What’s the best choice for a sighting device on your AR?
It’s no dispute that the easiest and fastest sight to use is a 1x (no magnification) electronic red-dot sight. But a low magnification riflescope (usually 1-4x or 1-6x) is more accurate and offers more flexibility. Which of these attributes is most important to you?
A red-dot sight has a whole lot going for it. For legions of shooters not super-familiar with shooting a black gun, using a red dot is easy. Red dots require no specific eye relief, which is critical for new shooters, because most don’t understand what proper eye relief or a cheek weld is. Using a red dot is like looking through a piece of glass with a mark on it: You look at the target, and when the mark is superimposed on your target, you shoot. It’s FAST!
The limitation of no magnification makes precise bullet placement difficult at distance, compounded by the fact that most red-dot sights have a dot or aiming point that subtends, or covers, a large portion of target. Although a few manufacturers offer red-dot sights with a subtention of 1 MOA, most dots are significantly larger, and some could even cover up to 12 inches of your target at 100 yards. That 12 MOA dot will then cover 6 inches at 50 yards or 3 inches at 25. Most guns shoot a whole lot better than that.
Red dots can be used to co-witness with iron sights. That means that while looking through your lined up, appropriate-height iron sights, the dot appears on the top of your front sight (“absolute” co-witness) or slightly above the sight (lower-⅓ co-witness). So, if your sight fails for any reason, you can still aim the gun with your existing iron sights. A red-dot sight, with the exception of Trijicon sights, will not work without power of some kind, so an extra way to aim the gun is smart.
The electronic dot in a sight can sometimes appear blurry or pixilated, and this is mostly because of vision problems such as astigmatism. With astigmatism, the dot might appear as a comma or flower bloom, and people are regularly introduced to their astigmatism by using a red-dot sight and wondering why the dot is not round. This rarely affects the overall use of a dot sight, because dots are used mostly for close shooting of less than 100 yards.
Dots also tend to occlude vision with their housing. EOTech offers a huge sight window that lessens this and is a large reason they are so popular. Tubed sights have a shadow around the sight window that bothers some, but you really overlook this. I call it “visual exclusion” when you disregard this shadow, similar to how you ignore the frames on your eyeglasses or the sticker on the corner of your windshield.
A low-magnification riflescope with magnification starting at 1x offers a huge field of view, and in an instant, it can be dialed up to a higher magnification. A 1x riflescope with a lighted reticle can be used very similarly to a red dot.
The ocular bell of a riflescope does not result in the same type outer shadow that the tube of a red dot imparts. You can quickly adjust the magnification for more precise bullet placement at distance, and reticles do not cover the amount of target space that a dot does. You can be quite exact with your shot, and more of the accuracy potential of your gun can be realized when using such an optic. The magnification range du jour is 6x, and a 1-6x scope at high power can easily be used for targets at several hundred yards. The reticle will always be there, whether the power to illuminate the reticle is available or not. 1-4x scopes have been around a long time, so they are more affordable than 1-6x versions, and are similarly useful.
One of the drawbacks to using a riflescope is that the cheek weld becomes all important. Such scopes have an eye relief requirement that demands a specific head placement. For experienced shooters, this is not a conscious issue due to familiarity. But you cannot move your head around and still get a sight picture as much as you can with a dot sight.
Most folks will be completely satisfied with a red dot on their black gun, and the small footprint of a red dot sight, as opposed to a riflescope, allows you to mount additional products such as magnifiers, night vision and BUIS (backup iron sights). Many red-dot sights are night vision compatible, which means that the intensity level of the dot can be adjusted so low that you can’t even see it with your naked eye. This will then be viewed at the appropriate brightness level through a night vision device without burning a permanent image of the dot into your intensifier tube.
A red-dot sight is generally a better choice and more fun for the inexperienced shooter to use, especially because the distances that most non-competition ARs are used is fairly close. However, you will never realize the accuracy potential of your gun with a red dot.
Conversely, a riflescope will allow for more-accurate shots, if not as quickly, and can have ballistic reticles to match your trajectory at distance.
Decide which works for you, and go with it.
Kinetic Development Group
SIG Sauer, Inc.
Warne Scope Mounts
Yankee Hill Machine
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the December 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.