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Dr. Ray Dennis – 2016 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year – Finalist

A few highlights from the article…

About EY Entrepreneur Of The YearTM
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The unique award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. 

About Ray Dennis – Lightforce Australia 
Adelaide-based Lightforce Australia is a specialist manufacturer and exporter of high performance and durable lighting systems, founded by Ray Dennis. Lightforce was the first lighting company to patent polycarbonate driving lights and now deals with some of the largest car manufacturers globally in providing aftermarket lighting products, exporting to more than 50 countries. The wholly owned US-based Nightforce Optics business, produces riflescopes that are used on six continents in some of the most inhospitable environments on earth. In a further demonstration of his entrepreneurial drive, Ray owns the Paroo Pastoral Company, a productive land holding in South Australia and north western New South Wales.

What the judges said: “Lightforce has a formidable reputation as a global leader in its field. 35 years ago, after searching the retail market for a high-quality spotlight to use on his property and finding nothing suitable, Ray Dennis decided to build one himself. Under Ray’s leadership, the company’s innovation, agility and unwavering commitment to quality and high performance, together with their ongoing focus on research and development, has enabled Lightforce to open up new markets and export their products to more than 50 countries world-wide.” 

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Beyond the Glass

At most of the annual hunting and shooting shows attended by high-end manufacturers exhibiting their wares, there is a phenomenon known as “the whistler.” This refers to the old boy that wanders up to a booth, inspects one of the products on display, and inquires, “How much is one ‘o them things?”

When given the answer, his eyes widen, he purses his lips and emits a long whistle, or perhaps a “hoooooeeee,” quickly puts down the item he was admiring as if it suddenly began burning his fingers, and stealthily backs away into the crowd as if he were confronted by a rabid dog.

Whistlers are especially common these days at riflescope displays, as the cost of premium optics is reaching well into four figures. You can’t blame the old boy for a bit of sticker shock. After all, the scope company just down the aisle is offering the greatest riflescope ever invented for $129.95, fresh off the boat from China and made with the finest multicoated Coke bottle lenses. Just buy one of those, their advertising claims, and you will instantly become an accomplished sniper capable of drilling a fly at 1000 yards.

We’ve all whistled a bit, I’ll wager, when looking at the prices of top-end riflescopes. $1000, $2000, even $3000 or more is not unusual at all these days for premium optics. The problem is, from the outside, every riflescope looks about the same…a black tube with a couple of dials attached, with some glass at each end. What makes one scope require a second mortgage, while another can be purchased with little more than pocket change? Is there really that much of a difference?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is more involved. For just like a bottle of Scotch, a computer, a fine watch, or even a human being, with riflescopes, it’s what’s inside that counts.

Certainly, the quality of the glass inside a riflescope is a major consideration. That, though, is a topic unto itself for another day. About the last thing anyone thinks about when investing in a riflescope is the hardware store of little pieces and parts inside that black tube. The truth of the matter is that those tiny screws, springs and funny-looking components are what determine if your riflescope will perform for a lifetime or two, or self-destruct at the worst possible time.

Not long ago, I had the privilege of touring the Nightforce Optics, Inc. manufacturing facility in Orofino, Idaho. I thought I knew a lot about riflescopes. I was wrong. We spent an entire afternoon going through one of their NXS riflescopes, piece by piece, comparing it to competitors’ products. I’ll never look at, or through, a riflescope in the same way again.

A modern variable-power riflescope can have over 100 individual components. The inherent quality of those parts, the precision with which they are machined, and the care with which they are assembled are the primary reasons why a really good scope carries a whistler’s price tag…and why that price is justified.

Rifles and riflescopes are not a marriage made in heaven. The tremendous recoil produced by big bore and magnum calibers is transferred directly to the scope. Your shoulder can testify to the shock they produce. Precision optical instruments require microscopic tolerances, absolutely perfect alignment and delicate components. It is not unlike strapping an impeccably made Swiss watch to a hammer and repeatedly pounding 10-penny nails. Something has to give, and it’s not going to be the hammer.

The only way that marriage is going to survive is if the riflescope is built with the best possible materials, and the best is not cheap. For example, you might have heard the term “repeatability” applied to elevation and windage adjustments. What this means is that if your riflescope is calibrated for ¼ inch adjustments, you want to be certain that one click is precisely ¼ inch the day you take it out of the box and ten years from now. You need to be confident that no matter how many elevation adjustments you’ve made over the years, that it is repeatable—exactly ¼ inch every time—whether it’s below freezing or brutally hot, after thousands of shots, after years of hard use. It also means that your shots must be repeatable…no surprises, no variation in point of impact today, tomorrow, or a decade from now.

