It’s a topic that causes massive rifts in the shooting world, certainly within Airsoft.
Some preferring the looks of a cheap chinese Aimpoint clone whilst others won’t settle for anything less than the real deal, but is there room in the middle for someone who wants a functional sight at a price point that’s affordable (although that’s a subjective matter) and also at a glance could pass for something more expensive and exclusive?
There is certainly a larger demand recently for optics that deliver a solid performance at a wallet friendly price, not just for Airsoft but also for firearm shooting disciplines both in the UK and abroad.
It was a months ago that I was looking for a quality optic at a low price, Ideally one that replicated the looks of an Aimpoint Comp M2 (or M68 CCO to give it’s military designation). The only one that really fitted the bill was the Strikefire II, I’d seen their other red dots in action and had been looking for something that offered a good all-round package without forking out £700 for a real Eotech EXPS3-0 or similar.
Now I’m not going to say it’s an exact match to the venerable M68 CCO, the Strikefire II is a bit chunkier overall and is subtly different in almost every area. However, It’s close enough for me to live with.
The alternative was to buy an old issued M68 CCO on eBay at three times the price with a dubious 20 year history and certainly more marks on it than the box-fresh Vortex Sight I now own.
After ordering the Vortex Strikefire II from the guys at Tactical Kit, I was looking forward to mounting an old school looking red dot onto my Marui Gas Blowback M4A1. If nothing else, just for that Tears Of The Sun vibe.
When it arrived, I was greeted by a glossy printed grey box (with some very retail friendly graphics) that contained everything needed to mount the optic onto your platform of choice.
Now when I say “platform” I mean anything from a nerf gun up to a centre-fire rifle. Although it doesn’t state up to what calibre it’s suitable for, Vortex’s red dots have been happily mounted onto 5.56mm/.223 firearms without issue.
Anything of a larger calibre than this would generally be for ranges exceeding the advantages that a red dot gives you anyway, so it’s kind of a moot point.
Provided within the box is a cantilever mount, designed to be mounted on a 20mm Picatinny type rail and enabling the sight to be mounted in a forward position over the front of the receiver, great if your load out prevents a more traditional shooting position or if you’re running a magnifier.
You also get the required T15 torx key to fit the optic in the included mount, this is done by unscrewing the six bolts on the top of the mount.
A single battery is provided for the optic, It’s worth noting that the battery isn’t the usual CR2032, AAA or even CR123a but is a CR2 3v cell which is an unusual choice but one that keeps the overall size of the battery compartment relatively small.
The sight is fitted with a pair of flip up covers embossed with the Vortex logo and made from a flexible rubbery plastic, perfect for keeping the lens clean and free from dirt and moisture when in storage. There’s also a small micro fibre lens cloth in the box, although Vortex do make a lens cleaning brush which I’m sure I’ll add to my tool kit soon enough.
Finally, there’s an in depth manual in well written English (no badly translated chinglish here) giving you all the information needed, from how to install the battery to details on Vortex’s famous VIP warranty (More on that later).
Starting at the front, a 30mm objective lens provides a large viewing area for the shooter to look through. A mirror finish is provided by it’s multi-coated glass, this coating giving it anti-reflective and light gathering qualities that you don’t see with most budget optics.
It’s clarity is undoubtably the main thing you’ll notice when looking through the optic and is central to its usability. Even in low lit areas and whilst shooting in near darkness, the optic is usable with only a slight tint and darkening of the viewed area whilst looking through the tube.
Most Airsoft replicas you’ll see on the field are virtually unusable outside of perfect lighting conditions, certainly their use in low light is often limited. The anti-reflective coating prevents a lot of the ghosting you’d see with cheap red dots, I personally thing this is one area in which it excels.
The actual body of the sight follows the theme of the now dated Aimpoint M2 design, I can’t really hold this against the sight as it’s the main reason I chose this over the Sparc AR.
However it is a large sight when comparing to more modern designs such as the Aimpoint T1, if that’s more your cup of tea you should probably aim for the Crossfire or Sparc AR sights.
The main area in which it differs from the M2 is it’s more angular design, especially on the battery casing. The sight is complemented by well protected turrets and also a flared housing on the side of the sight which doesn’t feature on Aimpoint’s M2 but is home to the StrikeFire II’s controls.
