TrackingPoint Hands-On Review

TrackingPoint XS1 .338 Lapua Magnum Precision Guided Firearm
(image courtesy of TrackingPoint)

Twenty-seven thousand, five hundred dollars.  I had to type that out just to see how it might look on a check. Why? Because that’s the price one pays to take delivery of the TrackingPoint XS1. At $27,500, the XS1 is TrackingPoint’s flagship Precision Guided Firearm (PGF) and before I shouldered one last month, there was absolutely no way you’d have convinced me a rifle, any rifle, was worth anywhere near that amount of money.  But, I came away from the experience with a very different point of view. It has taken me until now to gather my thoughts and put it all together. I am simply in the wrong tax bracket to afford this rifle. That’s the truth. But, I’m also in the wrong tax bracket to afford a Ferrari 458. Ferrari still sells every 458 they make and the guys who own them would argue they are worth every penny. And if I had the scratch to write the check for the Ferrari, I’d also gladly cut one for this rifle.

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Contrary to what some (who obviously have never seen it in person) say, TrackingPoint is not just a scope. TrackingPoint is in fact, an applied technologies firm offering a fully integrated, precision guided firearm system to well-healed, big-game hunters but, there are obvious law enforcement and military applications. Having said all this, the heart of the system is indeed a scope, described by TrackingPoint as a Networked Tracking Scope. But again, it is so much more than just a scope. Yes, it has an integrated ballistic calculator like some other scopes but, the scope also houses a microphone, camera, compass, wifi server, laser rangefinder, as well as accelerometers, gyros, and sensors for barometric pressure and temperature. The only environmental factor a shooter has to provide is the wind value, entered in half-mile-per-hour increments via a toggle switch on the top of the scope.

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

image courtesy of TrackingPoint

But wait, there’s more! The XS1 system offers 6-35X, parallax-free magnification and presents that data to the user as a sort of heads up display with infinite eye-relief. The heads up display presented to the shooter is “Call of Duty” meets “Deer Hunter” with a little “Ghost Recon” mixed in for good measure. The display provides the shooter with readouts for cant, compass heading, incline, temperature, barometric pressure, distance to target and finally, wind speed and direction. As mentioned earlier, wind speed and direction data are provided by the shooter. The shooter manually provides this data via a toggle switch on top of the scope. So for those of you thinking this is cheating, here is a key point…The shooter still has to accurately read the wind at the target. Long range rifle shooters know that learning to read and correctly call the wind is critical to long range shooting. That skill is still necessary to get the most out of this system. The difference is you’re not having to hold for that correction for it as that part is automated based on the values you’ve entered.

This brings us to what TrackingPoint calls the Tag Track Xact (TTX) shot sequence.  It begins with turning the scope “on” via a button located at the rear of the scope.  At this moment, the scope can emulates a traditional glass optic with first plane, mil-dot reticle and a fully manual trigger. But after 15 seconds, you can enable the TTX sequence by pressing the MODE button on the top of the scope to put the system into “advanced” mode which provides you with all the incredible telemetry mentioned earlier as well as activating the rifle’s tagging, tracking, and automated firing capabilities.

Tag...image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Tag…image courtesy of TrackingPoint

The “Tag” stage begins with the shooter looking through scope where he will find a white dot in the middle of his display. The shooter places this white dot on his intended target, then presses and holds the red “Tag Button” at the front of the rifle’s trigger bow until he has aligned the dot with his intended point of impact (e.g. heart/lung area of his intended animal). This process “paints” the target and laser rangefinding system measures the distance to target. The shooter then releases the Tag Button and the system is now “locked on” with the intended point of aim and calculates a firing solution based on the previously discussed telemetry measured by the scope’s on board systems and your wind data. This tag is persistent. The rifle is now “tracking” your target and the intended point of impact in that target.

