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In Dorset, England, a relatively small family-run company has quietly been making some of the most durable and highest-performing red dot sights around. Earning military contracts from the UK MOD for their work, Shield sights can be found atop a myriad of British military small arms, where the Shield Close Quarter Sight (or CQS) is mounted atop Elcans and other magnified or night-vision optics. In fact, while the vast majority of the 50,000 plus Shield sights purchased by the UK Ministry of Defence have probably led much less exciting lives, nearly each and every Colt Canada rifle issued to members of the infamous 22nd Special Air Service regiment is topped off by one of these diminutive red dot sights.
But for a while, due to both their relatively low company profile and general rarity, finding a Shield sight in the civilian market was somewhat difficult. Although initially imported by Tactical Imports and available exclusively through their online store, Shield has since entered a distribution agreement with Outdoor Escape Sales; a deal that appears to be part of a larger global effort to raise their profile on the civilian market.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, we at Calibre have been fans of the Shield product line for quite some time. Eagle-eyed readers will note there’s been a few Shield optics seen atop Calibre’s various test guns, and for good reason; we love the combination of durability and compactness their CQS sight provides. With a rugged and ridiculously overbuilt CNC’ed aluminium chassis, automatic brightness adjustment, and an overall form factor that’s smaller in every dimension and significantly lighter than an Aimpoint Micro T-1, there’s a lot to like. But therein lies one of Shield’s largest problems: The automatic Aimpoint comparison. With a much more recognizable brand name that’s seen plenty of hard use in everything from competitions to war, Aimpoint has become the 900-pound gorilla of the red dot market, and anything else considered to be a military grade red dot is automatically compared to that benchmark. And whilst it’s easy enough to compare things like the Shield CQS and Micro T-1 on spec (long story short, they’re pretty similar; Aimpoints have better battery life and Shield’s have more reticle options including more precise 1 MOA dot sizes) at the end of the day the one thing Aimpoints are known for is being durable. So we thought it was about time we tested out just how tough the Shield CQS was, once and for all.
Our test unit is a CQS, fitted to Shield’s more affordable polymer picatinny riser and mount system, which is in turn screwed onto an American Defense Manufacturing QD mount. In most cases, the picatinny riser and mount system is easily sufficient to get the height required on an AR-15, but seeing as we didn’t feel like subjecting our testbed rifle to the torture we had planned for the optic we chose to employ the ADM mount instead. Boasting a very repeatable zero out of the box, the largest deviation we saw in five optic mounts and dismounts was a half-MOA shift, tested after our environmental tests had been done at the office but before we began our more destructive tests at the range.
Environmental Test 1: Heat it.
For those familiar red dot optics, heat seems to be the one specification to which they all adhere to the same standard: 120 degrees Fahrenheit maximum operational temperature, and 160 degrees Fahrenheit maximum temperature. In order to test this, we used a heat gun to warm up our Shield optic, and a Seek thermal camera to check the temperature. Without removing the battery (which we believe is probably the root cause of the standard heat specification for red dots) we got the sight to 120 degrees for five minutes, and checked its operation. Not surprisingly, the dot was illuminated, and nothing appeared to have changed.
Environmental Test 2: Sinking it.
Like most modern military-grade red dot sights, Shield’s CQS does boast a water submersion specification, albeit one that’s not quite as good as the Aimpoint Micro T-1’s. While the Aimpoint spec sheet says it remains water tight up to 25 metres with no specific time window mentioned, Shield specifies the CQS to be waterproof to one metre for thirty minutes. In order to test this as best we could, we placed the optic in a sealed Ziploc container that we purposely overfilled prior to fitting the lid. With no air in the container and the lid fitted, we placed a two pound weight on the container to pressurize it in an effort to simulate a deeper submersion, and left it to stand overnight. The next morning we removed the optic and noted that again, nothing had changed with regards to its operation.
Environmental Test 3: Freezing it.
