This is my [ongoing] review of the Primary Arms GLx 3-18×44 scope with Athena BPR Mil reticle. I say this review is ongoing because I’m still doing a lot of things with this optic, so I’ll be updating this post over time as I document my findings with it.
I’m frequently asked for rifle scope recommendations. The first thing I ask in response is, “What are you going to use it for?” My answers usually fall on two ends of the spectrum. On the one end are precision rifle scopes like 5-25×56 optics and on the other are LPVOs with 24mm objectives or compact prism scopes. These represent the most common use cases I have for rifles.
But there’s a middle ground that I don’t often discuss, and one that is arguably more practical for “rifle things.” Nestled in between the familiar low power and high power variables I typically deal with, the medium power variable optic (MPVO) market represents a sort of “do all” scope suitable for the so-called “practical rifles” as well as the tactical.
In the past, we typically thought of MPVO as being the 2.5-10x, 3-9x, or 4-16x magnification range dominated by hunters. They also made a strong appearance with the Mk12 SPR and it’s Leupold TS30 2.5-8×32 scope. There’s an argument out there that the future of MPVO is in scopes with these magnification ranges, but using LVPO-sized bodies and 26-28mm objectives.
I can see the utility, but that comes with tradeoffs. Instead, I think there’s a lot of utility for an MPVO with a moderately sized objective like 32mm to 44mm- especially when it comes to SPR, DMR, and hunting rifles. So let’s talk about this particular example.
Full Disclosure & BLUF
As always, I want to be clear and honest with you. Primary Arms provided this optic to me for review at my request. I have been working on another review for a different publication with a light-ish weight 308 bolt action designed for field use. None of the scopes I had in my stable were suited to the task given that they were either too large and designed for my precision rifles, or they were too small and geared towards lightweight carbines.
I knew Primary Arms had the GLx 3-18×44 coming out, and asked if they would be interested in sending me one for use with the project as well as my own review. They happily complied, so I thank them for that.
That said, I will still be honest in my assessment and tell you my thoughts as I use the optic.
All of that said, so far I’m very pleased with this scope. It’s clearly targeted at the tactical market and provides several desirable features to that end like shake-awake illumination, a range-estimating reticle, relatively compact size, and a ton of travel. I do have a couple of nitpicks, which I get to. For a price of $749 direct from Primary Arms, I feel like this is a very compelling package compared to the competition.
My “Perfect” SPR Scope
Not long ago, I got into a conversation about my ideal specs for a DMR or SPR scope. I thought back to the origins of the SPR/DMR programs, which each came from slightly different directions but arrived at similar outcomes. The goal was a rifle similar in size and weight to a standard squad rifle, but delivering increased capability for precision fire and observation.
Knowing that, I didn’t want a scope that was too large or heavy- so that rules out the large precision scopes with 50mm or 56mm objectives and large bodies. I would pick something with an intermediate magnification range, something with 3x to 4x on the low end and 15x to 18x on the high end. I would also want a first focal plane reticle, complete with a tree for holdovers as well as a way to quickly estimate range inside the scope.
Of course, I would also want something that was durable and had dead-on adjustment mechanisms. This list of specs works just as well for bolt actions used in competition and for tactical purposes as well.
Not long after, Primary Arms released this GLx 3-18×44 and it seemed right up my alley. The GLx line is the mid-market lineup from Primary Arms, flanked by the SLx on the value end and the PLx on the premier end. This particular 3-18×44 model is squarely aimed at the tactical market with a secondary nod to competition or hunting.
So how well does it stack up? Let’s find out. I’ll be using it on a variety or rifle including my recce as well as bolt actions.
The GLx 3-18×44
This particular scope comes from the Philippines, as is common for many mid-market scope options. A general trend I see among manufacturers is that their value optics come from China, their middle-tier comes from the Philippines, and their high end comes from Japan. Case in point, consider the Vortex Strike Eagle, Viper PST, and Razor series follow the same pattern. That’s not to say that you can’t get some very nice scopes from China, as I found out when I looked at the Athlon Ares ETR a while back, but it’s just a general trend.
The GLx 3-18×44 is 13.66″ long and weighs in at 29.6 oz without rings or mount. It’s not a lightweight scope by any means, owing to it’s thick 34mm body and steel internals, but it’s within +/- 2 oz of similar optics on the market. It’s a little heavy for a pure hunting scope, but not out of the question, either.
There are three reticle options. My particular model is the first focal plane ACSS Athena BPR Mil reticle, which uses standard milliradian markings. The other two are ACSS Apollo BDC redicles for .308/6.5 Grendel and 6.5 CM/.224 Valkyrie.
Mechanically, the GLx 3-18×44 has a whopping 180 MOA of total elevation travel (about 52 mils) and 120 MOA (about 34 mils) of windage. It uses stainless steel turret internals.
Primary Arms packaged the GlX 3-18×44 in a fairly standard cardboard box. The scope itself came wrapped in plastic, and suspended by foam inserts to prevent undue damage during shipping. Also in the box is a user manual for scope, a separate manual for the ACSS Athena BPR Mil reticle, a cleaning cloth, spare battery, a pair of hex keys, and an appropriately-sized set of Butler Creek flip up scope caps.
Out of the box my first impression was the scope looked…beefy. In the hand, the optic feels weighty and sturdy, like it would put up with some abuse. I’m accustomed to seeing 34mm tube diameters on my large precision scopes with 56mm objectives, but seeing one on an optic with a 44mm objective felt disproportionate. To be fair, I also haven’t spent any time with the current crop of 1-10x LPVOs with thicc bodies, either.
