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Long-time High Power competitor and cattle rancher Doug N. hasn’t been digging the industry trend toward low power variable optics (LPVO).

”I really hated it when they (the CMP and other competition organizations) started letting people put scopes on their Service Rifle match guns. I thought that those should be only iron sights and it’s an unfair and unnecessary thing to have on a Service Rifle. Why is it that so many of these scopes are being pushed today? Is the gun industry out of ideas?”

Let’s zoom in on what LPVO’s are and what they mean for today’s shooters.

The first thing I need to address is that the old school competition guys are very protective of their rituals and rites of passage, as well they should be. There’s an established culture surrounding this type of competition and many of these guys view themselves as the guardians of true marksmanship.

What is true marksmanship, you may ask? That depends on who you talk to. Rifle competition has evolved significantly over the years and it has seen an expansion, especially into long range and with AR-style carbines.

For many, the changes have been well received. Sports like PRS continue to grow and there are many divisions within them. This and things like 3-Gun are still just as popular now as they were when they really hit mainstream in the mid 2000’s. Now characters like John Wick are running around not in military gear, but in competition rigs shooting match guns.

Sports like PRS evolved because there was, at least in my opinion, a sense of boredom and fatigue around the old, heavily regimented and hierarchical society of High Power and Service Rifle competitors. I’ve shot in the CMP sports for over half my life and I, too, find them a bit dull compared to a move-and-shoot style competition.

Not only was there boredom, but the gear rules were just too rigid. You had to shoot basically the same gun as the next guy, use the same sights, slings, and coats. This doesn’t inspire much excitement and as a result, the sports began to see a drop in participation. I knew dozens of guys who stopped going to Camp Perry over the years because they were tired of waiting in the target pits and getting chewed out by power-tripping range officers.

The Service Rifle guns needed an update away from the tired outline of the M16A2 and a few years back the CMP began allowing a large amount of gear changes to get new shooters interested and this included allowing optics on match rifles.

The military had been using optics for decades on their carbines and the addition was welcome for many. I built such a rifle a couple years ago here on TTAG and it was quite a bit of fun.

The Geissele scopes have a simple rangefinder and a more basic mil reticle.

Scores went up immediately and the value of low powered optics on the 600-yard line became immediately apparent. The thing to understand is that many who resisted this change were used to irons. Shooting irons is a real skill and it takes years to hone.

The prevalence of optics broke down the gate for many unclean, under-skilled undermenchen and many in the older iron sight camp did not like the established culture being upset. It may not be obvious in the industry press, but there is a great deal of animosity between legacy competitors and newer shooters.

The VCOG has a more traditional crosshair with mils on it.

LPVO-type optics are incredibly versatile and do several things for today’s shooters. The first is that, unlike irons for the most part, they commonly introduce unit measurement into the reticle that allows for range estimation, bullet drop points, and a reasonable degree of magnification.

The relatively low magnification power of the optics isn’t all that low, but they usually cap out at 8X, like the Trijicon VCOG shown in this article.

Variable optics like this and the Geissele 1-6X shown here have hybrid reticles that feature illuminated points and can be backed down in magnification to 1X and used as a red dot or reflex sight of sorts. It’s not the same as a true reflex sight, but it allows for speedy target acquisition and snap shooting.

The ACOG above is being steadily replaced by variable scopes like the VCOG, below.

At full magnification, both of these optics have mil reticles that can be used for holdover and measurement. The VCOG is a first focal plane scope, while the Geissele is a second focal, meaning that the reticle stays the same size in relation to the eye as you zoom in and out.

The mils only work on full magnification; if you tried your holdovers in the reticle at 1x they would be very far off, but the center zero would still be on the point of impact.

The use of these optics isn’t really limited to just short ranges. I’ve shot the Geissele optics scope here out to 1,000 yards and they track just fine for using mil holdovers. They aren’t as fine as a dedicated long range optic and targets are a bit harder to identify at 6X magnification, but it is completely functional at virtually all distances you’re likely to shoot.

The VCOG has a bit more magnification and that definitely helps with distance. The 1-8x range is just about perfect for my shooting, especially with 16-inch 6.5 Creedmoor rifles.

The limiting factor with many LPVO types is that they are relatively heavy compared to a reflex sight and sort of ungainly for their size. The ACOG is a smaller, lighter optic that’s very much at home with on the AR or similarly sized rifles, but I find that the ACOG’s fixed 4x magnification is a little limiting and the bullet drop compensator in my TA31-RCO isn’t graduated to most of the loads I use.

I now very much prefer the VCOG to the ACOG as, even though it’s heavier, it has a much wider range of uses on more types of rifles.