The buttons are simple enough to work out…
Pressing the top button turns the sight on, holding it again for 5 seconds turns it off. Tapping the top or bottom buttons will result in cycling through the 10 brightness options, Vortex stating that a user can expect between 400 and 7000 hours of operation depending on brightness selected.
Holding down on the lower button switches between a red and green dot, the sight remembers your preference and will automatically turn on to its last used brightness and colour used.
The rubberised cover over the button area is seemingly well made but I have been informed that this can occasionally become dislodged or loose (although apparently this is uncommon and easily fixable).
A pair of threaded caps cover the windage and elevation turrets, these caps are designed to be reversed and slotted into the turrets to allow easy and tool-less adjustment. The adjustment itself is in 1/2 MOA increments (half inch at a 100 yards), just about right for this type of non-magnified optic and suitable for the ranges I’ll be using it for although if I was looking to shoot competitively at 100m or above, I might be tempted to choose a sight with a smaller dot.
Both turrets are protected by large spurs built into the body which should stop any damage from knocks, should you be particularly clumsy.
The dot itself is crisp, round and certainly good enough to be usable for most shooting disciplines. What I initially thought might be flaring is most likely a degree of astigmatism in my own eyesight, apparently a rather common phenomenon.
There is a small amount of reflected light if you use a higher brightness setting in a dark environment but that’s to be expected, I’d recommend having the brightness set as low as is usable and then knock it up one click for best results although at max brightness in a dark room, the sight still remains usable.
The brightness levels themselves are distinctive incrementally and relatively equal in their steps, making this sight rather usable if you have to change its brightness on the move. The side button format is actually an improvement in my opinion on Aimpoint wheel button, but that’s mostly personal preference.
One thing I am a little disappointed by is the sight’s lack of an NVG compatible mode, I presumed that it would have one… I guess that’s why you should do your research before you buy. Again, not an absolute must for the majority of this units intended market but I think it would have added another tick to some peoples boxes.
The size of the dot is also a little larger than I’m used to at 4MOA, although it’s a good size for rapid target acquisition. I’m quite partial to the smaller 2MOA dot offered on Vortex’s other red dot sights but this larger dot is proving quite competent when being used to move between targets and rapidly get shots on target.
The dot (as mentioned) also has the ability to be swapped to a green dot, not something I’ve given much thought to until recently but it’s there if you should want to use it.
Green dots have their uses but I’m a bit of a traditionalist, red dots are generally the better option in my opinion.
The rear of the sight is home to the ocular lens, covered with another set of the flip up covers. The rear of the sight is also where you can access the battery cap, simply unscrew the knurled cap to replace the cell.
Both covers can be removed if desired but the negatives of having the sight covers removed usually outweighs the positives. You can always rotate the covers around if you’d rather have them to the bottom or side rather than the top.
So, how does it perform? Well I’ve given the sight a good run out on the main areas you’d be looking to buy this for, here’s my thoughts:
Outdoor Daylight Shooting
Having used this sight at both Spartan Airsoft and Caerwent in a variety of conditions, I have to say that the sight performed very well. It’s to be expected that a sight like this should work well outdoors but Caerwent in the wind and rain can certainly be challenging.
I’ll admit that I sometimes felt I could have done with a magnified optic when shooting at range but once I’d started shooting, the optic did what was asked of it.
At Spartan Airsoft under varying light under the tree canopy I had no issues with acquiring the dot, once you’ve got the dot zeroed in it’s simply a case of put the dot on the target, pull the trigger and watch the target put their hand up.
Indoor CQB with Varied Lighting Conditions
At Caerwent it’s not uncommon to go from a well lit field into a dark and dusty building within a space of seconds, the transition is usually where optics are let down. Luckily, the easy to adjust brightness buttons allowed for a pretty quick adjustment without too much aggravation.
Shooting indoors demands a lot from an optic, the glass needs to be clear and free from obstructions. In addition to this, the dot needs to be crisp, easy to pick up and free from too much reflection and glare. Most importantly, the sight has to be durable and able to take knocks and bumps without losing zero.
I used the StrikeFire II whilst at Spartan Airsoft’s CQB site at the old college in Chippenham, the optic fared very well indeed. Once bolted on top of my preferred Marui MWS platform and zeroed it was very intuitive to raise the gun and shoot quickly, the dot being well sized for quick target acquisition and able to reassuringly hold zero whilst I rattled through a fair few hundred rounds.
