TrackingPoint Field Test: Hunting With a Precision Guided Firearm

Shooting Editor John B. Snow took the new TrackingPoint system hunting in Texas for nilgai. This innovative system is billed as a "precision guided firearm" for the unique--and controversial--way it operates. The shooter uses the scope to tag his target and the rifle automatically adjusts for elevation holdover. Moreover, once the system is "armed" the rifle will only fire once the system detects everything is correct. The shooter still pulls the trigger, but the shot is delayed until the software senses everything is on target. Does this amount to an unfair advantage for the hunter or is this technology a useful tool that makes a wounding shot less likely? See the system in action in this video.
The TrackingPoint system matches the rifle, scope, and ammo with sophisticated ballistic software that takes the guesswork out of elevation corrections for long shots. This technology doesn't come cheap. Prices start at $17,500. That includes the rifle, built by Surgeon Rifles, the laser rangefinding scope, 200 rounds of Barnes ammo, an iPad mini preloaded with the ballistics software and the hard case and cleaning kit. See the system in action in this video.
TrackingPoint is offering three different rifles initially. This is a close up of the action on the base model XS3 in .300 Winchester Magnum, which is designed to work out to 850 yards. The XS3 has the most hunting-like profile of the three rifles, as it is built on a McMillian A5 stock. The others are built on much more tactical looking chassis from Accuracy International. See the system in action in this video.
The XS3 only comes in .300 Winchester Magnum but TrackingPoint is also offering their most expensive rifle, the XS1, in .338 Lapua Magnum. The .338 ammo, pictured here, is loaded with a 280-grain Barnes LRX bullet. See the system in action in this video.
Here is the XS1 in .338 Lapua Magnum in action. Common to all TrackingPoint rifles is the laser rangefinding scope. Once the unit is powered up and set to "advanced" mode it is ready to range targets and automatically adjust the reticle to compensate for elevation. The red button in front of the trigger guard starts the process. That is what is used to tag the target with an aiming point indicating where the shooter wants the bullet to impact. See the system in action in this video.
This is what the shooter sees when looking through the scope. The red dot in the middle is the tag on the target. Prior to touching the red button on the trigger guard that dot is blue. The upper left hand corner shows the distance to the target, while the upper right hand corner indicates how much wind correction the user has dialed into the system. Unlike the elevation correction, which the TrackingPoint software does automatically, the windage has to be entered manually by the shooter. The scope also shows the amount of inclination to the target, the cant in the rifle and environmental conditions. Along the bottom of the display is also a number showing how much magnification the user has entered. The rifles come with 6-30X magnification on the XS2 and XS3, while the XS1 zooms from 6 to 35X. Once the shooter tags the target, the blue "X" appears. If the shooter wants to take the shot, he moves the center of the blue "X" onto the dot. Squeezing the trigger arms the rifle and turns the "X" red. The rifle won't fire until everything is aligned correctly, so there is a lag between the time when the trigger is squeezed and the shot is released. See the system in action in this video.
Controls for the scope are located on top of the unit. The focus wheel up front controls the sharpness of the image in the display, while the adjustments for the zoom and windage are made by their respective rocker switches. The mode button toggles the scope among three settings: "traditional," which displays a regular crosshair that is zeroed at 100 yards and doesn't make any point of impact shift, "advanced," which corrects for windage and elevation, and "competition," which corrects for windage and elevation and allows the shooter to reacquire the initial point of impact in order to shoot groups on static targets. See the system in action in this video.
The lenses on the sides of the scope contain the laser rangefinder, which works out to 750 yards on the XS3, 1,000 yards on the XS2 and 1,200 yards on the XS1. The center lens is the element that gives the shooter the view of the target downrange. TrackingPoint has limited the range on each of the rifles in order to prevent shooters from taking excessively long shots on game. Though even at the distances advertised, the question of what makes for a non-ethical shot still applies. Despite the technology of the system, which is very impressive, other factors come into play. For instance, the shooter still has to correctly gauge the wind and manually input that into the scope. However, even with a correct windage call, there's still the issue of terminal ballistics at long range (which deteriorate as bullet velocity drops) and the bullet's time of flight. It takes over one second for the bullet from a .300 Win. Mag. to go 800 yards and during that time the animal can move more than enough to change what would have been a lethal shot into a wounding hit.
