As part of my Sig 556 platform modernization project, I wanted to replace the old Nikon P-223 3x scope I had on my Sig 556 SBR with a more modern LPVO. I selected the Sig Optics Whiskey5 1-5x based on a careful analysis of my gun’s use and requirements. The review focuses not just on the optic itself, but how it fit those requirements.
Read on after the break!
First, I considered how I use my Sig 556 SBR. It’s a short gun with a 10″ barrel. Mechanical accuracy is OK, but nothing to write home about. I use it for “tactical carbine” classes, and can’t imagine ever using it past 300 yds. I’m not shooting it for tiny groups at range, either.
Based on this and my own personal preferences, I derived the following requirements in order of importance:
- Very good glass – Japanese or German preferred, could live with the better Filipino stuff. I am not buying any more Chinese glass if I can help it – I can tell the difference now.
- True daylight bright reticle that could be used as a red dot. A lot of the shooting with this gun is on a timer, and a bright aiming point makes a huge difference in putting the gun on target quickly.
- A reticle that would stay usable across magnification levels. The reticle needs to be working correctly at all times.
- Top-end magnification > 4x. I find 4x too limiting these days.
- Low-end magnification of true 1x, given that I’d be shooting quite a bit at ranges that were sometimes even under 25yds.
- Usable eye relief that doesn’t change too much from top to bottom end magnification.
- Good lifetime warranty. This one is easy, nearly everyone has a lifetime warranty on their scopes at this point.
- Price < $500. My budget is not unlimited, and this is not necessarily the most important gun in my safe.
Some stuff that I specifically didn’t put in as requirements: first focal plane, BDC reticle, weight, tube size, and used/new condition. These could be differentiating factors, to be sure, but they were not going to exclude any choices at the outset. I am a huge fan of FFP BDC reticles, but there’s just not enough velocity out of that 10″ barrel to make most of them very useful due to what they’re calibrated to.
You could make a fairly cogent argument that I could have done most of this with a reflex sight. Personally, I like being able to magnify my optic to be able to see smaller targets at distance. Can’t hit what you can’t see!
I examined some offerings from Nightforce, Leupold, Sig, Vortex, Burris, and Bushnell. The only really competitive scopes in my price range were the XTR II 1-5x and PST Gen II 1-6x, both of which were SFP ranging reticles (which didn’t meet requirement #3).
Thus, after some careful consideration, I landed on the Whiskey5 1-5×24 with the “Hellfire” Circleplex reticle. This scope is $400-$500 new on eBay, and has a 30mm tube. It’s made in Japan, has excellent glass, and has a very, very bright fiber optic aiming point in the middle of the SFP reticle (which contains no subtensions at all). The big downside is that it is a rather heavy optic at 19oz, and only gets heavier once you throw it in an 8.5oz AD-RECON-SL mount.
The scope in question comes in a large box that’s padded pretty solidly. I think the Whiskey5 line is meant for hunting, as it comes with a ScopeCoat instead of the flip-up caps or “bikini” cover you find on most tactical scopes. This does a nice job of protecting the optic from scratches in storage and transit.
Out of the box, the scope has an attractive black finish (not gray, like the Tango6 scopes), with capped turrets and a fairly conventional LPVO layout. One of Sig’s design DNA features is the fiber optic rod on the magnification ring bump to allow a quick look to see the approximate zoom on the scope while you’re behind the scope. I am a little skeptical that this works so well (zoom levels aren’t spaced evenly), but it looks pretty and gives a good place to grab, so I guess it’s not hurting anyone.
The 1/2 MOA clicks on the covered turrets are a little more coarse than I think most people are used to on a newer scope; usually you’re looking for more like 1/4 MOA. That said, the clicks were easy to distinguish, and had just the right amount of resistance. I found the magnification ring a little tight; perhaps a throw lever would help when I need to adjust magnification in a hurry. The illumination controls worked as expected and had an off position between every brightness level. There’s a fine-focus adjustment at the back of the eye piece, like with most scopes.
Eye relief is constant at about 3.9″-4″, with a relatively forgiving eye box. I love this, and it unexpectedly became one of my favorite features of the scope. There is nothing more annoying on an LPVO than eye relief that changes dramatically between zoom levels, and it seems like cheaper LPVOs suffer from it more than others. Parallax is fixed at a hundred yards, which seems about right.
Magnification was mostly as stated. There is definitely a touch of magnification at 1x, but it’s not too distracting at anything other than literal point blank range. All 1-X LPVOs have some slight bit of magnification, so this seems acceptable.
The reticle is Sig’s “Hellfire Circleplex”. This is a standard duplex reticle with a circle in the middle. The circle is 3.25 MOA, and .75 MOA thick. The duplex portion of the scope has .8 MOA thick lines. I think they made the circle a little too small; I would have preferred something that was closer to 32 MOA so that it wasn’t as overshadowed by the red dot. On the plus side, in a situation where illumination is not functional, 3MOA is a pretty good size to use as an improvised aiming point at CQB ranges.