The sight continued to hold zero, from the moment I’d zeroed it in to the last shot of the afternoon. In CQB you’re often not shooting at a whole person, if you can accurately engage a head or hand sized target it will often put you at a massive advantage.
Any player worth their salt in a CQB game will be putting just their weapon and head around a corner before anything else. Aim small, miss small.
Small Bore/Rimfire Shooting
There’s apparently more to life than Airsoft, a whole lot more. Certainly when it comes to Vortex Optics, their primary market being the “real steel” (god I hate that term) shooting market.
Although their optics have been seen and verified to be used by some military forces, Civilian and Law Enforcement shooting are undoubtedly where Vortex has found its core audience. Low cost and with a warranty that’s literally unrivalled in anything else on the market, Vortex are a pretty popular choice for target and practical shooting the world over.
With this in mind, I joined my friend Steve for a days shooting at The Tunnel Target Sports Centre. Not currently holding an FAC I resorted to borrowing his Smith & Wesson M&P 15/22 rifle for the day under his and the range officers watchful eye.
At this point I’ve got to make an admission on Steve’s behalf, he’s been so focussed on the longer range precision shooting that he does with his Remington 700 action/KRG chassis .308 rifle that I think he’s been a little hesitant about spending money on his .22lr plinking toy.
I offered to let Steve borrow the Vortex Strikefire II for a couple of range days before potentially upgrading his current T1 knock off. As you’d expect, he snapped my arm off. A perfect opportunity to test and evaluate this optic in another area it’s designed for whilst having a day shooting steel and paper.
Snapping off rounds on the 25m range, we zeroed in on paper and started then to push for faster and faster takedowns of the steel targets. It’s been a long long time since I’ve shot anything except 6mm balls and I’m afraid to say it showed… But after a while it started to come back, with the knowledge coming back and the benefit of a good optic I was soon nailing targets like I’d been shooting for years.
Red dot optics such as the StrikeFire II have made shooting much easier overall, even an out of practice shooter like myself was able to rapidly aim at multiple steel knockdown targets and shoot tight groups, certainly the ability of the sight outmatched my skill as a shooter.
The VIP Warranty
One of Vortex’s most tempting benefits is that they offer a best in class warranty, it really isn’t believable until you hear about some of the cases in which Vortex have lived up to their promise. The promise is as follows:
“Rest assured that in the event your StrikeFire II becomes damaged or defective, we will repair or replace the red dot at no charge to you. Call us at 800-426-0048 for prompt, professional, and friendly service.”
Quite a warranty… The only written exceptions are the following:
“The VIP Warranty does not cover loss, theft, deliberate damage or cosmetic damage that does not hinder the performance of the product.”
The exceptions are understandable, but even with these is virtually means that if you buy a Vortex sight then unless you use it as a hammer, lose it or have it stolen then they will keep you up and running until your bored of it and sell it on. As for transferring the Warranty to another buyer, it’s fine… The sight is covered to future, second hand buyers.
This warranty is worldwide, if you have any questions I would consult your dealer or the region representative. I know the UK is well represented by Vortex Optic UK, but first port of call should be your retailer… They’ll fill you in on the details.
Overall, I’m very impressed by the StrikeFire II. For the applications I’ll be using it for its perfect, it works well for both Airsoft and small-bore shooting.
It’s resemblance to an Aimpoint M2/M68 CCO is an added bonus for those seeking a touch of nostalgia, however it’s not a perfect sight for all occasions.
The lack of night vision compatibility puts it at a disadvantage compared to other sights such as the Holosun HS403C (reviewed here) and Vortex’s own Sparc AR red dot sight.
I’d also suggest that for ranges above 50 metres its dot is too large if you require pinpoint accuracy, for practical shooting disciplines such as Airsoft and shooting steel it’s fine but for putting holes in paper as close together as possible it’s outmatched by other sights that have a smaller dot.
On balance, I’d have to say that the StrikeFire II offers a quality and assurance that you simply won’t get with 90% of what’s offered by the competition. Certainly for red dot sights around the £150/£200 mark, the Vortex brand remains the only logical choice. Steve certainly thinks so, I’ve agreed that for the moment it’ll remain on his M&P 15/22 until I need it for a CQB event or he buys his own Vortex!