The Bushnell HOLOsight
It's Not Just for Handguns Anymore!
Review and Photographs
by Russell E. Taylor
© Sniper's Paradise 1999
"No, please, I rather wouldn't, thank you."
"No, Russ, don't review it for handguns... it's for rifles, too."
"Yes, rifles -- and shotguns, too."
"Yes, Russ... rifles."
This was essentially the conversation I had with Becky Bowen, a product representative for Bushnell, and how I ended up getting one of the company's HOLOsights to review. I met Becky during the final phases of Dave Lauck's Tactical Marksman Match at D&L Sports in Wyoming in August of 1998. I was on hand for a charity benefit for Carlos Hathcock and met Becky, who was there because Bushnell was helping to sponsor the activities. Bushnell had graciously contributed the use of Bausch & Lomb spotting scopes for spectators and Bushnell laser rangefinders for shooters. Not being one to miss an opportunity when it presents itself, I introduced myself to Becky and asked her if she'd mind me asking her a few questions, to which she had no objection. I expressed that I was interested in the recent introduction of the Bushnell Yardage Pro 600 Compact. Specifically, concerning the previous offerings in their line of laser rangefinders, I was wondering why -- after having introduced a 400-yard model, followed by an 800-yard model -- they were now making a 600-yard model instead of a 1,000-yard model. (I mean, to me, it seemed they were going in the wrong direction of things.)
I can certainly tell why Becky has the job she does, and why she's so good at it. In a word, "tact." I strongly suspect she's one of those rare people who can tell you to go to Hell and do it in such a way that you not only look forward to the trip, but you immediately rush to the telephone and call the airline so you can book an early flight to get a better deal on the ticket price. With the most delightful of southern-belle accents, she explained the market for the compact 600-yard model wasn't shooters. (What? NOT for shooters? If it wasn't being made for shooters, then who would be buying them?)
Yes, I know. You're having that same urge to gag and vomit at the mere mention of that word that I did. Regardless, Becky explained that golfers were a significant portion of the market for their 400- and, now, 600-yard rangefinders. And because golfers aren't accustomed to wearing and hauling all the gear that hunters like to burden themselves with, Bushnell had received a number of requests for a laser rangefinder, suitable for use on golf courses and in a small enough package to be practical. She was careful to point out, though, that hunters were in the minds of Bushnell engineers when they conceived the idea of the Yardage Pro 600 Compact, and that the company expects to sell quite a few of these units to individuals in that market... besides, um, "golfers."
I hinted to Becky that a 1,000-yard model would be very welcomed by most of us interested in long-range shooting and, while she wouldn't commit to anything (I told you she was smart), she did say that she had "a hunch" that a Yardage Pro 1,000 would be coming out "someday." Sounded good to me, so I let the subject drop. However, she asked if I would like to see the new compact model and I said I'd like that. Leading me over to her van, which was stuffed to the brim with various products, she handed me their newest laser rangefinder. As it turns out, their compact model is exactly that -- compact. Very much so and, in fact, will easily fit into the hands of most adults.
So, there we were, standing by her van and rambling on and on about the Yardage Pro 600, when Becky asked me if I'd ever examined their HOLOsight. With this, she retrieved one of the units from the van and handed it to me. Now, just like most of you, I'd seen this product reviewed to death in the mainstream gun press. Everybody who's anybody has reviewed the Bushnell HOLOsight, using their favorite handguns as test vehicles. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm a longtime handgunner... but articles for sniper-related websites rarely have much to do with sighting systems for handguns, hence the ensuing conversation which appears at the top of this page. Being in a certain mindset when talking about rifles, I immediately thought of all my bolt guns -- and how silly it would look to mount a HOLOsight on one of them. Then, I remembered my ArmaLite Action Master, a flattop AR-15 that would make a perfect candidate for the type of shooting that the HOLOsight was intended for -- quick and accurate engagements on targets at close to medium distances. (Note: For the sake of the discussion about this product I will define "close to medium distances" as being 400 yards or less... but as always, your mileage may vary and your definition may be different than mine.)