Since we had a nice little container of water handy already, we dropped the sight back in, tossed the lid on and put the container in the freezer for a 12 hour period. Removing it the next day, we were somewhat concerned that the freezing water would have expanded in some of the smaller openings in the chassis, and allowed water in past the o-ring seals. It didn’t help that the way the ice formed across the front lens of the sight looked suspiciously like broken glass! But, after cracking as much ice as possible off the sight, we could still see the LED emitter glowing red and all the controls still worked as intended. We tossed the still semi-frozen sight in the car and headed to the range.
Destructive Test 1: Drop it.
The first test we’ve seen many people do to test optic durability is simply throw it in some sand. That always struck us as a bit easy, so we opted to cut straight to the chase and just drop the thing from no less than six feet onto cement, on all three sides. With the added weight of the mount attached, the sight made some sickening noises as it bounced off the concrete floor of our local range, but appeared only slightly scuffed. However, to confirm that the shock of hitting the ground didn’t jar anything loose within the sight, we re-attached the optic to our Colt Canada IUR and fired a five round grouping. This confirmed for us that the zero had not changed at all and the sight’s various controls again remained intact and in perfect operating condition.
Destructive Test 2: Dragging it.
For the next test, we decided to stop dicking around and cut straight to the chase. We tied a piece of rope to the optic through one of the handy holes drilled in the shroud that we can only assume was excised for this exact purpose (or, you know, maybe for retaining a protective cover but that seems farfetched) and affixed the other end to Editor Pickard’s 4Runner (which will hereafter be known as “the Enterprise”). We started on gravel for 50 metres and then proceeded onto broken and poorly maintained asphalt for another 200 metres, at a speed of roughly 30 kilometres per hour, before pulling off to examine the sight.
Bouncing wildly behind the Enterprise, the sight definitely took a good amount of abuse, as did the mount. We immediately noticed some dings in the mount that we knew would throw off its consistency, and one particular hit on the rear corner of the sight slightly deformed the windage adjustment hole and drove some aluminium into the adjustment screw. We threw the optic back on the rifle, noticed the mount’s QD-release lever required a lot more effort to close, and put ten rounds downrange. All ten hit 6 MOA to the right of our previous point of impact, with no vertical shift, and most importantly no inconsistency.
Due to the lack of vertical movement in the POI and the point of aim/point of impact remaining consistent over an additional ten rounds, as well as the visible damage to the mount, we were comfortable chalking the 6 MOA shift in POI to the mount rather than the scope and moved to continue the test. Also, after the test, we checked the windage screw’s function (not wanted to adjust the sight’s zero) and noticed a bit more drag on it, but it still rotated and worked properly.
Destructive Test 3: Driving over it.
Since the sight survived be dragged behind Pickard’s Enterprise, we thought it prudent to see if it could survive being driven over by the same, so we placed the sight behind the rear tire on the hard-packed dirt and gravel parking lot. In order to ensure the sight took the brunt of the truck’s weight, we placed it on its side, so that the ADM mount would provide as little support as possible. Then, the truck was placed in reverse, driven atop the sight, parked atop the sight for a few minutes for photos, before continuing rearward off the sight. Notably, the 4Runner’s curb weight is just shy of 4,000 pounds, and easily exceeds that with the myriad of boat and motorcycle parts stowed in the rear of this particular truck. Given it’s 48% rearward weight bias and the added weight of the detritus in the load bed over the back axle, it’s safe to say each back tire is carrying over 1,000 pounds. So, we rolled 1,000 pounds over the CQS, and it appeared no worse for wear. Impressively, not even the polymer Shield mount securing the red dot sight to the ADM mount showed any damage, which is amazing when you consider that the QD lever on the ADM mount had 1,000 pounds pushing it away from the sight at one point in this exercise.
In fact, just about the worst damage we saw was a slight bend in the ADM mount and a crushed spring inside its QD lever, both of which we again expected to alter the point of impact. And again, we believe that to have been the case, as the mounting lever tightened up even more (to the point we were forced to back off the adjustment screw one step) and the rifle’s point of impact moved another 5” to the right. But again, due to the complete lack of vertical movement in the POI and the consistency of the point of aim/point of impact over another twenty rounds, we are confident the sight’s integrity was not compromised.
