I wrote this article to provide an updated review of U.S. Optics Technologies (USO) and where they stand now in 2004. While Mike Miller reviewed their products and found them to be exemplary back in March 2001, a quick search of the various sniping and long range shooting websites reveal that USO has been a controversial company with several respected operators either loving the company, and their products, or hating the firm with such a fierce passion usually reserved for such miscreants as Saddam Hussein, Usama Bin Ladin, and 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry. :-)
All kidding aside, there has been a lot of bandwidth burnt debating the pros and cons of the firm, its principals, and their products. The purpose of this review is to share my experiences in dealing with the company, particularly now that John Williams III (JW3) has taken over the leadership reins. I have used and abused several of their scopes on several different rifles, interacted directly with JW3 to resolve customer service issues, and have dealt with the company since I first ordered one of their catalogs in the mid 1990's. The following is a distillation of my several years of dealing with this controversial firm.
USO makes some of the best quality optics on the high end of the market, and offers the most diverse product line for day scopes, bar none: I personally have used Leupold, S&B, Zeiss, Nightforce, and Swarovski day scopes throughout my professional career. I had the luxury of using our tax dollars to purchase and T&E gear from all sorts of makers, at all points in the price spectrum. While all of the above manufacturers make quality products, USO scopes beat them all regarding resolution, color, and clarity. I have used or sampled six USO scopes to date, and all were free of aberrations, parallax error, etc. The scopes were clear from edge to edge, and brighter than any other scopes I have used. This is a subjective thing, and beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder, but USO worked better than everything else even when I broke out the Zeiss Optical Test Pattern and compared it to other makers' scopes. A couple folks have flamed USO for the repeatability of their adjustments, but all of my scopes track like micrometers. I have scopes from the low end of their product range (plain vanilla ST10 10X fixed power with mil-dot) all the way to the top end with all of their bells and whistles (SN9 variable with external adjustment mounts, illuminated mil-dot, ERGO adjustable). Quality had been first rate throughout, regardless of price.
USO scopes have been and always will be some of the most expensive products on the market: Lots of flaming Internet posts have been hurled back and forth on this issue - why are these scopes so damn expensive? Before USO launched their "semi-custom" ST10 a few years back, all of the scopes (with the exception of the SN4/SN12) broke or were near the $2K mark once you added on an illuminated reticle, ERGO adjustable objective, etc.) Their closest competitor was S&B, whose scopes were pushing the $1700 ballpark, or (if you were foolish enough to pay retail) Leupold MK4 series scopes priced out at $1400 or so. Things haven't changed too much, and USO scopes are still damn expensive. However, for the hefty price you pay, you get to design the scope you want and have it built to your specifications based upon your operational needs. No other optics manufacturer provides this level of customization - none. Premier Reticle and the magic they make to modify Leupold products comes close, but does not match USO since they are bound by the products Leupold originally manufactures. If you are an ultra long range shooter and want a 40mm tube, 88mm objective Hubble Telescope with a mil-dot reticle and ultra hi-resolution lenses, you can only get it from USO. You will pay handsomely for it, but they are the only folks in the market that can build it for you.
What USO has done is introduce the ST10 fixed power scopes which are priced to compete with high quality mass-produced scopes like the Leupold MK4 fixed power series. I used to be a die-hard 10X fixed MK4 M1/M3 user, but after testing the ST10 in a side-by-side comparison, I changed over to the ST10 and have never regretted it. USO lowered their production costs since the ST10's are built in a manufacturing run rather than one at a time like the other USO scopes. Based upon Internet postings by current USO president JW3, USO will be offering semi-custom variables as part of their new "Jaeger" line of scopes. These scopes may be just the ticket to compete directly against the NXS or Loopy LR/MK4 variables. I have yet to see one in person, so only time will tell.
USO Customer Service has improved dramatically in recent times: Poor customer service is another long-time complaint of USO customers. I think most of this can be sourced to John Williams II during his stint running day-to-day operations. I first tried to order a USO catalog back in 1996, and it took almost a year to get it. I mailed in a check to pay for the catalog, waited for several months, tried calling the company several times to inquire on the status of the catalog, and had a hard time reaching a live person on the phone. In the end, John Williams II personally told me that he had more important things to do than to worry about my catalog, but that he would get around to it eventually. He did nine months later and I was so upset from his poor attitude that I almost threw that damn catalog away and swore that I would never use one of their mother-(expletive) scopes - ever. My opinion changed after I was finally able to get one of the scopes in my hands for T&E.
Things have improved dramatically now that JW3 is running the day-to-day business. The entire USO catalog is available for free on the Internet in Adobe pdf format (http://www.usoptics.com), John III quickly responds to customer inquiries and service issues, and has also offered scope discounts on special runs of the SN3 scopes to members of the tactical rifle community. John has offered to personally inspect a used USO scope I was interested in purchasing, and has transferred over lifetime product warranties on used scopes to me without complaint. Things have come a long way since 1996, and USO will continue to get all of my business as long as this level of quality product and customer service remain.
Custom Products take longer to deliver - including optics: Another source of hate and discontent was USO's notoriously long delivery schedule. While this has also improved, folks need to remember that custom built items, particularly complex items such as optical instruments, take time to build. Folks that would have no problem waiting five months for a McMillian stock would flame that it took a year to get a custom scope. These were the same guys that would wait for over a year or two without complaint for Jarret or some other top-end gunsmith to build them a custom rifle. Custom is exactly that - custom. You have to wait longer because it is built specifically to your specifications, and is not a mass-produced item. You can now get ST10's with different features at SWFA for a fair price and not have to wait as long. John III is also looking to identify other stocking dealers to lessen delivery times on more commonly ordered scopes. That said, the Hubble scope discussed previously will still be a wait and cost a hefty chunk of change.
In closing, I recommend that folks here look past all of the old flames on the Internet, download their catalog and give USO a second look. I swore to myself that I would never use one of their products no matter how good it was. After handling, comparing, and owning their products, along with dealing with the new leadership, I would not hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend them.
The views presented in this article are solely the author's and do not reflect any official views or endorsements by the U.S. Government.
Scott (not Powers) is a former Federal LEO with extensive tactical and military experience.