This is not something easily accomplished by the scope maker. Metal fatigue, wear and recoil will, over time, cause the elevation and windage adjustments in an average riflescope to become sloppy. That ¼ inch becomes 3/8 inch, then a half inch, then even worse, until making an adjustment becomes a new and different experience every time. That same wear will also cause your rifle to easily stray from zero at the least provocation, with no advance notice.

Elevation and windage adjustments are essentially internal screws that move the scope’s erector tube (containing the reticle) up and down and side to side within the scope. This system is held in place, and constant pressure maintained, by two metal leaf springs. The Nightforce people showed me the type of spring common to average-quality riflescopes; it is a simple, thin piece of steel, costing a few pennies.

Then they showed me the springs used in some of their riflescopes. They are pure titanium, cut precisely to length. It spends a couple of weeks in a polishing tumbler before going into a scope, even though it already seems perfectly smooth. This spring costs several dollars. Why go to this trouble and expense? Because titanium, they explained, is the only known metal that can be compressed and held in place for years without developing fatigue or “memory.” It is virtually impervious to wear. It is tumbled to assure that there are no rough spots or burrs to interfere with perfectly smooth operation. It ensures no loss of integrity, and absolute repeatability.

The screws themselves that control the elevation adjustments in Nightforce riflescopes are made of a proprietary alloy, also resistant to wear. The threads are cut with sophisticated CNC machinery to tolerances so fine, so precise, that male and female components must be assembled by hand. No machine is sufficiently accurate. It would be much less expensive to machine coarser threads and assemble everything by automation, as is the case with many riflescopes. But, the price the customer pays is lack of repeatability out of the box, and increased susceptibility to wear.

Soft metals that wear are less costly. Hard metals that don’t are expensive. Even the tiny screws that hold a riflescope’s internal components together are critical in the longevity and reliability of your scope. Inexpensive screws with coarse threads work loose and fall victim to repeated recoil. Hearing something rattling in your riflescope is generally not a good sign.

Scope manufacturers and their ad agencies love to sing the praises of the lenses used in their products. Without a doubt, the quality of the glass and its coatings are major contributors to the resolution and clarity you see through a scope. What you don’t hear, though, is about the corners that are often cut in how a manufacturer assembles those lenses.

Just about all riflescope tubes are now made of aluminum. Aluminum and glass react to heat and cold differently, expanding and contracting at different rates. The easy, and inexpensive, way to assemble a riflescope is to simply glue the lenses to the aluminum tube. When such a scope is subjected to extremes of temperature, however, and glass and aluminum go their separate ways, it will easily throw the lenses out of alignment. If you wear glasses, and tilt them forward or backward, you have seen firsthand what this misalignment does to image quality. Changes in expansion rates can also affect your point of impact. In extreme cases, it can affect the seal between glass and tube, allowing moisture to enter, and even result in a broken lens.

So, I asked the Nightforce people, how do you avoid that? Their answer was that Nightforce lenses are bedded by hand, using a proprietary bonding agent between glass and tube that eliminates any direct glass-to-metal contact. The two materials can merrily expand and contract to their heart’s content without affecting each other in the least. Again, it’s not the cheap way. It is, though, the right way.

In recent years, the hunter has placed increasing emphasis on lightweight gear, from his boots to his pack. Riflescopes have not avoided these market trends. It is one reason the steel tube has all but vanished, replaced by aluminum. But, all aluminum is not created equal. While aluminum tubes are certainly lighter than steel, they are not as resistant to dents, damage and stresses. Inexpensive riflescopes use thin aluminum, allowing their makers to brag about how light they are. Saving a few ounces in aluminum will result in a less costly scope. The hunter will pay a huge price, though, the first time they accidentally drop their rifle.

“Unfortunately,” a Nightforce engineer told me, “the customer can’t determine the thickness or the quality of the aluminum used when they’re shopping for a scope. The only time they’ll discover it is when they bang their scope against a rock or a tree, and the scope—and their hunt—are both finished.”