The Geissele 1-6X looks good in both black and DDC.

The industry isn’t pushing useless scopes with the LPVOs. Quite the contrary. This type of scope, especially on modern guns, has a tremendous amount of utility (on home defense guns, for hunting, and for competition) that can maximize the shooter’s potential while bridging the gap between larger traditional scopes and red dots.

If anything, I think that this has been long overdue and I hope to see more types of shooting and competitions that allow this sort of thing.

I think we’ll see a broadening trend for these super-flexible scopes. I’d like to see a true 1-10x come out at some point, which would be an amazing option for so many shooters who want to do double and triple duty with their AR or bolt action rifle.


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  1. Great move, CMP! I’ve always hated the arbitrariness of that rule set – all sorts of stupid, unrealistic gamesmanship toys allowed, but slapping on the $20 Tasco that every 12-year-old deer hunter in America can use would be sooo unfair!

  2. 3X9 is about tops.
    All my hunting rifles have a scope, all my bang fasters are iron.
    Iron sights hold up to abuse better.
    None of my handgunms have optics

  3. Why are you shooting chickens? LOL
    Looks like Barred Rocks, Buff Orfingtons cant remember.
    I had Lacy’s, Kelsos, and Blue Minors.

    • “Why are you shooting chickens?”

      Now that there was funny! I laughed out loud — heartily — for a good 10 seconds or so!

    • “Why are you shooting chickens? LOL”

      It’s one helluva lot easier than trying to catch the little bastards by hand… 😉

      • New competition idea: shoot at steel targets, then try to catch some chickens in between each

        • To catch chickens, use the bowling technique. That is, roll grapes at them (bowling for chickens) slower and slower until they chase right up to you, then grab ’em!

          Say, last time I was at Camp Perry (2007), any competition which allowed glass also had an iron equivalent, right on up to space guns at 1000 yards. I didn’t see a problem, and I was shooting Service with irons (I don’t recall Service having a glass option at the time) out to 1000 yards with an M1A and the shooting was a freaking BALL!! Doping wind using just a spotting scope, successfully, made you feel like a GOD! I quit because a day where I shot 20 rounds was just too damn long, and too damn hot. Too much work, in other words.

  4. Great article! A LPVO is on my radar(after I get cataract surgery which is “soon”. I would probably go 1×6 which is quite common at every price point. I have a red dot & a 3x magnifier(and a light) now. 223 is so damn pricey I’m not in any hurry to deplete my reserves.

      • “I Can see the front sight now…”

        And the F-150 coming down the road at ya… 😉

  5. O.K. First of all, the CMP matches don’t do anything to help soldiers or civilians prepare for real world events. Its the Elmer Fudd version of military readiness. I understand that the S&M jackets may be a “Lifestyle” choice, so whatever, LOL. That “Game” is pretty old and tired and the participants are getting to be the same, which is why they have to allow 4x optics.

    3 Gun has a lot of the same “game” problems as CMP where gear seems to drive for the win, regardless of function in the real world. The stupid shotguns, being the primary example. The only thing I have seen lately that seems to have a purpose are the 2 Gun Brutality Matches which reward physical fitness and marksmanship. If everyone is wearing sponsorship logos on their golf shirts, they are doing it wrong.

    Do what you like, have fun. CMP is dying, as its boring and slow. One miss on one target and you’re done for the entire match, might as well go home. No thanks.

    The caveat to all this is age and ability, people get old, some are rolling up in wheel chairs, etc. IDPA has minimal movement and for the most part practical equipment and gear. You could do the same with carbines, PCC and bolt guns, using plates at various ranges that have to be engaged quickly with at least one reload.

    Combat for the last 20 years has shown that the answer is always ACOG for the vast majority of the troops. What this fixed 4x prism scope needs is a bigger eye box with 2.5 to 3″ of eye relief. The new ACSS Raptor Reticles are hard to beat as the math and the wind holds are etched on the glass, no need to use your gray matter calculating mils, as no one has time for that. Using the Bindon Aiming Concept, you can shoot both eyes open with an illuminated reticle and get hits at CQB distances. If you and/or your unit has the cash, mount a RMR on top for the close stuff. Realistic distances are danger close to around 500 meters, forget about 1,000 yards/meters, as a 5.56 isn’t even a 600 meter cartridge on a good day. Just cause your mom can hit that far away on a clear sunny day, drinking her ice tea, doesn’t make it so.

    I was always taught, “Begin with the end in mind”, wanna sell a bunch of crap to consumers, “3 Gun” is your answer, wanna teach people to use their weapons for practical purposes, CMP ain’t it either.

