Having purchased your first AR-15, you’ll be wanting to tweak and enhance it with upgrades – and a red dot sight is one of the first things any pro will suggest you go for. Of course, as with everything related to sophisticated firearms, there’s a catch – the market is flooded with many different models and variations of red dot sights. In fact, a red dot sight which suits you may be a poor choice for the next person!
Tasco 5 MOA
|1 x 30 mm||
One-Year Limited Warranty
Bushnell 3 MOA
|1 x 25 mm||One-Year Limited Warranty||$$|
|3 x 32 mm||Lifetime Product Warranty||$$$$|
Holosun 2 MOA
|1 x 25 mm||Lifetime Product Warranty||$$$|
AimPoint 2 MOA
|1 x 26mm||10-Year Product Warranty||$$$$$|
A Brief Introduction
We’ll help you choose a red dot sight that will make an excellent, beneficial upgrade for your AR 15 purchase.
What Is a Red Dot Sight and How Does It Work?
Red dot sights, as mentioned above, are a popular first upgrade, largely because of the low cost combined with the improvement in aiming they offer. A red dot sight incorporates a red (sometimes, green) circle of different sizes and the dot (also called the chevron), is aligned with the target, after which the shooter pulls the trigger. Red dot sights work on multiple technologies e.g. holographic reticles, fiber optics etc. Your first step towards buying a quality red dot sight for your rifle should be the selection of a dot size and shape best suited to your uses.
Choosing a Red Dot Sight
Dot Size, Dot Pattern
Selecting the incorrect reticle can prove a major pain in the long run. Choose the right dot size and shape as per your desired use. A dot size too small, and your eye won’t be able to pick it up fast enough – conversely, an overly large dot size can obscure the target when you’re shooting at greater distance. Certain red dot sights try to fix this problem by having a large circular dot reticle with a large ring that has a tiny precision dot at its center – an example of this is the Eotech reticle.
A basic 4 MOA dot works well for a general purpose rifle. It is sufficiently small to allow precise aiming at medium distances and also large enough to be quickly read by the eye. Be aware of products that come with changeable reticle patterns, since they are known to be unreliable / cheaply built. Multiple reticle patterns means more things that could go wrong. However, there are exceptions to these, e.g. Lucid red dot sights come with changeable reticles and generally garner favorable reviews.
The Dot Size can be Used for Range Estimation
A red dot can also be utilized to make a rough estimate of the target’s range, and choosing the right size of red dot is what matters most for distance and holdover estimates. Having a good idea of distance and holdover means you’ll score more shots at ranges as far as 400 yards on man-sized targets!
Compensating for the ‘Tube’ Effect
Red dot sights may have a tube effect if placed too close to the shooter’s eye. Optimally, you should place the sight at a distance from the eye to compensate for this effect and aim with both eyes open. Some red dot sights don’t have a tube (or, if they do, it is really short), so that the tube effect i.e. the occlusion of the target area by the sight’s body, isn’t a problem. But if your optic does have a tube effect, you can minimize it by positioning it farther away from your eye. Note that the greater the size of the lens, the more the red dot can move through the viewing area – high end red dot sights are free of parallax issues after a given distance meaning that your shots will hit the target regardless of where the dot is inside the viewing area; this is extremely helpful when shooting from unconventional positions where the dot isn’t necessarily at the center of the glass.
Battery Free vs Electronic
SHTF type optics are often a subject of discussion, and inevitably, ‘reflex style’ battery free optics are brought up. These sights don’t have any electronics to make them even slightly unreliable, and are often lit up with tritium to give them low light capability. The weak point of this kind of optics is that they can get washed out in certain lighting conditions without any way of manually enhancing their intensity. If you wish to run a system with zero batteries, you might want to set your AR15 up in a way that it has a backup for the inadequacies of reflex style sights e.g. constantly deployed iron sights to use in case the red dot sight gets washed out.
On the other hand, electronic red dots are becoming increasingly reliable and efficient with the passage of time. The premium ones e.g. the Aimpoint CompM4, come with patented technology that allows for 8 years of continuous use! Going down, you’ll find different models available ranging from thousands upon thousands of hours of usage to hundreds. The technology incorporated into red dot sights is consistently improving its life and durability. In fact, there’s an ongoing debate as to whether electronic red dot sights have become so reliable that they are starting to outweigh the benefits of fiber optic powered models!
Micro Red Dots?
