July 3rd, 2016

Groundhog Fun Shoots — Crowd-Pleasing, Affordable Competition

Harold Seagroves hickory groundhog shoot
Harold Seagroves’ 3-time Hickory Ground Hog Match-Winning Rifle

At clubs across the country, varmint fun shoots (also known as “groundhog matches”) are becoming more popular every year. In these matches, usually shot from the bench, you engage paper targets, clay pigeons, steel “critter” silhouettes, or some combination of paper and reactive targets. Shooters like these matches because you can shoot a wide variety of rifles, you don’t have to spend a fortune to be competitive, and there is fun for the whole family. Rules are inclusive — you won’t be turned away because your rifle is two ounces overweight. A large percentage of the match fees usually go back to shooters in the form of cash prizes. And the level of camaraderie is high.

hickory groundhog shootInclusive Rules Welcome All Shooters
Forum member Danny Reever has explained the appeal of groundhog matches: “We don’t have a governing organization, or have to pay $50 a year membership just to compete in matches. Sure the rules vary from club to club, but you adapt. You build your rifle (or even pistol) to fall within the rules of either the clubs you shoot, or to fit all the clubs rules. If not there still is a class for you to compete in. If your factory rifle doesn’t conform to the rules, it can shoot in a custom class. If your custom doesn’t make weight for Light Custom (usually 17 pounds and under), you shoot it in heavy custom class. If you want to try your Tactical rifle or F-Class rig, bring it out there’s a class you can shoot it in. If you don’t like one club’s rules, you just don’t shoot there. It’s no big deal.

There are no National records, or Hall of Fame points — just individual range records. If you want to shoot in BIG matches (with big prizes), there is the Hickory Ground Hog Shoot among others. If competition isn’t your bag, many clubs offer mid-week fun matches that you can shoot just for fun. You shoot the same targets but with a more relaxed atmosphere with no time limits.

Groundhog varmint fun shoot summer family

The best part is you don’t have to shoot perfect at every yardage. You always have a chance because in this sport it really isn’t over until the last shot is fired. Typically ALL the entry money goes to the host club, with much of the cash returned back to the shooters via prizes. Junior shooters often shoot for free, or at a reduced rate. That lessens the burden on the family’s wallet (not a small thing in these economic times). The low entry cost also encourages young guys to get involved who don’t have $4000 custom rifles or the money to buy them.

St. Thomas Groundhog ShootMore Fun, Fewer Complications
There isn’t a sea of wind flags to shoot over or to put up and take down. If the range has a couple of flags so much the better, but after all it is a varmint match. No pits to spot shots and slow things down either. If you can’t see your hits through your rifle scope or spotting scope well you are in the same boat as everybody else. That’s what makes it interesting/ sometimes frustrating!

As for calibers, I’ve seen everything from .223 Rem to .338 Lapua and everything in between. Our range record at my club is held by Bill Slattery, who shot a 147 out of a possible 150 with a 22BR 13 months ago. That’s on a target with a 1.250 ten ring at 200/300/500 meters. That record will stand for awhile, and shows you that some very good shooting is done at groundhog matches.

The best part is it’s laid back, everyone gets along, there is no place for big egos here. We who shoot the Ground Hog Matches don’t begrudge the other organizations and shooting disciplines, or those that shoot in them, heck some of us cross over and compete in registered benchrest matches too. Life’s too short, live and let live is our motto so just come out and have fun!”

Fellow Forum members chimed in:

FdShuster: “I’ve competed in our local ground hog matches for several years now, have introduced a number of others to them, and we all enjoy them and more importantly, continue to learn from them. Distances are as close as 100 yards, (with a 5/8″ 10 ring) to as far as 500 meters. With a 2″ 10 ring. Wind, mirage, bullet trajectories, all make them a challenge, and unlike shooting for group, where the group can be anywhere on the paper, in this game they must be very small, but also in the 10 ring. With the different classes — Custom, Factory, Hunter — almost any rifle will fit in somewhere. And Danny is correct about the friendly attitudes. I’ve seen competitors go out of their way, and jeopardize their chances of winning, to help someone else who may have a problem on the line.”

