My AR-15 is wearing a new optic and I think it’s a fantastic value for the money. I get to look through many of different scopes here at Cheaper Than Dirt, so it takes clear glass to impress me. When I picked up an MTAC awhile back and looked through it, I thought “Wow!” When I found out Burris wants less than $400 for them, I ordered one that day. What is the idea behind a 1-4x optic? Theoretically, it does the job of a reflex red dot at 1x power. You want a bright red dot that pops up in your field of view and clearly seen by your eye as quickly as possible for targets that appear up close. At 1x, you want to be able to leave both your eyes open at all times. As distance increases between you and your target, you can crank up the power to 4x zoom, which is not spectacular for a sniper rifle but is fine for a fighting carbine with a maximum effective range of 500 yards or so. Remember, most of the Trijicon ACOGs used by thousands of Army and Marine infantrymen in Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade have been 4x power, so it’s a very good magnification range for a combat optic.
That’s what the MTAC is, a combat optic. A unique Ballistic CQ reticle sets it apart from other scopes. If you’re looking for a scope to help you shoot the tightest groups possible as you slow fire at a white paper target, you might as well hit the “back” arrow on your browser right now. The center dot measures a whopping 2.3 minutes of angle, covering just about 2.3 inches at 100 yards, of course. That’s smaller than the 4 moa dot in my old Aimpoint ML2, but it’s still a whole lot bigger than a standard crosshair. Underneath the center dot are additional dots for 300, 400, and 500 yard holdover points. The 200 yard holdover is simply to use the bottom of the center dot. Surrounding all these dots is a thick red ring with a hole in the bottom of it. Put the target in that hole and say a little prayer if you’re going to attempt a 600 yard shot. There are also three “T” bars extending from the center dot. It’s a busy reticle and that’s the biggest complaint folks have about the MTAC before they actually try it. Why is there a huge thick ring and such a big center dot?
The answer is speed. In combat or in competition, the first shooter to put hits on target wins. To do that your eyes must acquire an effective sight picture faster than the other guy. Part of the MTAC’s speed comes from the clarity of its glass, which is excellent for a scope of this price range. Another part of the MTAC’s speed comes from what 3-gun shooters like to call the eyebox. The eyebox is the area behind the scope which your eye can move around in while still seeing through the optic and getting a useable sight picture. Cheap optics with poor eye relief and low exit pupil numbers have awful eyeboxes, and they drive me nuts. There’s nothing more frustrating than missing a chance at a pop-up or moving target because I was fighting to look through the scope properly without any shadows or distortion. The MTAC’s eyebox at 1x power is the largest and most forgiving I have seen in an optic of this type. In my opinion, it beats the Trijicon TR24 that costs twice as much. If I’m in the “low ready” position with my AR and snap the carbine up to my shoulder, that big red ring pops into my field of view extremely quickly. At 4x, the eyebox gets somewhat smaller but is still very fast. I haven’t “raced” it against a 4x ACOG yet but acquisition speed is in the same class. Pop the carbine up to your shoulder and whamo, you see that big circle immediately. Your eye goes right through it to the dots inside very quickly.
Burris has a nice chart on their website showing all the dimensions and sub-tensions of the reticle in MOA and mils, but I wanted to show you how it really works. Martin and I went into the back lot here at Cheaper Than Dirt and set the scope down on a camera tripod. With the camera on a second tripod behind it, Martin nudged the scope until the camera lens could “see” through the MTAC as I stood 25 yards away. At 1x power, the scope really does behave much like a red dot. The reticle’s illumination at its brightest setting is roughly equivalent to an Aimpoint’s brightest setting. There are “off” settings between each of the ten illumination levels on the illumination knob, so you don’t have to scroll through to reach your favorite brightness setting or turn off the illumination. Battery life is nowhere near as good as an Aimpoint’s, so Burris has some work to do there. On the other hand, the reticle doesn’t have to be illuminated like a red dot’s, its etched into the internal glass so you can leave illumination off and still have a very fast sight picture.
You can see in the first photo below that the generous eye relief allows for a wide field of view around the scope. You don’t have to have your face right up to the ocular lens to look through it. The flip side to this is that the MTAC needs to be mounted far forward compared to standard optics. Standard rings are not going to get the job done. Eye relief on the MTAC is 3.5 to 4 inches and I shoot “nose to charging handle” with my cheek just behind the rifle stock’s castle nut. I used an SPR-E mount from LaRue Tactical, but also considered a Burris P.E.P.R. mount. The LaRue mount is pricey but second to none in quality, so in case the rifle won’t hold its zero I can’t blame the mount.
The second photo is a cropped version of the first photo (it’s the exact same photo, just zoomed in a bit). You can see that a man-sized torso fits very nicely into the main ring, with the T-bars reaching to my shoulders and head. The whole thing is geared towards centering up a torso sized target as quickly as possible. The next two photos show a headshot at 25 yards. Even as big as the center dot is, it’s still smaller than my head. 3-gun competition shooters have noticed that the second dot down from the main one (the 400 yard hold over dot) compensates perfectly for the height-over bore error that all AR-15s have at 25 yards or closer. They are training themselves to focus on the 400 yard dot to score “A zone” hits on close-range targets. Thus at close quarters distances the “headshot” sight picture would actually translate to a chest shot. There’s no evidence that Burris intended for the 400 yard dot to be a precise aiming point for close quarters, but it’s a happy coincidence!
As I walked to a spot approximately 100 yards away from the scope (thanks Google Earth), Martin turned the power up to 4x and discovered that the sight picture is virtually identical! Again, the big ring fits perfectly around a torso and the center dot is still smaller than a human head. For the last two photos, we turned off the illumination so you can see what the reticle looks like in black. It’s still plenty fast as long as there is enough daylight to provide contrast between your target and the black etching. Target acquisition is certainly much faster than a traditional crosshair, your eye is drawn through the ring right to that center dot, almost as if Burris built a peep or ghost ring sight right into the optic. Eye relief, eyebox, and exit pupil are all excellent at 4x, so sight acquisition is extremely fast. I plan on racing the MTAC against a friend’s ACOG 4x that costs four times as much. How close to the ACOG’s benchmark can this Burris get? EDIT: I did get a chance to do some dry fire exercises back to back with the ACOG and the MTAC, and the ACOG handily beat the MTAC in every way. Its glass is more clear, it’s eyebox more forgiving, and it was faster to acquire than the MTAC when the MTAC was set to 4x as well. I guess that’s why the ACOG is a $1200 military issue scope!
I’m excited about my new optic, but haven’t hit the range to sight it in yet. The turrets are finger adjustable and clearly marked, but covered with caps so there’s no chance of bumping one by accident. After sighting it in, I’m looking forward to putting the optic through its paces in some speed drills and a carbine class I plan on taking soon. The 4x shots show a bit of purple around the edges of the sight picture. Although the MTAC’s lenses are multi-coated with purple stuff, only the camera actually noticed it. The optic is actually much clearer than we managed to show you in the photos. If you see one at a gun store or gun show, pick it up and take a look through it, and I bet you’ll be impressed. Right now we have the MTAC available for just $355, I think it compares very well to other optics in its price range I’ve looked through recently (Nikon M223, I’m looking at you, why isn’t your reticle illuminated?). If you already have an MTAC, post up in the comments section and tell me about your experiences with it!