Simmons Master Series riflescope delivers high-end performance at a low-end price

Since the first rifle scopes appeared, shooters have enjoyed better and better sight pictures. Lens quality is uniformly higher than could have been imagined when young Bill Weaver brought out his 330 during the Depression.

By the time illuminated reticles and turret-mounted objective dials came along, the prices of all scopes had risen sharply. Oddly enough, even those with four-figure stickers sold. Well, it seems odd to me because by then techniques for making high-quality scopes were widely known. Machinery controlled by computers kept such tight tolerances that even inexpensive scopes delivered the ruggedness, reliability and high-quality images once associated only with venerable European brands.

Among optics companies noted for value are Simmons and Weaver. Both, along with the languishing Redfield brand, were acquired by ATK, which acquired a suite of shooting-industry brands then held by Blount. A huge enterprise with commitments in aerospace and military munitions, ATK. soon spun off the optics firms to Meade Optical Company of Irvine, California. Meade was relatively young but a hard-charger. It had done a stellar job of designing, building and marketing telescopes.

So when Meade promised a facelift of the Simmons line, I expected more than cosmetic surgery. And the new Masters Series doesn’t disappoint. In a fit of common sense, engineers made scopes simpler, not more complex. Instead of adding fluff, they improved essential components. The scopes are lighter and stronger than their predecessors (at 10.5 ounces, the 3-9×40 is substantially lighter than most competitive models). There’s up to 17 percent greater windage and elevation range, longer eye relief and a bigger “eye box,” so you-see that bounding whitetail as soon as the rifle butt hits your shoulder.

My 3-9×40 sample arrived for a shakedown just after Thanksgiving. When I should have been jogging off the turkey, I was cinching the ring screws around a 3-9×40 prototype of a Simmons Masters scope on a Remington Model Seven in 6.8mm SPC. After bore-sighting, I walked the bullets to point of aim with the adjustments, noting that windage clicks didn’t quite measure quarter-minute on paper. The elevation dial was spot-on. But when I “shot around the square,” dialing in 20-click segments to test repeatability, the holes were so scattered as to be meaningless. Fearing a faulty scope, I gave Simmons another chance on a Hill Country Winchester Model 70 in .270 WSM that I knew to be a tight shooter.

My first shot landed close to point of aim. I adjusted and fired two more-.7 of an inch apart. Then I clicked 20 left and fired twice more. The bullets landed half an inch apart, as did a pair of shots 20 clicks up and a pair 20 clicks right. The last two, after 20 down, struck an inch to 4 o’clock of the first two. Not bad. Indeed, for hunting scopes, this result is par. Net lateral movement was a little less than five inches, and there was an inch of right-hand movement in the first elevated group. Bringing the shots right also moved them down a short inch. If you’re chasing wind at a prone match with a 24X sight, a minute of unwanted displacement is cause for alarm. Not so in a hunting scope.

Checking run-out (point-of-impact shift with changes in magnification). I found that groups fired at 9X struck about three-quarters of an inch below those shot at 3X. Again, that’s more than acceptable for a hunting sight (in a test of 27 scopes years ago, I found shifts averaged half an inch). You can’t predict run-out based on price. A costly scope might show higher than average run-out while a cheap model may nip one hole.

In fairness, this scope was a prototype. To get it in my hands to meet deadline for this issue, the engineers released it before final tuning.

“Windage and elevation dials have already been refined to ensure against any unwanted vertical or horizontal shift,” says Simmons product manager Everett Jones.

He told me the lens coatings would be tweaked, too, though I was very pleased with the optical performance. “We’ll also install a slightly different plex reticle, with a finer middle wire and a cleaner step. And adjustment knobs with more surface for easier grip.”

The most noteworthy development is internal-a slotted beryllium-and-copper ring fitted to the rear of the erector assembly that holds the scope’s lenses. Windage and elevation adjustments typically bear against the forward end of the erector tube, which is traditionally pressed tight to the dial pegs by a biasing spring. The new rear coil preloads the erector tube so it bears hard against the pegs, eliminating the need for a biasing spring and solving several technical problems-while increasing range of adjustment. Result: smoother, more predictable point-of-impact shift as you turn the dials and no drag from a forward spring. The new gimbal joint (a fitting that allows the erector tube 360-degree movement up front) is simple and sturdy.

The scope’s finish is a pleasing black satin. No garish hieroglyphics-just Simmons’ logo on the windage cap, gold letters on the turret, subdued graphics on the eyepiece. Turret caps are easy to spin, even with gloved hands, though you’ll want to remove the gloves to feel the delicate clicks and listen hard to hear them. The ocular housing looks European; reticle focus is at the rear on fast-acting helical threads. Incidentally, images at shooting distances appeared in sharp focus, so getting a clean picture of reticle and target was easily done with a twist of the ocular ring.

Though the company lists eye relief at 3.75 inches, I found the actual “sweet spot” about four inches from the lens. The claim of a bigger eye box is well founded. You can move your eye forward and back and even slightly off-axis without instant blackout. You will aim faster, follow moving animals easier, recover from recoil sooner and cycle your action without losing the target. Eye relief is often sacrificed on the altar of high magnification; gangly stock crawlers like me have paid in blood when condemned to shoot hard-kicking rifles scoped by short-armed people. Long, noncritical eye relief lets you shoulder a rifle as you would a shotgun and aim as if you’re looking through iron sights. And eye relief with the new Simmons scope stays the same as you change power.

Typically, when you extend eye relief, you trim field of view. It’s a trade-off mandated by physics. Optical designers explain it as the optical triangle. Increase magnification, eye relief or field, and you get less of one or both of the other components.

But field of view is overrated. If you use reasonable magnification-4X to 6X is plenty for most big game-you have more than enough field, even with four inches of eye relief. As this new Simmons Master Series scope demonstrates, you can have generous, noncritical eye relief and a big field. At 3X, this scope delivers a panoramic 33 feet at 100 yards.

Sherry Kerr, whose public relations firm represents Simmons, says that improvements on the 3-9X Master Series ProHunter will be implemented on other Simmons sights, including the Aetec. “We’re overhauling the entire line except for our entry-level 8-Point scopes, to be renamed Blazer” says Kerr. “And even those will have some Master refinements.”

Steve Murdock emphasizes that Meade is already working on more improvements. “Our engineers talk about reinventing the best rifle scope. The new erector-tube design is just a first step … Our engineers are shooters, too, so you can expect useful changes, like color-corrected lenses and super-compact electronics.”

Value? The 3-9×40 ProHunter retails for a penny less than $150. Lightweight, stout, optically excellent, this is one fine hunting scope. With truly useful improvements.

You can find out more about Riflescope Brands at: http://riflescopecenter.net/

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