Most of the time I focus well-known companies producing known-quality products. It goes along with the whole idea of “buy nice or buy twice.” However, sometimes it’s nice to look at manufacturers out there trying to innovate and do something different than everyone else.
One of my biggest complaints about products from big optics brands like Trijicon, Aimpoint, and Steiner is that that they mainly focus on the needs and wants of government contracts. Enthusiasts like you and I just go along for the ride.
On the other hand, we’ve got brands like Primary Arms and Swampfox that seem to be run by actual shooting enthusiasts wanting to create the products they wished had been around. For what it’s worth, I think Vortex Optics rides a middle point here where they try to do both.
Swampfox Optics markets themselves a bit more towards the Law Enforcement segment, but keeps a firm pulse on what the civilian shooting world asks for. Today I’m looking at the Swampfox Trihawk 3×30 prism optic. The thing I find most interesting about the Trihawk is that it went the opposite direction of everyone else.
While Primary Arms and Vortex went after the “king of the hill” TA33 by making something even smaller with a marginally better field of view, Swampfox made something larger with a massive field of view.
In full transparency, I bought the Trihawk with my own money (or rather, money earned through reader support) at retail price, less a veteran’s discount. Swampfox does not know I’m writing this, and I have shared no feedback with them prior to posting.
Bottom Line Up Front
The Swampfox Trihawk surprised me. As with the Athlon Ares ETR, I tend to come into reviews of budget-oriented Chinese optics with a bias against them. I want to find things wrong with them rather than admit when they actually impress me.
The Trihawk impresses me.
It brings a combination of optical performance, massive field of view, and apparent ruggedness for an affordable $289 MSRP. Sure, I can find some things that could have been done better, like the illumination, wind holds on the reticle, the mount, and some weirdness around scope shadow when viewed from extreme angles. Ultimately, though, these complaints are minor compared to the overall value of the package. I’m impressed for what they’re charging.
I commend Swampfox for where they’re going with their prism lineup, and I think this is the optic I’m going to suggest to most people when they start showing interest in prisms and don’t want to pay ACOG prices.
Swampfox currently has three prism optics in their lineup. The Blade is a 1x magnification model competing against the red dot market. Their new Saber is a beefy 5×36 prism scope, and the Trihawk is a 3×30 general purpose optic.
Unlike other manufacturers chasing the ultracompact market, Swampfox is taking a different approach by comparing their optics to the weight of LPVOs paired with offset mini dots and mounts. The Trihawk paired with a dot, for example, comes in at around 18 ounces total. That’s still lighter than most LPVO choices on the market before adding a mount and dot. Swampfox seems content to lean into that difference and show you what optical capabilities they can squeeze into the “lighter than an LPVO with mount” comparison.
Dimensions and Form Factor
When I first saw pictures of the Trihawk, I thought it looked huge. That was deceptive. Actually mounted up, it’s about the size of an Aimpoint M4.
At 4.55″ long, 2.28″ wide, and 3.43″ tall (including mount), it’s not actually that much larger than the TA33 (6.2″ long x 2.2″ wide x 2.6″ tall). However, at 15.4 ounces, it has significantly more heft to it. The weight comes from the much larger prism inside the Trihawk. As I learned from my friend Ilya, the larger prism and wide ocular lens is necessary to give the Trihawk its massive 10° field of view. That is class-leading, and translates to a whopping 52 feet at 100 yards.
Swampfox says the eye relief is 2.36″, and I found it about right with a little bit of leeway to 2.5″. However, this isn’t quite as generous as the numbers would make it seem. I’ll come back to this point.
The body, battery compartment, and integral mount are all one piece of machined 6061-T6 aluminum. The battery compartment sits directly below the objective lens and accepts a CR-123A lithium battery. That’s a nice touch given I keep plenty of these on hand for my flashlights.
The center of the ocular sits at about 1.93″ over the rail. Since it’s all one piece, the height is fixed and cannot be adjusted.
Mounting and Zeroing
The Trihawk’s mount is dead simple, consisting of two Torx head screws running through the integral base. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it works. There is no quick detaching this optic in the field. That works out since I don’t think it’s workable to keep a BUIS in place anyway.
The Trihawk has the same issue with eye relief and the mount that I discovered with my Elcan review. While the eye relief number seems reasonable, there isn’t much rearward cantilevering of the rear ocular, so maintaining a BUIS means the scope sits just a bit too far forward for easy sight picture.
While the field of view on the Trihawk is immense, the eye box is merely okay. When moving in and out of ideal alignment, the scope quickly exhibits shadowing and tunneling. Unlike the TA33 I consider king of the 3x hill, the Trihawk is less forgiving with head position when you want to go fast.
