Gear Review: Bushnell’s hottest optics on the prairie

Home, home on the range... (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

Home, home on the range… (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

Long hikes, stray showers and all-encompassing dust. What better terrain to test the hottest new optics, than the long ranges of the Western United States?

I never counted Bushnell among names like Nikon, Vortex or Leupold. We’re not talking $2,000 glass, but make no mistake: Bushnell is so much more than the few lines of scopes and binos on Walmart shelves. While most of the optics are marked made in China, Bushnell remains a U.S.-based company, and offers a 100 percent “Money Back Bulletproof Guarantee.”  Also, Bushnell’s customer service is more eager to please than ever. Comparing apples to apples, its mid-high range lines contain some of the finest, best-bang-for-your-buck optics available.

The Fusion One Mile ARC Rangefinder binoculars are a must when engaging small, distant targets. (Photo Credit: SnipersHide.com)

The Fusion One Mile ARC Rangefinder binoculars are a must when engaging small, distant targets. (Photo Credit: SnipersHide.com)

Fusion One Mile ARC Rangefinder

If there’s one bit of advice on a long-range western hunt, do not — I repeat — do not go without quality binoculars and a quality rangefinder. Want to kill two birds with one, ah, bullet? Then check out Bushnell’s Fusion One Mile range finding binoculars.

Our test model came in 10×42, and these binos are built with the roof prism system and center focus. One of our favorite features was the 100 percent waterproof construction with RainGuard HD lens coating. The rangefinder advertises plus or minus 1 yard accuracy from 10 to 1,760 yards and I think that to be true, as long as you can hold steady.

We ranged everything from prairie dogs to antelope. While you can’t range something as small as a dog at 600 yards, it’s easy enough to range a nearby tree or clump of brush. We were able to range our vehicle at one mile and a herd of antelope close to 1,000 yards (confirmed with other methods). The ARC feature allows Angle Range Compensation along with a Bow Mode providing true horizontal distances. There are Scan, Bullseye and Brush modes. The unit includes the CR123 battery, carrying case and neck strap.  Being roof prism, they are naturally large binos, but no larger than any other standard 10×42 models.

The Arc Rangefinder's display (Photo Credit: Bushnell)

The ARC Bino’s display (Photo Credit: Bushnell)

We used the rangefinding binos extensively for 10 days and the battery remained at full power. Light transmission was impressive. It worked equally well in bright and sunny conditions as it did in overcast and dusk conditions. The other hunters and guides were impressed. The only complaint concerned the orange matrix display. The readout was difficult to read in bright light, especially for those with already compromised vision. We would’ve appreciated the ability to change the matrix display color to black or even an alternate hue. Also, it can be difficult to hold the ranging bullseye steady on small targets at great distances, therefore a tripod mount would have been nice as well.

Those are fairly minor complaints when you consider the quality, ease of use and accuracy of this do-all combination tool. While the overall glass quality and clarity does not match some of the higher end straight binocs, these just have too much to offer to pass up. It’s so darn simple to glass and range with one device instead of switching from plain bino to rangefinder to scope.

Trust me when I tell you they are durable. Our Fusion Rangefinding Binoculars survived a squall, clunked around during transport, covered in dust on the plains, fell from a bench and nary a problem. Dry ‘em off, dust ‘em off and keep hunting. If you’re considering buying new binos and a new rangefinder, this is a hard one to beat. Prices go anywhere from $800 to $1,200 depending on magnification.

The Bushnell Elite not only lets you see better, it looks good as well. (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

The Bushnell Elite not only lets you see better, it looks good as well. (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

Elite 6500

This is the top-of-the line scope available from Bushnell.  For years, I enjoyed an Elite 4200 and found its quality and clarity to be quite amazing for the price and, to be honest, there are not a lot of noticeable differences when looking through the 6500. The glass is clear, crisp and gathers all the light you’d expect.

