September 23, 2020
By Patrick Sweeney
There was a time before red dots. (AKA RDS; red-dot sights) Oh, there were magnifying optics, but they were seen as fragile, they had parallax, eye position problems, and they cost. Some cost a lot. My gun club was doing 3-Gun matches in the early 1980s, and anyone who used optics, used a low-powered variable optics. (LPVO) 1-4X and 1-5.5X were popular. Because, at the 1 or 1.5X, you could shoot with both eyes open if you could find one with a bold-enough reticle. It wasn’t until Jerry Barnhart showed up at the 1990 USPSA Nationals (pistols nationals) with a red-dot on his handgun, that we suddenly had to get with technology.
From there, technological advancements happened as if someone had their foot stomped on the gas pedal. Within a few years we had rugged, reliable, compact red-dots that could survive on an IPSC Open pistol, which is a harsh environment. Amazingly, the US military adopted one, the M68 CCO, in 2000, aka the Aimpoint CompM2. Until then, they had been stuck sometime between the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations in technology for aiming.
Early handgun optics required a mount bolted to the frame, because the optics weren’t light enough to be slide-mounted, and they would not have survived the experience anyway. Now, slide-mounted optics are so common, the USPSA had a Division for them, and it is one of the hottest for entries and competition.
Sig tries so hard to make the best, and offer what you want, that they can be overwhelming. They make three micro sights, suitable for mounting on handguns. They make the Romeo-MSR, a straightforward and lightweight red-dot optic with a 20,000-hour battery life. But the numbered Romeo sights are da bomb. Right now, they are the Romeo 4, 5, 7 & 8.
My Sig MPX permanently wears a Romeo 4 (there’s now a 4H, 4S and 4T, see what I mean?) and the solar panel on top tops off the battery, so there’s a 100,000-hour battery life. Plus, it automatically turns off when stationary. It is my go-to USPSA PCC choice, as well as my winning and record-setting 9x12 Pin Shoot choice.
My Sig M400 SBR also wears a Sig RDS, a Romeo 5XDR (one of 5 current choices) for the 2 MOA dot with a 65 MOA circle around it. Unlike the MPX, I might have to reach out a bit with the SBR, so the 65 mil circle allows for hold-overs. And, should I ever need them, there are two night-vision settings as well.
The Sparc from Vortex is a compact but rugged little RDS. Coated in a rubber armor, the Sparc has its controls on the rear of the base of the unit, so you can see them without having to lift your head off the stock and turn the rifle. It has a 2 MOA dot with 90 MOA of adjustment range. (If you need that, there’s something wrong with your rifle) and it runs on a single AAA battery. The mount is integral, and you have your choice of co-witness or lower 1/3 co-witness heights. Vortex offers a pair of 3X magnifiers for your use. Both are flip-mount, and one is a QD mount as well.
The Truglo Ignite Mini is a 22mm objective compact RDS, with a 2 MOA dot. It comes with two mounts, for low and high mounts. The power switch system not only turns it on at the last setting you used, but powers off after four hours, to save battery life. The settings are up and down push buttons. It is a durable and compact little RDS that won’t break the bank while you learn the ins and outs of running your rifle. Or shotgun, mounted with the low Weaver mount.
The original Aimpoints were as big or bigger than regular scopes, back in the day, and they had narrow tubes and dark optics. But they were among the first, and we jumped all over them. It wasn’t until 2000, when the Army adopted the CCO, the M-68, aka the CompM2, that things got real. It was rugged enough to ride on am M4, and it worked. Aimpoint now has a whole range of RDS (and have for a while) from the Micros, which are the most compact real-deal RDS to be had, up to the CompM5.
The original Micros, the H1 and T1, have been passed by the 2 series, which offer reinforced bodies, better light transmission, and protective bolsters for the adjustment knobs, the new Micros are bigly improved. I won’t be giving up my T-1 and H-1 Aimpoints any time soon, because they still work.
Now, if you want a robust and big RDS, because a little one just isn’t manly enough for you, then you need to track down a CompM5, for its five-year battery life and 39mm viewing tube.
If you want more than a Micro, but not a full CompM-something, then look into the Aimpoint Acro C-1. I mounted one on a Marlin 1895 Dark Series chambered in .45-70, and I have to tell you, if it came down to a contest between me and the Acro as to who would survive the largest amount of .45-70 ammo, it would be Aimpoint for the win.
I still remember my first view of the Holosight. I was at the 1995 Michigan Tactical officers Association annual conference, and I was looking at a new RDS. I thought “This would be great for competition, maybe they are interested.” When I asked about competition assistance, the guy behind the table remarked “I think we have a competition shooter already lined up. Some guy named Barnhart, I think.”
The big difference between the Holosight and regular RDS, is that the Holosight projects a 3D image onto the screen. And, if there is any screen left at all, there’s an image you can use. The traditional EOTech reticle is a 1 MOA dot in the center of a 68 MOA ring with hashmarks. You use the middle dot as your 50 yard zero and your 200-yard point of impact. And the bottom hash mark, on the ring, is your seven-yard point of impact.
Or, you can get the two-dot reticle, with a second, 500-yard dot underneath the centered 50/200-yard 1 MOA dot.
EOTech offers the reticle in green as well as red. You have the choice between a pair of AA batteries, or a single lithium CR123 battery as your power source.
