Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review

By Nicholas Gebhardt

"Impressive" was the first word that went through my mind as I opened a cardboard box that contained the new Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) scope. What I saw inside was not expected, a very nice plastic case with the Trijicon name and logo. Every other scope I've ever seen came packaged in a cardboard box with the company logo and various forms of foam padding to cradle the scope. The Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS)however, had a dedicated hardside case and custom cut foam for the scope, sunshade, and lens pen with the battery and literature tucked neatly inside. Again, impressive, right out of the box! Then the question, would this new Trijicon product continue to impress as I conducted a thorough evaluation and testing?


Case containing the Trijicon TARS


TARS as it comes from the factory

Founded in 1981, Trijicon has earned an enviable reputation for building some of the most robust and reliable combat optics in the world today. Trijicon first had some of their products included in the U.S. Army Advanced Combat Rifle Program in 1987 and their products first saw service in Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989. Their highly regarded Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, or ACOG for short, was adopted by the U.S. Special Forces for the M4 carbine in 1995 and officially adopted by the Marine Corp. in 2004 as their Rifle Combat Optic (RCO). The ACOG has been their flagship rifle optic for several years and is the choice optic for military personnel and those marksmen desiring a battle proven sight for their firearms. That optic is typically seen on military style rifles and is generally employed as a close to medium range engagement sight. Trijicon expanded their line of optics in 1998 to include some variable power riflescopes which have been quite successful, called the AccuPoint line. In 2012 Trijicon further expanded their optical lineage to include a riflescope meant for high power cartridges normally seen in precision bolt action rifles, and one that is built to withstand military use and abuse.

The Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) was purposely designed to be the most rugged riflescope in the world but not give up anything optically nor with the adjustment mechanisms. This was a very tall order to fulfill as there are now an abundance of high quality riflescopes that have been filling a military role for several years. Even though this may be the case, Trijicon felt there was room for improvement and they set out to build their version of what a military grade riflescope should be while drawing on the knowledge gained from their extensive experience.

The Trijicon TARS Riflescope is built with a 34mm main tube, has a 50mm objective, and magnification range of 3-15X which provides an exit pupil of 16.6mm (3x) to 3.3mm (15X). The eye relief is stated to be 3.3 inches in the literature and seemed to be exact with my eyes with a full field of view. The specific scope I received for review had ¼ Minute of Angle (MOA) adjustments with an MOA based reticle although an mRAD version with mRAD based reticle is also available. Each TARS scope has a very nice dull matte black anodize that is perfectly suited for a tactical grade optic. The main tube is thicker than what might normally be done in order to enhance the robustness of the scope and prevent any problems from users over tightening the scope rings. This additional thickness is part of the increased weight of the scope. The scope is also proudly marked, "Made in USA."

Trijicon has included some excellent Tenebraex lens covers which I found to be of much higher quality that the Butler Creek variety I have typically employed on my personal optics. The covers seem to be partially composed of rubber and have a very unique feature. While the lens covers are on the scope, they can be rotated to any position the user desires and there are detents built in that keep the cover in the position it is set. I found these covers to be a very nice addition to this optic.

Total package of the scope, three inch sunshade, and lens covers comes in at 50 ounces with a total length of 16.75 inches. This is a very compact and also heavy riflescope and not meant for an extremely light weight rifle although I don't think the scope would care either way. Finally, these scopes are currently selling for around $3,400.00 depending on where a person does their shopping.

Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review


Left to right: Trijicon TARS, Steiner, Nightforce, Leupold

I contacted Glen Seekins, owner of Seekins Precision, to inquire about receiving some 34mm rings to mount this scope. I've known Glen for several years and he was as generous as always, directing his staff to send me a couple sets of rings for this evaluation. I like to keep my rifle scopes mounted as low as possible and the Seekins rings have always given me the best mounting solution to meet this goal. The rings I received were a set each of low and high 34mm. I started off with trying the low rings but quickly found out that while the low rings provided the lowest possible mounting, I would be unable to keep the Tenebraex lens covers on the scope objective. There was only enough clearance between the scope base on the rifle action and turret housing of the TARS to fit the thickness of about two standard playing cards. Since I really like these lens covers and this isn't my own personal scope, I switched over to the Seekins high 34mm rings. These were a perfect height allowing me to keep the scope very low to the bore and also just enough clearance to fit the lens cover on the objective although with it placed on so it opened to the side. The rifle being used to test this scope has a Krieger MTU contour barrel and has a built in 20 MOA scope base, so a barrel of much smaller diameter might allow the low height rings to be used. I'd still recommend the Seekins high rings if the included lens covers are to be utilized with a barrel diameter larger than a sporter weight.