Nightforce explained that they prefer to use 6061-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, machined from solid bar stock, two to three times the thickness of inexpensive tubes. Lesser scopes use extruded or formed aluminum, at a substantial savings in cost—and in strength—compared to bar stock. “It’s possible to build an extremely lightweight riflescope,” the Nightforce technicians told me. “It’s also possible to build an extremely high quality riflescope. It is not physically possible to do both.”

Even mundane things like the quality of lubricants used affect the weatherproofing, smooth operation and longevity of a riflescope. Cheap lubricants can literally freeze in bitter cold, ending any hope of making elevation or magnification adjustments. In extreme heat, they can melt away like butter in a hot pan, putting metal against metal while contaminating internal elements.

During my visit at Nightforce, we literally analyzed every single component of their riflescopes. I was shocked at the cost differential between things like cheap O-rings and good ones, alloys versus cast metals, and skilled handwork versus mass production. I think I even whistled a couple of times. I came away with one basic conclusion: a really good riflescope isn’t cheap to build. Some consumers think there must be a huge profit margin built into a $2000 riflescope, and that simply isn’t true. They’re expensive to buy because they’re expensive to make.

I was once told by a brilliant individual in South Africa, who had long ago forgotten more about hunting and shooting than I will ever know, that “only a rich man can afford a cheap riflescope.”

He was right. It is much less expensive to buy a good product once than to replace an inferior product many times over. It is beyond my means to pay for “the hunt of a lifetime” more than once in my lifetime because my riflescope caused me to miss a chance at a trophy.

Regardless of advertising claims, there are at present only three or four manufacturers in the world at committed to building the best possible riflescope, regardless of cost. Are they worth it? Probably more than in any other facet of hunting and shooting, with optics, you get what you pay for. Even if most of what you’re paying for, you can’t see.

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The longest 286-yard shot ever

One of the great ironies of hunting is that it often seems the harder we try, the less success we have. Glassing the broad, green farmland at first light had revealed only does and a few small bucks. Ordinary mule deer were not what had brought me to western Colorado to hunt with Doyle Worbington of J&D Outfitters. Doyle had peaked my interest with reports of mule deer pushing 200 points in this verdant river bottom, and he had the photos to prove it.

