Some things shouldn’t be shiny

The four S’s of concealment; shape, shine, shadow, and silhouette. I’d like to share a story about how a failure in one category of concealment had bad consequences.

There is a true story about a Special Forces ODA (Operational Detachment Alpha) doing some DEA support work out in the California desert trying to spot drug smugglers coming north in 4×4 pickups. They were using commercial optics, the old “ruby coated” lenses that were popular with low and mid end imports back in the 90s and 2000s.

The purpose of the “ruby coating” was originally marketed by Steiner, one of the top end binocular manufacturers, for hunting binoculars to help hunters spot game by filtering out some of the red spectrum to help spot game better. From there a lot of cheaper Asian manufacturers added red coatings because if Steiner was doing it, it must be good.

One of the unintended side effects of the ruby coating is that if a coyote (the animal, classified as a varmint by the state of California) hunter was using a spotlight to get a reflection off the eyes of coyotes, it looks a lot like the reflection back off the ruby coating of the binoculars.

The coyote hunters in question fired a shot at what looked like to them the eyes of a coyote, and hit an SF team member. It was only due to the professionalism of the team that the hunters weren’t killed when they came to collect the coyote ears for the bounty.

I bring this up because it is a basic soldier skill fail on the part of that team to not properly camouflage their observation point and optics. However it is an understandable mistake because 1, they weren’t at war, and 2, no ethical hunter would take a shot at a target they haven’t positively identified. But bad things happen.

The SF team picked a concealable location, used camouflage to blend in with their environment, and would have been judged “trained” at distorting their shape, shadow, and silhouette. But they didn’t take into account “shine” and that allowed a hunter to make a snap shot at what he thought were coyote eyes in his spot light.

So, to end this post I’d like to share some techniques on mitigating the reflective shine from your optics.

1, get some non-reflective tape (usually OD green 100 mph tape) and cover all but a small horizontal slit on the front of your optic, similar to Eskimo style snow goggles. This works on all optics, and while image quality is generally acceptable the light transmission can suffer a tad, but I think it is prudent to avoid getting shot at. An oval leaf shape also works and can provide a little better light transmission.

2, for optics with sun shades get some cheap open cell craft foam, cut it into a doughnut shape and insert it into the sun shade of your scope or spotting scope. This cuts down on the amount of glass available to reflect light, and you can cut the hole in the donut to an oval shape if you want to avoid an unnatural geometric shape.

3, buy optics that don’t have reflective style coatings. No red, no green, just clear please.

4, make a sun shade out of thin wall PVC, carboard, or other lightweight material. It won’t protect against spotlights directly at you, but can definitely help.

5, make an anti-reflective device (ARD) out of charcoal black screen material. Cut it into a circle a little larger than the objective and tape it in place, or hold it in place with a Butler Creek flip open scope cover. Alternately, pantyhose has been reported to work as well.

Comments are open, what other ways can you think to reduce the reflective shine of your optics?

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3 Responses to Some things shouldn’t be shiny

  1. DW says:

    Sad story on one of our SF guys taking a hit. My comments:
    1. Why are we wasting SF resources supporting one of the most useless corrupt 3 letter agencies in the US. Lead govt mafia goon squad maintaining the “war on drugs”. Once again govt fails to learn the unintended consequences of history – prohibition! Or more likely they did and are reapplying its lessons against the citizen serf. Doesn’t anyone in the senior military have any stones?

    2. Assuming the answer to the last sentence above is no, why are our guys not running modern optics? And don’t say because budget.

    Finally regarding your mitigating techniques – option 1 seems good and cost effective.

    Because budgets are an issue in family, we have standardized on Burris mtac’s with some
    Leupold and Vortex variable powers. All are good quality, fair priced scopes so we can give all the adults and teenagers a rifle & optic at a reasonable cost.

    In looking at the mtac 1.5×6 that I run, I like that the front objective is larger than most so it helps with low light as my eyes aren’t great anyway, but now taking a close look at it, the lense seems to be mostly clear with a very translucent light purple color? I am pretty sure the mtac doesn’t suffer the red eye reflect, but still curious about whether mitigation option 1 is something we should be doing?


    • rthtgnbs says:

      1, I have no clue why we waste resources on prohibition, other than people who don’t know history believe that “it’ll work this time if only the right people are in charge!” or some other dumb reason. As far as the military goes, a lot of these “support the three letter agencies” missions are really good training because with it comes funding to train on stuff you couldn’t afford to train on any other way. The military leadership has stones, but they also have reasons for supporting dumb government policy because it is good for the military at least in the short term.

      2, When this story happened, the “ruby coating” was all the rage and no one had really field tested it for military purposes before. At the time it was cool, but now it serves as a teaching point.

      3, Option 1 will work fine with your MTACs, they are a good optic, but next time you go to a range where you can try this out, place your (empty) rifle into a position facing the sun, then walk away 100, 200 meters and observe what reflective shine you can see. It will work best when the light source is behind you. Alternately you can do this at night and shine a high lumen flashlight at your kit to see what reflects back. If your gear doesn’t reflect, no need to modify, but if you can pick it out because of reflective shine, now you know what to fix. Trade off with your spouse when one sets the rifle, and the other looks for shine if you can.


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