Texas Fun ShootMike C: “Here in Texas, our version of groundhog matches involves shooting at clay pigeons at 400 yards. We use 60mm, 90mm, and 108mm clay pigeons attached to target boards. You have 10 shots to break 8 clays, with a seven-minute time limit. We have developed a good following at these matches. In past years, a Shooter of the Year Award was given based on the Aggregate score for three of our matches, which are held in Utopia, San Angelo, and Huntsville.”

40X Guy: “I would have to say upon finishing my first year ever of groundhog matches, that the average Joe can grab his Swift, or his 25-06, or his 22-250 and go rip some holes in paper. Everybody is having a good time and its a gathering of like-minded people who have all shot chucks at some point or another. Even if one does not win the match, you can look at your target and say “darn that chuck target has five holes in him at 400 yards and he’s dead” just as well as the next guy shooting a custom bench rifle. Everybody fits in and everybody, 8 to 80, is having fun! It is addictive and will drive you to spend your hard-earned currency for sure!”

Permalink Competition, Hunting/Varminting No Comments »
June 8th, 2011

Optics Review: Kowa TSN-884 Prominar (PFC) Spotting Scope

Kowa TSN-884 Spotting Scope Review
by Danny Reever
It has been a couple of years since I wrote the review of high-end spotting scopes for AccurateShooter.com. In that time there have been some advances in technology and unfortunately some hefty price hikes to go along with that technology. Not too long ago, few top-end scopes exceeded $2300.00 with eyepiece. Now some premium spotting scopes top the $4000.00 mark with eyepiece! My Pentax PF100-ED, once a top-of-the-line product (but now discontinued by Pentax) would now be considered a mid-price spotting scope, given the current pricing of premium spotting scopes from Kowa, Leica, Zeiss, Swarovski and other top brands. “Street Price” for the Kowa TSN-884 reviewed here, is roughly $2800.00 with eyepiece. That’s a serious investment by any standards.

“The Kowa Prominar (TSN 88X series) is quite simply the best spotting scope I’ve ever looked through. In all instances the Kowa out-performed everything I was able to compare it to. The Kowa had unrivaled clarity, and I could resolve 6mm bullet holes at 500m with it better than with my 100mm Pentax. After testing the Kowa, I sold my Pentax PF100-ED, and I’m planning to purchase a Kowa TSN-884.”

kowa Prominar 883 884 scopeBeing like many shooters out there I’m always looking for that better mousetrap in regard to seeing 6mm bullet holes at extended yardages. That’s how I ended up with the Pentax PF100-ED. Recently I had been hearing rumblings here and there from other shooters and on various websites raving about the Kowa TSN 883/884 spotting scopes. In fact right here on AccurateShooter.com’s Daily Bulletin it was reported that the Kowa Prominar was rated number one by the Cornell Ornithology lab in their 2008 Scope Quest — a detailed review of 36 spotting scopes. However, they did not compare all spotting scopes that were available at that time. The super expensive Leica 82mm Televid APO HD was missing, along with my Pentax PF100-ED. The Cornell test also was geared more toward birders than shooters, but it was enough to pique my interest in regard to the Kowa, which features an 88mm objective with Pure Flourite Crystal (PFC) main lens elements.

I had to find a Kowa 883/884 to review and compare to what shooters were currently using out there. I contacted Kowa USA, which graciously agreed to furnish me one to review for Accurate Shooter. I requested the Kowa TSN-884 straight body along with the 20-60X zoom eyepiece that Kowa had redesigned for the 77-88mm spotting scopes. I chose the straight body over the TSN-883 angled version. With a straight spotter you can easily monitor flags and conditions downrange without moving your head very much. I admit the TSN-883 angled model may be more user-friendly for some applications, such as prone and F-Class shooting. With an angled body you can also set the scope slightly lower on your tripod. Straight or Angled — you need to choose what works best for you in your particular application.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