It was fitting, then, that we first spotted the big buck by sheer accident about 9:00 am, while drinking coffee over the hood of his pickup truck, wondering aloud what our Plan B might entail for the day.
Even at a distance of several hundred yards, there was no mistaking the size of this muley.  Big bodied, dark in color, walking with that swaying, bobbing gait characteristic of huge bucks, the mass of its antlers was visible to the naked eye.  A quick check through binoculars confirmed it.  “That is a nice buck,” Doyle said.  He looked again.  “That’s a real nice buck.”
The deer had lingered longer than usual that morning, perhaps feeling secure in the mist that hung over the farmlands at first light.  Now, the war sun had scoured the valley of fog, and the buck was moving rapidly to the safety of higher ground.  Its goal seemed to be one of the highest of the hillsides that surrounded the valley, a rocky, almost impenetrable tangle of scrub oak, juniper and cedar.  It was a classic survival technique, one that allows a smart young buck to grow into a massive old buck, the kind that makes the most jaded and experienced deer hunter weak in the knees.  From that vantage point, the buck could see for miles.  Nothing could approach it from below without being seen.  Nothing could approach it from above without being heard.  Its gray body vanished into the dry foliage, its antlers indistinguishable from the acres of twisted, gnarled branches.  It was the perfect camouflage, the perfect spot to while away a day in complete safety.
Doyle and I watched the buck until it disappeared, and marked the spot where we last saw it.  Would it stay there, or keep moving out of sight?  “He will probably bed down right there,” Doyle concluded.  Doyle had spent years observing the behavior of trophy animals, which helped make him one of Colorado’s most experienced and successful outfitters.  “All we can do is get as close as we can, try not to spook it, and make a plan.”
We drove to a spot on the edge of the river that watered this western valley, producing greenery and crops that made it a mecca for trophy quality mule deer.  We were close to the buck’s hiding spot, but it didn’t matter too much.  One thing in our favor was that resident deer were used to pickup trucks and farming activity; as long as we did not attempt to enter the buck’s hillside sanctuary, it should remain put.  Or so we hoped.
We set up shop in the shade of a cottonwood, “shop” being Doyle’s spotting scope, my rifle, and the remaining coffee in our Thermos.  “Assuming he is still there,” Doyle said as he adjusted the spotter’s tripod, “he is watching everything we do.  It shouldn’t bother him, though, since he is used to seeing activity down here.  We just have to find him.”
Trying to find an ear, an eye, the flick of a tail, the turn of a deer’s head in jumbled jungle of tall brush covering several acres is, to put it mildly, a challenge.  The sun rose and the day became hot while we strained our eyes and our optics to their max.  Any other deer, we would most likely have given the search up as futile.  But, as Doyle had said, this was no ordinary buck. 
Then, there it was.  Doyle and I just happened to be looking at the same area, the last spot we had seen the deer.  “Did you see that?”  I asked.  “Yeah, wait,” Doyle replied, “let me get the scope on it…yep, that’s him.”  The buck had turned its head ever so slightly, and the movement was just enough to give him away.
The deer was lying down, head up, completely in shade, not a care in the world.  He had a full belly from a long night feeding on farmer’s crops, and was obviously perfectly content in its hiding spot.
We, however, were not as content.  Doyle and I had intended to go “to town” after the morning’s hunt for lunch, so we had brought no sustenance other than coffee.  We couldn’t leave our riverside spot, for fear that the buck might move without our seeing it.  We were hot and we were hungry.  “You like fried chicken?” Doyle asked me.  “Sure,” I said.  At that moment I would have settled for a raw chicken.  “Let me call a friend,” Doyle said, retrieving his cell phone from the truck.
A half hour later, a cloud of dust announced an approaching pickup, and one of Doyle’s local associates greeted us with a huge bucket of chicken and several ice-cold sodas.  So there we sat, making short work of legs, breasts and wings, under the warm Colorado sun, in one of the more unusual hunts I’ve experienced.  The deer knew we were there, we knew the deer was there, thus what we had was a complete standoff.  Who would blink first?
“All I know to do,” Doyle said, “is to wait until the buck gets up and moves.  He will get up sometime.”
But the buck never did get up and move.  The hours ticked by, the sun continued its travel west, and the deer showed no inclination of moving. 
“That is a smart old buck,” Doyle observed.  “It appears he will not move from that spot until after dark.  There is nothing we can do except try to wait him out.”
We were rapidly running out of options.  All day long we had sat on that riverbank, and now there was at most an hour of daylight remaining.  To make matters worse, the sun was setting directly behind the hill we were watching, causing blinding glare.  We had to make a decision.
The only part of the buck that was plainly visible to me was its lower jaw and part of its chest.  It was facing us almost straight on.  There was at most a six-inch opening in the scrub that would afford any kind of shot.
“Doyle,” I said, “I don’t think we have a choice other than to take a shot.”  Doyle was not convinced.  “Do you think you can make it?” he asked skeptically.
I had one advantage in the standoff with the buck, that being my Nightforce NXS 2.5-10 x 32 Compact riflescope that I had ordered with a Velocity 600 reticle.  I am not a fan of complicated reticles for hunting, nor am I interested in making difficult calculations, consulting drop charts, making elevation adjustments or trying to recall what reticle markings mean when I have a trophy in the crosshairs. 
At the same time, I had become increasingly interested in longer-range accuracy, something more precise than a mere holdover estimation, and of course, no riflescope company enjoys a better or more deserved reputation for long-range precision than Nightforce.  The Velocity 600 reticle is actually tailored to the ballistic characteristics of the shooter’s rifle.  In this case, I mounted the 2.5-10 x 32 on my ancient .30-06, the first rifle I ever owned, well worn and showing the bruises of many hunts in many places, but still one of the most accurate rifles I have. 
The Velocity 600 has horizontal lines at the 0, 100, 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 yard positions, with smaller hash marks at 50-yard intervals between each of those.  I had spent a lot of time practicing and confirming that the distance markings were right on.  If I want to make a 550-yard shot, for example, all I need to do is confirm the distance to the target, place the appropriate mark directly on the target, be cognizant of any potential wind drift, and pull the trigger.  Simple and virtually foolproof, two essential characteristics for this hunter.
According to our rangefinders, it was exactly 286 yards to the buck.  Now, I realize that this is laughably close in this day and age when accomplished 1000-yard shooters using Nightforce products can generate three- and four-inch groups all day long…and when 1500, even 2000 yards is starting to define “long” range.
Let’s review the situation, however.  I had a six-inch opening through which to place an ethical, fatal shot on our hillside deer.  I had to approach it with the same techniques that would be required if the distance were three times greater.  There was simply no room for error.
The sun was lowering quickly.  For over nine hours, we had watched that deer.  It was either make the shot, or call it quits, with a good probability of not seeing the big buck again.  It was now or never.
“Doyle, I think I can do this,” I said with more confidence than I really felt.  “I will either kill the deer with a neck shot, or miss it entirely.”  Over the course of my hunting career I have made my share of good shots, and yes, have made some bad shots.  Having a professional outfitter watching intently does not contribute to the former.
I adjusted the bipod affixed to my rifle (second only to a quality riflescope in being conducive to accurate shot placement, in my opinion), placed the crosshairs of the reticle equivalent to 275 yards on the bottom of the deer’s jaw, and took a deep breath.  The setting sun streamed directly into the objective lens; fortunately, NIghtforce lens coatings help reduce glare substantially.  I slowly, slowly squeezed the trigger.
“Whoooeeee, what a shot!”  Doyle jumped to his feet shouting, having seen what I didn’t because of the rifle’s recoil.   The big deer never stood up, never moved, never even twitched.  My bullet had struck exactly where I had intended, halfway down its neck, penetrating deep into the chest cavity.  The deer simply rolled over, dead instantly.
“That’s one of the best shots I’ve seen,” Doyle exclaimed, which, considering how many he has witnessed, made me one proud and happy hunter.  “Let’s go get him”
We made our way through the hillside jungle, clothes being ripped and torn, and finally found the buck.  It was a magnificent old muley that would score 185 B&C points, making every moment of a very long and often tense day very sweet indeed.
I have made longer shots, as measured in sheer distance.  I’ve never made a more satisfying shot, though.  Can 286 yards be considered “long range?”  It certainly can, when there is zero margin for error.  I don’t consider myself an accomplished rifleman.  I had two things going for me, though.  One was the wisdom to use the best possible riflescope; otherwise, there would have been no chance.  The second was the willingness to practice enough to learn how to use those optics properly before going afield.
Together, they gave me the confidence to make a difficult shot, and to make the right decision.  
And to go home with an exceptional trophy.

