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G&A Perspectives: Is Hunting With Technology Cheating?

by Tom Beckstrand   |  March 17th, 2014 22

If Remington had surveyed potential customers about what features they wanted to see in future products, I don’t think anyone would have asked for a computerized rifle. Nevertheless, Remington teamed up with TrackingPoint and made the 2020 digital-optic system.

The more traditional shooting community doesn’t particularly care for the idea of pairing a computer with a rifle. The rub is that technology takes all of the guesswork out of determining where to aim, and with TrackingPoint’s systems, the computer also fires the rifle. With this family of new rifles, the shooter will hit exactly where he intended, which seems like a good idea. Remington’s latest offering lacks the trigger control system, making this new technology even more affordable.

From 10,000 feet …
There’s a lot of science and technology that goes into building the family of 2020 rifles, and I know painfully little of it. Thankfully, I had the opportunity to use one on a recent black buck hunt in Texas, where I first shot all three models and became completely familiar with the operations of each of them. While what’s going on inside the optic is very complicated, operating the actual 2020 system and understanding what it does are not.

Two of the 2020 rifles are from Remington: a Model 700 Long Range in .30-’06 and a Model 700 SPS Tactical in .308. The third rifle is built on a Bushmaster’s Varminter, an AR in .223. Each rifle was chosen as a platform by Remington for its popularity and to ensure that a wide variety of caliber/rifle combinations were available to as large of a hunting demographic as those interested in using one.

Each caliber gets three types of ammunition: target, traditional (lead) hunting and alternative (lead-free) hunting. The rifle must be teamed with one of its three specified loads to work correctly. The optic is calibrated around each load, and, while other types of ammunition can be fired through the rifle, only the specified loads have the correct velocities and ballistic coefficients to guarantee hits out to 500 yards.

The real workhorse of the ensemble is the optic. TrackingPoint developed the capability, and Remington teamed up with the company to make the product more available. The optic consists of several sensors, lenses, a computer and a display. It is mounted atop the rifle where we would normally mount a scope, but that’s where the similarities end.

The optic is a 3-21X digitally magnified display screen that you look at rather than through. You have to wrap your head around the fact that the 2020 does not feature a traditional tube-and-glass setup but rather an optic system that has a built-in laser rangefinder and ballistic calculator. It also offers video/audio recording capability and has an onboard Wi-Fi server to transmit images, video and information to an iPad for sharing. The observer can now watch (and later witness) the action viewed by the shooter and stay out of sight.

Prior to firing the system, the shooter uses the setup screen to select the load and put the scope into the desired mode. The shooter can choose between a “traditional” mode that works like a regular scope with crosshairs, “advanced targets” for stationary targets and “advanced movers” for moving targets.

The next step is to manually enter the wind speed and direction into the optic by means of a rocker switch on top. The old adage of “garbage in equals garbage out” applies here. If wind speed is incorrectly estimated, expect a shot off the mark and a possible miss. However, elevation is dead-on because the computer handles this aspect.

Once the relevant data is entered, settle behind the rifle as you normally would. When the target is identified, reach up and press the “tag” button. By doing so, a small red dot is placed over the intended aiming point. The tag can be placed or removed as many times as needed until it is positioned exactly where the shot has to impact.

The final step is to align the crosshairs with the tag. Both will turn from blue to red when properly aligned. Then, pull the trigger. The crosshairs must be kept in alignment with the tag while pulling the trigger. As with any rifle, we can jerk the sights off the target with improper trigger control.

The advantage of the Remington 2020 system is that it will generate a precise point of aim, regardless of distance and environmental conditions, for each and every shot. There’s no more need to sight in at 100 yards and then guess where we should hold if our target is at 421 yards. Also, misses caused by zeroing at 70 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level when we shoot at game in 40-degree weather at 8,000 feet are now a thing of the past. If the target moves or the atmospherics change, we will still hit our target as long as we keep the sights lined up throughout the trigger pull.

First blood
I headed out to Texas to experience the 2020 rifles and learn what it’s really like to hunt with one. It only took 10 minutes of instruction before I was ready to shoot. Then, I spent an afternoon getting some quality time with each of the rifle platforms.

I can imagine that the Bushmaster Varminter would make an awesome companion moving from one prairie dog town to the other. It’s light, and the 24-inch barrel milks all the velocity out of each load. The AR is one of the most ergonomically comfortable rifles designed, and the height-over-bore of the 2020 optic was almost exactly the same as any other AR optic, making the Bushmaster the most shootable of the three if the owner plans on spending a lot of time behind the rifle. With this system, there would be no need to dial or hold for elevation, and the shooter could just focus on culling prairie dogs.