EDIT (5/12/2020): After I wrote this review, I also bought the “Hellfire quadplex” version of this scope for an AR-308 SBR. The quadplex lacks the circle, and also has a smaller fiber optic aiming point (.4 MOA vs .8 MOA). My thought after playing with it is that the quadplex version of the scope is going to be a little bit better for precise aiming at distance, whereas the circleplex is going to be better at run-and-gun tasks. You’re not really going to go wrong with either.
Speaking of which, when you turn on illumination, there is a .8 MOA red aiming point inside that circle. Since the brightness is in the second focal plane and driven by fiber optics, it can get VERY bright. Not as bright as an Aimpoint on full blast, but bright enough that you can absolutely use it as a red dot in full daylight. There is NOTHING that annoys me more than a scope that claims it has a daylight bright reticle and then chokes the second the sun comes out. I can understand how that’s not a big deal to hunters who just need a little bit of a boost near dawn or dusk, but if you’re trying to run a scope like a red dot (a fairly frequent need on LPVOs whether users recognize it or not) not having super-bright illumination is a serious problem without a really good reticle.
There is also an infrared brightness setting. I have no idea what this is for, given that I didn’t think you could use a scope with NODs. If anyone knows what the IR brightness setting is supposed to be for, please feel free to chime in with a comment, because my Google-fu has come up with absolutely nothing.
I was disappointed this model didn’t come with MOTAC, which is Sig’s name for turning the illumination off after five minutes of no motion. When you’re relying on super high brightness to drive your scope’s performance, you don’t want to have dead batteries. The Tango6 line does have this technology, but also costs about double what this scope does.
My CONOPS for using the Whiskey5 1-5×24 is to use it like a red dot at 1x and turn up the magnification as required for distance shooting. At a recent range session, I zeroed mine at 36yds using a rest and full zoom, and then shot it from a standing position using a variety of zoom levels at an 8″ splatter-style target. This was done in an indoor range, so the lighting was not terribly bright.
I noticed immediately that turning the brightness to maximum caused the “dot” to obscure a little too much of the target for my taste. This isn’t a bad thing – if you’re shooting in a daylight situation, washout is going to make that less of a problem. But in an indoors environment, I found that turning it to about middle brightness still gave you a bright red dot to aim with while not obscuring the target too badly. If I was doing practical/tactical shooting and didn’t care about nailing a 1″ circle, I’d leave it on the highest brightness and just roll with it.
Once I resolved that issue, the scope was a real pleasure to use, essentially a reflex sight that I could magnify on demand. The SFP design keeps it easy to find the reticle at speed, but you don’t wind up in a situation where the reticle’s subtensions become “invalid” because, well, it’s a cross and a circle. Not much that can go wrong with that! Shooting from the standing position, it was very easy to get my gun up on target and hit exactly what I was aiming at quickly.
I always get nervous talking about glass quality, but I’ve bought enough “good” scopes at this point that I’m starting to understand the differences. I would say that the glass on this one is a touch above my Burris XTR II 1.5-8x, but not quite as good as my pair of Sig Tango6 scopes. For the price you pay, that’s some excellent glass.
In order to give this optic an even better workout, I brought it to a Green Ops Defensive Carbine clinic on the aforementioned Sig 556 SBR. The Sig 556 platform isn’t the best for precision shooting – the trigger is kinda heavy out of the box, and the gun itself has a loose fit between the receivers. But I figured this was a really good opportunity to see how the optic would work at speed in a less-static setting.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well the scope worked. I went into the clinic expecting to have to work around the LPVO to some extent, but that was not the case at all. Both eyes open shooting at 1x was easy and intuitive. When I brought the gun up with both eyes open, the reticle simply popped into my FOV. If a little extra magnification was in order, turning it to 5x wasn’t a chore. The eyebox was maybe a little finicky at 5x when I got behind the gun prone for zero confirmation, but this could very well have been the gun’s ergonomics (or me!) just as much as the optic. When I switched shoulders during barricade shooting, getting behind the Whiskey5 was fast and intuitive. I had the brightness dialed down to the 4th setting since I wanted as little bloom as possible, and it worked great indoors. I cannot stress enough how wary I was of this optic proving problematic, and had my usual class carbine prepped just in case I couldn’t live with it.
This optic may have been designed for hunting, but it’s a pretty respectable choice as a budget tactical LPVO for 0-300yds. It is a direct competitor to the Leupold Mark-5HD 1-5x fiber optic scope at about half or less of the street price. Unfortunately, with a top-end magnification of only 5x, the Whiskey5 seems doomed to be overlooked in favor of scopes with worse glass and more magnification, especially with the current crop of cheap-ish 1-8x scopes like the Strike Eagle.
But you shouldn’t overlook it. It’s a steal at the current pricing, and it makes for an excellent SBR optic, since you’re not losing much by not having BDC. This is doubly true on platforms like the Sig 556 where using a reflex sight and magnifier is simply not a good option. If Sig had marketed this as an SBR-specific patrol optic at the $600 price point, maybe with a BDC reticle option, I suspect it could have been more popular.