Soldiers in combat require an optic that allows them to shoot from the muzzle out to several hundred meters. We started the War on Terror with red dot optics for the close-range stuff and fixed on 4X scopes for wide-open spaces. Now the trend is toward a single 1-6X variable that can do it all.
Just prior to the now-infamous Sequester, the Department of Defense was preparing to evaluate a new crop of 1-6X scopes. This new direction reflects lessons learned from the last 10-plus years of war.
The first time I used my M4 on the battlefield came as I was chasing some Taliban across an open desert. Engagement ranges for this particular disagreement varied from 100 to 200 meters before my quarry slipped over a hilltop into a village. I was using Trijicon's 4X ACOG, and it worked beautifully, even after banging around the truck for the preceding few weeks.
I had the choice of many optics to use on my rifle for the deployment. I was issued an Aimpoint Red Dot Sight (RDS), a Trijicon ACOG and an EOTech Holographic sight. The Trijicon seemed best suited for the open terrain, and it had a reputation for extreme durability, so it was my first pick. It stayed on my rifle for the majority of my deployment, but it showed its one weakness when my teammates and I followed the enemy into the village and began searching compounds. It's hard to quickly sight in on a target that's less than 20 meters away with a 4X scope.
This lesson — and many others like it — encouraged the DoD to look at fielding a single optic capable of handling long-range and short-range scenarios After all, it's cheaper to field one optic instead of two, and it also simplifies logistics.
The magic recipe in the DoD's mind (and mine, too) is 1-6X. And just as Trijicon developed the ACOG, the company has now taken its considerable expertise to offer the new 1-6X Variable Combat Optical Gunsight (VCOG). It's an exceptional scope for both military and civilian shooters alike.
The VCOG is manufactured from forged 7075 aluminum and has an integral base designed for use with AR-pattern rifles or other next-generation carbines such as Bushmaster's ACR. The integral base features a twin-screw mounting system that secures the VCOG to the rifle's Picatinny rail section and is easily removed. Any quick-detach system that works on Trijicon's ACOG can be used on the VCOG.
The optic and mounting system is simple and robust. There are no scope rings to work loose or screws to strip out from overtightening. The turrets are capped and attached to the scope body by wires to prevent their loss. The single AA battery that powers the VCOG rides in a housing just beneath the objective lens. If ever there was a soldier-proof scope, this is it.
Magnification is adjustable, thanks to the rotating ocular housing, which is fluted to offer a secure grip. There is also a fin that runs the entire length to provide additional leverage if you want to rapidly adjust the magnification. There isn't a variable-power scope whose magnification is easier — or faster — to adjust than the VCOG. The fin is also a visual and tactile indicator of what the scope is set at. A quick glance from a distance or a touch in the dark and you know what the magnification setting is.
One of the biggest liabilities of a variable is needing it in a hurry, only to shoulder the rifle and find the scope set at maximum magnification. This can be lethal if you're hunting dangerous game or in combat because you'll lose precious seconds discovering — and correcting — the problem.
I'm a firm believer in dialing a variable back to minimum magnification before putting down the rifle and walking away from it.
The VCOG features half-inch (at 100 yards) click adjustments. The turrets are low profile, and the illuminated reticle adjustment has an Off position between each graduation setting — you don't have to run through the entire adjustment range just to get a bright reticle. Simplicity and durability are a constant theme for each feature of the VCOG.
RETICLES AND EYE RELIEF
One of the harder aspects to get right on a scope of this magnification range is the reticle, especially when the reticle is in the first focal plane. FFP reticles change size as you adjust the magnification and are ideal for use in measuring or leading targets accurately regardless of what power setting you're using. The old argument against FFP reticles was that no one measured an object at anything less than maximum magnification, so why bother with one?
