I have a deserved reputation for breaking things. I’m often one of the first folks to get sent prototypes and new products, and a lot of this stems from relationships I’ve had in this industry for almost 30 years.
I was taught long ago never to burn bridges, and I’ve tried to live by that advice. I’m humbled that companies let me play with their equipment and report my findings. But a lot of times, I find flaws in products because I use them to their maximum potential.
This month’s article started with testing a digital binocular. It went with me everywhere for two weeks before it started having issues. The issues were compounded the more I used it, until it failed completely. The company overnighted me another one—only to have it also fail, but in different ways.
After far too many hours of testing and photographs, I washed my hands of it and scrapped the project. Over two weeks down the drain. My editor is asking where my overdue article is.
So, I pulled out a backup plan: I would test a new red-dot sight that created a lot of buzz when introduced at SHOT this year. I was quite pleased to be one of the first folks to have it!
I fully expected it to be a bulletproof example of a new generation of sights that others would eventually emulate for a piece of that sales pie. I wanted to show my readers that by me torture-testing it, they could be sure the product would be nearly indestructible.
I thought I would proof-test it using my Freedom Arms model 83 in .454 Casull—a 6-inch, unported early model. Using 31 grains of H110 with a 300-grain Hornady XTP Magnum generates substantial recoil velocity in this middleweight revolver. This is not a gun and load for the inexperienced!
I set up at my local range, the excellent GAT Guns in Dundee, Illinois, with my photography equipment and lights, ready to capture the gun in full, almost vertical recoil. Although it was still a bit dark, I was able to get a few acceptable pictures.
It took five rounds to turn the sight into what sounded like a maraca. I noticed that “shatterproof” did not apply to this application. Five rounds. More time wasted. (Now, my editor is demanding a submission immediately.)
CHECK THOSE SPECS
Both of these companies were pained to hear of these failures and are currently working on fixes to prevent these problems reoccurring before they are released to the consuming public. They also appreciate that flaws were found and improvements suggested.
Sometimes, companies won’t change a product, just the specifications. For instance, “NOT submersible.” It seems like a simple issue to check such a spec, but things often slip through the cracks. Night vision compatibility? I burned the screen in a few PVS-14 night vision tubes, so it sure seems prudent to avoid customer backlash and remove such a statement.
The word, “Picatinny,” is thrown around a lot, and many times, it is not at all true to MIL-SPEC 1913 specifications. Even from the highest company levels, the marketing departments take over, because sales figures are as important as air. Regularly, the recoil lugs on mounts and rings are way too small to fit snugly in the .206 grooves of a true 1903 rail—but they’re still called Picatinny, because that’s what the cool kids want. Some well-known manufacturers deliberately use small ring and mount recoil lugs so they can be used on Weaver-style bases with a variety of nonstandard specifications.
I’ve put my hands through the pockets of “double-Kevlar-stitched” pockets, broken the switches off “tactical” weapon lights and trashed plenty of scopes that were supposedly “airgun rated” because they couldn’t handle the two-way recoil of spring piston airguns.
NOT NECESSARILY THE CASE
The retail cost of products is generally a good indicator of quality … but not always. Reviews are not always fairly represented.
One product I reviewed recently had high review marks on most sellers’ sites. But on the group forum for the product, almost nobody was happy, and it was a countless written stream of heartache and wasted money. Forums are good indicators of product robustness—not only because some folks use the products hard and are pretty savvy, but also because others are the opposite and break stuff due to operator error and mistakes.
If a product is issued to the U.S. military, you can be sure it’s a good one and is as advertised. Aimpoint and EOTech sights are brutally tough and can take abuse that’s not fair to any product. We civilians don’t use our equipment in the extreme as our armed forces do. We spend our hard-earned money for our equipment and take pretty good care of it. Leupold and Schmidt & Bender scopes are on our military sniper platforms because they were designed with that end game in mind.
The downside is a higher cost. At the highest level, you get what you pay for, including reliability, simplicity and longevity.
I’m telling you all this so that when you read a test review I’ve written, rest assured that the product has been thoroughly, unequivocally TESTED. I don’t hold back, baby, pamper or handle test products with kid gloves.
So, for this month, instead of identifying and bashing a couple of companies’ prototypes, here are some pictures of some items with staying power that even I have not broken. (My editor is probably still livid.)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the September 2017 print issue of Gun World.