  6. I shot NRA High Power with a NM M1A mostly to be a better shot using irons, and mastery of the fundamentals. It was more about being competitive against myself rather than others.
    Would I like to shoot PRS, or IDPA or the like?
    Sure, but that ammo supply . . .

    • True about ammo supply as everyone knows, but you should try a pistol carbine match.
      Imagine a stage where you ride in the back of a golf cart engaging left and right (Facing backstop, cart moves forward as you sit facing backstop) . Not so easy like the movies portray…at all. lol.
      alas the ammo I have is all I have and range time has nearly stopped. sucks much!

      • We used to shoot stop signs and turtle doves from the back of a pickup, well actually we shot just about anything.
        Aim low if your going towards it, aim high if going away

      • I can’t afford it, but the big boys in these parts hire helicopters (just big-ass pickups) and go feral hog hunting at night with rented full-auto and night vision scopes. That sounds more fun than anything I ever heard of.

  7. When I was a young man, a 3x scope was “High Power” to many shooters. Peep Sights were the norm back then. 50+ years latter, I came to the same conclusion as many militaries of the world. A 2x – 3x long eye relief scope is the best sighting system for almost any rifle today. The modern optics allow better light gathering, and better definition of your target. Even the lowly 30/30, used for brush hunting, is easier to use with the proper scope, just need to be sure that the eye relief is set correctly. Don’t wait until you are in your 70’s to try a modern scope. If you are already in your 70’s, a scope can make the difference between still shooting, or looking at your safe queens.

  8. illuminated reticle at 1x works good enough as a red dot for cqb etc
    4 or 6 or 8x doesnt just allow for longer shots
    it allows for target acquisition and recognition at longer ranges than a red dot can plus more accurate fire at those ranges
    to me…on a home/neighborhood defense/shtf platform theyre a no brainer
    i only put red dots on my 10.5 pistols now

  9. One thing not really mentioned is that this will help keep more people in the game as they get older. I like that idea myself.

    • As mentioned in my earlier post, lower power scopes mean I can still shoot in my 70’s. Modern optics are so good, they even make it possible to “see” when it is too dark to see with the naked eye. Even “brush shooting” is easier with a scope, as it makes it possible to “see” through the brush. As to new shooters, it is also easier to teach new shooters with a scope, instead of trying to explain proper sight alignment. Only issue is to match eye relief with the rifle properly.

  10. There is incredible utility in a variable magnification 1-6x scope. At 1x magnification it is fantastic for fast target acquisition at close ranges — e.g. home defense and close-quarters combat. And 6x magnification enables reliable “combat accuracy” well out to 400 yards and probably even to 800 yards. Finally, scopes gather light and enable target discernment in low-light conditions where there is not otherwise enough light to discern your target with your naked eye and iron sights.

    Those characteristics make an incredibly compelling argument that a 1-6x scope is pretty much mandatory on a battle rifle which you will use for engagements from zero to 400 yards.

    (Note that an engagement range of zero to 400 yards would likely cover about 95% or more of real-world engagements — especially if your rifle is chambered in 5.56 x 45mm NATO, .300 AAC Blackout, or 7.62 x 39mm which are already lacking wallop at that range.)

    • From Zero to 300 meters, most can hit man-sized targets out to that distance with a red Dot. We use half-size metal IPSC plates and most shooters can connect without magnification. I have a flip-away 3x magnifier for my Trijicon MRO 2 MOA Dot and I ended up taking it off the gun, as it added weight, made the rifle feel unbalanced and didn’t really help. Now if you are trying to identify a target or shoot into a small area, I see the possible need for a magnifier. In any case Red Dots will always be faster in CQB, zero to 25 meters than a LPVO. Most civilian shootings happen with the rule of three, 3 shoots in 3 seconds at 3 meters (the length of a car) and of course, your mileage will vary. Red Dots have zero eye relief and basically, zero parallax at those distances, so the time to mount the rifle and engage is much less.

      Thinking about getting the 1-8x Trijicon CREDO LPVO in Mils. I like the First Focal Plane, the 28mm objective and 34mm tube body. The glass is clear and the 1x is a true 1x, unlike a lot of offerings out their. The reticle isn’t made for bullseye shooting, so don’t buy it if you want to get the high score on paper target, as their are better alternatives. Expensive – so gotta save those “Shekels”.

  11. I think everyone should learn on irons and then switch to optics because people are definitely more effective with optics. I run a scope with a quick-detach mount so I can rapidly switch to irons in case something happens to the scope. I have the best of both worlds going on with my set up.