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Nightforce Announces new TS-80 Hi-DEF Spotting Scope

The TS-80™ Hi-Def™ includes extra-low dispersion (ED) glass, fully broadband multi-coated, which provides outstanding color contrast, brilliant images and excellent resolution; a virtually indestructible, thermally stable magnesium alloy body; large, precise focus and magnification rings, easy to use even when wearing gloves; and non-slip rubber armor that is quiet and stands up to the harshest of field conditions.

An 80mm objective lens results in excellent low-light performance. The TS-80’s™ internal roof prism design also aids in light transmission, as opposed to mirror designs used in lesser spotting scopes which can absorb critical light rays.  The prism design also helps reduce eye fatigue while extending viewing time.  The new spotter is waterproof and thoroughly shock tested.

Like all Nightforce optics, the TS-80™ is ergonomically designed for maximum comfort and quick response.  The silky smooth, knurled magnification ring zooms from 20 to 60x in less than a half turn.  Its focus ring adjusts from 20 feet to infinity in just two turns.  An adjustable, removable eyecup accommodates eyeglasses.  A center ring allows 360-degree rotation of the TS-80™ on a tripod, and it can be locked in place at any degree of rotation.  There are tactile detents at the 45-, 90- and 180-degree positions. The ring’s foot fits many quick-release tripods, and also accepts a standard ¼ inch tripod screw. An integral, retractable eyeshade reduces extraneous light while providing protection for the lens.

Optional accessories include a heavy-duty protective sleeve and a handsome, rugged carrying case.  The new Nightforce TS-80™ Hi-Def 20-60x spotting scope, assembled in the USA, provides an optimal balance of performance, features, and lasting value at a retail price of $1595.00. For more information, visit or call 208.476.9814.

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In 2011, Nightforce embarked on a $1 million expansion of our headquarters in Orofino, Idaho. As a result of its completion in 2012, we are now able to provide faster delivery times and more R&D capabilities which have resulted in a number of innovative new products, and even better customer service.

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Back in 1992, Australian hunter and shooter Dr. Ray Dennis had a problem. You see, hunting at night in Australia is not only legal, but wildly popular. Several years earlier, Ray had founded Lightforce Australia Pty. Ltd., for the purpose of manufacturing the finest spotlights on the planet. Ray’s lights lit up the night for hunting vehicles and vastly improved a hunter’s ability to find and spot targets in the darkness.