By now, it is no secret that there have been millions of first-time gun buyers since Spring 2020. Research from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) done using the ATF’s NICS (background check system) data indicates as high as 8.5million new gun owners in 2020. Here at Nexgen Outfitters we are obsessed with responsible ownership of effective firearms, including safe storage, regular cleaning, and safe transportation. This article will focus on the “effective” nature of owning a firearm where we will talk specifically about Red Dot or Reflex sights for an AR or MSR type rifle in order to get the best performance for your specific purpose. We will also share our top red dot and top open reflex sights.
Let me digress from specifically AR related sight performance for a section and write high level about shooting fundamentals. At Nexgen we visit with people about 4 basic shooting fundamentals:
Stable Position (like stance, rest and grip)
Aiming (which I will elaborate on quickly)
Trigger Control (Including follow through)
Check out our other articles on those topics for more details soon. For now, as it relates to selecting AR optics, I will point out the three aspects of aiming.
Setting a zero perfectly aligns the point of aim for the sight type you have chosen with the actual impact point at a specific range. Stop back soon to check out our blog post dedicated solely to setting your zero, but as it relates to the common AR-15 platform we are a firm believer in the “36/300” zero. Simply put a rifle zeroed at 36 yards and shooting a 55gr 5.56mm bullet at ~3000FPS will have an impact point within a 6” circle from 0 to 300 yards. Again, see our setting zero post for all the gory details.
Sight Alignment means you are seeing the right image through the sighting solution (open site, red dot, scope, etc.). Each optic type will have a specific way to produce the correct sight alignment.
Sight picture is the process of projecting your sight alignment onto the correct aim point of the target, considering things like windage and elevation.
OK….back to your regularly scheduled post.
RED DOT / REFLEX SIGHT OPERATION
Red Dot Sights are also commonly referred to as Reflex Sights and come in a couple different configurations. Both types bounce light from a small LED source off the sight’s front lens, which filters and focuses that light back to your eye as the reticle color and shape desired. Obviously then one of the benefits of a red dot is the ability to quickly change the color (even though generically these are considered “red” dots, the LED can also commonly be green or blue as well) and/or reticle shape. Above all, the greatest benefit of a red dot is ultra-fast sight alignment and sight picture. Compared to iron sights which require three points of reference and controlled focus, the red dot is “point and pull”. Once it has been properly zeroed, what you put the dot on is where the bullet is going every time.
- Fastest Sight Alignment and Sight Picture.
- Illuminated Reticles Pop in Low Light Situations.
- Lightweight construction adds no bulk to the firearm.
- Allow Both Eyes Open Shooting for full situational awareness.
- No Parallax to Manage.
- No Eye Relief Issues, so they can be placed anywhere on the rifle.
- While some units have good battery life, there’s still batteries to contend with.
- While the reticle pops in low light, there is no light gathering capabilities so targets will still be dim.
- No magnification so identification of small targets at distance is difficult.
- Magnifiers can be placed in front of the sight but will also magnify the reticle, possible covering the target.
TUBULAR RED DOT SIGHTS
These resemble a very small rifle scope, where all of the reticle producing components are housed within a neutral gas filled tube. This provides protection for the components and the light path, so the durability is great however the outside lenses are still susceptible to moisture or mud. Field of view is smaller with a tubular red dot, however many shooters are able to shoot with both eyes open. One of our favorites in this category is the Burris Fast Fire RD 2MOA sight. All the best features: from long battery life, durability, brighter dot and 2MOA size come together for $179.99 and a fantastic choice for your first AR rifle. Pick this for no fuss, ultra-durable, and precise shooting in well lit scenarios for small game, predators, plinking or home defense.
OPEN REFLEX SIGHTS
Open design reflex red dot sights are small with the light producing components housed in a flat rear compartment and shining onto the rounded-top rectangle shaped front lens. Many reflex sights now employ an extended covering or “hood” over the front lens for protection. These smaller sights can also be rugged, however just the nature of their operation means if the front lens is damaged or covered with debris, or if the light path is obstructed then the reticle will not be visible. Sightmark’s Ultra Shot R-Spec sight provides great durability and long battery life with good options for reticle shape in both red or green, all for $120. Get the best of both worlds with a small reflex type red dot sight as an auxiliary or back-up sight on an MSR style rifle with a magnified scope as the primary sight!
Especially for a first-time AR owner, a red dot or reflex sight is an excellent choice for your first aiming solution. It maintains all the lightweight, low maintenance, and both eyes open shooting style of open sights but removes all the complexity of sight alignment and target acquisition of irons. Compared to magnified optics, a red dot maintains all the great precision out to 100yds (or more with practice) but eliminates the challenges those introduce with parallax elmination, proper eye relief, and limited field of view. Check out our full assortment of red dot and reflex sights here.