January 06, 2020
9 Red Dot Sights for Every Price Point
Most all red dot sights have the same basic function, though not all cost the same and are a fit for all shooting applications. To help narrow the search, here's a list of nine red dot sights for various budgets and shooting styles.
You know, there was a time when real men used iron sights and only iron sights, right? That optical sighting systems in the Neolithic era were fragile and expensive, used only on sniper rifles, and oh, they were fragile and expensive? So fragile and expensive that we used to joke about it at the gun shop. The standard hunting rifle was a Remington 742, in .30-06, with a 3-9 scope on it, in see-through rings, because scopes broke. But it had to be zeroed to 200 yards, for those times when you could see more than 40 yards through the swamps and thickets.
That optical sighting systems were so awful was such a “known fact” that military rifles were not even made with the option of mounting optics. That made sniper variants of them extremely rare, and collector’s items as soon as they were known. The M14 did” you point out? You call that a mounting system? A first-year engineering student who came up with an idea so crap-tastic would be told he signed up for the wrong degree. Go back to Architecture.
Optics on handguns? What are you, crazy? That will never happen. Give up on glass.
Two things changed the situation: 3-gun competition, and Jerry Barnhart kicking the stuffing out of us with a red-dot mounted on his handgun at the USPSA Nationals in 1990.
Competition shooters want every advantage, real or imagined. If the rules allow it, or don’t dis-allow it, they will experiment with everything under the sun. And moon. And stars. If a scope gave an advantage, they’d use it. If a scope was fragile, they’d find a way to make it stronger. And that’s what we did with red-dot optics. In the early days, there were guys who would take your red dot apart, and re-solder connections, anchor boards and chips, and make it durable. For a fee, of course. The moment word spread that a new-to-the-market “dot” was tougher than the old ones, we’d all ditch what we were using and switch to that one. That’s how, and why, you now have ultra-durable red dots, with long-lasting battery use. That’s also how some of us ended up with competition guns with two or three scope-mount pattern holes drilled in the frame. And it was competition shooters chopping the carry handles off of ARs that got us flat-top upper receivers.
But it took the military a while to come around.
We basically fought in Iraq and Afghanistan with rifles and carbines that would have been kinda-OK 3-gun rifles the decade before. Those who could do better, did. And now? Now we have red-dot optics that make the originals look pretty tired.
Why red-dot optics? Simple. For a whole lot of shooting, you do not need magnification, because the target is close enough, or large enough, that the naked eye works. The optics of a red dot aiming system are simple to grasp and use: put the dot on the place you want the bullet to go, and press the trigger. Repeat as necessary. Your field of view is essentially unhindered, and you can remain aware of things next to, or to the side of, your main focus. Magnifying optics essentially “suck in” your attention, and you don’t see what’s next to or the side of the target. And because of the non-magnification and the open field of view, you can be blazing fast with a red dot when you need to be.
So, which one is best? An un-answerable question, because we all have different needs, eyes, and tasks to perform. So, pick one, use it, learn it, and learn what you like and don’t like. Then adjust. “But, I don’t want to do anything but buy the best, and never have to buy again.” Too bad—real life doesn’t work that way. Besides, what is best today will be second-best next week, and all but obsolete in a couple of years, right? I mean, just look at battery run-time expectations today. When we were new at this, if you had predicted a 50,000-hour run-time from a battery in a red dot, we’d have laughed ourselves silly.
So, to give you an idea of what your options are, I’ve gathered up the red-dot optics that are here at Gun Abuse Central, for some good old-fashioned tire kicking and stick poking.
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Bushnell MINI CANNON
Compact, lightweight, easy to use, the Bushnell MINI CANNON might just be the red-dot for you.
Yes, the product name is in all caps. I even asked my contact at Bushnell about this, and that was made clear. All caps. And, the product specs just might get you on board with the name. First off, the complete unit, with its included riser mount, weighs a mere 6.5 ounces. The adjustment dial caps have long thread sections, to keep the outside environment as far from the adjustment dials as possible. One of the caps has a rail section in it, a rail you use to turn the adjustment dials. No more searching for the correct-sized screwdriver, failing, and using a coin that is almost proper. Speaking of screwdrivers, the battery compartment is on the left side, below the controls. It is held in by means of two screws. This may not be the most tacti-cool way to do it, but I’m here to tell you that this is proper engineering. The cover has an “o” ring inside, and when you tighten the screws to compress the o-ring, you seal the compartment.
Then, use dabs of paint to lock the screws in place and provide a visual indication they have not moved. When, some tens of thousands of hours of use later, when you need to change the battery, unscrew, replace, re-screw and re-paint. Clearly, Bushnell is a fan of the keep-it-simple concept.
The controls are two triangular buttons, up and down. Up turns it on, down turns it off. Up increases intensity, down decreases it. Once it is on, press both at the same time to change reticles. Change reticles? Yes, you have your option of a dot, dot with ring, dot with dashes, and dot with ring and dashes.
All this for an MSRP of $358.45.