Red dot optics and reflex sights have redefined how people handle the fundamentals of target acquisition. When speed matters, as it often does in everything from EDC to target shooting to hunting, fast matters. Who wouldn’t want to be faster?
Using a reflex sight on a pistol
Putting a reflex sight on a pistol used to require custom milling. Almost all gun manufactures now offer guns with optics-ready slides. This makes it easy.
If your favorite pistol doesn’t have a slide milled for a red dot, a gunsmith can solve the problem for a modest fee. And it is totally worth the expense. The speed added is a huge benefit.
Some red dots are sized for specific handgun widths. From duty guns down to the micro 9mms, there are lots to choose from. The only guns that are currently not easy to top with a red dot are the mouse guns and pocket .380s.
Using a reflex sight on an AR-15
In order to understand the benfit of an AR-15, you need to know what you intend to do with it. Almost all red dots and reflex sights are unmagnified, or offer very minimal magnification. This means that you are going to engage close targets more effectively.
If you intend to shoot long range, or need a one-gun solution that can function at both close range and longer ranges, consider using a magnifier or simply going with a scope for extreme long-range accuracy. Some scopes have lighted reticles, too, which is almost like a crossover between the fast and the long range capabilities.
The advantages of the AR15 reflex sight
We’ve already hit this note a couple of time, but it all comes down to speed. Adding a reflex sight to an AR15 allows that gun to be much more useful at close range. The AR-15 is already fast, and these just make them faster.
Think about the concept this way. Adding a reflex sight on an AR-15 makes the use of that gun more reflexive. Consider the benefits for self defense. But also look at the potential for hog hunting.
How big is that red dot?
This one holds true for both pistols and AR pistols, and even for AR-15s. Big dots are easier to see. But there’s a catch.
Hold out your thumb and close one eye and see how easy objects in the distance are to completely cover with just a thumb. The same goes for that red dot. A bigger dot (bigger in the sight picture itself) will cover a much larger amount of a target at 100 yards than it will at just 7 yards.
If accuracy matters, look for thinner reticle lines, or dots with smaller diameters. These will be harder to actually see quickly, but will be easier to use for surgical shot placement and long range shots.
The best shotgun reflex sight
For defensive shotguns, though, a nice fat red dot is a serious benefit. It can even be a decent guide of what your pattern will be, if it is big enough. The red-dot has yet to catch on seriously for shotguns, but it should.
Burris reflex sight mount work with the AT3 ARO, which is well suited for shotgun use. The ARO is robust–and that’s important for a red dot on a shotgun. A shotgun reflex sight has to withstand a lot of recoil.
And mounting with the Burris pattern is easy, thanks to dedicated shotgun mounts for both the 870 and Mossberg 500 designs.
Or, if you have a rail already….
Reflex sight vs red dot
Let’s back up a bit. If you’re here, this deep into this, you are likely already sold on the advantages of a reflex sight. You may well have already picked out the red dot you want.
Yet that doesn’t mean everything is crystal clear. Let’s break down a couple of details.
Iron sight alignment requires three points to line up: the target, the front sight, and the rear sight. Optics cut that down to two, really—at least in how they’re used—the target and the reticle. But with most non-electric optics, that reticle still requires your eye to be in the perfect place to see the alignment of the reticle with the target.
A reflex sight is faster still, as the dot (or lit reticle) is easier to see, and can be seen faster, and can be seen from odd angles—sometimes.
The terms here can get very confusing. A reflex sight is, by nature, parallax free. The reticle image is super-imposed over the image of the target down range. Your eye doesn’t have to be in perfect alignment to make it work.
The term red dot is a bit more generic. There are lots of targeting devices that have a red dot in the reticle—like the illuminated reticle of some scopes—but this doesn’t make them a reflex sight.
And, to add a wrinkle to this, there’s another term often thrown into this mix: holographic sight. These use a hologram of sorts projected down range. It is a slightly surreal look, and not free from parallax, but it works in a similar way as the reflex sight and has a dedicated fan base.
Red Dot and Reticle design
There are a lot of optics. Some have micro-fine dot reticles. Others have well-lit rings with easy-to-see center dots. Which one is right for you?
The more light you see in the optic, the easier it will be to target at close range. Putting a tiny dot where you want it isn’t as fast as making sure your target is in a bigger ring of light. Again, this is getting to the deeper questions of what you intend to do with the gun.
Shotguns and pistols and rifles for CQB will all benefit from the ringed reticles or larger red dots. If you want to balance speed with precision, a smaller dot is helpful (and there’s not much use for a ring-shaped reticle).
What’s the best budget reflex sight?
There are numerous options for red dots and reflex sights now. There is a balance, though, between the bottom end of the price point and the functionality that is true for just about every aspect of our lives. This is typically represented by the concept of value.
Other red dot considerations
Mounting a reflex sight on a pistol can be straight forward, as we mentioned above, but not always. All micro red dots use one of a few standardized patterns for their bases. Be sure that the patterns on your red dot and slide match.
On rifles and shotguns, you may need a mount between the red dot and the gun. A piccatinny rail may help–especially for guns like the AR-15.
Some of these mounts have the added benefit of allowing you to see the sights underneath the red dot. If there’s a malfunction, you have that as a backup.
Speed is everything
In the end, it all comes down to how fast you can get a round on your intended target. This isn’t easy to do, but these tools help.
With the right red dot, a riser that puts that dot in your line of sight, and a functional mount that keeps it all in sync, there’s no down side to a red dot.
One Last Tip
If there’s anyone that knows the AR-15 platform, it’s the US military. As a special offer for our readers, you can get the Official US Army Manual for AR-15/M4/M16 right now – for free. Click here to snag a copy.