However, sometimes there's too much mirage to measure or lead at full magnification, so you need to dial down a bit. Another problem is in engaging moving targets at maximum magnification. It's hard to find a moving target and give it a half- to one-mil lead when you're at maximum magnification and the field of view is miniscule. If you dial down a non-FFP optic, the reticle no longer subtends correctly. Because of this, FFP reticles are absolutely the way to go, and they're what Trijicon puts in the VCOG.
Once the company decided on an FFP reticle, the next problem was to find a reticle that is usable across the entire magnification range. Reticles that can be seen at 1X are often so thick and large at higher magnification that they obscure too much of the field of view and the target. Trijicon has two reticle patterns that work very well in the VCOG.
My favorite is the new Segmented Circle. It has a fine ballistic reticle for use at higher magnification surrounded by a thick segmented circle for use at lower magnification. When coupled with the illumination system of the VCOG, the reticle works as a red dot optic at 1X and a precision arrangement at 6X. The Segmented Circle is tightly centered for red dot use and moves to the periphery, freeing up the center of the scope for high-magnification work. The other reticle pattern available for the VCOG is the company's venerable Horseshoe Dot that has been so popular with the ACOG line. It works on much the same principle as the Segmented Circle, but the inverted horseshoe is placed more tighly around the dot in the center. The result is a more visible red dot at 1X and a more visible horseshoe at 6X.
The glass that Trijicon uses in the VCOG is the same used on the flagship TARS 3-15X optic. It's extremely clear and works well for limited-light scenarios at dawn and dusk.
Another relevant feature that separates the VCOG from other variable-power scopes is the constant four inches of eye relief. This eye relief keeps the scope usable when you're shooting from field positions. Most scopes work well when used offhand or from the bench. That's because it's easy to get your head right behind the scope in a comfortable position.
Problems arise, though, when you start shooting around or under obstacles or when you're bouncing the rifle back and forth between your right and left shoulders. Positions that require hiding or contorting your body while shooting accurately also tend to pull your head away from the reticle. With the VCOG's generous eye relief you have some distance to play with. Four inches gives you a lot more positional flexibility than the 11/2 to two inches found on other optics. The fact that the eye relief stays constant is also a blessing, as you don't have to move your head into different positions with each magnification setting. This type of consistency is a key component of accuracy.
SHOOTING WITH THE VCOG
The sample VCOG I used had the Segmented Circle reticle calibrated for .300 Blackout. While there are seven different reticles calibrated for use with 5.56x45mm, 7.62x51mm and .300 Blackout, I never take the subtension in these reticles as gospel. Variations in loads and barrel lengths will generate slightly different impacts, so it's best to get to know the rifle/optic combo at the ranges you intend to shoot. The subtension marks in ballistic reticles are usually close enough to get the job done, but don't feel like they can only be used for that one caliber and load.
I found the VCOG remarkably clear and user-friendly to shoot and grew to appreciate the fin on the ocular housing the more I used it. All adjustments and controls were easy to manipulate. The VCOG is heavy, but that's the price you pay for a scope robust enough to survive anything that can be thrown at it.
At just over $2,000, the VCOG isn't cheap. Really good glass never is. I believe a good rule is that the scope should cost as much as the rifle. If you've got the money for a $2,000 AR, it makes sense to put its equal in glass on top, especially when the scope is the result of a decade-plus of field-testing and lessons learned in combat zones. Once together, such a combination would be ideal for any number of hunting or defensive scenarios and provide a lifetime of service. I'm glad to see Trijicon spreading its expertise across a broader product line. By developing the VCOG, the company may just have created the ultimate variable for ARs.
The turrets are low-profile enough to be out of the way. This VCOG is paired with an integral base featuring a twin-screw mounting system that secures the optic to a Picatinny rail.
Magnification is adjustable by means of a fluted, rotating ocular housing. The fin provides additional leverage for rapid changing of the power level.
Elevation and windage adjustments for the VCOG: One click equals one-half inch at 100 yards.
A single AA battery provides the power source for the illuminated reticle.
Two reticle offerings for the VCOG include the Segmented Circle (left) and the Horseshoe Dot (right).