue.
While shooting with thisproduct, our testers noticed that reflections obscured the ocular lens of the scope under certain lighting conditions, making it hard to see through it. It also scored the lowest in the resolution test. One tester could read 24-point type (which is about a third of an inch tall) at 75 feet, but the second tester could only read slightly larger 26-point type at the same distance. Both subjects commented that it was difficult to look through the optics and read the chart. There was also noticeable edge distortion present.
However, both testers said the Burris scope allowed the easiest eye alignment, which they attributed to the scope’s larger objective and ocular lenses.
The Burris showed no tracking or repeatability problems in either of the tests, but its 1/8-minute adjustments made for a much smaller maximum adjustment range. Burris says the adjustment is 30 inches at 100 yards, which we found to be accurate when using the number of clicks as a measurement. However, the shooting test showed these figures were not entirely accurate. At 50 yards, two revolutions of the adjustment knob (done with a coin or screwdriver) should have produced 8.5 inches of bullet movement, but our shooting showed the change to be closer to 13 inches. Also, the windage adjustment was stiff and hard to turn at first, but improved with use. The power adjustment ring was slightly stiff (a desirable trait because it needs to hold its position) and moved smoothly with no hesitation or sticking.
The scope produced an 9X eye relief range of 113/4- to 131/4-inches for our two testers; at 3X, that range opened up to 12 to 201/4 inches. The shallow relief at 9X was a problem for both subjects.
Bausch & Lomb 2 X 6 Handgun 30-26326
The B&L; product is a relatively compact scope, weighing only 10 ounces and measuring 9 inches in length. The 1/4-minute clicks proved to be relatively accurate, with one revolution of the adjustment dial producing just over 12 inches of bullet impact change at 50 yards. The advertised 50 inches of total adjustment is understated; our test showed it to be closer to 72 inches when using the number of clicks as a measurement. The scope showed no problems with tracking or return to zero during both tests. However, the small plastic knobs that allow turning the adjustments with fingers did loosen after only minimal use. We corrected the problem with a small Phillips-head screwdriver. However, this situation could become a huge problem if it occurred during an important competition where time was a factor, so we advise keeping an eye on the knobs.
The scope’s adjustments are easy to use and work well both for hunters who tend to sight in and then not make other adjustments and for target shooters who change settings often. The adjustments were smooth and consistent with no noticeable sticking. The power ring was sufficiently stiff to stay in place and turned smoothly.
Looking through the B&L; scope, both testers were able to read 24-point type at 75 feet. Both testers said achieving eye alignment with the scope was difficult, ranking its last in that performance category. Eye relief at 6X ranged from 151/4 to 21 inches. At 2X, the scope’s eye-relief range spread from 16 inches to beyond the length of our testers’ arms. This is excellent eye relief and is a good choice for those long-armed shooters who have had problems fitting a handgun scope.
Leupold 2.5-8X Vari-X EER
Our test scope was equipped with the factory option of target turrets and was the only one so equipped. Only the Burris offers the option. While the turrets are an asset for silhouette shooters who will make several sight adjustments in the course of a match, they will get in the way of hunters. Also, their bulk makes the gun hard to fit into a holster. On the other hand, without the turrets, there are no detented clicks, which is a problem for target shooters.
The Leupold item is large, with 38-mm ocular and 43-mm objective lens diameters. Both of our Field Tests testers said it was easy to get eye alignment with it.
Leupold advertises 80 inches of adjustment, making it the best in this category. Our test showed this to be accurate when using the number of available clicks as a measurement. However, during the shooting phase of the test, one revolution of the dial gave 12 inches of bullet-impact change at 50 yards instead of the expected 71/2 inches. The scope’s tracking and return to zero were accurate, and its adjustments were smooth and positive. With the target-turret option, the clicks were positive; however, without that option installed, there are no clicks. This is significant for target shooters, who need positive repeatability. Also, without the target turrets the shooter must use a coin or screwdriver to make adjustments.
Eye relief at 2.5X ranged from 143/4 inches to 231/2 inches. At 8X, eye relief ranged from 141/4 inches to 17 inches.
Both testers were able to read 24-point print during the resolution test. The Leupold’s power ring was stiff enough to stay in place and turned smoothly with no hesitation or sticking. The same can be said for both the windage and elevation adjustment knobs.
Simmons 2.5 X 7
This was the smallest of all the scopes tested, and we think it is a good choice for handguns that will be carried in a holster. This is the least expensive scope tested and should provide a good value for hunters. Some shooters, however, may be put off by the product deviating from zero after large adjustments are made.
Both testers were able to read 24-point type at 75 feet during the resolution test, and they said it was moderately easy to achieve eye alignment. At 2.5X, the scope’s eye-relief range measured 111/4 to 31 inches and at 7X it 151/4 inches to 18 inches.
Tracking and return to zero were fine during the bore-sight test, but when these tests were repeated at the range, the scope returned to 1 inch below zero. The advertised adjustment range for the Simmons was 40 inches; our testing showed it to be 60 inches when using the number of clicks as a measurement. Shooting tests showed the distance of two dial revolutions (96 clicks) to be 15 inches instead of the expected 12 inches at 50 yards.
The adjustment rings turned smoothly with no noticeable sticking. Adjustments to the windage and elevation dials are made with a coin or screwdriver. The power ring was stiff enough to stay in place and turned smoothly.
Field Tests Recommends
We found it difficult to pick a winner because all of the scopes have problems:
• Only the B&L; scope adjusted accurately enough to suit our eyes, but it was hard to bring into alignment.
• The Burris had some disconcerting optics problems, which in fairness weren’t noticeable while we were shooting. Its narrow eye-relief range is also a problem, particularly when set at 9X.
• The biggest problem with the Leupold is the price. At a suggested retail of $514.30, it is almost $185 more than the Simmons scope. Also, shooters who elect not to have the target turrets installed will not have clicks to indicate changes.
• The Simmons didn’t return to zero during the shooting test, and the inability to make adjustments without tools is a problem for field shooters.
Weighing these trade-offs, we would buy the Simmons scope for hunting. For that use, its return-to-zero problem would be minimized, and it is light and relatively inexpensive—two performance factors that shouldn’t be overlooked.