TARS sitting in low Seekins 34mm rings


TARS sitting in high Seekins 34mm rings with objective lens cover in place

The elevation and windage turrets on the TARS have a locking feature incorporated into the top of the turret itself, which pulls out to unlock and pushes back down to lock the turret. The lock feature can be set no matter what adjustment is dialed onto the elevation or windage turret. Of particular note, the sliding lock feature has a very good seal as air can be heard exiting around the locking collar when it is being pushed back down into the lock position. Etching is exposed as the sliding lock collar is pulled out that states "unlocked" and "up" with a direction arrow. The Elevation knob also has a zero-stop mechanism which the user can set after establishing a zero at any distance. This is an absolute zero stop meaning that once set, the turret can't be dialed below this setting. Both turrets have 30 MOA of adjustment per revolution with turn indicators located below the turret sleeve so that the lines are exposed as more elevation or right windage is added. This is fairly typical arrangement and one that most shooters are familiar and comfortable with. A total of 150 MOA of elevation and 120 MOA of windage are available giving the user plenty of adjustment to establish a zero and ability to shoot at the furthest reaches of their weapon system.


One revolution up from the very bottom of turret travel, locking collar pulled up


Elevation turret centered and locking collar in the "lock" position

Feel of the turret clicks is a fairly important design criteria for a scope meant for heavy, tactical, or even recreational use. Shooters appreciate a positive feel when making adjustments so there isn't any confusion if an adjustment has been made. The turret clicks on the TARS are as such, nice and crisp with a snappy feel. They also provide a nice subtle audible cue that an adjustment has been placed on the scope. The click spacing is pretty close however, but dialing only one click is easily accomplished. The turret lines align perfectly with the index line beneath the turret sleeve as they should.

The windage turret is in the same configuration as the elevation, but numbered differently. There is a total of 30 MOA of adjustment per revolution on the windage turret but the numbers increase in both the right and left direction to a maximum of 15 MOA, after which the numbers would begin decreasing if the turret were to continue to be turned. This lends the possibility of dialing on 16 MOA of right wind adjustment but a simple glance at the turret could be perceived as 14 MOA of left adjustment. If the shooter is well-versed in their equipment, this shouldn't pose a problem as they would know which revolution index line should be visible for their established zero.

The parallax knob on the TARS rotates nearly one full turn from the minimum parallax setting of 40 yards to infinity. The only indications given on the parallax knob are at the 40 yard setting, infinity indication, and multiple hash marks in between. The knob is fairly stiff but smooth in operation.

The lenses are fully multi-coated according to the literature provided with the scope, and are given a water repellant hydrophobic coating to aid in shedding moisture from the lenses in inclement weather. I can attest to the fact that most of the water is shed from the lens surfaces after removing the scope from a bathtub of cold water. The reticle is located in the first focal plane (FFP) which means that the reticle subtensions will remain true at any magnification setting the user may set. I've grown to prefer this type of reticle placement as long as the reticle design is well executed for line thickness. The problem with FFP reticles is that at higher power, the reticle can appear to be very thick and cover too much of the target, which is detrimental to precision. Trijicon however has what I feel is about perfect for line thickness; the reticle can be seen at low magnification yet doesn't seem too thick while at 15X, allowing very precise aiming and shot placement. In reality, the reticle of an FFP scope covers the same amount of the target no matter what magnification setting, it is just more obvious at the higher power.

The MOA reticle with this scope seems to be very well executed for field precision shooting. The center crosshair portion is detached from the outer crosshairs, is the only illuminated portion, and measures 2 MOA providing 1 MOA on each side of center. There is a 1 MOA gap around the center section after which the primary crosshairs continue which have hash marks every 1 MOA, with numbering at the 10, 20, and 30 MOA hashes on the lower vertical portion. The horizontal bars have the 10 MOA hash numbered on each side of center. Trijicon has also placed windage dots extending down and out on each side of center. Utilizing this reticle should be simple enough after an afternoon of familiarization and using it for hold-over and holding for wind conditions.


