Back in town and it's finally not raining so I'll be trying some new stuff out at the range in the next few weeks. First up is the optics setup I picked up a bit ago from Primary Arms. When I got my AR there were a few different setups I wanted to check out. I like the idea of quick adjustable magnification, and there are several options. My choices ultimately came down to a fixed magnification (ACOG) along with a small Docter red dot mounted either on top or on the side or an EOTECH/Aimpoint style sight with a flip-up magnifier. The unfortunate part is both of these setups cost well over $1000 bucks with top of the line mounts. I had never used a red dot with a magnifier and I was interested, but dropping a grand to test one out was less than ideal. My friend pointed me towards Primary Arms, and at about 210 bucks for the whole setup (barely more than a LaRue flip-to-side mount alone) I figured as long as it doesn't disintegrate in my hands it would be a good deal.
I ordered just the M3 Clone and mount at first since the flip-to-side magnifier mounts were out of stock. It arrived and I was surprised how nice it looked. It's not a literal clone like a lot of the airsoft/cheaper ones, there are no Aimpoint markings and no attempt to make the adjustment knobs identical, but dimensions and designwise it is the same as an M3. The glass is a bit bluer than an Aimpoint but isn't noticeable with both eyes open. The 4MOA dot is bright and clear, I found the "5" setting to be about right for a sunny day. I got the cantilever type mount for a 1/3 cowitness with my AR front site. The mount looks pretty cheap, but it is solid. It all went together very nicely on the flat-top of my AR, and a few days later I headed to the range.
First order of business was to zero it at 25 yards. First few shots landed nearly on top of each other a few clicks low and to the right. The adjustment on the sight is easy, just unscrew the covers which are held by the rubber piece on top of the sight and turn the knobs with a flathead scewdriver. I get it zeroed and back the target up a bit. First shots were right on, but then they start climbing upwards. As the day progresses this type of thing keeps happening, it's clear the sight is not holding zero. Checking it out, I realize the 6 screws holding the sight in the mount are loosening as I shoot. Unfortunately I don't have the torx screwdriver handy so the day is over for this rifle.
When I get home I take the mount apart and liberally apply blue Loctite to all the screws. The flip to side mounts also became available so I went ahead and ordered one along with their Gen 2 Magnifier. When they came I had about the same impression as with the M3 Clone, the glass on the magnifier is surprisingly good, and the mount looks a bit cheap. I put on the mount so the magnifier flips to the right as I am right handed, this way it stays out of the way when flipped down and I am using both eyes with the red dot only. It's a little stiff to pull back and flip down, but you can get a good grip on the outside of the magnifier so it's not a problem. It also sits higher than the M3 clone, even with it in a high cantilever mount. The dot sits below center when looking through the magnifier, it's not noticeable while shooting but I don't think it would work with a "low" style mount up front. The eye relief is also very short, and the way it's mounted on my rifle makes it impossible to run a backup iron sight. It's also very close to the face, not a problem on a 5.56 AR, but if I was shooting a large caliber I would be a bit concerned, especially with safety glasses on, as the bridge of them just about touches the magnifier with a good cheekweld and clear sight picture.
I made sure to Loctite this mount as well and head out to the range. I re-zero it at 25 yards and this time it goes easily and stays zeroed. I shoot a few hundred rounds between 50 and 100 yards with and without the magnifier, and it's nice. Without the magnifier the target acquisition is fast and you have a complete field of view with both eyes open, the large appeal of reflex sights. It takes about 2 seconds to flip the magnifier and re-acquire the target, but you have all the benefits of a fixed magnification scope. The red dot remains 4 MOA (4" at 100 yards). Some people prefer the 1 MOA dot of the EOTECH, but since the dot on the M3 clone isn't completely opaque it frames the 1" black dots on my target nicely. For less defined targets I would lean towards the EOTECH reticle. The first picture is some groups shot standing at 25 and 50 yards. At this range for accurate shooting I would prefer a smaller dot as the red dot of the M3 is very large. For practical shooting though it still excels, it's not a problem to shoot a fast 3" group.
At 100 yards unsupported my grouping didn't change much whether I was using the magnifier or not which I found interesting. Keep in mind the dot covers the same amount of the target regardless if it is magnified or not. When I shot prone though the magnifier started to make a difference. With the rifle steady you can see the target through the dot much easier, and I was able to get some 5 shot groups within 2 inches.
All in all this setup is a really good deal. Is it as nice as a real Aimpoint/magnifier in a set of LaRue mounts? No, but it certainly isn't 6x worse for being 6x cheaper. If you are on a budget or just want to try this type of setup without breaking your bank Primary Arms is a good choice. As far as the red dot/flip up magnifier in general, I still rather have a fixed magnification scope with a separate small red dot mounted on top or up front, but this setup still does the job and is a bit less bulky. I'll be taking it out to 200-300 yards in the near future and will continue to put a lot of rounds through it without tightening anything so there will be some updates. For now though along with the Millet DMS-1 I'd say this is one of the better deals in budget optics available, just make sure to use Loctite.