Editor’s Note: The first time I fired the TrackingPoint, I was in Nevada, where there is no limit to the available distance. I was with a group of writers at Range Day in 2013, and it was bitterly cold. I’d never touched the rifle. I’d never attempted a shot past 300 yards, with anything. I watched a couple of shooters (following the step-by-step procedure on an iPad), and when it was my turn I took my seat at the bench and saddled up.
I was looking for a steel target on a ridge line more than 900 yards away. It was a 24″ steel plate–I could see that much, but I didn’t know how much elevation dropped, or the exact distance. And I could only estimate the wind which was blowing in my face, but swirling through the canyon between me and the target. It was in the low teens and I wasn’t about to remove my gloves. I sat down, tagged the target, pulled the trigger…then the gun bucked. In less time than it has taken you to read this paragraph, I had my first hit at 900 yards. There was a slight pause, and I heard the gong of that fat .338 bullet hitting steel.
On with the review…
Advances in technology continue to make possible incremental improvements in the quality and accuracy of rifles. At the same time, the capabilities of scopes keep improving. Clearer, brighter sight pictures with reticles custom designed for your ammunition make long range shooting much more accessible. But these advancements happen slowly. What Tracking Point has achieved is a quantum leap in long range shooting, so easy to use that a child can make shots out to 500 yards and beyond. WithTrackingPoint’s Precision Guided Firearms,you can take what you learn in an hour or two at the range and hunt at distances well past 1,000 yards.
Scott Calvin, Territory Manager for TrackingPoint, came to Dallas this summer with a couple of their rifles and plenty of ammunition. During his presentation leading up to the trip to the range, Scott said, “Our objective in building this system was to disrupt the market with a 1,000 yard gun that creates a solution, allowing the average shooter to go out and make 1,000 yard shots.” From what I saw, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Scott opened with a short course on long distance shooting describing the various elements that go into formulating a long distance aiming solution. The biggest variable is bullet drop due to gravity. Next are spin drift, Coriolis effect, Magnus effect, rifle cant, altitude, barometric pressure, humidity, etc. All told, there are about twenty variables to consider. At distances under 325 yards the effect of these forces is minimal for the calibers we’d be shooting. However, the farther out you go, the more dramatically they affect the path of the bullet. At 1,000 yards, according to US Army research, first-shot-hit probability is less than 5%. TrackingPoint’s shooting system has improved that to 70% or better.
The first thing you need to understand is that these guns aren’t simply rifles with scopes attached. The gun, scope, ammunition, and guided trigger are all integral parts of the rifle system which TrackingPoint refers to as a Precision Guided Firearm. Here’s how it works.
With your game animal in the scope crosshairs, you press a red button in the front of the trigger guard which “tags” your aiming point with a red dot. This red dot automatically follows any movement of the animal up to 10 mph. In other words, you have locked in the aiming point. A computer in the scope instantaneously calculates the shot solution. Then you pull the trigger all the way to the rear.
This is where it gets a little weird. The gun does not fire when you pull the trigger.
Your brain is telling you this isn’t right, but it is. It’s just different. Instead, you get an illuminated crosshair that moves as you move the gun to your tag. The rifle will not fire until the illuminated crosshair crosses the tag, at which time the shot breaks. This guarantees that you are aiming precisely where the computer has calculated you should for a first round hit. It’s a little strange at first but quickly becomes second nature.
Scott has gone on several hunts to prove the TrackingPoint long range technology in the field. On one of these hunts there was a beautiful trophy-size Axis buck in front of him. He put the scope on the animal and was easily able to keep a tag on it as it moved around. After several long seconds, his guide started whispering “Shoot, shoot,” as if Scott didn’t know what to do. Instead he lowered his rifle and said, “I can’t. It’s only 92 yards….”
It wasn’t that 92 yards wasn’t within the rifle’s wheelhouse, but it wasn’t going to prove anything either. The TrackingPoint needs to stretch out.