Red dot sights have undergone considerable compaction over the years. The Aimpoint H1 and T1 are regarded as category leaders in the micro red dot market – but have faced some competition from Trijicon with their equally formidable Trijicon MRO. All in all, there’s lesser viewing space, but if you shoot with both your eyes open, the size won’t have any effect on the performance. If you wish to have a lighter assault rifle and are alright with purchasing some coin sized batteries, you may want to look into micro red dot sights. In spite of their compact nature, the high end models come with as much as five years of battery life, and can easily be used instead of full-sized red dot sights. Trijicons RMR and Eotech’s MRDS are a couple of models you should look at.
Red dot sight or magnification scope?
One of the primary plus points of using a red dot scope instead of low power / variable power optics is it’s considerably little cost. Granted that a bit of zoom is quite useful, but a reliable rifle scope will cost quite a bit more than a quality red dot sight, not to mention the lighter weight of the red dot. If your chief concern is to have excellent aiming performance within a 300 yard defensive range, the red dot will be the better choice hands down. You can make the setup more versatile (and bulkier) by adding a magnifier to your red dot sight (just like they do in Call of Duty!). Magnifiers can be added later to give some magnification to your red dot sight.
This will be, of course, a compromise setup which won’t be as seamless as a dedicated 1-4x variable scope nor will it be less bulky than a 4x ACOG setup, but it will give you the option of removable magnification as required. It won’t be perfect so you should carefully consider before spending more on it.
What to Expect Under Different Price Ranges
- Less durable materials
- No bells and whistles, only the core function of aiming.
- Durable materials
- Additional features such as water resistance, long battery life (if electronic), specialist features for various applications such as sporting, defense, hunting etc.
- Durable materials
- Aiming aids such as ocular focus to adjust to various eye sights
- Multiple illumination colors
- Night vision compatibility
- Variable brightness
Top Five Red Dot Sights Reviews
Tasco 30mm Red Dot w/ 5 MOA
- 5 MOA Dot Reticle
- 1 x 30 mm
- 1 year limited warranty
Tasco, an optics company from Kansas, has a reputation for producing reasonably reliable optics at bargain prices. This particular red dot sight has similar basic specifications as its competitors: A 30 mm, rubicon layered objective lens held inside a 3.75’’, 6 ounce tube. The tube has a matte black finish along with weather protection, so it’ll be great for shooting even in less than ideal weather.
The 5 MOA dot is modifiable through an 11 step Rhostate dial present at the top of the tube, alongside elevation and windage knobs. The sight’s parallax is set to 50 yards, and at that distance, the 5 MOA reticle will make for great target acquisition and tight grouping.
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight
- 3 MOA Dot Reticle
- 1 x 25 mm
- 1 year limited warranty
The TRS25 has received praise from consumers and reviewers alike for its reliability, performance and quality of materials – which is in line with Bushnell’s general reputation throughout the industry, one of quality and robustness.
The TRS-25 is an excellent choice for a starter red dot sight, and comes with a 3 MOA reticle that delivers great grouping at 100 yards. It mounts on Weaver or Picatinny style rails with a solid fit. It has a 25mm objective lens diameter, which is a bit smaller than the competition, but it also results in a lower profile. On top of that, the lens is Amber-Bright coated to enhance the contrast between the background and the target.
The TRS-25 has a tube length of 2.4 inches and a weight of 3.7 ounces, so it’s a compact package all in all, excellent for a beginner’s all-purpose use.
- Prism Etched
- 3 x 32 mm
- lifetime warranty
This fixed power rifle combat optic comes with a wide 32mm objective lens and a 3x magnification – as such, it is a hybrid between a red dot sight and a scope. In fact, it packs the functionality of a basic scope inside a red dot’s form factor! Along with the magnification, it also provides an excellent field of view.
Target acquisition and overall handling is fast and fluid, which is a huge plus in competitive as well as tactical situations, where victory or defeat are decided in a matter of seconds. You can choose between a red and a green reticle, and there are five illumination settings for each reticle.
There’s also a broad circle around the reticle which aids in CQ engagements – all you need to do is fill the target into this broad reticle and take the shot. A mil dot cross hair is also incorporated to aid in range adjustments, and to take more precise shots. Three removable Picatinny rails are included for optionally mounting a laser, lights, and an additional miniature red dot. All in all, this is an excellent aim enhancement add on for your AR-15.
- 2 MOA
- 1 x 25 mm
- lifetime warranty
This unique red dot sight makes a big statement with its name – ‘Infiniti’ implies that this electronic red dot sight has almost infinite battery life (around 50,000 hours of non-stop usage off just a single CR123A battery – this is equivalent to five years’ worth of constant use). This is a remarkable milestone for a red dot sight that still manages to keep its price under the $300 mark!