About two weeks later, I received a HOLOsight that Becky sent to my home, along with a few different reticles. My initial impressions of the unit were that it was much more durable than I had imagined it. The casing is very solid and it appears that only the endcap, which secures the batteries in place, is made of plastic. The first thing I did was to install the batteries (the location of which was a mystery where the instructions were concerned, but I figured things out eventually) and check out each of the reticles. I'd like to say I was completely professional and mature about my preliminary inspection, but... well, the truth of the matter is that I just wanted to see how "cool" those little holographic images looked! And honestly, I wasn't disappointed in that respect, either. Oh, sure, I've used laser sights on various weapon systems before, but the HOLOsight is a different animal entirely.
Basically, if you're familiar with the "heads up" display available to the pilots of modern jet fighters, then you have the concept of the HOLOsight in a nutshell. With what Bushnell calls "advanced holographic technology," a shooter using one of these sighting devices can quickly acquire and engage targets with virtually none of the problems associated with conventional optical weapon sights. Without worrying about parallax or magnification, you can keep both eyes open while shooting. And unlike optics that rely on crosshair reticles which should be centered on the same axis as both your intended target and the pupil of your sighting eye, you do NOT have to have the center of the HOLOsight's projected reticle in the center of the lens. Once you've adjusted the unit for elevation and deflection, you never need to waste time centering the reticle on a target before firing. It's real simple -- if the reticle is on whatever you want to shoot, just pull the trigger. Don't concern yourself that perhaps the center of the reticle happens to be in the lower left corner or the upper right corner or just a little to the left of dead-center. The position of your head is NOT critical when using this sight, and that is the beauty of this system.
Mounting the system is a breeze. I removed the Bausch & Lomb Elite 4000 36x scope that normally rests on my Action Master and mounted the HOLOsight -- total swap time was about five minutes, and I wasn't rushing things at all. The HOLOsight easily attaches to any firearm that uses standard Weaver bases, so slapping it onto my flattop AR-15 was no big deal. With each unit sold, Bushnell includes an Allen wrench that is used for mounting the device to your firearm as well as for changing reticles. It took less than one minute to attach the HOLOsight, about the same amount of time it takes to replace one reticle with another.
A few months ago, on another website that deals with the subject of snipers, there was some discussion about the weapons used by spotters. On military operations in a densely-vegetated environment where "surprises" can happen in fairly close proximity between opposing elements, quick acquisition and engagement is a matter of survival. In such circumstances, I could certainly see the utility of having a HOLOsight mounted on an M-16 rifle or an M-4 carbine. I'm sure law enforcement officers on dynamic entry teams would be able to put the HOLOsight to use as well. Certainly, there are times when projecting a laser onto a target is desirable, but one disadvantage of using a laser to target a bad guy is the potential for discovery. Upon finding a little red dot on his chest, a perpetrator might suddenly behave in an unexpected and unwanted manner. By using the HOLOsight, however, this can't happen. Now, I'm not knocking laser sights, but they have their place as does this system from Bushnell.
Something else to consider is that a laser dot "washes out" over distance, especially in bright sunlight. On the other hand, the HOLOsight maintains whatever brightness you set it at and is always visible no matter how sunny the day is. If for some reason you need the reticle to be brighter or dimmer, pushing one of two buttons (located flush along the left side of the unit) will make such adjustments quickly, easily, and in seconds.
Currently, the United States military is looking for alternative gunsights that will improve the basic rifle marksmanship (BRM) qualification scores and the combat marksmanship of service members. I've argued for a long time against using equipment to address training problems. I used to use the Marines as an example -- I used to say "the Marines still TEACH marksmanship." However, from reports I've been receiving lately, it seems the Marines are caving in a little; they, like the Army, are looking at ways they can use equipment to deal with marksmanship concerns. Now, I don't think that "Marine Corps marksmanship" is going to go down the tubes overnight -- but I see this "gadgets for results" attitude popping up virtually everywhere, and it bothers me. When it comes to putting the lives of our nation's sons and daughters on the line, at the mercy of a piece of equipment that uses electricity, Murphy rubs his wicked hands together and smiles.
