Photos by Michael Anschuetz
The wind was howling when Serkan Mertz and I topped the ridge. Hours earlier we’d glassed a dozen rams from the valley below. The only possible approach was to come in over the top. Sturdy Mongolian ponies got us up a side valley and partway up, and with luck, the rams would be somewhere below us. After a bit of scrambling and crawling through jagged rocks, we crept around a rocky point and glassed down a perilous chute. Several rams were far below — I could see the lead ram. He was so dark that he was almost black. We knew him. Serkan and I had him dead-to-rights the night before, but held off.
The dark ram was very good. He had thick horns with a deep curl, but Serkan, an old friend and frequent guide with the Turkishbased Shikar Safaris (shikarsafaris.com), wasn’t sure. He’d been scouting and thought a lighter colored ram was bigger. It hadn’t been with the group the night before, but that day he was. With my pack scrunched up for a rest and my body against a jagged outcropping, I laid with the rifle barrel over the brink while one by one the rams came out of a defile far below. Up on the ridge the crosswind was 30 miles per hour. Down in the valley, the wind shadow of the chute, it probably wasn’t so bad. Or was it?
As the sheep came into view they gathered behind a rocky shelf. At first, only the top of their horns were visible. I was using Zeiss’ new Victory RF 10x42 rangefinder binocular with Bluetooth connectivity. I set it to adjust for the downhill angle. The shelf ranged about 310 yards; the rams were just a few yards farther. I figured 325 yards was about right. These days, when extreme range shooting is made to seem common, “far” is a subjective term. It’s true we have better equipment than ever before, but extreme range shooting still depends on the conditions. Too many guys give the impression that anything less than 500 yards is a chip shot. Here, buffeted by cold wind and jabbed by sharp rocks while hanging over a ledge, the shot seemed neither close nor easy. Also, this animal was an Altai argali, Ovis ammon, the largest wild sheep in the world. This was a shot I’d dreamed of for 40 years.
I also had the equally new Zeiss Conquest V4 4-16x44mm turned up all the way. There’s no need to dial. The first partial hashmark in the ZBR-2 reticle was at 246 yards, and the first full mark at 341.
Serkan saw the big ram coming before I did. Paused behind the shelf, his massive horns were visible. Then he stepped into the clear, quartering slightly away. I engaged the cocking lever of my Blaser R8 and put the first stadia line high on the shoulder and held several inches forward for the best wind call I could make. Then I took a deep breath, checked the hold one last time and sent Hornady’s 200-grain ELD-X bullet on its way. Everything was lost in recoil, but I saw wind-blown dust as the great ram rolled down the chute toward a little flat far below.
Sport optics is a very competitive field with plenty of fine mediumpriced glass and premium brands. It’s silly to attempt to say which is “best.” Features differ and nobody has enough experience to make such a call. Also, your choice will depend on your needs. Not everybody can afford the best glass, and for many purposes, having the highest level is not essential. Also, as quality and price increase, the advantages become harder to discern. Even so, after a lifetime in this business, I’ve come to believe Boddington’s first Rule of Optics remains valid: “You get what you pay for,” I say.
I was introduced to Zeiss’ new product line last August at the Outdoor Sportsman Group’s Roundtable by way of Zeiss’ director of public relations, Kyle Brown. I was preparing for a major mountain hunt in Mongolia, but still had time to switch. I wanted to give one of their new scopes a wringing out. Certainly, the old-line German firm of Zeiss would be considered a premium optic having one of the industry’s top names. Thus, Zeiss is one of the most trusted brands. According to my first Rule of Optics, this applied consistently.
Like most major optic manufacturers, Zeiss has long offered numerous grades of optics at various price points, and continues to be true across the brand. As we went into the year 2019, Zeiss simplified its line of riflescopes. Victory remains a top-of-the-line scope with its Conquest V4 and V6 at lower price points. Like I said, the differences are subtle.
The Victory line and Conquest V6 are made with the famous Schott fluoride glass; Conquest V4 scopes are not. Reticle and power options differ, but Conquest V4 and V6 riflescopes have 30mm tubes. There are applications where the lighter and more compact 1-inch tube remains suitable, however, provided that the quality of glass remains similar, 30mm tubes manage light better than 1-inch tubes and offer a greater range of adjustment. Adjustment range becomes increasingly important at longer distances.