Kowa TSN-884 Highlights
Even though the Kowa has a large 88mm objective I was struck by the compactness of this scope. With a length of a little over thirteen inches without eyepiece it is compact indeed. Weight (without eyepiece) is a trim 53.6 ounces due to the use of Magnesium alloy for the scope body. With the 20-60X eyepiece installed, length is 16 3/8 inches, and weight is 65.1 ounces. Compare this to my monster-sized Pentax PF100-ED which is 23 ¾ inches long and weighs 111.1 ounces (6.94 pounds!) with eyepiece. The Kowa is 7 3/8″ shorter overall, and the Kowa is an amazing three and a half pounds (56 ounces) lighter in weight! The smaller size and weight of the Kowa allows you to use a much lighter and more compact tripod for this scope if you so desire. (Note: You might think the Pentax’s weight might actually stabilize the unit. However, the problem is that much of the weight of the Pentax is way out front, where it is cantilevered far forward of the mounting bracket. We’ve found that just a light touch on the front end of the Pentax will cause it to shake and wobble. Because so much weight is cantilevered way out front, the Pentax can wobble easily even on a massive tripod.)

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

The most impressive quality of the Kowa 883/884 is its bright, ultra-sharp image. This super-sharp, distortion-free image comes from superior glass. The objective lens of the TSN 884 incorporates Pure Fluorite Crystal (PFC). Kowa claims 99% or higher light transmission and after looking through the scope I have no reason to doubt that claim. One focuses the Kowa via a system of two focus controls along one axis. The larger-diameter knob provides course adjustment to rapidly bring the subject into focus. The smaller-diameter control fine-tunes the focus for the sharpest image. This system works well in practice and one adapts quickly to the dual controls.

Like most high-end spotting scopes, the Kowa 883/884 is designed to function in all weather conditions. The nitrogen-purged body is fully sealed, and Kowa claims the “housing” is waterproof — but no you don’t want to dunk your scope in a river. Note: Even though this scope is robustly constructed, I must point out that the Kowa does not have any rubber armor coating. This does keep the weight down, but if you are tough on scopes, you may prefer a different design, such as the new Zeiss Diascope which boasts full rubber armor over the entire scope body. Kowa does offer a padded cover for an additional $125.00 which would help protect the scope. Given the high cost of the TSN 883/884, the padded cover is probably a smart investment.

Kowa TSN-884 Field Test Results
Initially I set up the Kowa and my Pentax PF100-ED on separate tripods side by side on my front deck. I was immediately impressed with the optical clarity of the Kowa, especially at the lower powers. I aimed both scopes at my neighbor’s log house, perhaps 150 yards away, focusing on a particular log end cut. With both scopes set at 60-power I could easily count the growth rings on the log with both scopes. However, the Kowa, without question, was clearer. How much clearer? I can best describe it this way. Imagine looking through a car window with the window up. Now imagine rolling the window down and looking again. With the Kowa, it was like having the window rolled down — contrast was a bit better, colors were a bit more vibrant, things seemed slightly sharper — as if a thin haze had been removed.

Using the Kowa TSN-884 at the Range
I have taken the Kowa to the range on numerous occasions over the past few weeks. I’ve used it in many different environmental conditions, comparing it to as many different spotting scopes as were available. In all instances the Kowa out-performed everything I was able to compare it to. Sometimes (but not always) the difference was startling.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

One of my tests included a Snellen Eye Chart, just like the one at your optometrist office. Instead of it hanging on a wall, I placed the Snellen Chart at 500 meters along with some previously-shot paper Ground Hog targets. Conditions were hazy and humid with moderate mirage. My Nightforce 12-42x56mm Benchrest riflescope set at 42X could read line 6 on the chart and I could distinguish only a few of the 6mm bullet holes. My Pentax PF100-ED set at 60X (to match the Kowa’s maximum power) was better. With the Pentax I could read line 7 on the chart and see more of the bullet holes. With the Kowa set at 60X, I could read line 8 on the chart and see all of the bullet holes on the white parts of the targets.. FYI, line 8 on the Snellen Chart defines 20-20 vision at 20 feet. Reading that at 500 meters (1641 feet) is pretty impressive!

