Review: SCATT MX-02 for High Power

Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

SCATT MX-02 Review Part II:
The High Power Shooter’s Perspective

by Tony Chow
Earlier this year, I reviewed the new SCATT MX-02 shooter training system for AccurateShooter.com. The review was written from a smallbore shooter’s perspective, due to the fact that, these days, smallbore is my chosen discipline. However, as someone who cut his teeth in High Power Across-the-Course shooting, I wanted to see how well the SCATT MX-02’s revolutionary outdoor live-fire capabilities would serve the needs of High Power shooters. READ SCATT MX-02 Review Part I.

How the SCATT MX-02 Works
The SCATT sensor mounted on the end of the barrel has a digital camera that recognizes the black bullseye in the target, even in broad daylight outdoors. Using the bullseye as a reference, the SCATT software tracks the movement of the muzzle relative to the center of the target. The unit can plot these movements as a continuous trace, which appears on a monitor as a squiggly, colored line. By sensing the exact moment of shot release, the SCATT can also interpolate relative shot placement (for a single shot or series of shots) — but this is not the same as an electronic target which actually records the exact shot impact location on the target.

Data points from the muzzle movement trace are also available in a tabular spreadsheet format. This allows the shooter to “crunch the numbers”, revealing strengths and weaknesses in his gun-handling and aiming technique.

The SCATT MX-02 is not an electronic target system or a target cam. It cannot see the actual bullet holes on targets. The shots that it plots on screen are “ideal points of impact” based on where the point of aim is at the time of trigger release. The group on screen usually resembles the one on paper but they are never completely the same. SCATT therefore is not suitable, nor intended for match scoring. It is, however, a powerful training aid for the position shooter, particularly in diagnosing outlier shots. The MX-02 is very versatile. We’ve tested it with bullseye targets positioned as close as 25 yards and as far as 600 yards.

High Power competitors are no strangers to SCATT and other electronic training aids. The older, infrared-based SCATT WS-01 system has been popular in the HP community for years, particularly as a tool to improve the offhand position.

Nonetheless, Across-the-Course shooting is a multi-distance, multi-position discipline that features both slow and rapid fire stages, and SCATT’s usefulness for stages other than offhand slow-fire has always been limited by the infrared hardware’s confinement to indoor, short-distance settings. This is where MX-02 comes in — its support for outdoor live firing has the potential to address the deficiencies of older systems and bring detailed electronic analysis to other aspects of High Power shooting.

These are exciting possibilities, but how well does SCATT MX-02 really work in the High Power setting? Recently, I finally had the opportunity to conduct an evaluation. Dusting off my High Power gear, I headed out to the range.

Mounting the Sensor
For this review, I used an AR-15 service rifle, which, as the rifle of choice for the vast majority of High Power shooters, is an ideal test subject. Unfortunately, mounting the MX-02 sensor securely to the AR turned out to be a little trickier than it should be.

The MX-02 sensor attaches to a dovetail on a metal V-block, which is in turn affixed to the barrel with a flexible steel band. On one end of the band is a thumbscrew that tightens against one side of the v-block. On the other end are a series of perforations, one of which latches onto a projection on the corresponding side of the v-block. This design allows a single mounting band to fit a wide range of barrels, and is an improvement on the previous-generation SCATT mounts, which featured multiple bands to achieve the same degree of flexibility.

Two views of the SCATT MX-02 sensor mount. CLICK to zoom image.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

Alas, the new design is not quite flexible enough. The MX-02 mounting band might not clamp securely on narrow-diameter barrels. On my AR-15 rifle, which features a White Oak barrel with a 3/4″-diameter forward section, the mount barely manages to secure itself against the barrel, with practically no thread left on the thumbscrew when it’s tightened. On a friend’s rifle, a DPMS National Match model AR, the barrel was turned a little narrower. The MX-02 mount doesn’t come close to being tight on this rifle, and during live fire, the sensor indeed shifted.