I'll tell you what, though, with some modifications I'd be inclined to support the HOLOsight for use in the field. First, enhance the batteries-only power supply with a built-in solar charger that charges a permanent battery inside the unit. In conditions of bright daylight the unit would operate off the permanent battery, which would maintain its charge from the sun's energy. In low-light conditions, the permanent battery would power the unit and be backed up by the replaceable batteries. For use on an M-16 rifle, I'd like to see a remote power switch placed where the shooter's hand would be when firing, which would always activate the HOLOsight when the weapon was fired -- and when the weapon wasn't being fired, it would shut down 15 minutes later. Once activated by pressure, regardless of whether the weapon was fired or not, the unit would stay on for another 15 minutes. Further, this remote power switch should not have an external wire (Murphy carries wire cutters). Then, the unit should be "toughened up" so that the unit is nearly indestructible, to include the reticle lens itself. The supply system should maintain a constant supply of reticle lenses and replacement batteries. If these things were done, and if the military is bound and determined to handle training deficiencies with pieces of equipment, I suppose I'd go along with using a HOLOsight for combat duty. Not that the Pentagon has asked me for my opinion on anything lately.
For competitive sport shooting, though, there's no doubt whatsoever that the HOLOsight has found its niche. Already well known among handgunners, as I stated previously, the HOLOsight is quickly making a name for itself with shotgunners and riflemen.
The three reticles I received with my unit were the 1 MOA dot, the standard, and the open crosshair. As you can see by the GIF image to the right (courtesy of Bushnell), there are a wide assortment of reticle styles from which a shooter can choose, depending on the needs of the situation at hand. Bushnell claims no shift of bullet impact when switching from one style of reticle to another and, from my session at the range, this appears to be the case. In switching reticles between the three I had available, there was no noticeable change in point of impact. As for which reticle is "best," well I've often told shooters who ask me about reticles that choosing one is a matter of personal preference and usually dependent upon the situation. I think for most of the shooting I did at the range, I would prefer the standard reticle -- but with such a variety available there will certainly be one or two that suit you better than others. I also liked the other two reticles I tried as well, but I hate answering a "best" question because there is never a "best" answer.
After zeroing the HOLOsight, I used targets such as milk jugs, cans, and plastic bottles that I generally placed, in no particular fashion, around the local public access range. Now, "range" in this case is a nice word for "dump." Short of organic debris, people use this particular area for all sorts of "let's see what a bullet will do to THIS" tests. It isn't the usual place I go shooting at, but for something like the HOLOsight I wanted to use a place where I had a little freedom to operate. Using some of my prairie dog handloads, I zeroed the rifle with the standard reticle, and then walked around the range ("dump") shooting the targets I'd layed out as well as "targets of opportunity" that presented themselves. My farthest shot was probably one of the jugs at 320 yards which just happened to be when I was using the standard reticle. However, I really liked the open crosshair and dot reticles, too. For closer shots, the open reticle seemed to suit me well, and although I didn't have any "movers" to engage, I'm sure I'd prefer this reticle over the other two because it would allow me to apply some level of "lead" when setting up the shot. However, no matter which reticle I was using, it was easy for me to quickly get onto the target and take the shot. Even though there is no projection of light onto the target itself, it sure looks that way! Using this sight was probably the most "fun" I've had in years during a range session!
It's important to note, again, that the intensity of the reticle can be adjusted to suit the current light conditions. On the day I was shooting it was partly cloudy, and I used a brightness setting that was probably in the middle of the spectrum. For more precise shooting, you'd probably be better off dialing down the brightness to achieve a more clearly-defined reticle. There is some tendency for the brightest setting of the reticle to obscure a minute portion of whatever you use as an aiming point, but this isn't what I would call "a problem." If you need the brightest setting for the type of shooting you'll be doing, it's on tap with just the push of a button.
When most people think about "tactical shooting," they think about bolt-guns with telescopic sights. A select few will think about semiautomatics with telescopic sights. However, sometimes we have to look at things differently -- as my gunsmith likes to say, we must learn to "free ourselves from the box." That is, we too often restrict our perspective on things based on traditional approaches. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with traditional approaches, there are occasions that require us to expand our thinking. In terms of tactical shooting, some operations might be better suited to an AR-15 (or similar rifle) equipped with a HOLOsight than the "usual" long-range rifle with a mil-dot scope. Only you can decide what works best for you in different situations, but the HOLOsight certainly bears strong consideration as an alternative sighting system.
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