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How to Buy Rifle Optics

Here’s what to look for when selecting red dot optics for your long gun.

January 01, 2007  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author

In days gone by, "rifle optics" referred to one thing: a telescopic sight with varying degrees of magnification. These were for precision application of lethal force by snipers and counter snipers. But today, rifle optics include a new class of aiming devices called combat optics, generally red dot sights.

The earliest adopters of red dot sights were the competition shooters of the United States Practical Shooting Association and the International Practical Shooting Confederations Open Class. And yes, I know, competition shooters and cops shoot under very different conditions. But there are some similarities between their needs and yours.

Competitive shooters may not know anything about raiding a suspected meth lab, but they run thousands of rounds down range over the course of a year. These folks favor high-pressure cartridges in calibers like .38 Super and 9x21 through their competition pistols, and they shoot in conditions that range from hot and dry to cold and snowy. And one big similarity between competition shooters and cops is that they both have to shoot fast. Which is exactly why red dot sights caught on with competition shooters: They facilitate fast, accurate fire.

At first the competitive shooters used their red dot sights only on handguns. But as competitive rifle and shotgun competitions were introduced, the red dots found their way to long guns.

That's when the military took note of how the red dots make it easy to put lots of rounds on target in a hurry. Now, nearly 20 years later, every GI carries an M16 or M4 fitted with a red dot sight. And of course, cops are quick to adopt hardware that's found favor with the military.

So what should you look for in a red dot sight? Is the highest priced one always the best? Are there other items needed to make the red dot sight work for you?

Take a look at the numerous Websites and equipment catalogs, and you will see that sight prices range from $30 to about $1,500 for the most common models. Inexpensive sights may do the job for you. But there are reasons to pay for the good stuff.

What you're paying for is the features of the sight. These include night vision compatibility, water resistance, the ability to use multiple power sources, and magnification. Such features add to the price, but they are really nice to have.

Another reason that high-end sights are high-end sights is that they meet military specifications. This requires the manufacturer to do extensive testing and keep substantial amounts of paperwork on each sight, adding more cost to the sight.

Knowing that you literally pay for what you get, the first step in choosing the best red dot sight for you is defining what you require for your mission. What type of long gun is the sight to be mounted on? What is your primary use for your long gun? What size of dot do you require? Do you need or require special features? These may sound like overly simplistic questions, but it's best to ask them before you buy a sight.

Inexpensive Options

    If you are looking for a good basic red dot that won't break the bank, I'd suggest a model from one of the following: the TruGlo Dual Color series, the Tasco ProPoint series, or the Bushnell Trophy series.

    Generally, these sights retail for less than $125. The dot sizes vary from five minutes of angle (MOA) to 10 MOA size. Some models offer the choice of green or red dots. All run on standard watch-type batteries.

    Despite their low cost, I like these sights. They have been proven to be durable in field testing by hard-use consumers: hunters. They are also pretty reliable. In my numerous years working for a national firearms retailer, I don't recall seeing any of these sights returned for electronics failures or general problems.

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