I could make out perhaps one-third of the bullet holes in the black parts of the targets with the Kowa. That’s not that great, but the Kowa did better than the Pentax or the Nightforce. Rodney Smith, another Shippensburg shooter, had his own Pentax PF100-ED on site. Comparing his PF100-ED with the Kowa, Rodney agreed that the Kowa TSN-884 was markedly better. (It is interesting to note that both Rodney’s Pentax and mine were optically identical in every respect when compared side by side. And the Kowa out-performed them both.) Another shooter, Bob Chamberlin, had the smaller Pentax PF80-ED on site so we could compare the smaller Pentax with the Kowa as well.

kowa Prominar 883 884 scope

Since then I’ve tested the Kowa in some really severe mirage. When the mirage is really running it’s a hard test for any optic. When the mirage is building, I’ll say that the Kowa can perhaps give you a longer timespan or “viewing window” — starting when you start to lose sight of 6mm bullet holes until you lose them all together. How much is the “viewing window” extended? That depends on the environmental conditions, your eyesight, and your age. My son Logan, who is fourteen with eyes like a hawk, can see 22/6mm bullet holes when I can’t see a thing. Youth and 20/20 vision trumps old eyes every time.

Kowa TSN-884 Performs Great in Ground Hog Match
I used the Kowa at the Shippensburg, Pennsylvania Ground Hog Match on May 28, 2011. At that match, I managed to set a new course record for the 200/300/500 meter distance. Here’s the important fact — using the Kowa I could easily see my 6mm bullet holes at all yardages. That sure helped my shooting and contributed to setting the course record. But then, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then.”

Overall Assessment — Superior Performance, and a Hefty Price
The Kowa is a truly outstanding spotting scope. I’ll go on record and say it’s the best I’ve ever looked through. However, this level of optical performance does come with a hefty cost — “street price” is about $2800.00 with eyepiece. Is the Kowa TSN-883/884 worth almost $1000 more than a Pentax PF100-ED (if you can find one)? Is the Kowa worth $1700.00 more than the excellent Pentax PF80-ED (a ‘best buy’) which costs around $1100.00 with 20-60 zoom eyepiece? Only you can decide that.

In my situation, I decided that the Kowa was worth the price. After testing the Kowa TSN-884 and using it successfully at a match, I decided to purchase one. I have sold my Pentax PF100-ED, and I’m shopping right now for a Kowa TSN-884. So far, the best price I’ve found is on Amazon.com — $2100.00 for the TSN-884 body only.

Three Eyepiece Options Available
Kowa offers three new eyepieces designed for its 77-88mm family of scopes: a 25X long eye relief; a 30X wide angle; and a 20-60X zoom. These current eyepieces are held securely within the body by means of a locking button on the scope body that needs to be pressed while un-mounting an eyepiece, so accidental removal is prevented. (Older Kowa eyepieces may be used with the purchase of an adapter for those upgrading their scope bodies.) The new generation 20-60X zoom eyepiece will be of most interest to shooters. This has a field of view (at 1000 yards) of 115 feet at 20 power and 55 feet at 60 power. Minimum eye relief is 16.5mm — that’s pretty good for a spotter with 60X magnification. Exit pupil size ranges from 4.4mm to 1.5mm. The shortest distance at which the TSN-884 can focus is 16.5 feet — so, yes, you can use this for handgun spotting duties.

The eyepiece features a twist-up eyecup with four detents. One possible annoyance is the eyecup can come unscrewed when you are trying to adjust it due to the fact that the digiscoping adaptor is designed to fit in the place occupied by the eyecup. I didn’t really find this a problem but it is worth mentioning in cases where multiple users are constantly adjusting the eyecup. If I had to suggest anything to Kowa to make the TSN-884 better it would be to increase the magnification to 75X for those times when you could use the extra power. Rumor has it that Kowa just might have a higher 70- or 75-power eyepiece on the drawing board. That would make the TSN-883/884 an even more impressive product.

Disclosure: Kowa provided Danny Reever with a temporary “loaner” TSN-884 (with eyepiece) for testing and evaluation. Kowa provided no compensation to the reviewer.
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