MOA reticle in the TARS scope

Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review

Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review
By Nicholas Gebhardt

Page 3

Trijicon is famous for providing reticle illumination without the use of battery power but have deviated from this technique for the TARS. Reticle illumination is provided through a single CR2032 battery power source and is accomplished with an LED providing industry leading "diffraction grating technology." A total of ten illumination settings are available with the lowest three levels appropriate for night vision use. Adjustment of illumination intensity is through a digital push button interface on the left side of the scope just aft of the parallax adjustment turret. Only the very center of the reticle is illuminated and is simply turned on by pressing either the + or - button. Illumination is turned off by pressing both buttons and holding them for three seconds.

My testing of this scope began in the kitchen, with the scope being frozen for a period of time. The scope was placed in the freezer on top of a rack of baby back ribs while I waited for the rings to show up from Seekins Precision. Total amount of time in the freezer was about 21 hours after which I removed the scope to check for function of all adjustments. The elevation, windage, and parallax turrets turned with about the same amount of resistance prior to freezing and there was no binding of the turret lock mechanisms. The scope retained its internal integrity as there wasn't any internal fogging after being removed from the freezer. The only problem with the scope after being frozen was with the magnification adjustment, which was effectively frozen in place between 3X and 4X, which I thought to be disconcerting given that the scope was designed for extreme military duty. The magnification ring remained frozen for 38 minutes after the scope was removed. This is when I noticed something strange. The magnification ring would turn between the 3X and 4X, but wouldn't move past the 4X marking. As I continued to try to get it to move, the magnification ring finally freed and would turn through the entire adjustment range. Being that the scope was back to working order, I wanted to see if this was a one-time incident or if it would repeat after being frozen again. Back in the freezer it went for a second trial which produced the same results. According to my Kestrel weather meter, my freezer temperature was right at 32 F.


TARS chilling with some baby back ribs

Placing a scope in a freezer doesn't sound like much of a test at first. But considering that I have often found myself on hunting trips for either big game or while pursuing coyotes at temperatures close to the 0o F temperature range, I feel this is a valid method of testing a scope while in the home environment. I'm also well aware of military operators that train in arctic conditions and having a scopes magnification ring freeze up rendering it inoperable is unacceptable. I sent an email to my contact at Trijicon that next morning informing them of the issue I noticed. I am happy to report that Trijicon is well aware of the issue, it has been corrected, and the problem is limited to the very first scopes that were produced. The problem was immediately corrected with the design and there are no further issues with the scopes when operating in sub-freezing conditions.

The next test I routinely conduct on my optics is to immerse them in water for a minimum of one hour. The TARS received the same treatment as it should be more than capable of withstanding a bathtub of cold water. I placed the scope in the tub and only filled it with enough cold water to completely submerge the scope. I didn't immediately notice any air bubbles coming up from the scope which was a good sign. I use cold water for this portion of the test as I don't believe any military operators, nor anybody else for that matter, encounter Jacuzzi temperature waters while pursuing their adversaries or game animals. After two hours of being submerged, the scope was removed and checked for internal water as well as function of all other controls. There was no internal leakage of water and all controls including the reticle illumination worked without trouble. This scope is sealed up tight.


TARS taking a tactical soak

In order to check the optics on this scope I ordered a resolving power chart from Edmund Optics. This chart is not a simple sheet of printer paper with various colored schemes printed on it, but a 2'X3' heavy weight paper with the USAF diagram to check for chromatic aberration as well as other optical qualities. This chart was stapled to a poly backing material for stiffness and then placed at 100 yards to evaluate the optical characteristics of the TARS. Testing took place on a calm day in central Montana and the skies had scattered clouds. I also had a Steiner 3-15X50 Military available while testing so I compared the two scopes for optical performance and characteristics.


At the range

Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review

Trijicon Tactical Advanced Riflescope (TARS) Review
By Nicholas Gebhardt

Page 4


Edmund Resolving Power Chart

Optically, the TARS gave up very little to the Steiner. Color fidelity, resolution, and contrast appeared to be identical and I spent considerable time switching back and forth between the two looking for differences. The only thing I could ascertain was that the TARS seemed to give an ever so slightly darker image, but it would be impossible to tell without these two scopes being next to each other. The TARS was fairly sensitive to eye position however. Once a perfect eye position was established, the image was nice and clear but became slightly blurry with little movement off axis.

