SWFA SS 3-15×42 Tactical Rifle Scope Review
A day of good, better, and best spent reviewing three SWFA Super Sniper optics to see how the 3-15 compares to the 5-20HD as well as the 16x fixed power.
Yesterday was a good day.
I got to do three of my favorite things when it comes to shooting; ring steel at over half a mile, review cool stuff while doing it, and even more fun – introduce someone new to it for the first time! I love everything about the long range game. I enjoy the physics behind it, the Esprit de corps in the community and the discipline it takes to see progress at a distance. I find it relaxing and it is more like flying than any of the other shooting activity I’ve been exposed to. It seems like there is always someone more experienced than you whom you can learn from, who’s got a drag-bag filed with dream gear, who usually gladly volunteers to make the experience more enjoyable for you and others around. And when it comes to gear, long-range shooting can get expensive. FAST! But you do not have to go broke to get started with the hobby… much like flying.
But it wasn’t always that way for me. You see, growing up in N. W. Louisiana as a bow hunter I never really understood the need for it. We have thick vegetation and so few opportunities to shoot at anything over 100 yards in the wild; it’s just not a skill we cultivated back then. Neither did we have a range with significant distances to train with, the only exception being the 400 yard range at Clark Custom Gun’s in Princeton which I discovered when I met Russell, their 1911 pistol smith and machinist in the mid 90’s in my parent’s gun store. Things were a lot different back then. Most of us only had deer rifles with duplex reticles and ¼ moa capped knobs. The rifles were light-weight and after a box of ammo, your shoulder was sore. That being said trying to hit something at 400 yards when I felt confident that I’d never shoot a deer in Louisiana at that distance seemed liked a chore. This all changed for me when I moved to Austin, TX thirteen years ago where the terrain was hilly and open, allowing you to see miles in many places. This, combined with the beginning of the war on terror changed my perspective completely and I started seeing long range shooting for what it is. This is when I bought my first “sniper” rifle, and was that stressful.
What rifle and optic do you purchase? That’s the million dollar question. For the rifle, find out what kind of shooting you want to do, is it just lying prone at long range, or do you need a position rifle? Do you want to shoot factory ammo or will you reload? Do you want to also use it for hunting? If so, hunt what? Do you want a semi-auto for speed or do you prefer a bolt gun for reliability and max velocity with magnum loads? All of these will guide you to your choice of caliber and action and dictate the cost. Optics may be a tougher choice. And I think I can help with that.
The problem was equipment cost. I knew what I wanted, but at the time as an hourly level 2 enterprise support engineer with a wife at home with our newborn, I realized I could never afford it. I was not alone in my desperation and sadness however, the forums were exploding and you people kept talking about super sniper scopes and off the rack rifles that were just a few hundred bucks but were ‘tack drivers’ as they said. For example, you do not need a $4K-$5K custom bolt gun; and while I point out that doing so would offer it’s advantages, I believe it’s better to spend the money on training, ammo, and time behind the glass than going broke maxing out your cards with a safe queen that you have so much money in you only handle it with white gloves. In short, you have other options, and the same is true with optics.
If you look at what good glass costs, and chances are if you are reading this you already know, it’s the biggest barrier to entry as I think it is commonly accepted that you can buy an off-the-rack DPMS long range semi-auto or Savage bolt tactical bolt gun as they are exceptionally accurate for the price. So this article is to focus on glass and not discuss which caliber, or action type, to shoot.
So enter my first long-range gun.. More than 10 years ago, an off-the-rack savage 10FP with accu-trigger from a local gun store new in the box, a 1 piece base, and some 30mm rings. I think it was $527 after tax, out the door, and all I needed was a scope. My next pay check went to SWFA for a 16x MOA mil-dot super-sniper. The stock was the butter creek ramline plastic. It was hard and uncomfortable. I hated it and I wish I had a picture of it but I do not. Soon it was upgraded to a Choate stock and threaded the BBL for an AWC ThunderTrap, and was tactiCOOL for sure. The rest is a bit of a blur for me and fast-forward to today. It is completely different for people getting into it and I can imagine that – chances are – you are overwhelmed by choice.
After being passionate about long range shooting for a while, I can tell you what I want in an optic, and what I must have. I want a variable power optic with locking elevation that has a zero stop, and a capped windage knob with daylight visible illumination at lower power setting and the illumination needs to go dim enough to not wash out my night vision. It needs to not weigh a ton and needs to be compact enough and not have large things protruding from it to snag on things. Those are nice to have, but here’s what I MUST have. I must have a front focal plane scope with good clear glass around the edges that transfers both color and light effectively in low-light and a forgiving eye-box with knobs that match the reticle. And really, that’s it. And I think SWFA hit a home run with the 5-20HD, and at $1299 non-illuminated, it competed with scopes that cost twice its price and I sincerely consider it a world-class scope. I was never sent one to evaluate from SWFA, but luckily a friend of mine who is now a sponsored shooter by a different optic manufacturer sold me his so I used it in this review.
The 3-15 was picked up a from my bud Skylar in Red Oak coming home from a business trip to Dallas a few months back and originally I planned on using it on the original savage I bought 10 years ago but now in a folding stock with a threaded 18.5″ BBL however due to me not shooting that rifle much these days, I chose instead to put this on my new 6.5 cheetmoor semi-auto and found it to be a perfect platform for me, as well as the perfect opportunity to compare it to the others, that being the 5-20HD on the high end, and the 16x fixed on the low end. The later being made possible by my friend Will purchasing a 16x .1MRAD super sniper that fit his budget on my recommendation. All three scopes zeroed in 1 shot perfectly, so I zeroed the knobs with my tool and headed to the 500 yard line.
I did not expect the 3-15 to have much better glass than the fixed power, but instead justified the price for the side focus and variable magnification. I was wrong; the 3-15 has excellent glass for the price. Not as good as the 5-20, but far superior to the 16x fixed. This is why, usually, I recommend the 12x fixed to get a bit better eye-box and more clarity around the edges.
I also took pics through the reticles of all three, and to be fair to the fixed power it looked pretty good through the eye, but I just could not get my camera to focus on it, no matter what I tried. Therefore I’m showing the difference through the 3-15 and the 5-20. The differences look more dramatic on camera than they do through the eye. The 3-15 reticle shows up blurred here, and I’m not sure why, so please do not hold this picture against the 3-15, its great for the money.. but the 5-20 is world class glass and that’s why it’s so much brighter.
My takeaways from the day:
- Is the 5-20HD worth the money over-all? Yes, Absolutely.
- Is the 5-20HD worth the extra money over the 3-15? Yes, absolutely.
- If 1 and 2 are true, why would I buy the 3-15? Value. Period. There is nothing in this price range new I’d rather have, and it’s going to stay on my 6.5 semi-auto for a while.
- Is there anything else in the $300 price-range that you would recommend over the fixed power super-sniper? No, nothing comes close in that price range. Just make sure to get the Milquad reticle with .1MRAD knobs and you will enjoy an easy transition up into the more premium optics.
In fact you may be delighted to know that the original super-sniper I purchased is still in use today. It’s survived several hundred rounds on top of my friend’s AR-50, and I do have a picture of that. It’s never once come off zero and we shake our heads and laugh every time we shoot it. Luckily, I do have a picture of that from nearly 8 years ago when we moved it over to the fifty.
Thanks a lot for reading.
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Chad (A.K.A. GlockandRoll)