  12. Great article, one point. You said you’re looking for a 10 power LVPO— I have the Vortex Razor Gen III 1-10×24, great 10 power optic with true 1x FFP.

  13. I’d like to see a true 1-10x come out at some point, which would be an amazing option for so many shooters who want to do double and triple duty with their AR or bolt action rifle.

    Vortex already makes one….

  14. “Old Man Yells at Cloud.”

    When your sport is dying, you should welcome innovation that brings new competitors.

    At my local range, nobody shoots bullseye pistol anymore. Everyone has moved on to USPSA (people shoot IDPA as an intro but once they run into the Fudd rules of no appendix and no lights, they move on to USPSA).

  15. IMHO Service Rifle competition should of course use firearms in design that are as close to issue ones as far as possible. The military has gone to putting optics on service rifles and the older match shooter should embrace it. They will when their eyes get older. Pistols will be next!

  16. Red dots and prism scopes are better for most applications with 22 caliber AR’s imo. When lpvo’s get lighter than those it will be worth it always.

  17. Any monkey can shoot with magnified optics. Only a rifleman can shoot with irons. This is why competition should be irons-only, because it’s a contest of skill, not a contest of who can whip out the credit card and buy a higher score.

    This is entirely separate from questions about what should and shouldn’t be military issue.

    • “Any monkey can shoot with magnified optics. Only a rifleman can shoot with irons. This is why competition should be irons-only, because it’s a contest of skill, not a contest of who can whip out the credit card and buy a higher score.”

      O.K. Boomer

      Even the Swiss have started to switch to using ACOG’s and AimPoints with flip away magnifiers on their rifle. While the 19″ barrel P90 service rifle with excellent diopter sights is still normal issue, the full time professional soldiers have switched over to P553SB and LB or STGW 07 in 8″ and 13″ (M4 size) barrels and the new ones only have a pic rail with built-in back-up iron sights.

      Today, I lot of guys, in the U.S. Military use another optic, like a RMR as their “Back-up” to their magnified optic, with no iron sights on the gun at all.

      If you want to be a “Historical Re-enactor” with you 1903, M1 Garand or Brown Bess with iron sights; Rock-on Garth. If the rest of us want modern skills that can be used for practical defense in the civilian and/or military world, that’s our choice.

      By the way, when you get old, if you’re a mortal human, you will embrace optics or you will either quit the shooting sports or just suck more than you do now. Jerry Miculek, age 66 would be hanging out in his rocking chair, if it wasn’t for modern optics.

      P.S. Yes like in the SIG 552 Video, all civilians should be able to have guns with 3 round burst and full auto. Not just state sanctioned semi-auto. You’re either free or you’re not.

    • I imagine the same sort of thing was said over 100 years ago about repeating rifles and double-action handguns, and before that, smokeless powder, and before that, revolvers, and before that, breech loaders, and before that, rifled barrels, and before that, crossbows, and before that, steel melee weapons, and before that…

  18. I think LPVO is the best thing to happen to telescopic sights since the invention of the telescopic sight. Can go down to 1x for “true distance” sighting and let’s face it, if something that is 400 or 600 yards away looks like it is 100 yards away and you still can’t hit it, the problem ain’t the sights. I don’t need 12x or 20x for anything any normal person might encounter (let alone hold steady for at those magnifications. Real world does not allow you to setup a table and a sturdy rest or whatever, talking field positions here, improvised rest at most). 1x-4x on anything 5.56mm and under, and really anything you can pull off as an “ethical hunting shot” should be enough. 1x-6x on .243 and larger pretty much rounds it out out to distances a professional target shooter might consider “the beginning of long range” but somebody putting bullets in meat would consider a pretty long shot outside of some super duper extra special force navy ranger beret recon type person….or just your average army sniper which are by default painfully high above average.

    It’s really a best of both worlds thing that doesn’t give up much of anything truly real world useful to either world outside of a damn few very specific circumstances most of us will never find ourselves in God willing.

    Yup, you shouldn’t call yourself a shooter if you can’t do it with irons just like you shouldn’t call yourself a driver if you can’t do it with a manual transmission just like you shouldn’t call yourself a handyman if you can’t actually repair things instead of just replace them. All that holds true and always will. That doesn’t mean you can’t make use of newer advancements and better tools to be better at whatever it is you do. When’s the last time you cut up a tree with a handsaw or churned your own butter? Still keeping a stable of horses to get around instead of those damn new fangled combustion engine contraptions?

    The thing LPVO’s could use is longer eye relief and larger apertures, or at least some way of picking up the sights without being pretty much squarely in line with them. There is no “looking over” the sights or just using them as a general reference. That stuff will probably come around someday.

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