The TARS gave adequate contrast from what I could see at 100 yards on the Edmunds resolving power chart. The yellow color was the most difficult to resolve compared to the red and blue but the color fidelity appeared to be very natural. Contrast was also excellent when viewing the distant grass, mud, and rock covered hillside as well as ability to resolve small details in the shadows. One characteristic I noticed with both scopes however was color fringing along the edges of scattered patches of bright white snow. Without the white background, I'm not sure I would have noticed this issue with either scope.

The turrets tracked precisely in true MOA. I tested the tracking by coming up in 3 MOA increments to a total of 26 MOA and the scope returned to zero as it should. I ran the tall target test twice and the impacts were within the accuracy of the rifle. I did not test the windage turret for tracking or return to zero however. Even given this simple elevation tracking test, I would be confident in the adjustments of this scope for making accurate firing solutions out to extended distances.

There are a couple things I'd like to see modified on this scope. First would be the size of the numbers and etching on the turrets and magnification adjustment ring. When a fellow shooter who happens to be a few years older than I am initially looked at the scope, the first comment was how small the numbering was and he was having difficulty with his aging eyes seeing the numbers on the turrets. The click spacing is pretty close but distinct enough that with larger numbers and possibly heavier etching on the major value lines, it would be easier for those with vision problems to be able to determine the setting. The magnification adjustment ring is similar but of less concern as the reticle is FFP. The magnification setting for an FFP scope is less an issue as the magnification doesn't really matter much other than for some situational awareness. As long as the user has the field of view desired, that is really all that matters since the reticle subtensions are always true. Regardless, I'd like to see the numbers a little larger.

My only other criticism with the turrets is that the index lines beneath the turret sleeve do not extend to the very bottom against the main tube. If a shooter were to have a high angle inclined scope base, the potential exists for the elevation knob to rotate a complete turn without having any indication which click the turret is exactly on. I'd like to see the index line extend to the main tube of the scope. This goes for the windage turret as well though with a properly aligned scope base and rings, the windage adjustment should be fairly well centered on the index line. I'd also like to see a stop built in to the windage turret so that the turret can't turn past the 15 MOA mark (half turn) but there are others that would surely appreciate the full turn capability.

I would also like to see some form of numbering on the parallax knob to indicate approximate location of parallax free settings. Many companies only provide an infinity marking with either hash marks or other form of scale but having some form of approximate setting is nice to have. Were this my scope, I would utilize a silver fine tip paint pen to mark certain distances on the parallax knob once I verified the setting.

One final thought regarding the absolute zero stop feature on the elevation knob for those looking for some tips. If a user desired to have some adjustment below their established zero, it is simple enough to actually zero a specific amount low. For instance, if I wanted to use a 100 yard zero on my rifle and use the absolute zero stop on this scope, but have an additional 2 MOA of adjustment below my 100 yard zero, I would actually zero my rifle for that 2 MOA low at 100 yards. When I set the absolute zero stop on the scope, it would be for this 2 MOA low impact. When reinstalling the numbered portion of the turret, I would align it for the 2 MOA below the "0" mark, in this case the 28 MOA setting. After that is installed and tightened, I'd simply dial up those 2 MOA back to the "0" mark on the turret for my true 100 yard zero and I'd still have the capacity to dial down.

The Trijicon TARS is mechanically sound, sealed up well, and designed to take a high degree of abuse. This will make an outstanding optic for serious marksmen, hunters, competition shooters, and military personnel who depend on their optics on a daily basis. To answer my own question at the beginning of this article; yes, the TARS continued to impress!

Nicholas Gebhardt has been an active hunter primarily pursuing mule deer, antelope, coyotes and prairie dogs since he was old enough to legally hunt. Nicholas is a precision rifle competitor and uses the knowledge he gains from competition shooting to aid in his ethical taking of game in the field under most any condition. He enjoys custom rifles and is usually in some form or another of either planning or building the next one. Nicholas earned his B.S. in Wildlife Biology from t