N ew night vision products are being introduced at an ever-faster pace, which is good news. Even better news is that prices are steadily easing downward.
A good example is the new Echo1 thermal reflex sight by SIG SAUER, with an MSRP of $2,999.99. Of course, $3,000 is still a lot of money, but as recently as two years ago, the cheapest (and poorly designed, I might add) thermal weapon sight cost about $4,500. Better ones cost even more, with military grade units upwards of $20,000.
For decades, this Swiss company has been known for its fine handguns, but in 2015, SIG SAUER expanded its product line to include silencers, optics, ammo and air guns. All of these products share SIG SAUER’s reputation for high quality. SIG SAUER’s Echo1 thermal sight is no exception.
A quick tally of current night vision technology can be divided into light amplification, infrared, and thermal sights. The first relies on amplifying whatever visible light is available. Infrared uses the lower frequency light spectrum just below the range visible to the human eye. A thermal sight does not use light either in or outside the visible range.
Instead, a thermal sight detects temperature differences of objects in the field of view and processes them into a visible color display. Warm-blooded animals such as hogs, deer and (of course) humans are significantly warmer (normally) than their surroundings and stand out conspicuously in black and white modes or in vivid color modes.
Neither fog, smoke, most foliage—or the darkest night—can prevent a good thermal sight from zeroing in on your (warm-blooded) target. Incidentally, it works just as well in broad daylight.
Remember, it doesn’t use ambient light at all. It uses the heat radiating from all objects around us, some colder or hotter than others. Even in daylight warm-blooded animals are a who’ bunch hotter than almost anything else, so a thermal sight works just fine.
SIG SAUER invested a great deal of design effort into the Echo1, making it an excellent and cost-effective choice for mating with a silencer-equipped AR-type rifle chambered for a subsonic cartridge such as 300 Blackout/300 Whisper.
First, it is a compact, 1X-2X variable reflex sighting device. Most night-time varmint/hog hunting is done at fairly short range, up to 200 yards or so. Usually, the shot opportunities occur at much closer range, say, 50 to 100 yards. At 1X, you can easily shoot with both eyes open—without one of your eyes receiving a confusing high-power image. A tweak of the ECHO1’s four-way toggle gives you a 2X image for better precision aiming.
Eight image options include black and white “white hot” and “black hot” modes plus six color modes to accommodate differing shooting conditions. Also, you can choose from five pre-loaded reticles or upload your own. Another toggle tweak gives you a choice between a green reticle or a red one.
As a bonus, the Echo1 has a camera setting which allows you to capture a single target image or in one-per-second bursts of 5, 15 or 30 seconds.
My Echo1 will soon be mounted on my silencer-equipped AR-15 chambered for .300 Whisper. A short time later, my hunting partner and I will give it a field test on a night-time Texas hog hunt. I will let you know how it performs.
Choosing a home defense firearm is a complicated problem that involves several competing concerns. First, it needs to be a good-quality firearm and simple enough that all (read: sufficiently mature) members of your household can load, unload and shoot it effectively—even if they’re groggy from being freshly awakened by a loud noise at 3 a.m.
Second, it needs to be easy to point for accurate shooting and easy to hold onto if an intruder tries to take it away.
Third, if you have to shoot, it must be capable of stopping an intruder from whatever he is trying to do. However, it shouldn’t be so powerful that the household member using it is intimidated by recoil. Neither should it be so powerful that it will penetrate an outside wall and endanger an innocent neighbor.
Handgun cartridges, such as the .357 and .44 magnums, and rifle cartridges such as .223 Remington/5.56 NATO and .308 Winchester can easily penetrate both the interior and exterior walls with plenty of energy left to wound a neighbor or worse.
A 12-gauge shotgun might or might not penetrate walls, and it is a legendary man-stopper at close range. However, the carnage it can inflict is gruesome to contemplate—especially in your living room.
There is a good alternative that at first seems laughable, but on reflection, it readily addresses all the above concerns. This alternative is a .410 bore shotgun, such as the Mossberg M500E pump-action shotgun I found recently at a local gun show.
Mossberg makes the M500E in several different configurations, but this one is especially well-suited to be a home defense firearm.