The flip-up cap on the center lens allows the TrackingPoint scope to work better in low-light conditions, though the image quality of the unit is not on par yet with regular optical systems. The digital image the shooter sees is akin to that found on the view screen of a video camera and isn't as crisp as an image that is coming directly through glass. See the system in action in this video.
The unit is powered by two batteries, which are housed on either side of the scope behind the two laser rangefinding lenses. The display lets the shooter know the percentage of battery life remaining for each unit. See the system in action in this video.
We hunted on the Yturria ranch in south Texas. This flatbed pickup was our mobile assault vehicle. The two gentlemen here are Darren Jones (left) and August Crockett, both from TrackingPoint. These men are serious shooters who have brought their skills to help the new company develop its products. The lovely dog is Leche, who not only has a great nose for quail but also knows how to blood track wounded animals. See the system in action in this video.
One of the unique features of the TrackingPoint system is the ability of the scope to stream the image that the shooter sees to an iPad or other mobile device. This allows the guide or a spotter to see exactly what the shooter sees and to offer advice or corrections to the shooter's input. The unit also captures the video and still images for later review. The gent on the iPad is our outfitter LeeRoy Gonzalez of LG Outfitting (956-371-0220/lgoutfitters.com) who did a fantastic job of hosting us on this hunt. See the system in action in this video.
The drought conditions on one of the ranches we hunted have been pretty severe and we saw the toll it took on the animals. Here we came across the carcass of a trophy nilgai bull, one of several we found during the hunt. The bulls in particular have been hit hard because their breeding season, which started in late December and goes through mid-March, has worn them down at the time that the conditions were most dire.
But other animals seemed to be doing just fine. We found this addax fawn tucked under a mesquite tree, hiding to avoid predators. Large herds of addax were located on the ranch we hunted.
I ended up taking a very nice nilgai bull late in the day. He was standing on the side of a dirt road 486 yards from us. The TrackingPoint system worked perfectly on this shot, though my bullet drifted a couple inches more to the right than I wanted because I didn't put enough wind correction into the scope. No matter, though: the bull only went about 50 yards before piling up. The 190-grain Barnes LRX took the quartering animal through the shoulder, caught a part of one lung and tore up major blood vessels before exiting on the offside of his neck. This shot is the longest I've ever taken on a big-game animal and shows that under the right circumstances--meaning optimal light and a steady rest--that the TrackingPoint system is a viable long-range hunting tool.
This is what I saw through the HUD on the scope before I took the shot. The red dot is where I put the tag on the bull and the blue crosshairs have been moved into place, meaning I'm ready to take the shot. The range to the animal is indicated in the upper left corner while in the upper right corner is the value for the wind, which was still. Just underneath the wind value is the remaining battery life in the two battery packs. On either side of the display is data inclination of the shot while at the base of the image the scope displays the cant of the rifle, the temperature and air pressure, the power setting of the scope and the direction to the target. Lastly, there's the wifi indicator in the upper left corner. When that is enabled it means that the image is being streamed to the iPad. Not only does the iPad capture the video, but it allows another person to watch what's going on. For a guide it is an invaluable tool to help make sure the correct animal is being targeted and it provides an additional pair of eyes to make sure the shot is going to be a good one.
LeeRoy Gonzalez oversees the loading of the nilgai into the back of the truck before we return to camp.
Suspended from the hoist at the skinning shed, you can see the size of the nilgai, which is considerable. These tough antelope hail from Asia and have a well-earned reputation for being hard to knock down.
The day after I shot my nilgai, my friend and fellow writer Bryce Towsley was up. Here he is practicing with the rifle as Darrell Jones from TrackingPoint views the action through an iPad.
Bryce shot his nilgai at 455 yards using the same rifle and ammo that I did: the XS3 in .300 Winchester Magnum loaded with 190-grain Barnes LRX bullets.
TrackingPoint will no doubt continue to modify the system in future iterations and though it works very well, there is still room for improvement. TrackingPoint is trying to get the system to work with moving targets and make the shot placement of the system more precise. Despite this, the technology that TrackingPoint offers is game changing and we are certain to see more products like this in the future.

Shooting Editor John B. Snow took the new TrackingPoint system hunting in Texas for nilgai. This innovative system is billed as a "precision guided firearm" for the unique--and controversial--way it operates.