Track...image courtesy of Tracking Point

Track…image courtesy of Tracking Point

At the “Track” stage of the process, the ballistic computer in the “Networked Tracking Scope” accounts for all the environmental variables and calculates a firing solution for the previously tagged point of impact. The system now continually adjusts even if the animal moves or you move the rifle. The system can calculate lead on a target moving as fast as 10 miles-per-hour. But we still need to launch a bullet and this is where things get interesting.

Xact...image courtesy of TrackingPoint

Xact…image courtesy of TrackingPoint

The shooter now commits to the shot by bringing his crosshairs back to the intended point of impact and pressing the trigger. Here is where the “Xact” phase begins. While the shooter has “satisfied” the trigger at this stage, rifle doesn’t necessarily fire immediately. This is the result of the marriage between the Networked Tracking Scope and what TrackingPoint calls the “Guided Trigger.” There is a hardwired connection between scope and trigger. Pressing the trigger merely arms the system. The bullet is not released until the rifle is in e”Xact” alignment with the calculated firing solution. TrackingPoint is cautions against confusing this feature with Remington’s failed “etronix” experiment that required special, electronically primed ammunition. The trigger is actually a conventional Jewell-type trigger with the addition of what amounts to an electric solenoid that is controlled by the scope while operating in “advanced” mode. Conversely, at the moment the scope is turned on, the rifle is in “basic” mode and the trigger operates conventionally, firing the rifle whether it’s aligned with a target or not. The “guided” features mentioned above are only enabled in the advanced mode of the scope.

Now in addition to all this precision guided fun, what we didn’t cover is the ability to share what you’re seeing through the scope with another person.  The scope’s built-in WiFi server.is specifically meant to allow the transmission of video to your Android device, iPhone, or iPad. So in real time, your guide can confirm that you are looking at the right animal and be sure that your intended point of impact will be an ethical shot that minimizes suffering for the animal. You also have the ability to record video of the shot or miss, the system isn’t fool proof. Still, one can look at it as a way of providing ultimate proof of the shots you’ve made. In fact, TrackingPoint even setup a website specifically for those wanting to show off what they’ve been able to do with their TrackingPoint rifles at shotmade.com.  No more telling tall tales of shots on trophy sized animals that don’t exist. As I see it, there’s no more claiming you made a shot on an animal at 500 yards with only a photo of the dead carcass to prove it. Now you’ve got the ability to record video and share it with your friends/family if you choose. I still remember the moment I shot my first deer. I honestly wish I had video of it because it was a beautiful shot in which I picked a buck out of a crowd as if snatching a needle from a hay stack.  While I enjoy telling the story, I’d love to be able to show the video.

Image by G. Montgomery

Image by G. Montgomery

While the scope is certainly the highlight of the system, the best guidance system in the world is only as good as the rifle to which it is mounted. And Surgeon Rifles clearly deserves a great deal of credit for the results achieved with the TrackingPoint XS1, XS2, and XS3 because each TrackingPoint rifle begins as a complete rifle built to TrackingPoint’s specifications by Surgeon Rifles. The XS1 and XS2 models look largely identical because they are with the exception of the fact the XS1 is chambered in .338 Lapua Magnum while the XS2 is chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum.  The XS3 is also chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum but, features a more conventional McMillan A5 stock. Unlike the XS1’s phenomenal 1,200 yard effective range, the lighter XS2 and XS3 are limited to “only” 850 yards.

In the case of the XS1, I have to say that this was the softest shooting .338 Lapua Magnum I have ever shouldered. By comparison, my current Remington 700 SPS Varmint in .308 Winchester has more felt recoil than the XS1.  One might argue the XS1 should be the softest .338 Lapua I’ve ever shot because the XS1 tips the scales at seventeen pounds and is equipped with Advanced Armament Corp’s Blackout 90T muzzle brake, one the most efficient muzzle brakes available. Why so heavy and what’s a muzzle brake? The weight brings stability and a reduction in felt recoil. The muzzle brake further reduces recoil by redirecting the gasses exiting the muzzle behind the bullet to counteract the reward motion of the rifle.  My Remington with ammo and scope only weighs about half of what the XS1 does and with no muzzle brake, has more felt recoil than the XS1 despite shooting a lighter cartridge.