First, the Mossberg M500 series are some of the most reliable pump-action shotguns on the market. It is also simple to operate (only a break-action double is simpler than a pump gun). Second, this particular 500E has a rear pistol grip instead of a buttstock and a matching pistol grip on the forend slide. This provides a firm two-hand grip to keep the gun away from an assailant. It is equipped with a sling swivel attachment so you can attach a tactical sling for additional security. Also, the 500E’s 18 1/2-inch barrel (including a permanently attached three-inch muzzle brake) does not require trained marksmanship skills to aim it effectively.
Third, a .410 rifled slug offers surprising stopping power. To show why let’s compare its ballistics to a 9mm Luger. A Federal 115 grain 9mm bullet leaves the muzzle at 1,180 feet per second (fps) with 356 foot pounds (ft lb) of energy at the muzzle.
By comparison, a Federal 109 grain .410 rifled slug has a muzzle velocity of 1,775 fps, giving it 765 ft lb of energy at the muzzle. That’s worth reading again.
Not only is the .410 slug greater in diameter than the 9mm, which is approximately .356 inches, it’s nearly 600 fps faster and has more than double the muzzle energy. If you prefer buckshot, a three-inch .410 shell holds five OOO pellets launched at 1,135 fps.
Yet, most folks consider the diminutive .410 bore to be a mild-recoil lightweight—even a kid’s gun. However, in a good quality, reliable platform such as the Mossberg 500E, the .410 is truly a kinder, gentler man-stopper. At least it is gentler than a 12-gauge, and it is perfect for home defense.
—by Stan Skinner
—BY STAN SKINNER
I stand corrected. Once upon a time I told another shooter that if he had a high quality optic that he wouldn’t need back up iron sights (BUIS). However I learned a lot in the past half decade in firing several thousand rounds and have personally experienced or witnessed the failure of nearly every major brand of high quality electronic or dual illuminated optics that boast of price points near a thousand dollars. From now on all my defensive and hunting rifles will sport a back up aiming system of some sort.
There are several options and considerations when choosing BUIS. The first is to ensure compatibility with your primary optic. Red dot optics should always be mounted forward on the rifle to give the shooter the widest field of view but not moving onto the handguard section of the rail. This will keep optics mounted on the solid upper receiver section giving plenty of space in the rear for a BUIS.
Also, optic mounts are available in different heights. 1/3 co-witness mounts will place the reticle just above the AR sight plane that would give you a better field of view while just using an unmagnified optic. But absolute co-witness would put your reticle exactly in line with your iron sights. Some shooters run with absolute co-witness that is pretty much supplementing iron sights with a red dot reticle. While you lose a little field of view in this setup it’s advantage is a seamless transition if the electronic sight fails.
The most popular and simple BUIS for AR15s are folding sights. These can be as affordable as the polymer Magpuls for under $100 a set or as fancy as the tritium filled XS Sights that retail around $300. Another advantage of running irons in tandem with electronic sights is that you can confirm your zero just by checking the irons, or vice-versa. You can also swap our your electronic sight and re-zero the new one to match the irons and be pretty much close to perfect.
Some shooters even have BUIS on scoped rifles. While this isn’t as necessary as electronic sights, I have seen scopes fail and lose zero or even have the adjustment turrets break. The difficulty here is that a magnified optic doesn’t usually leave clearance for an iron sight under the rear objective. This is the perfect scenario for the use of a 45-degree offset. I recently setup my AR-15 that had a Trijicon Accupoint scope with the Griffin Armament Fail Safe sights. With this setup if you had an optic failure with a quick twist of a rifle you can utilize your iron sights, have a second zero for close range or subsonic ammo (think 300BLK), or just use the iron sights for quicker acquisitions instead of dialing down the scope’s magnification. If you don’t go with the 45 degree offset setup yet are able to mount BUIS on your scoped rifle, make sure that you can still deploy them. If you can’t remove your scope without tools you won’t be able to use the irons in the field anyway.
The moral of the story is: Don’t trust your life to electronics. No matter how robust and dependable they might be, Murphy visits us all.
——by Dustin Ellerman
—BY DUSTIN ELLERMANN