A loose sensor is detrimental to the proper functioning of SCATT. The data captured by the sensor would not be reliable if it’s liable to shifting physically in relation to the rifle’s point of aim. Also, a loose sensor could result in SCATT failing to register shots. This is because the SCATT sensor detects the pulling of the trigger by looking for vibrations in the barrel that signify the hammer fall. Only a solid mechanical connection between the barrel and the sensor can ensure that barrel vibrations are properly conducted to the sensor.

The good news is that this problem is easy for the user to remedy. I worked around it by simply shimming the metal band with a small piece of cardboard. In fact, for service rifle barrels, I recommend that you apply the shims even if the mount appears to be secure, and then fasten the thumbscrew as tightly as possible — just to be safe. A potentially loose mount just isn’t worth the grief.

Of course, the proper solution is for SCATT to add one more perforation to the mounting band. This simple improvement would allow the MX-02 mount to works out of the box with all AR-15 service rifles, and is something we hope to see in future editions of the device.

When shimmed with a piece of cardboard, the sensor mount is more secure.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

Calibrating the Sensor
The rest of the setup process is no different than in smallbore. After mounting the sensor, you attach the sensor to your laptop computer via a USB cable, and then start the SCATT Windows application. You then select the one of the complete set of High Power targets available from a menu, upon which you’ll be asked to calibrate the sensor.

The calibration tool has been improved in the versions of SCATT software released since our smallbore review. The calibration software offers a “Preview Mode”, which gives the user a low-res, monochromatic representation of the sensor’s point of view. This feature is especially useful when setting up the MX-02 for indoor dry firing. As we already noted in the smallbore review, to use the MX-02 in close proximity to a target, the sensor mount likely needs to be tweaked to bring the target into sensor’s narrow field of view. The preview mode allows you to get an idea of just how far the sensor mount needs to be adjusted, thereby taking some of the guesswork out of the process.

The updated SCATT calibration utility, now has a preview mode.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

Even so, fiddling with the setscrew-based adjustment mechanism remains a tedious exercise, because in order to turn the screws, one has to loosen the mounting band and tighten it again — a procedure that may need to be repeated a dozen times before getting the sensor aim just right. Depending on the distance to target in your dry-fire environment, a mount adjusted for indoors might not be usable for outdoor use without readjustment. Given the tedium of the adjustment process, I highly recommend buying a separate mounting set dedicated to indoor use, so that you can adjust the setscrews once and Loctite them in place.

For outdoor use, where the normal practice range for High Power shooters is at least 100 yards, there is no need to fiddle with the setscrews. The MX-02’s field of view is plenty large at these longer distances, and the calibration tool should be able to lock onto a target image out of the box.

Which brings us to the next question: just how well does the sensor and software cope with the idiosyncrasies of High Power targets?

Working with High Power Targets
This is a question worth asking, because SCATT has always been designed primarily for the needs of the international smallbore competitor. It’s a discipline in which pristine targets with big black bullseyes surrounded by acres of white are the norm. In comparison, High Power targets are far more variable in their size and condition. All the targets in High Power have a roughly 6 MOA black area. That’s quite a bit smaller than the nearly 8 MOA blacks enjoyed by smallbore shooters. High Power targets also have variable amount of white areas. The 5.75-inch black on the 100-yard reduced target is printed on a sheet of paper four times its size. The 600-yard target, on the other hand, is presented on a background only twice as large as the black.

Large, high-contrast target faces are the norm in int’l smallbore. This is not the case for High Power.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

It’s not unreasonable to question whether a system designed to recognize the idyllic 50-meter targets (see above) could cope with the more varied and often threadbare High Power targets. I’m happy to report that the SCATT MX-02 handles High Power targets perfectly well. In my testing, the SCATT software has no problems on 100-yard reduced targets, which feature plenty of white. But it also consistently recognized full distance targets in the entire High Power course of fire, including the 600-yard targets with their limited white area. In fact, the MX-02 is able to work with the 100-yard target centers used without the backing paper — these have even smaller white areas.

