First Look at the Trijicon VCOG as a SHTF Optic: a Little Light Abuse

    I’ve been searching for a good SHTF optic for my AR-15, and for most folks who are into prepping (go ahead and snicker but we both know your pr0n habit isn’t the only reason you’re clearing your browser history), something by Trijicon is at or near the top of their “if I could just have one optic” lists.

    I’m looking for something that, when paired with the right AR-15, can get me from CQB distances comfortably out to at least 400 yards with my 43-year-old eyes. The Trijicon VCOG, being a 1X-6X variable-powered scope, is perfect for this role.

    Since I write about guns and I have a hookup, I managed to get one of these bad boys in for T&E, and then I got busy and sat on it for most of the summer. For a few months I had the scope on a rifle in a soft rifle case that I dragged on a family vacation and a few range trips, but in general, I haven’t really used it seriously because I’ve not yet had the chance to bring it on a hunt.

    Then this week rolled around and I decided I really want to get it out and do a bit of work with it. Well, if you’ve been looking at the weather this week, you know how grim it is out there… which is exactly why this is not a bad week at all to take a look through an optic that you’d use if the world ended. (We rarely get a chance to use our optics under ideal conditions, which is why I’ve always thought it’s kind of crazy that all scope reviews on the internet are done on perfectly clear, sunny days.)

    The pictures here don’t always look very overcast, but that’s because of two things. First, the sun is going in and out, and second, most of these are iPhone X shots and Apple threw a lot of money and engineering at making pictures look awesome regardless of lighting conditions.


    The VCOG should need no introduction for the TFB crowd, but I’ll go ahead and give it one, for all the folks who wander in via Google.

    This scope’s fixed-power brother, the ACOG, is issued to our troops serving in combat and is legendary for its durability. These optics are so widely loved that when soldiers come back and buy their own AR, they often pick an ACOG to sit atop it. The VCOG, then, is Trijicon’s answer to the question, “what if we made the ACOG variable-power, and put an AA battery in it for variable illumination?”

    The result is an optic with the toughness and optical clarity that the ACOG is famous for, but in a variable power 1X-6X package with adjustable illumination. It works really well with both eyes open, regardless of zoom level.

    The reticle on the scope I have is the segmented circle with red illumination and BDC hash marks, and I do like it. However, when I buy this optic for reals I’m planning on going with the green segmented circle mil-dot reticle on a quick-release base.

    The turrets are protected beneath screw-off caps, and they have a positive, audible “click.” The turrets on the new Trijicon long-range optic are a lot better in terms of feel, but for what this optic is these work. I wouldn’t want to be messing with these in the heat of competition with gloves and earpro on, but that is not the use case for this optic.

    Here’s the basic specs list of the model I have on-hand, from the Trijicon site.

    Dropping, dunking, & trying it out

    The unit Trijicon sent me was already… er, “well-loved,” which is exactly what I wanted. I’m interested in understanding how well this optic might stand up to years of use and abuse, and given the dings it came with I can tell plenty of other writers have put it through its paces. I even added a ding of my own, which I’ll get to in a sec.

    The rifle I’ve put it on for evaluation is not actually my SHTF rifle, which is an LMT DI gun, but rather its piston-driven twin: an LMT Defender 2000 in 5.56 with a standard 16″ barrel. I originally bought this gun in California, so when I got to the free state of Texas I pulled out the bullet button (boy is that a pain on an LMT gun) and added a KAC ambi mag release. That mag release, a Timney trigger, and my TangoDown QD VFG, are my only mods to this particular gun.

    I put the VCOG on and checked the eye relief, which is a quite generous 4 inches. This eye relief stays constant as you zoom in, but the eyebox does shrink quite a bit so cheek weld is key at higher powers.

    The unit mounts solidly to the rail, and you can get the large screws tight enough with just your hands that you’ll need a screwdriver to back them out.

    The reticle illumination is clearly visible in any lighting, and it has a wide range of adjustment; all the shots here show it on the middlemost setting. Also great is the fact that in between each illumination setting is an “off” position, so that just give the knob a half-turn and shuts off.

    Please forgive the images here, because this is my first time trying to take pictures through an optic’s lens in order to illustrate clarity. The 1X shots came out okay, although the image shows distortion everywhere but the center in a way that just isn’t there if you’re looking through the scope in real life.

    1X zoom pre-dunk

    The 6X zoom shots are really not great. The eyebox is tighter on that zoom, so to really make this work in the future I’m going to need to cook up some way to mount the camera to the stock and make minute adjustments. In real life, the zoomed-in views are just as bright as the zoomed out ones, though they look darker through the camera.

    6X zoom pre-dunk

    After taking a few camera shots of the 100-yard steel in my back yard, I got the notion to remove the optic and drop it into my saltwater swimming pool for a bit while leaving it turned on… y’know, as one does with a $2800.00 scope that one didn’t pay for and has to send back anyway.

    The second I loosened the screws holding the optic on, the scope fell right off the gun and landed lens-end-first onto the stone. Ouch. You can see that the fall of a few inches put a good crease in the rim around where the glass is, but the glass itself is unscathed. (Actually, the glass is full of fingerprints, but in keeping with the “real-world conditions” theme of this first-look article, I never bothered to do anything but smear them around a bit with my shirt.)

    I went ahead and put the optic in the pool, and then went inside and had dinner, leaving the gun out in the rain, as well.

    I didn’t want to leave the optic submerged for so long that the lighting conditions got seriously worse, so about 30 mins later I pulled it back out and put it back on the gun, and took a few remaining shots.

    Obviously, 30 minutes in a few feet of salt water is not like a major torture test. Regardless, the scope actually looked better than before it went in. Maybe I should’ve cleaned it or something.

    Through it all, both pre- and post-dunk and drop, the VCOG’s legendary clarity was on display. At every zoom level, even as the weather conditions changed and the sun came in and out, the scope looked fantastic. All that stuff you read about Trijicon’s glass quality on the internet is true; it’s really nice.


    I have really only just begun to mess around with this optic, but I love what I see, so far. It’s built like a tank and is incredibly clear and bright. It stood up to a little mild abuse — actually it wasn’t really so much “abuse” as it was just not babying it at all — and it’s fine. I could, and probably will do a lot worse to this thing and it’ll shrug it off.

    I like that the mount is built-into this optic, so return-to-zero and all the other headaches that go with mounts aren’t a big deal. Sure, you can’t do the quick detach thing with this particular model, but offset sights are better than going the QD route, anyway.

    In general, just from doing a bunch of research I had already decided that the VCOG is the ultimate SHTF optic for me, and nothing I’ve seen so far has disabused me of that in the slightest. In fact, I’m now even more secure in this decision. The mix of performance, weight, form factor and durability are near perfect for this “do anything from CQB out to 400 yards, under any conditions” role.

    I’m kinda hoping the world ends before I have to send this thing back to Trijicon and shell out for my own VCOG.

    If you are interested, you can pick one up here.

    We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.