PRECISION GUIDED FIREARM
So what exactly is a Precision Guided Firearm and how does it work? The system is based on a very precise rifle. To the rifle are added a sophisticated scope and a trigger that’s guided by the computer in the scope. The scope, the most important part of the system, is a 30-35 power digital optic meaning that you don’t look through the scope as in a typical glass optic. What you see is a digital image which can also be viewed simultaneously on the iPad which comes with the rifle. There are also apps to let you see on your cell phone what the scope sees. The image processor refreshes 54 times per second and is stabilized by 3 gyros and 3 accelerometers. (Ever try to hand hold a 35 power optic?) The stability and image quality are fantastic. The scope sends out a short-range WIFI signal to pair with the iPad, cell phone, or whatever other device you may be using. It also records audio and video. Oh, and there’s a laser hard mounted on the barrel of the rifle which shines into the scope to re-zero it every time you turn it on.
The scope is calibrated for the ammunition. TrackingPoint partnered with Barnes to develop ammunition with a guaranteed variation in muzzle velocity shot-to-shot of no more than 10 fps. Consistency in cartridge performance, of course, is one of the keys to accurate shooting. When you buy a rifle, you get 200 rounds of ammunition as part of the package. To buy additional ammunition, the cost is about $8 per round. I have a feeling we’re going to see a lot of TrackingPoint owners using hand loaded ammo.
The scope sensor array includes a laser range finder, barometer, thermometer, tilt sensor, etc. In fact, it feeds the ballistic computer everything to make the perfect shot, with the exception of wind data. You still have to input your own wind information. Scott said they could incorporate a sensor to determine wind but it would add too much bulk to the scope and dramatically reduce battery life. That’s likely the biggest reason first round hit probability is less than 100%. Calculating the average crosswind between you and your game is challenging. In fact, the wind at the target may be blowing 180 degrees from where it is at your position. It takes experience to accurately make wind estimates and even the best shooters don’t always get it right. But then again, the type of hunters who are buying these rifles probably welcome the challenge.
The actual firing of the rifle is guided by the scope. Pulling the trigger to the rear arms the gun. When the illuminated reticle crosses the tag, a solenoid releases the firing pin. The lock time, the time between when the solenoid fires and the shot breaks, is very short.
AT THE RANGE
Scott brought two guns with him, a TrackingPoint XS1 .338 Lapua Magnum and a TP 750 300H .300 Winchester Magnum. The XS1 had a 27” Krieger cut barrel fitted to an Accuracy International AX chassis. A Blackout 90T muzzle brake capped the end of the barrel and we shot off a Harris bipod. The scope zooms from 6 to 35 power for this 1,200 yard rifle which fires the Barnes 300 grain Sierra Open-Tipped XactShot ammunition.
There were two steel targets set up 300 yards downrange. Unfortunately, that was the longest range available in the Dallas area. To truly test a long range gun, you need to shoot beyond 4-500 yards. A 1,000 yard range would be ideal. Still, this was simply a familiarization outing and the range was sufficient for that. If we get a chance to shoot the system at longer ranges, we’ll be sure to let you know.
The gun was set up on a bench. Getting behind the scope with a sniper wrap on the gun, you acquire the target on low magnification, then use the button on top of the scope to zoom in. The stability of the image was remarkable and made it an easy task to put the reticle on the center of the target. When it’s where you want it, you reach up to the tagging button in front of the trigger and depress the button to tag your aiming point. You’ll see a red dot where you’ve tagged. If you don’t get a good tag or don’t like where it is, you delete the tag and do it again. Once you’re satisfied with your tag, depress the trigger fully to the rear. An illuminated reticle will appear telling you that the gun is armed and ready to fire. The trigger reticle will be below and to the right of the scope reticle making it obvious what the drop and bullet spin drift compensation is. Of course, you don’t really have to concern yourself with that. Just bring the illuminated trigger reticle up to the red tag dot. As it passes over your tag, the gun fires. It’s always a surprise, which is what you want. No flinching here.