The Model 700 SPS Tactical and 700 Long-Range rifles had similar handling characteristics and external ballistics, the biggest difference being the 180-grain Core-Lokt bullet of the .30-’06 compared with the 150-grain Core-Lokt bullet of the .308. Both models are built on the Model 700 action, with the .30-’06 being a long action and the .308 being a short action. I favored the Long-Range model over the SPS due to its better stock. I liked the fiberglass Bell & Carlson stock on the .30-’06 and preferred it over the Hogue stock of the SPS Tactical. I’m not a big fan of rubber stocks on anything intended for precision use.

Shooting each rifle provided a good working knowledge of the 2020 system and got me ready for the hunt. I chose to hunt with the Long-Range model and used the Barnes 168-grain Tipped TSX, one of my favorite bullets.

We were hunting at the Sandstone Mountain Ranch in central Texas. This ranch is a large, high-fence operation with many different species of animal to hunt. There were red deer, axis deer and black buck.

The first day, I saw a beautiful black buck and thought hard about taking a shot before deciding it would be foolish to shoot the first nice animal I saw. That almost proved to be a mistake. One of these days I’ll learn that seeing a beautiful animal on the first day doesn’t mean I’m guaranteed to see another one later. The second and third days, I saw lots of does but no bucks I wanted to take.

The fourth day, as we were working our way around the ranch, we saw a beautiful black buck and began our stalk. We walked most of the way in, using grass and brush as cover, before crawling the last few yards into position. I was able to shoot from the prone off the bipod, using my support hand under the toe of the stock to help steady the rifle.

I zoomed in to 15X and placed the electronic tag just behind the buck’s shoulder. It was summertime in Texas, and I was sweating by the time I got settled into position, but the optic and rifle held up just fine. The 2020 displayed a distance to the buck of 178 yards. My position was stable, so I lined up the crosshairs on the dot tag, and they both turned red to indicate that the barrel was aligned with the optic’s sighting system. While keeping the two aligned, I carefully applied pressure to the trigger until the shot broke. The bullet hit exactly where I was aiming, laying down the black buck.

The 168-grain Tipped TSX bullet expanded and punched right through the animal, so I was unable to recover the bullet. Black buck are a smaller deer species, so I would have been surprised to not have an exit wound. The antlers of my animal turned out to be very large, and the ranch owners thought the animal could have been the largest of its kind taken in Texas all year. It was an excellent ending to a new way of hunting.

The future of hunting?
Remington’s 2020 series of rifles offer unique capabilities that a shooter has never had access to before. By combining a hand-selected rifle with the traditional duties of a scope with a laser rangefinder, ballistic calculator and an atmospheric weather station, Remington and TrackingPoint has developed a solution that removes mechanical disadvantages in order to increase the first-shot hit probability out to 500 yards. This is no small feat, but is the hunting community ready? Some say no, while others speculate that this may become the inevitable future in the decades that lay ahead.

While I’m excited to have access to such a system and think that it definitely has its place in the industry, it is a new technology, and we have to make a couple of concessions if we want the performance.

It’s big. It’s not huge, but it is larger and heavier than a traditional riflescope, so I won’t be carrying one up a mountainside on a goat hunt anytime soon. My hope is that the 2020 technology will follow the same trajectory as the calculator. When the calculator was first introduced, it was wickedly expensive and took up an entire room. Now calculators are in every piece of handheld and desktop technology.

Second, even though the suggested retail price starts at $5,500 — nearly $20,000 less than the complete TrackingPoint rifle systems — the 2020 is still too expensive for most gun enthusiasts. Considering the combined technology, this isn’t a real surprise.

Remington ships each rifle in a custom-fit, wheeled hardcase with 300 rounds of ammunition (100 rounds of each type). Additionally, the 2020 digital optic system is mounted, zeroed and loaded with ballistic profiles for each of the three paired ammunition types.

“The Remington 2020 system is the next significant advancement in firearms technology,” said Scott Blackwell, president of Remington. “Remington has been a leading innovation provider to hunters and shooters since 1816. Through our partnership with TrackingPoint, we are now leveraging a powerful R&D network and technology engine, allowing Remington to continue to enhance our consumers’ experience.  The end result: We have created the ultimate hunting and shooting confidence-builder that allows the user to share his experience from start to finish.”

The 2020 represents a step away from the traditional, well-worn path of firearms development and offers us a glimpse of what the future might hold. Though the likelihood of wounding an animal seems to be reduced by using the 2020’s TrackingPoint technology over traditional hunting methods, it remains to be seen whether sportsmen will give it a chance. It does extend the potential distance at which a shot might be taken, which is a topic involving ethics that receives much debate.

These rifles are not available at just any gun shop, but there are Remington dealers nationwide capable of obtaining one. Visit the dedicated website at shoot2020.com to find out more.

Is hunting with Remington 2020 technology ethical or sporting? Do you think military and/or police snipers will eventually have to use such technology to improve hit probability or document the justification of lethal force? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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