As mentioned earlier, all of the TrackingPoint rifles began life as Surgeon rifles built specifically for TrackingPoint. So, if you’re willing to wait a little over 2 years, you could buy the rifle upon which the XS1 is based, sans the TrackingPoint guidance system. The XS1 specifically is based on the Surgeon Remedy XL rifle that began with a Surgeon XL action weighing in at almost 4lbs, mated to 7lbs and 27-inches of Kreiger MTU barrel goodness sitting in an Accuracy Interrnational AX AICS chassis that brings another 5.6lbs to the party. As mentioned, the sheer mass is actually a benefit, resulting in rifle that is honestly comfortable to shoot all day. I’ve shouldered several .338 Lapua rifles over the years and came away from every one of them with a little soreness the next day. Not so with the XS1. The only discomfort I had resulting from my time with the XS1 was trying to figure out what organs I’d have to sell to own one.  For now, I’m just hoping August Crocker and his crew at TrackingPoint will give me a call and tell me I could come shoot it again.

So is it worth it? Believe it or not, I’m offering a qualified “yes.” I know, a bunch of guys are going to say that’s nuts but, hear me out. This isn’t a rifle for the average long-range shooter. This is a rifle for the high end hunter who typically goes on guided hunts in which he’s spending as much as $40,000 on a single animal. That’s the honest truth. So the typical buyer isn’t a guy who has or wants to spend his free time getting a gun up and running. It’s hard to do apples to apples comparisons because what TrackingPoint has done is actually rather unique. They’ve built a turn-key system that an executive can buy and expect to use to hit a moving target at up to 1,200 yards with less than ten minutes of training.

In all seriousness, to build a roughly equivalent rifle, you can count on easily spending $5,500 for Surgeon Remedy XL rifle on which the XS1 is based. Toss in another $3,500 or so for Schmidt&Bender glass that will hold up to the shock and allow you to exploit the .338 Lapua’s capabilities.  By the time the glass is mounted up, you’re a little over $9k.between the rifle, glass, rings, and base. Now lets buy a top notch set of rangefinder binoculars ($3,300) because we know this guy isn’t going to scrape by with cheap gear.  So now we’re over $12,000 into the project. Toss in another $1,000 for the ammo.  So we’re into this ride for at least $13,000. The gun isn’t up and running yet because we haven’t actually mounted the glass, broken the rifle in, worked up a load, zeroed the rifle, or put together dope cards. Oh wait, we haven’t learned to shoot yet so there’s that whole issue and let’s not forget that time is money. What I’m getting at is that if you’re the kind of guy who can spend five-digits just to get started on this project, dropping $27,500 on a turnkey solution that, out of the box, with less than ten minutes of training, allows you to deliver hits on targets up to 1,200 yards out with sub-MOA accuracy simply isn’t that big a deal. In fact, it could be argued it’s a steal.

If you’d like to learn more about the TrackingPoint rifle, check out their website at Tracking-Point.com. Demand has been high.. You’re looking at a six to nine month delivery window but, TrackingPoint is in the process of expanding their production capacity to shorten that delivery time. The rifle is delivered as a turnkey system with the scope in stalled and the rifle already broken in, trued, and zeroed. In addition to the Integrated Networked Tracking Scope, Guided Trigger, and Tag Button, you get a Kestrel wind meter, 200 rounds of 300 gr. Sierra Open-Tipped Match XactShot ammunition by Barnes®, Harris bipod with Larue quick-detach mount, 3 batteries and chargers, a cleaning kit, owner’s manual, as well as an Apple iPad Mini preloaded with TrackingPoint applications and content. All of this comes in a custom Pelican 3300 hard case with TrackingPoint logo.

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