The Bushnell TRS-25 is a compact RDS with a 3 MOA dot. It comes with a high-rise mount, to get it up in the line of sight on your AR-15 irons (meaning true co-witness) and it is made with rubber o-ring seals, it is shockproof and waterproof. The big deal here is weight and cost. At six ounces, and costing just over a Benjamin, the TRS-25 is the epitome of my “Good enough gear” philosophy. It is plenty good enough to learn on, and even depend on. If you find that you need a dot smaller than 3 MOA, or you need something else like night vision settings, then you still have a really good RDS, and it only cost you a bit over $100.
And if you find out that an RDS just isn’t for you (It happens) there will be plenty of shooters at the gun club who will take it off your hands at a discount. A discount from a $100 RDS is a lot less painful than the discount from a $500 RDS. You know, the one “SEALs use” that your buddies talked you into?
I have a TRS-25 on one of my loaner rifles for classes. When an officer arrives at the armorer’s bench with an inoperative rifle, I hand him the loaner with two admonitions: Don’t change the sight, it is zeroed. And I have to know if there are any malfunctions. The TRS-25 hasn’t failed yet.
UTG is another serious contestant in the “good enough gear” competition. They offer a solid little RDS that can work on handguns, rifles or shotgun, the Micro Dot. With a 4 MOA dot it is big and bold, so you can see it on a bright summer day on a sandy range. (Why don’t shooting ranges have shade?) It is easily mounted, coming with a low mount base but UTG also offers hi-rise bases. Several lattes under $100, it is hard to beat, hard to break, but easy to use. Available with red or green dots, the Micro Dot has six power settings, and a one-click memory setting, returning to the last power setting used.
The Trijicon MRO is their latest in red-dot optics, and it’s a tough one. Starting with a 7075 forging, Trijicon machines the lump of alloy aluminum until it can hold the optics and electronics. The battery life is five years on the red dot and one year on the green dot. The zero adjustments are recessed below the armored shell of the MRO, so they are protected. Lacking caps, you’ll have to use the Trijicon adjustment tool to crank it to point of impact, but once that is done, there are no caps to lose, nor exposed seals to leak. The power adjustment is the biog knob on top, and it is easy enough to move, but stiff enough not to get bumped off setting. And it is numbered so you can see what setting you have it on.
Trijicon also makes the MR, a handgun RDS that can also be mounted on a rifle or shotgun. If it can withstand the shock of a slide cycling back and forth, the recoil of a rifle or shotgun is nothing. The power settings and mode settings are handled by means of a rubber-covered button on the side of the RMR. The point of impact adjustments are managed with windage and elevation dials on the side and top, and you use a properly-fitting screwdriver for them. Oh, and the odd shape of the top? That’s to divert the stress of inadvertent impact away form and around the lens, to help it survive your “oops” with the door frame.
Freedom isn’t free. Luckily for us, our forebears earned it, and we have to hold it. And Leupold has an optic for that task. The Freedom RDS BDC is perhaps unique in the red-dot universe in that it does not have an integral base/mounting system. It is a tube with optical components and a red-dot emitter. But, it comes with mounting rings, so Leupold has taken care of you there. Inside the tube, Leupold has installed a 1 MOA dot. They have coated the lenses for clear color transmission, and make sure they are clear out to the edges, no blurry sight pictures. There’s a push-button on and power selection, and motion sensor to turn the dot off if the rifle/optic hasn’t moved for five minutes.
The big deal is the Freedom RDS, with a ballistic trajectory dial on top. The standard dial is machined for the trajectory of a 55-grain FMJ out of a rifle, so call it 3,100 fps. Once you have zeroed your Freedom RDS at 100 yards, then it is a simple matter of dialing the top BDC (bullet drop compensator) range to the target range, holding and squeezing. (It should be obvious that an accurate range call, laser or otherwise, will make a big difference.)
Should you decide you need a Freedom RDS for 62-grain (or 68, or 77, etc.), Leupold, for a nominal fee, will make a custom dial for you. Supply them with all the relevant data: bullet diameter and ballistic coefficient, velocity, etc. [EDITOR’S NOTE: The BDC works as advertised. I was able to hit steel targets at 500 yards effortlessly, which is impressive since the optic has no magnification and I have an astigmatism which makes shooting with some red dots nearly impossible. The dot is small, so it does not cover your target as well as being extremely clear.]
The RMSc from Shield is a handgun sight that is tough enough to ride on a rifle or shotgun. The Reflex Mini sight, compact, is housed in an aluminum chassis, with glass or polymer lenses, and there’s a neat addition for handgun shooters: the rear of the RMSc housing is a notch for use as a rear sight. If your handgun already has a rear sight, then no problem. But if you want, you can build it with the RMSc notch as the rear, and a proper-height front to match.
The RMSc comes with mounting plates for your pistol, but you can easily use an aftermarket hi-rise mount to get it up in line with iron sights on a rifle. Or use a low-mount for a shotgun. And as a bonus, since the hosing is aluminum, you can have yours in any one of an array of anodized colors.
The future? The military is already experimenting with remote video. A camera/sight on the weapon, with a tiny screen in the helmet, and you can simply poke the weapon around a corner and ”aim” using the image in the helmet screen. I can’t help but think this is an impossibly slow and cumbersome process. But then, a generation ago, optics, even red-dots, on combat weapons was viewed as science fiction. Not durable enough, too slow, too “busy”. Competition showed that to not be true, so we’ll see what the future brings, eh?
This article originally appeared in Firearms News Issue # 18, which went on sale on September 22nd. Pick up a copy to read more articles like this one!