I encountered many different lighting conditions during the evaluation process. Whether it was sunny or overcast, and whether the target is lit from the front, the top, or from the back, as long as the MX-02 sensor is correctly dialed to infinity focus, the SCATT software never failed to pick up and retain the target image. I’m impressed with SCATT MX-02’s ability to work with such a wide range of target sizes and lighting conditions. For the High Power shooter, this is a must.

Using the SCATT MX-02 with Multiple, Concurrent Targets
Being able to recognize individual targets is a good start, but not enough. For High Power shooting, the SCATT MX-02 must also work when multiple bullseyes of similar size are placed close to each other, all competing for sensor’s attention. This isn’t much of an issue in a typical 50-meter smallbore range equipped with electronic targets, where each shooter only needs one target and never has to change target paper. In contrast, among High Power shooters, who usually do not have access to electronic targets, it’s standard practice to put up multiple bullseyes on a single target stand in order to minimize trips down range.

When multiple bullseyes are used, the SCATT MX-02 works best if the targets are placed a reasonable distance apart. When multiple 21″ x 24″ standard 100-yard target sheets are positioned with plenty of space between target blacks, I can transition from target to target without recalibrating the sensor.

When multiple targets are used, SCATT prefers a lot of daylight between them.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

SCATT becomes a little less forgiving if I take the smaller target centers, and crowd several of them on a single 100-yard target stand—this is what a lot of competitors do when practicing. With targets so close together, SCATT sometimes has trouble recognizing the new target when I move my aim between targets. In such an event, a simple recalibration on the new target gets SCATT back on track again.

Closely spaced targets also work, but they need a bit more maintenance.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

In addition to testing out various multi-target scenarios at 100 yards, I also had the opportunity to test SCATT MX-02 at the 600-yard line, during a stage of an NRA midrange club match with five target frames downrange. This is where the MX-02 finally stumbled. During the preparation/dry firing period of the stage, SCATT was able to calibrate on my target and register all of my dry fire shots. However, as soon as live firing began, the SCATT started to behave erratically—it appears that the software is confused by either the lowering and raising of target frames by pit personnel, or the white spotter disks they put on the targets to mark the shots (though at this distance, these disks are very small in relation to the size of the target).

I have not spent enough time at the 600-yard line to identify a pattern to SCATT’s misbehavior and figure out how to work around it. My preliminary assessment is that SCATT MX-02 functions reliably on static 600-yard targets, but not on an array of 600-yard targets operated by pit personnel. Frequently, SCATT would fail to recognize that I’m pointing at my own target. It would stay in this limbo, even when all target frames are back in the air. The only thing I could do to force the software to recognize the target again was to wave the muzzle around to “reset” the sensor’s view.

SCATT has some issues with arrays of 600-yard targets that move up and down.
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

In spite of the troubles I experienced at 600, SCATT MX-02 is eminently usable in most live fire scenarios involving multiple targets. When the targets are placed close to each other, the shooter sometimes has to recalibrate the sensor when moving from one target to another—but most High Power shooters are unlikely to find this to be much of a burden.

Mechanical Reliability
Despite its origins in the smallbore world, the SCATT MX-02 sensor is a very ruggedly-built device capable of withstanding the greater recoil of a centerfire rifle. With the help of current High Power competitor Milo Train of the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club, I carried out live fire tests in all three positions and both slow- and rapid-fire stages at 100 yards. We saw that, as long as the MX-02 sensor is securely mounted to the barrel, it never failed to register a shot in several days of testing. MX-02’s mechanical reliability is evident in how well the shots recorded by SCATT on screen correspond with the groups on paper.

Ten-shot slow prone target, actual paper target (left) vs. screen (right).
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

The SCATT grouping on screen never mirrors the group on paper exactly, because SCATT cannot replicate the inaccuracy inherent in all ammunition, and because it’s difficult to match SCATT’s zero with the rifle’s zero. As we’ve seen in the smallbore review, an effective approach to using SCATT data is to diagnose the outliers in a group. For example, in the slow prone group above, SCATT tells us that the highest shot (#4) was due to both a generally high aim, and the further moving of the aim during trigger squeeze. The shot furthest to the left (#6) was due purely to slightly off-center aiming.

