This Red Dot Sight Buyer's Guide was written by firearm expert and technical sales manager Steven K. Ledin.
Red dot sights, or reflex sights, are almost always zero power, or one power. Same thing. This means they do not magnify. A red dot sight is not for precision shooting, but rather very close or very fast shooting. Much of our military uses red dot sights on their small arms because the hit percentage is drastically higher than with iron sights. Competitive speed shooters also use red dots on their handguns for the same reason. The larger the dot, the quicker most people find they can find and shoot their target. Shotgunners are not left out either. A red dot is ideal for hunting turkey or deer, and some people even use red dots for target games like trap, skeet, and sporting clays.
Red dot sizes vary from sight to sight, and some sights have dots that are adjustable in size, so be sure to consider both how much room you have available on your weapon and how large a reticle you need when you're choosing a red dot sight. Some dots have crosshairs or a variety of choices as well as a dot.
Dots will not appear defined and sharp in a reflex sight. Look at a dot with one eye, then the other. You'll see they look different from eye to eye. Same goes from person to person. Dots will look a bit fuzzy, and this is normal. No dot will offer a crisp contrasting outline, so when selecting a red dot sight don't worry about the sharpness of the reticle.
The size of a dot in a sight is measured in MOA, which we all know from the Choosing a Rifle Scope Article means "minute of angle", and is one inch at 100 yards, or one half inch at 50 yards, or two inches at 200 yards.
The smallest dot currently available is one MOA which can be found in EOTech Holographic Weapon Sights or the Bushnell HOLOsight which is made by EOTech. These are excellent units, reliable and sturdy with a huge field of view. Most red dot sights are around 4 MOA which means the dot will cover 4 inches at 100 yards, or 2 inches at 50 yards or 8 inches at 200 yards. When buying a red dot, remember that if you have a gun that will put all its shots into a 2 inch group at 100 yards and you install a sight with a 4 minute dot, you will never see a 2 inch group again.
Another detail to be aware of when you're in the market for a reflex sight is that they are battery powered. Lighted reticles in a rifle scope appear black without power, but nothing is visible in a red dot sight without power. We have batteries for any red dot we sell. If used for hunting keep in mind that cold weather drains battery power, and you should always have backups. Because of their naturally long battery life, many shooters leave their red dot sight on for the entirety of a hunting trip, and forget to turn them off when put away. So when you buy your first red dot sight remember to turn it off when not in use!
The absolute toughest red dot sights available are made by Aimpoint, and hundreds of thousands are in use by our military as we speak. They also have the longest battery life. On some Aimpoint models the battery life is up to 10,000 hours or about 5 years.
Customers often ask about co-witnessing. This means that you can still see and use your iron sights in conjunction with or instead of a red dot placed at the appropriate height. Appropriate height is the key. These iron sights are also called BUIS (back-up iron sights). These are mostly used on military guns such as the AR-15 types, and offer a secondary sighting system in case of red dot failure.
Some red dot sights are night vision compatible. This means the dot will adjust so low that you can put a night vision monocular behind it and not be blinded by bloom. Bloom is the intense explosion of light caused by a night vision device multiplying an existing light source hundreds of times. When a red dot sight is set on a night vision mode the dot is so faint you can not see it with the human eye.
Inexpensive red dot sights are perfect for plinking guns. Plinking is just fooling around shooting at different targets like pop cans or marshmallows or anything just to enjoy shooting without any formal structure.
What to spend
When choosing a red dot sight remember that price is a good indicator of quality. Any sight under $50.00 should not be expected to withstand the recoil from anything but a .22. Under $100.00 will allow for a Tasco ProPoint, Bushnell Trophy, or similar. The best sights are in the several hundred dollar range and include Aimpoint and EOTech HOLOgraphic Weapon Sights. The best red dot sights on the market today are the OPMOD Holographic Sights that were made in conjunction with EOTech. We're really proud of these sights, and they've won Brilliance Awards for Product of the Year for the last two years! When you're trying to choose the best red dot sight, the OPMOD MPO II should be your first stop!
Steven K. Ledin
OpticsPlanet Technical Sales Manager