Destructive Test 4: Hit it with a baseball bat.
Truth be told, we were now entering territory that we weren’t sure the sight would come back from. Obviously the drop test had been a bit of a ho-hum exercise that we fully expected the sight to pass, but watching the little red dot be buoyed five feet in the air by a pothole only to crash down onto the pavement at 30+ kilometres per hour (at one point the sight was bouncing off bumps so furiously it was gaining on us) we weren’t quite so sure it would survive this. And watching get crushed into gravel and pop out from under the tire had us wondering if it’d pop a lens. But as we threw it into the air and swung a good old fashioned wooden baseball bat at it, we really wondered if this would be the sight’s final hurrah. It wasn’t, because we’d throw it up in the air another four or five times before we’d finally connect with the damned thing, but hey… at least we can say we did a few more drop tests! When we finally did make contact, the sight sprang off the bat in what would have been a foul ball, and was promptly driven into the gravel by a tether we’d tied it to so as to ensure we didn’t lose it. When we retrieved the sight we saw it’d been struck on the top corner, and we found the divot in the bat to match. Once again, function remained unchanged, and this time the mount seemed to have taken no further damage. Upon affixing the sight to our rifle again, we found no change in point of impact over the previous test, which we also took as evidence that our assessment of the previous POI shifts were the result of damage to the ADM mount rather than the optic.
Destructive Test 5: Drive a nail with it.
Our fifth and final destructive test was the one that we actually expected to kill the sight. Armed with a 6×6 chunk of wood, a 2” common stainless steel nail, we started the nail in the wood (because we didn’t have enough hands to hold the nail, the sight, and the hammer) and then placed the sight on the head of the nail. We then hammered on the sight until the nail was driven into the wood, including a couple hammer strikes where the sight had bottomed out on the wood, so really we were just hitting the sight with a hammer. We didn’t go soft on it either; we pounded on this thing just like we would have pounded on the nail below it. And amazingly enough, even though we moved the nail around on the bottom side to try and find a weak spot, and hit the sight with the hammer in correspondingly different spots to try and drive the nail straight, the sight remained in perfect working order. There were some new scuffs on the bottom side, to be sure, but the hammer side fared surprisingly well with barely any scuffs and when we installed the sight we again noticed no shift in the rifle’s point of impact.
So, after three environmental tests and five relatively strenuous destructive tests, we’re pretty confident in saying that the Shield CQS sight meets our standard of reliability. Furthermore, we’re quite confident that were we to subject the venerable Aimpoint Micro T-1 that’s become this sight’s de facto competition to the same tests, we would expect it to fare no better if only because the elevation and windage turrets, as well as the dot adjustment dial, all seem like potential weak points compared to the Shield’s slick and relatively uninterrupted body. Furthermore, were we able to have bolted the sight to a sacrificial rifle using Shield’s optional aluminium mount (which is not QD nor designed to retail zero between installations), then we suspect the sight would have exhibited absolute no shift in point of impact through the test.
Which brings us to the CQS’ price. Here in Canada, the CQS carries an MSRP of $550 from the distributor, although retailers may sell for less. In addition, various mounting kits can be found for the CQS, allowing it to be bolted to everything from bare picatinny rails to almost every combat optic on the market including Elcans, Trijicons, Browes and Ziess ZO’s. Furthermore, there is an entire host of scope mounts for fitting the CQS to standard rifle scopes as well. Now, we freely admit that $550 puts the Shield into the realm of relatively expensive optics, and it’s a bit daunting to spend that amount of money on a sight you may have never heard of it. But given the sight pictured here will be going on to live atop a competition and course-work shotgun, even after being run over, dragged, and literally hammered on, we think it’s safe to say that they’re definitely worth the price. But hey, you don’t need to take our word for it; just ask those guys in the S.A.S.