Athlon Optics are a new player in the worldwide optical market; they’re a US-owned company that has kicked up quite a stir since being established in 2014. Headquartered in mainland USA, Athlon has etched out an early market niche in providing quality optical devices at very competitive prices. They produce an extensive range of riflescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes and parallax-dot-type, close-range rifle/shotgun sights.
While the Athlon brand may be new to some, the fundamental company philosophy is focused on quality and value to its end user customer. It seems we may see a lot more of this brand as time progresses and they continue to challenge the more established brands in the marketplace.
I was recently asked to review the baseline model in the Athlon range: the Neos. These particular scopes are manufactured in China under strict quality control regimes, and frankly, the attention to detail shows through clearly in the finished product. The higher-end Athlon models are produced in Japan.
The model provided was the 3-9x40mm featuring the BDC 22 rimfire reticle (Model 216003). The BDC 22 rimfire reticles featured in various Athlon models were designed specifically for rimfire cartridges, and the one featured in this scope was developed specifically for the .22 Long Rifle (LR) cartridge. This reticle allows shooters to compensate for bullet drop at extended shooting distances. When using a .22 LR with a muzzle velocity of approximately 1250 feet per second, this reticle is designed to be zeroed at 50 yards, providing bullet drop compensation for 75, 100, 125 and 150 yards.
Given the travel restrictions in place at the time of writing this article, I was limited to initially using CCI Subsonic HP ammunition with a muzzle velocity of 1050 feet per second. In order not to upset the neighbours too much, I excluded the supersonic ammunition from the testing in the early stages.
The build quality of this scope is excellent, and it felt like a far more expensive model. This particular scope model retails at around $300 making it exceptional value for money given its performance and design features.
All Athlon products are covered by their transferable lifetime warranty, giving the purchaser confidence that the company will stand behind its workmanship and materials throughout the reasonable lifetime of the product.
The timing of this review was interesting as it fell right at the beginning of the COVID-19 nationwide lockdown. The scope was going to be mounted onto the new Webley & Scott Rimfire Bolt Action in .22 Long Rifle, supplied by Outdoor Sports in Auckland. Unfortunately, this wasn’t able to be delivered before the lockdown took effect; that review may now take place at a later time.
I decided to go with what I had on hand rifle-wise, so forgive me for this necessary liberty.
It was also my intention to visit my range facility on a farm property in Central Hawkes Bay which would have allowed testing of the BDC reticle out to and including 150 metres with all ammo types. Unfortunately, given the travel restrictions of the COVID-19 lockdown, I was initially restricted to testing this optic at a maximum of 50 metres with 40 grain CCI subsonic HP ammunition on my range at home.
My thanks go to Sportways Distributors in Auckland for supplying the CCI ammunition used in this review; Sportways Distributors import and supply CCI and Federal ammunition to the New Zealand shooting market via retail outlets throughout the country.
Testing on the Range
The scope was mounted on my new Ruger 10/22 semi-automatic takedown rifle in standard alloy 1-inch mounts which I had on hand.
I spent a morning on the range with the rifle and scope combo. Despite the very heavy trigger pull on my Ruger rifle, some reasonable groups were shot at 50 metres. The clear resolution of the Athlon scope allowed me to see the aiming point consistently. I was impressed with the edge-to-edge image clarity of this scope; this is a dead giveaway in identifying a poor-quality scope or binocular – when the image simply doesn’t appear clear and is blurry around the edge of the ocular lens. The Neos demonstrated quality of glass well beyond its modest price tag with crisp and clear images right to the lens’ edge.
Range accuracy at 50 metres was certainly acceptable, and the Neos zeroed easily with very clear and definite clicks on both the elevation and windage turrets. The Athlon website states that this scope has an elevation and windage adjustment range of 50 MOA. This is exceptional performance in a cheaper scope. Accuracy hovered around the 1-inch mark at 50 metres using the CCI Subsonic Hollow Point loads. Not match-quality results, admittedly, but adequate for small game hunting within the limitations of this cartridge. The Ruger has always shown a preference for CCI Subsonic ammunition, and I personally rate it highly for both accuracy, consistency of velocity and killing power at reasonable ranges.
I checked the accuracy of the Neos turrets by firing a reference group of three rounds then dialling the scope 10 clicks upwards and 10 clicks left. I then repeated the group and it landed predictably high and left. After dialling the elevation down 20 clicks, the next three rounds landed low and left. Dialling the scope right 20 clicks brought the next three rounds low and right. The next adjustment was upwards, 20 clicks; the next group landed high and right. Finally, an adjustment of 10 clicks left and 10 down brought the final three shots back to zero, and they printed right on top of the initial reference group.
This scope is a delight to work with, and I do think it would make a fine small game scope. Optically, it far exceeds expectations on both glass quality and overall performance. Small features like the raised ring lug on the magnification ring make for speedy changes of scope power. The focus adjustment is also very smooth and shows no stiffness which is often an issue on new scopes.
During the 50-metre range tests, I was initially sceptical about the thickness of the vertical stadia on the BDC reticle. In particular, I was concerned about how that might affect the performance of the reticle at longer ranges. It was only when I came to test the scope at a full 150-metre range that it became clear my concerns had been unfounded.
I have a metal falling plate target measuring 200mm high with a 75mm centre mass and a 50mm stem; this is still a small target at 150 metres for any rifle. Using the 150 mark on the Neos BDC reticle and the Supersonic CCI Hollow Point ammunition, I was able to make a series of hits on the distant target when the crosswind abated. The upright reticle stadia covered approximately 40mm of the target with the scope set on 9x shooting at the 150-metre distance. This made for easy target acquisition and a consistent aiming point. The last 10 shots of the test were fired during a calm in the crosswind. I scored four further hits on the target with the other six rounds grouping nicely and just narrowly missing the target upright. In real world terms, if you superimposed a rabbit into this scenario, that animal would be in some danger.
I’d certainly like to have had a more accurate bolt-action rifle available to fully explore the practicality of this reticle system in the field. However, the actual test results shot using a factory standard rifle were far from disappointing. The results obtained showed the BDC system does work, and it works well.
In the Field
With limited hunting and range opportunities available during the COVID-19 level 3 lockdown, I turned to a nearby friendly orchardist for assistance. Having just begun to harvest his crop of apples, he was grateful to have someone shoot some pests on his property as the local rabbit population had taken the opportunity to move in for a feed.
Hunting the rows of fruit trees at dusk one autumn afternoon, I was able to secure two nice bunnies right on dark. The Neos provided a crisp and very clear picture in the failing light, and I came away very impressed with the overall performance of this scope. While the shots were relatively short, the BDC reticle was not called into play on this occasion. I had the scope set on 6x for the dusk hunt and found the layout of the reticle provided a fast aiming point for offhand shots.
Having obtained satisfactory test results at longer ranges on paper targets, I didn’t attempt any long-range shots on game during the testing. I note that long-range rimfire hunting with .22 LR rifles is relatively commonplace in places like the United Kingdom, and it’s certainly an interesting prospect for anyone wanting to explore this aspect of small game hunting. My only concern is with the limited bullet energy of the .22 LR round at those extended ranges and the real possibility of wounding the animals. I’ll leave this for the reader to decide on his or her individual ethical position on this.
My special thanks to Lloyd Cave for the generous use of his property for the long-range testing.