The turrets are covered by knurled and tethered knobs, and they are adjustble in half MOA increments with the use of a flat head tool like a coin, piece of brass, or the little flat nub machined onto the top of each turret cover. The specs show 90 MOA of total travel for both elevation and windage.
The BDC reticle of the Trihawk is interesting, and designed specifically for a 50-yard zero. You can read the design intent here, since 50 yards is also a very common red dot zeroing distance for “go-fast” upright shooting. That conforms with the 1.93″ mounting height, which I consider too tall for magnified optics unless your intent is shooting from upright standing positions most of the time.
Trihawk Trident Reticle
The Trihawk has two flavors of reticle. The first is a MOA-based and agnostic of caliber. The second is a BDC with the yardage values averaged between 5.56 and 308 to give a “close enough” BDC for everything out to 800 yards. Both reticles use a large outer circle with open bottom, and a pointed arrow/chevron in the middle with some crosshairs surrounding it.
Something interesting that Swampfox did here that others have not is include larger crosshairs on the sides and bottom of the visible space. I like this feature, as it helps provide visual reference for keeping the rifle level and better draws my eye to the middle.
I don’t actually think the “close enough” BDC works that great out to 600 for just any load. However, it’s good enough for quick defensive shooting inside of 600. These aren’t designed as precision optics, so don’t think of them that way. In a combat setting, “close enough” is still effective fire if it makes the other guy put their head down.
The MOA reticle has has marks every 4 MOA starting from the tip of the inner chevron. 4 MOA is interesting because if you use a 50-yard zero, each 4 MOA of drop corresponds fairly close to 300, 400, 500, and 600 yards. Despite not being a BDC reticle, it can work “close enough.”
The main circle of the reticle is 44.2 MOA in diameter, edge to edge. I would like to have seen some kind of windage markings as well as the elevation holds, but oh well.
In illustrations, the reticle looks smaller than it actually appears to the eye. As an example, here’s a poorly-done “through the scope” shot I took while aiming at a metal plate 300 yards away.
Overall, I think the reticle of the Trihawk is good. To my eye, it’s large enough to be noticeable even when not illuminated, yet it doesn’t cover too much of the target. I don’t suspect that it will be very “fast” up close, but given the way Swampfox engineered the field of view, I don’t think that was the goal.
The illumination in the Trihawk is adequate, but not great. It’s visible in full sun, but not necessarily helping draw your eye to it. In lower light conditions, it does a good job providing contrast against the background.
The Trihawk has 10 illumination settings, with the bottom two intended for night vision use. You adjust the settings via two buttons on the top of the unit. The buttons are sealed under a rubber gasket and provide some tactile feedback. I actually found the buttons function a little confusing because my instinct says the the front button should be the “up” button for increasing brightness, and the rear button is “down” for decreasing brightness, but it’s actually reversed. The button closer to the rear increases power.
At the top end of illumination, the reticle never exhibits blooming or anything like that. However, maximum brightness does have a “bleed” effect around the outer edge of the optic’s field of view. This is distracting in low light, but I don’t see why you would be using maximum brightness in low light to begin with.
Swampfox says the CR-123A battery should last 3000 hours. To aid with this, the optic features “shake awake.” That means that the optic turns itself off after 255 seconds if it doesn’t detect any movement or vibration. As soon as the optic detects any vibration (and it doesn’t take much), the illumination kicks back on.
Also In the Box
Kudos to Swampfox for including both flip open scope caps as well as a screw-in anti-reflective device (ARD) in the box. For my TA33, a “killflash” is a $134 accessory that must be purchased separately.
Additionally, Swampfox included a battery, lens cloth, and wrench for tightening the optic to a rail.
Putting the Trihawk to Use
With all of that setup complete, how does it feel to actually use? I declared the TA33 a “gunfighter’s” optic because of it’s narrow field of view and focus on quick shot acquisition at the expense of marksman-oriented work.
The Trihawk feels like more of a “marksman’s” optic. The exceptional field of view makes gazing through the optic a pleasure. In fact, it makes it feel like there’s actually more than 3x magnification.
The eye box feels average. It does not feel as quick as the TA33, but it’s not exceptionally slow either. I wouldn’t call the eye box tight, but it does start to shadow out pretty quickly. You need to have a good solid position behind the optic, otherwise you won’t see the aiming point.
Every prism optic I’ve used lets me “run off” the edge of the prism if I look at too extreme of an angle- particularly on the right side. I don’t know if it’s the very large ocular, the field of view, or both, but the Trihawk seems to do this faster than others. What do I mean by run off the prism?