The GLx finish is a nice even matte black, with white emblazoned along the sides of the Ocular and 3-18×44 along the top.
The GLx 3-18×44 comes equipped with a fixed throw lever mounted to the magnification adjustment ring. Attached with a couple of hex screws, it’s also replaceable with a folding unit that Primary Arms sells separately. The magnification ring moves smoothly, with a moderate amount of resistance as it rotates clockwise to increase power. The resistance is on the lighter end of my scope collection, about on par with my Steiner P4xi 4-16×56.
The turrets are large in diameter (though relatively short) and easy to grab, providing 10 mils of travel per rotation. The numbers are bold and easy to read, as well. They feature a zero stop & lock mechanism, meaning that when you arrive at your set zero, the turret locks in place. You release the lock by pushing a button on the side of the turret.
The turret adjustments feel ok. They’re not as firm or distinct as my Athlon Cronus or Steiner P4xi (both scopes that came in at significantly higher price points), but it certainly feels beter than my Vortex Strike Eagle 5-25×56. In use, I don’t have any issue whatsoever keeping track of how many clicks I’ve moved. I’ll do a proper box and tracking test as soon.
The parallax adjustment on the left side goes down to 10 yards, which is very nice to see. The large knurled parallax ring moves smoothly with light to moderate resistance.
Reticle and Illumination
At the same position is the illumination knob, which is rubberized and goes 1 to 10 with an off position in between each. The illumination features Primary Arms’ “Autolive” functionality, which turns off the illumination when the optic sits still long enough. There isn’t a specified battery life provided, though.
The reticle in my unit is the Athena BPR Mil. At first glance, I like it overall. It’s a tree design that extends down 15 mils and 6 mils to each side. That’s more than enough elevation for taking a 308 or 6.5 CM to 1000 yards and beyond and just about enough to take a 77gr 223 out to 1000. In other words, it’s plenty.
The upper right field of the reticle also features a range estimation tool from 400 to 1000 yards. You can use it with torso width, like an ACOG, or by target height holding the horizontal line of the reticle at the feet and the top of the head of the target. This assumes an 18″ wide chest and a 5’10” tall target.
When illumination is on, the entire reticle and tree and rangefinder lights up. Maximum brightness is not nuclear bright for use in the day, but adequate for peering into darkened areas and shadows. I did catch some bleedover at high brightness with dark backgrounds, but this is pretty common especially in value to mid market optics.
The center aiming point is not a dot or crosshair as I’m accustomed to, but a small chevron that’s .2 mil wide and .1 mill tall.
The jury is still out on how I feel about the chevron. It’s a bit characteristic of Primary Arms ACSS reticles, and it certainly has its supporters. I just need more time with it to really make up my mind.
Surrounding the center aiming point are small dots spaced at .2 mil going outwards for the first 2 mils on the left and right. These dots are unobtrusive, which keeps the target easier to see. However, when zoomed down to 3x or 4x, the whole reticle becomes very fine, and the smaller parts of the center become practically invisible. This is always a concern with a first focal plane reticle on such a wide magnification range. I think the reticle really starts being useful at around 6x and up.
Overall, I like the design. It’s well-suited to the SPR/DMR role. Perhaps it’s a little busy for my usual taste given the depth and width of the tree, but that’s a personal preference.
I don’t have any through-the-scope photos to show you, yet. Of course, those are always hit or miss to begin with. So let me tell you what my Mk 1 eyeball sees.
Optically, the GLx 3-18×44 looks good. I don’t pick up any obvious fringing or color issues at all, something that I can’t say of my more expensive Steiner P4xi. Resolution and clarity are both good to go for me.
However, I do notice a rather significant amount of fish eye effect when the magnification is turned all the way down to 3x. It improves a lot by 4x and is nearly gone by 5x.
Getting behind the scope is easy. The eye relief is plenty generous with enough error margin to easily correct. It’s not an LPVO by any means, but it’s not mean to perform like one, either.
I expect this scope is a prime candidate for a paired mini red dot.
October 2023 Update
As part of a final review for the rifle I mentioned in the introduction, I took the GLx 3-18×44 out to the range mounted to a Franchi Momentum All-Terrain Elite rifle. The gun is a bit of an SUV of rifles, meant to be rugged and capable of most tasks you throw at it. The GLx was a fitting optic.
I had the rifle secured into a Caldwell Hyrdosled, and that gave me a chance to see how well the adjustments worked. Throughout the multiple-hour testing session, I cranked the knobs up and down while adjusting zeroes for different loads and changing positions. They tracked dead on for everything.
When actually getting behind the scope and hitting some targets, the chevron center aiming point did well. Any concerns I had about it being too different from what I was accustomed to are moot.
Following the initial testing, I also shot the rifle out to 300 yards using the gathered ballistic data. Again, no concerns from the turrets and their tracking ability. The optical clarity was more than enough to see everything I wanted to hit.
Final Thoughts, For Now
In all, given the $749.99 price that Primary Arms is asking, this is a heck of a package. It’s got the right magnification range, size/weight, and other features that make it a nearly ideal scope for a light tactical rifle like an SPR or DMR. I think it would do well on bolt actions as well, particularly those designed for a similar type of role as a SPR/DMR, the so-called “practical” rifle.
The reticle has a lot going on with it. It may be a little overwhelming for shooters who prefer a simple design or a more slimmed-down tree design. I appreciate the ranging feature, and I wish more companies would do something similar.
For now, I think this is my top pick for a mid-market scope of it’s size and magnification range. Stay tuned for more updates as I run it through technical testing on a few rifles and take it to the field.