You would expect significant recoil from a 300 grain Lapua Magnum round, but it was, in fact, quite mild. The XS1 with the loaded magazine weighs about 25 pounds. The weight combined with the excellent muzzle brake reduced recoil significantly. In fact a young man about 14 or 15 years old was able to fire the gun with no problem. Oh, and he hit the 300 yard target center mass too.
TP 750 300H
While you probably wouldn’t want to be traipsing around in the mountains with the XS1 on your back, the TP 750 is about half the weight – 12 pounds loaded. It employs a Remington LTR fluted stainless steel 26” barrel with black TriNyte PVD coating married to a Bell and Carlson composite stock. Overall length is 45 ¾”. The TP 750 is rated as a 750 yard rifle firing Barnes 220 grain and 190 grain ammo with a 6 to 30 power scope.
Although the zoom power is a little less on the 750 series, it operates identically to the XS1. Acquire the target, tag it with the tag button, pull the trigger to the rear, line up the trigger reticle with your tag until the rifle fires. Recoil is more pronounced with the lighter gun and lack of muzzle brake but it wasn’t intolerably so. In fact it was quite a bit less than 300 Win Mag in a lighter mountain gun. We weren’t shooting paper so I can’t say it was a tack driver although I know it was. You don’t get the kind of shot repeatability I was seeing, even at only 300 yards, unless you’re shooting a very accurate gun. And at the price point we’re talking about, it better be a tack driver.
The TP XS1 .338 Lapua Magnum has an MSRP of $27,500. The TP 750 series is $12,995. One of the attendees told me that he was there to buy one for his shooting range. He and a group of his buddies created a range and intended to share the rifle. Split ten ways you’re down in the neighborhood of rifles with considerably less ability. Still TrackingPoint has sold more than 500 rifles. I would imagine that most of the buyers were individuals.
TrackingPoint is introducing a series of TP ARs. The first of these will be offered to their existing customers, then to the general public. The ARs include a .556 chambering, a 7.62, and a 300 Blackout. The 7.62 is a 750 yard rifle while the other two are 500 yard rifles.
TP AR 556 – $9,995
TP AR 762 – $14,995
TP AR 300 BLK – $10,995
For some of us, the TrackingPoint system is so advanced that it defies comprehension, much less explanation. TrackingPoint allows a complete novice to make hit on a target at 1,200 yards with just a basic introduction to the rifle. Is this good or bad? The debate is just getting started. The electronic heart of the TP system could be comprimised. Some worry that the rifles could be shut down remotely. And recent applications of TrackingPoint technology have demonstrated other abilities that have some cheering and others sweating bullets. For example, Google Glass can be used to aim the TrackingPoint around barriers, and the rifles have the potential to be linked, so one spotter can set tags for multiple shooters…. Are these possibilities of the platform, or abuses? It depends on your view, and goes well beyond the purview of this article.
Generally speaking there are 4 primary challenges in long distance shooting:
- range estimation,
- environmental ballistic factors,
- human error, and
- consistency of equipment.
Tracking Point has demonstrated a solution for all four with the exception of one environmental factor – wind. Shooting these guns at distance still requires this fundamental long range shooting skill. That said, the TrackingPoint is more forgiving for hunters than it is for target shooters. With all of the other variables accounted for, the bullet is still likely to produce a solid hit on its intended target, even with slight miscalculations in wind speed.
Their objective was not to replace other rifles, but to add a new dimension to hunting. That they have. Their guns are expensive as most new technology is. However, if it follows the trajectory of other new technology, we’ll see the size, weight, and price come down over time. With $37 million invested in the development of their Precision Guided Rifles and more than 70 patents, Tracking Point has to recover their initial costs. How long that will take is anybody’s guess. In the meantime, they’re the only game in town and they have a fully developed product which offers you a significant edge in your trophy hunts. If you’re planning on spending a tidy sum for a hunt, you might want to give them a call and get behind one of these rifles yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Barnes Ammunition: http://www.barnesbullets.com/products/ammunition/
Accuracy International: www.accuracyinternational.com/
Blackout International: http://www.advanced-armament.com/TiTan-QD-Muzzle-Brake_p_496.html
Bell and Carlson: www.bellandcarlson.com/