Our test 6500 came in the 2.5-16x42mm, matte black, MilDot reticle, with 0.25 click value. Even with an aluminum alloy body and 30mm tube, this scope is neither too heavy nor too long. We used it primarily atop our CZ American 527 in .204. Even on this smallish-stature micro-mauser, the scope was in no way overpowering. Sitting atop the Bushnell line along with their Elite Tactical and Elite Long Range, the Elite 6500 has all the bells and whistles: Rainguard HD lens coating, argon purged dry-nitrogen filled, ultra wide-band coating and a wide-range side parallax focus.

Good rifles deserve good scopes. Period. Eye relief on the 6500 is excellent, even when mounted on the big bores. Unlike cheaper scopes that you find yourself creeping up on as you crank the magnification, this one goes full 16-power as well as it does 4x. The retail price of our test Elite 6500 ran around $1,100. At that price point, I like Vortex Vipers, Nikon Monarchs and of course, Bushnell Elites. However, the Elite 6500 is available at numerous online retailers for around $625. That kind of price for that kind of optic is hard to beat.

The Legend Ultra HD binoculars are an excellent deal. (Photo Credit: OpticsCentral.com.au)

The Legend Ultra HD binoculars are an excellent deal. (Photo Credit: OpticsCentral.com.au)

Legend Ultra HD

Recently, the Bushnell Legend Ultra HD was named an Outdoor Life Great Buy and outperformed its price tag of $125 to $300. This is an ideal mid-range optic for people who don’t want to drop big dollars on a scope. It’s not just a step above, it’s a leap above bargain scopes (true $50 cheapo scopes) in terms of clarity, ability to hold zero over big bores and light gathering ability.

Our test scope came in 4.5-14×44, ready to handle many hundreds of long range shots and split time between a .25-06 and .243. We also mounted it atop a 300 H&H single-shot for range time and it never balked at the recoil.

The Legend Ultra HD comes with nice, rubberized lens covers, a sunshade and Bushnell’s trademark higher-end Rainguard lens coating. The Mil-Dot reticle was easy to acquire and user friendly, while the side-focus is almost a must-have. With a 1-inch tube, the Legend Ultra HD mounts easily in common rings. Sure, scopes costing three to four times as much are superior, but dollar for dollar and feature for feature, this optic won the day.

Bushnell's purpose-built AR optic is your long-range AR15's best friend (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

Bushnell’s purpose-built AR optic is your long-range AR15’s best friend (Photo by Kristin Alberts)

AR Optics

It’s hard to beat the quick follow-up shots of an AR when hunting small game at long distances, but it’s often difficult to find adequate, reasonably-priced quality optics geared specifically for the AR platform. Enter our test scope — Bushnell’s 4.5-18x40mm AR/223 optic. It wears aggressive target turrets and side parallax focus, which is easy to adjust without looking. While Bushnell also makes an AR optic with a .22-rimfire specific reticle, the Drop Zone BDC reticle on our test scope is geared specifically for the .223/5.56x45mm round when shooting 55 or 62 grain bullets. According to the manual, that allows holding points dead on at 100 yards, then progressing from 200 yards to the bottom post at 600 yards.

There is no substitute for extensive range time with your chosen ammunition when determining points of aim at varying ranges under different scope magnifications. However, once you’re familiar with your load, the scope does its job. Like the others, it is subject to rain, wind, dust and dirt. The overall quality exceeds its price tag and is really a comparable middle-ground between the similar Nikon P-223 and M-223.

The only downside came when shooting small targets at the highest magnification of 18x. It became quite difficult to stay in the scope without losing some field of view. Our test AR optic was at its prime when used atop a 14 to 16 power — which was more than adequate anyway — and I’ve found this shortcoming to be true of many high-power optics under $250t to $300. Bushnell’s AR Optics range from $100 to $235 online, depending upon configuration.

Range, bang, boom

Quality optics can make the difference between a trip bust and a shooting boon. I’d be happy to mount any of the test scopes for a return trip west. In fact, I think they would excel on a big game hunt. Before you bash any optic in a comparison test, give it a fair shake and make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. The bottom line on optics is quite simple. Whatever your choice, don’t cheap out. Buy the best optics you can afford and learn to use them well with your cartridge of choice.