Hensoldt Storms The US MarketBy David M. Fortier
©Copyright 2009, InterMedia Outdoors
When it comes to building high quality precision optics, Germany has been at it longer than anyone else. They have built a virtually unmatched reputation over the past two centuries. Their expertise in this area extends into the medical, sporting and even the military fields.
Carl Zeiss Optronics’ military-grade Hensoldt line, like this 4-16 x 56mm tactical scope, is finally available here in the USA through importer HuDisCo. Quality is superb
Actually, when it comes to specialized military optics their experience dates back to the very genesis of modern sniping. In the filth, mud and death of the trenches during the Great War modern sniping was born unto the Germans. It was here, peering through Zielfernrohr-Gewehr 98s, that Imperial German Scharfshutzen (Sharpshooters) introduced a dark new face to war.
These prewar hunters and competitive shooters used stealth and precision rifle fire to make life hell in Allied trenches. While the German scopes of the day were relatively crude by today’s standard, they did facilitate effective target engagement at both distance and in marginal light.
While many of the German optical firms which supplied scopes during these early years have vanished into the dust of history, two names remain with us today: Carl Zeiss and Hensoldt. Carl Zeiss is, of course, universally known and respected. Its sporting optics stand with the best in the world and have earned an enviable reputation for combining superb optical performance, trustworthy mechanics and handsome good looks into one neat package.
Hensoldt, though, is not as well known here in the USA, which is a pity. Now a part of the Zeiss Gruppe, Hensoldt specializes in producing top-tier optics for military and law enforcement. While its scopes have been unavailable here in recent years, after a long hiatus, the well-respected Hensoldt line is once again available to American riflemen through Hunt Distribution Company (HuDisCo).
HuDisCo was founded by a disabled U.S. Army veteran named Nathan Hunt. Hunt served as a Blackhawk crew chief in the 101st Airborne Division and then the highly respected 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) known as the “Night Stalkers.” During his time in the Army he logged five tours in Iraq with much of that spent behind a Dillon mini-gun. When he finally left the service, he worked as an armorer before going to work for Nightforce.
Nathan Hunt, the President of HuDisCo, stands in front of his mini-gun during his days in Iraq. His company is the exclusive distributor of Hensoldt here in the USA.
Although he spent much of his time behind a machine gun while in the Army, he had gained a keen appreciation for precision rifles from some of the units he worked with. This appreciation became first a hobby and then a professional interest while with Nightforce. Economics though eventually forced him to leave Nightforce and return to Alabama.
Perhaps it was due to his relative youth, or his special operations background or maybe he just didn’t know better. Frankly I’m not sure, but after returning to Alabama, Hunt set out on a quest which I would have put money on as impossible. He formed HuDisCo and contacted Carl Zeiss about becoming the exclusive importer for the Hensoldt line of tactical optics. Why was I so skeptical?
Easy, many others, including Carl Zeiss USA, had tried for years to do this, and failed miserably. So when I walked in from the range one day to find a message on my answering machine from “Hensoldt’s exclusive importer” my jaw dropped. I found it where it had rolled under a table and promptly gave him a call back.
He impressed me during our initial conversation, and has continued to impress me. So I stopped by his booth at the 2009 SHOT Show. Evidently word had gotten around as members from both the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and USMC Rifle Team had beaten me there. I was already familiar with the Hensoldt line, so I spent much of my time evaluating the man behind this new company. I found him to be very knowledgeable, good natured and extremely motivated.
As to be expected, five combat tours in Iraq sets him apart from your average company president. It appears Carl Zeiss Optronics leadership has chosen wisely, Hunt looks to be very well suited for the job which lies before him.
Now, understanding exactly how and where the Hensoldt line fits into the Zeiss Gruppe can be a bit difficult for many Americans, so let’s start from the beginning. Carl Zeiss is a huge international company whose history dates back to its founding in Jena, Germany by Carl Friedrich Zeiss on November 17, 1846.
Zeiss began by building simple microscopes, which quickly earned a name for their quality. At this early stage, advances in optical designs and materials where mostly through trial and error. Carl Zeiss knew this to be inefficient, so he engaged a brilliant young lecturer (later Professor of Physics and Mathematics) named Ernst Abbe to help in this regard. Abbe would go on to make many breakthroughs in optical theory and design.
Rather than relying on trial on error, Abbe made a precise study of the materials to be used. The design was then specified by computation to the last detail–every curvature, every thickness, every aperture of a lens carefully calculated. This provided a substantial step forward in the design and manufacture of precision optics.
Although the early German sniper scopes
are crude by today’s standards, they were the finest available in the world at the time and were highly prized.
Now, at this time one of the chief hurdles was the poor quality available optical glass. So in 1881 Abbe began working with a chemist named Otto Schott. Schott, like Abbe, then began to employ a scientific approach to determine the ingredients used in the manufacture of optical glass.
Schott’s work went on to provide optical glass with a uniformity and purity previously unknown. The Schott Glaswerke then became the prime source of glass for Zeiss products, and subsequently became part of the Zeiss Gruppe. Later, on November 1, 1935, a Zeiss staff member (Alexander Smakula) developed and patented anti-reflective (T Transparenz) lens coatings. These dramatically improved light transmission and were considered a military secret until about 1940.
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