When looking through the optic, if I twist it to the right, rather than doing the usual scope shadow, I can watch a black line (the edge of the prism) pass over the field of view. As it passes, I can still see what’s on the other side of the optic- but it is out of focus and the image is inverted. This is the effect of light bouncing and bleeding out of the sides of the prism.
To be clear, every prism optic I own does this, but the Trihawk is more pronounced. When actually mounted on the rifle, I found this a lot harder to reproduce. Even then, it only happens when shooting from the left shoulder. The video above captures the effect that I”m talking about.
I ran a series of indoor CQB drills consisting of single up-drill and a transition drill. You might remember this chart from my review of the TA33. Once again, you can see how the Trihawk performed.
As a refresher, this took place at a distance of about 7 yards. The “transition drill” consisted of raising the rifle and taking two “pew pew” shots at one target, and then panning to the left about 8 feet to dry fire at a sticky note on the wall. Time stopped after the third “shot.”
|Optic||Single Up Drill Avg||Transition Drill Avg|
|EOTech XPS 2||0.852 seconds||1.488 seconds|
|Trijicon TA33||0.908 seconds||1.656 seconds|
|Aimpoint M5||0.91 seconds||1.50 seconds|
|Iron Sights||1.0 second||1.9 seconds|
|Swampfox Trihawk 3x||1.012 seconds||1.84 seconds|
|Trijicon TR24 (4x)||1.013 seconds||1.594 seconds|
|Trijicon TR24 (1x)||1.018 seconds||1.684 seconds|
|Holosun 507c Piggybacked on TA110||1.044 seconds||1.616 seconds|
|Elcan SpecterOS 4x||1.082 seconds||1.77 seconds|
|TA110 3.5x35||1.098 seconds||1.844 seconds|
You can see that the Trihawk did respectably on the single up drill, but was on the slower end of the transition drill. Note that “fast” and “slow” in this context is a matter of less than half a second spread between the fastest and slowest times. So take that for what it’s worth.
I think the wide field of view works against the Trihawk here. Whereas the TA33’s narrow field of view helped both eyes easy track the reticle’s relative position, the much larger FOV and sight picture of the Trhiawk in front of my shooting eye make the experience a bit disjointed. It’s more difficult for my brain to switch back and forth between the non-dominant eye and the shooting eye behind the magnification.
Keep in mind that this is at 7 yards, which is squarely the realm of red dot sights. At 25 yards and beyond, it gets better.
At the Range
I took the Trihawk out to a nearby unknown distance range that went between 200 and 900 yards. I had to use a hasty zero, so it wasn’t perfect, but I got there. Optically I found the Swampfox Trihawk to perform very well. Edge-to-edge clarity was quite good, especially at this price point, and I didn’t see any hint of color fringing around the edge like I do with my Primary Arms 3x micro prism.
For a hasty zero and no prior work to figure out the BDC, I found it worked well enough. I was able to make hits on some gongs between 350 and 500 yards with some guessing for the wind.
The Final Word: Who is This For?
As with the Athlon before it, I tried to find reasons to not like this scope. But the simple truth is that I think it’s a really good value and I’m going to recommend it.
The Swampfox Trihawk is a great balance of size, capability, and ruggedness coming in at an affordable price point. Optically, it performs wonderfully, and I really appreciate the huge field of view.
The reticle is fine. I like that it is large, contrasty, and gives you those large crosshair leveling lines spanning the field of view. I would like to see some effort put it on addressing wind holds, though.
Illumination is ok. It’s not meant as a CQB optic, and I wouldn’t suggest it as such. As a field optic, though, I think it does fine. The illumination controls are a little unintuitive for which one is “brighter” and which one is “dimmer.” In conditions where the environment would overwhelm the brightness, the large reticle still provides the needed contrast.
I also like the use of a CR-123A battery for logistics reasons.
If anything could be improved, I’m not a fan of the integral mount. I seems strong enough, but the fixed height and integral nature reduces flexibility for where I might mount it and what height. I get that with the battery in the way, I couldn’t really get it any lower anyway- and perhaps what’s why the new Saber has it offset to the side like an Aimpoint M4/M5 or LED ACOG.
I would also have liked a little bit more eye relief, but since it’s not a QD optic to begin with, I don’t think it’s practical to say I want the eye relief so I can keep my back up irons.
In all, I think the Trihawk presents a fantastic choice for a fixed 3x optic at a budget-friendly price point and it’s going to be my go-to suggestion for people who don’t want to step up to ACOG-level money.