SCATT traces reveal movements that produce outlier shots (click image to view large version).
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

One minor blemish in the MX-02’s reliability record is that it sporadically fails to record the recoil trace. This is the red part of the trace line, which indicates the movement of the muzzle after trigger release. SCATT engineers tell me that this is most likely due to the much greater amount of muzzle gas emitted by the AR-15 compared to a smallbore rifle. The gas obscures the sensor’s view of the target, thus preventing it from recording the muzzle movement. At press time, SCATT engineers are working on a solution to this problem.

A final caveat on the reliability front is that I only had time to test SCATT on an AR-15 “mouse gun” chambered in .223 Rem. It’s certainly possible that on larger calibers like .308 Winchester, the SCATT mounting mechanism might not be strong enough to stay put under recoil. For those customers concerned about the solidity of the mount, SCATT sells a larger V-block with space for two mounting bands, which certainly would make the connection even stronger. In the photo below, the standard V-block that comes with MX-02 is shown on the left. On the right is the optional V-block with attachments for two bands, which can withstand greater recoil.

SCATT Mounting Blocks
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

Suitability for Rapid Fire Practice
One of the most exciting possibilities that SCATT MX-02 opens up is the ability to use in diagnosing rapid-fire strings, a feature that’s been conspicuously lacking in all older electronic trainers, especially for High Power competitors who shoot semi-automatic rifles.

There’s no reason that SCATT MX-02 wouldn’t work in rapid-fire as well as well as it does in slow-fire, and the test results don’t disappoint. In my testing, SCATT successfully captured all shots made in the cadence of a High Power rapid-fire stage. As long as the ammunition is well suited to the gun, the group shapes are very comparable on screen and on paper. Here is a SCATT rapid fire prone group, showing actual paper target (on left) and what appears on the SCATT screen (right):

SCATT Rapid Fire Results (paper target on left, screen on right).
Scatt MX-02 shooting trainer camera

Speaking as a former High Power shooter, I personally would have loved to have this capability back in the day. Compared to slow-fire, problems in rapid-fire stages tend to be difficult to diagnose; the rapid pace of the stage leaves little time to reflect on the quality of individual shots. Often, a poor performance can leave a competitor mystified. With the SCATT MX-02, shooters finally have a tool that gives them a detailed record of exactly how their aim and hold evolves in a rapid-fire string. This provides unique insights into their shooting technique. For any shooter eager to improve their rapid-fire game, this is a very valuable capability.

Conclusion

In Part I of my review, I was impressed by SCATT MX-02’s performance in smallbore training and the quality of the data it yielded for troubleshoot my own shooting. In this evaluation in the High Power context, the MX-02 once again proves to be a dependable and useful training aid.

To be sure, my experience with the MX-02 has not been quite perfect. The present mounting mechanism might not work out of the box for your service rifle, and you might encounter problems shooting at the 600-yard line if the targets are being pulled. On the bright side, the mounting issue is easy to work around, and in most realistic training scenarios, the SCATT MX-02 runs like clockwork.

In fact, SCATT MX-02’S outdoor, live-fire capabilities may be even more important for High Power shooters than for smallbore shooters. The greater recoil of centerfire rifles makes live-fire a very different psychological experience for a shooter compared to dry firing. Data captured by SCATT during live-fire can yield new insights that cannot be obtained from dry-fire training. MX-02’s ability to diagnose rapid-fire performance is a service that no existing electronic trainers can provide, and may, by itself, make the purchase worthwhile.

In conclusion, I highly recommend SCATT MX-02 to any High Power competitors serious about taking their performance to the next level. While the MSRP of this product is $500 more than the older SCATT WS-01 device (which is still for sale), the MX-02’s extra capabilities make it better suited for the High Power shooter, and are therefore well worth the extra investment.

Test Drive the MX-02 at Camp Perry
SCATT electronic training systems are currently on display at the NRA National Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio. Interested shooters can try out SCATT at Champion Shooters on Commercial Row, Building #1023B.

For more information or to order SCATT products, including the new MX-02, visit ScattUSA.com or call toll-free: 1-855-57-SCATT (72288).

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