There are nine model options within two different lines of riflescopes. The Zeiss Conquest V6 features six-times zoom with three models. Brand new are six Conquest V4s with four-times zoom. The new V4s are 1-4x24mm; 3-12x56mm; 4-16x44mm; and 6-24x50mm. Together these scopes run the gamut from dangerous game to long range — great glass, and in the medium price range.
In case you missed it, the top-of-the-line Victory scopes are now V8, meaning eight times the zoom. However, the Victory with Schott fluoride glass and 36mm maintube is a costlier scope. After some thought, I ordered a V4 4-16 x44mm Conquest. This choice invoked another one of my rules: “Don’t pay for or carry more glass than you need.” For a major mountain hunt, you may ask, “Why not use a more powerful scope?” Forgive me, but unlike many folks who theorize about mountain hunting, I’ve done a lot of it. A 30mm tube makes sense, but low-light shots are rare. The 44mm objective is plenty; there’s no need to pay for or carry a big objective.
Theories aside and bringing in practicality with mirage, heat waves and dust, there are limits as to how much magnification is needed and can be used. Also, there was no way I would take a risky shot on an argali ram. If you can’t get close enough, try again another day. Furthermore, at 65 years I have enough trouble getting up the mountains. Weight matters, even in optics. I figured the Conquest V4 4-16x44mm was enough scope, and it was.
In addition to the new Conquest V4s, there are other changes to Zeiss optics. Binoculars continue to be offered at several price levels, but brand new and top of the line are four Victory RF rangefinding binoculars.
The Zeiss binocular/rangefinder line has been significantly enhanced to include the 8x42,10x42, 8x54 and 10x54 RF. Several years ago, I won a Zeiss 10x54mm rangefinder/binocular. It’s a bit heavy, but has remained an indispensable tool on numerous mountain hunts. The new line of Zeiss binocular/rangefinders are lighter, more compact and have a lot of features including angle measurement and adjustment, an automatic light-emitting diode (LED), brightness adjustment and the ability to interface with the Zeiss Hunting application (app) using Bluetooth magic.
The Zeiss laser rangefinder has revolutionized open-country hunting by eliminating distance as a variable and, equally as important, making that critical shoot-or-don’t-shoot decision easier. And it doesn’t run out of numbers; the beam just runs out of steam. I got a few 2,000-yard-plus readings, but found the new Zeiss RF to be very consistent and reliable to at least a mile. I was also able to register on a smaller target than I’m accustomed to, but this all depends on one’s ability to hold it steady, which varies a lot when gulping for air in the mountains.
Using the laser RF’s Integrated Ballistic Identification System II, you can store up to nine custom ballistic profiles with sensors factoring temperature, air pressure, angle and distance. The 10x42 weighs just 32 ounces and is rated to read to 2,500 yards. With rangefinders, limitations depend a lot on conditions, including light, the size of the target and its reflectivity.
Zeiss Hunting App
Proprietary smart-phone and tablet apps are not a new concept. Zeiss is not the only company to have their own. I’m sure a lot of folks 30 years younger are better able to grasp this stuff, but even for an dinosaur like me, the Zeiss Hunting app is pretty cool and amazingly complete. Like many, Zeiss’ hunting app is free. A bunch of its functions (not all) work perfectly fine whether you’re using Zeiss optics or not. With it, you can register your products, keep a hunting diary, take and store photos and record ballistics data.
With one of the most important hunts of my life coming up, I needed a Zeiss-app crash course. First, I logged in. (Don’t forget your password. However, if you do, Zeiss will send you a verification code to reset it.)Next, I clicked on the first line of the app’s menu called the “Dashboard,” which took me to “Ballistics.” I then chose the V4 4-16x44mm scope and reticle from the menu and inputted my load data. I would be shooting my Blaser R8 in .300 Weatherby and using Hornady’s Precision Hunter 200-grain ELD-X. My barrel was just 24 inches (short for a .300 Wby.) and this load was slow in my rifle, measuring 2,860 feet per second (fps) off of my Oehler 35P chronograph. Still, that would be fast enough. I then built in theoretical atmospheric data based on Mongolian altitude and temperature. Then, a ballistics chart and graph using the reticle was generated and saved.
When I connected to the internet and used the Bluetooth functionality between my hand-held device and the Victory RF, Zeiss updated the app’s ballistics chart automatically with the actual localized atmospheric data. Though I’m no techie, I still found the Zeiss app relatively easy to use, but with one slight catch. You can hand-input data whenever you want, but the Zeiss Hunting app depends on internet connectivity to update on an automatic basis.