It also comes with an auto shutoff feature which switches the sight off after 8 hours of inactivity in case you put your rifle inside the safe without turning the sight off. It utilizes a 2 MOA red dot for a reticle and also comes with a side mounted green laser as an extra aiming option. You can choose from 12 separate brightness settings, and the red dot sight is also night vision capable.
Yet another impressive feature of the Infiniti is that it can resist being submerged in water for up to 100 feet – in other words, you can take your rifle out in the wild without worrying about the sight getting damaged. The Infiniti’s single body aluminum construction makes it durable externally too. With so many quality features, the Holoson Infinite is a great choice for a sturdy, reliable aiming solution for your AR15 rifle.
- 2 MOA
- 1 x 26mm
- 10 year warranty
Aimpoint has a reputation for developing rifle enhancements for police and armed forces personnel to enable them to deal with any situation in the field, and the Aimpoint CompM3 is one such enhancement. This state-of-the-art sight provides industry leading optics and is even more rugged than what you’d normally expect from Aimpoint products.
Packing a replaceable, external black rubber cover that shields it from scratches and gives a stealthier outlook, the red dot sight has an unrestricted field of view and zero parallax with unlimited eye relief. There’s a mechanical switch for quick and reliable operation, along with an optical lens coating for optimum aiming. The sight is compatible with 1st, 2nd and 3rd gen night vision devices.
Speaking of the red dot reticle itself, it runs for 50,000 hours on a single 3 Volt Lithium battery. The dot’s brightness can be adjusted to 10 unique settings. The housing is made of high strength aluminium and is hard anodized, plus its non-glare black finish makes it perfect for stealth encounters. The scope has water resistance up to 45 meters, and can survive temperatures from -45 to 71 degrees Celsius.
The quality of the lens and its housing, alongside its ease of use and ability to tolerate harsh weather make it our pick for under $600.
Best Picks According to Price Range
BSA 30mm Red Dot Scope w/ 5 MOA
BSA has a reputation for manufacturing quality products suited to budget minded consumers and their 5 MOA red dot sight is no exception – it’s great for close quarter target acquisition at 25 yards. It has a 4.2’’ tube length housing a 30mm objective lenses which provides a solid FOV for sighting targets. The sight can mount to both 3/8 and 5/8 rails so it is compatible with most rifles, and there are windage and elevation dials for zero adjustment. All in all, a reliable sight enhancement for the weekend shooter.
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight
The TRS25 is known for being a quality budget red dot sight – it’s a Bushnell product after all. Mountable on Weaver or Picatinny style rails, the 3 MOA reticle is designed to be accurate at 100 yards. Even though the objective lens is a bit smaller than the standard at 25mm, this also results in a more compact sight. The amber coating on the lens enhances the contrast between the target and the background for easy target acquisition. The 2.4 inch tube length is also praiseworthy at this price since it minimizes the tubing effect by quite a bit.
The AR-332, combining a 3x magnification with a red dot sight, is one of the best choices for someone looking for a tactical sight enhancement. The body of the scope is quite compact, and isn’t much different from regular red dots. In spite of this, the field of view is excellent, and combined with the magnification feature, the product is unbeatable. The wide lens, along with its hybrid reticle lets you acquire targets easily at both close quarters and long range. You can choose between either a green or red reticle, and both have five individual illumination settings. Add to that optional Picatinny rails for additional extensions, and you’ve got a robust enhancement for your AR-15.
Aimpoint is the manufacturer you go to when you want an army grade rifle upgrade. The scope offers an unlimited field of view along with a parallax free, unlimited eye relief. Its fully compatible with Aimpoint’s night vision devices, and comes with adjustable windage and elevation controls. There’s also 10 separate brightness settings for the red dot sight. Its temperature and water resistant so you don’t have to worry about getting your rifle dirty in the field. All in all, CompM3 offers excellent battery life, ruggedness, compactness, and all around reliability, and hey, if the police and army can make it a part of their standard gear, it has to be an excellent performer in SHTF situations!
A red dot sight, as we’ve stressed throughout the text, makes for an excellent first upgrade – your AR-15 is an extremely accurate firearm, and when you combine it with a quality aiming assist such as a red dot sight, you’ll have a very formidable defensive weapon with fast target acquisition and firing. There’s a wide variety of red dot sights available in the market, so you’ll have to carefully select one that is suited to your particular application. At any rate, a red dot sight will be more accurate and faster than an iron sight.