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.
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.
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.
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 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.