Whether all functions apply to you depends on where your range is located and where you hunt. There are some parts of the world, including much of Europe and South Africa, that have more reliable internet services than we do in North America. But there are still wild areas in the world where you must be prepared to do things the old-fashioned way.
Conquest at SAAM
No matter what the app tells you, the only way to truly put your data, rifle, scope and load to the test is to prepare yourself for shots at longer ranges. You must shoot at actual distances. Like most, my access to longrange targets is intermittent.
While I was familiarizing myself with the new Zeiss products, I spent a few days at Tim Fallon’s FTW Ranch in Texas Hill Country (ftwsaam.com, 830-234-4366). With 12,000 acres, they are the home of the Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship (SAAM) shooting courses, as well as fair-chase hunting. There are steel- and life-like targets that range from short distances to absurd ones.
My Conquest scope came with a target turret with quarter-inch clicks and a ballistic stop for returning to zero. The ZBR-2 reticle is a fairly simple “Christmas tree” type with 10 additional partial stadia lines. (Stadia are small lines interspersed with wider lines that ascend in width.) The horizontal crosswire also has two minuteof angle (MOA) hashmarks for windage adjustment. With my load, the reticle was theoretically good to about 800 yards, which is a lot farther than I will shoot at game. Using the turret, I had the choice of dialing the distance with multiple revolutions available for stretching it out.
Clarity of image is always the most important thing in optics whether in a scope, binocular or spotting scope. This is essentially a given with any optic wearing the Zeiss logo. I also assume ruggedness, but after several boxes of hard kicking .300 Wby. ammo, this was quite well proven. From close-range zeroing at 100 and 200 yards, I already knew the quarter-inch click adjustments were precise.
Next, the acid test: Were the computer values for the stadia lines valid at the stated distances? And, if you prefer to dial the range, will the click adjustments remain consistent and repeatable? Both holding and dialing while resting prone over a pack of bags (just as I might in the field), I took my rifle out to 700 yards at FTW Ranch with no problems. By dialing, I could have gone farther, but conditions weren’t ideal and wind calls were becoming increasingly difficult. I stopped there and was extremely pleased.
3 Weeks in Mongolia
In the optics world, we all have our favorites. TV show sponsorships shift around, so over the years I’ve used (and relied on) several brands of optics. Zeiss has certainly been a favorite, and I had no qualms about setting up for Mongolia with Zeiss’ products on relatively short notice. In fact, I had no incentive to do so except that it seemed like a good idea. All range work was fine with no problems. In addition to a very fine rangefinder, the 10x42 RF is an excellent binocular.
Mongolia is one place where internet service is mostly nonexistent. I set my data carefully and updated it through WiFi in Ulan Bator, which is at a low elevation, and again in Ulgii which is much higher. The values changed (like they are supposed to), but not by much. So, I went with actual elevation and temperature.
I also employed field expedience and put duct tape on my stock for drawing the reticle and writing in the values of the stadia lines. I still had the option of dialing, but when the provided range is reasonable, I prefer to hold. Although not as precise as dialing, I believe holding is faster and avoids the cardinal sin of dialing in then forgetting to dial back to zero.
During my three weeks in Mongolia we hunted several different areas that required a lot of travel over rough roads, some horseback work, and a lot of hiking in tough country. I checked zero several times, but the point of impact never changed and the scope was never adjusted by a single click. This was an excellent testament to the Blaser R8’s saddle-mount system and the Conquest V4’s 4-16x44mm construction.
The first Altai argali was the most difficult shot because of the wind. Another ram was taken at a similar distance (a bit over 300 yards) and a nice Gobi argali was taken in its bed at 150 yards. Seven other animals combined of sheep, ibex and a maral stag were inbetween, but there were no misses or runners. The combination made for perfect performance.
Shikar Safaris did a great job, too, but in Asia local guides aren’t always in sync. We were hunting maral stag when one of the locals asked how far I could shoot. Not wanting him to pull the “Shoot, shoot, shoot!” panic at extreme range, “Maybe 400 meters,” I told him. He pointed out across the valley and said, “Big stag over there. How far?” I couldn’t see the stag, but I put the 10x42 RF where he was pointing. I knew it was far, but I figured 700 yards. Gulp. The rangefinder read 1,200! That was a time to get closer — and we did. Just before sunset, I shot a gorgeous stag at 250 yards.
The value of good optics cannot be measured. While it’s nice to have capability beyond intent, it’s even nicer to get close.