Let’s look at what we can park on a rifle today, with some insights from a guy who’s got some experience with all of them. Let’s all agree these are merely observations. If, at the end, you’re dead set to get one of these, fine. The idea is simple, these words merely serve as a guide in an effort to assist you. The intent here is to help fellow shooters with perhaps lesser experience.
There are Seven common optics, and some unusual “other” types of devices. To keep it simple, they are- red dots, reflex sights, holographic sights, prismatic sights, traditional scopes, night vision optics (image intensification) and thermal. Research will get slippery really fast simply by looking up “red dot” and the weasel wording only continues from there. My intent is to give information based on personal experience. The usual rules apply, I will not blast anyone, but will give factual data. No brand mentioned gives me anything if I cite them.
So, we have things knocked down to 7 choices. Here is where we can look at some facts of life. The first fact is this- most people cannot hit very well past 200 yards. It’s fairly difficult to find a shooting club in my area of the world that has 200 yards for shooting in the first place. I’ve asked several pals in different areas, and they all pretty much say the same thing. Some are even envious that I’ve got 200 to tinker with.
Vendors sell hype to sell products. It doesn’t take much tree shaking or bush rattling to find a guy , dress him up, and make him a talking head to convince you that you can’t go on without this particular gizmo (whatever it is). This guy is a prime specimen, and time hasn’t caught up with him, yet. When was the last time you saw anyone over 40 promoting anything that was cool? Time gets us all, in the end.
We can get a red dot from Amazon for as low as $25 if we don’t mind the dubious sounding “vendor” name, and the fact that the red dot being looked at has at least ten different names if we loiter around looking at red dots for awhile. Since they are all the same, just buy the cheapest option. That is likely the exact thought process for most of us. Remember that we get what we pay for, so don’t be upset when the thing is not exactly fantastic.
I’ve got several dots running the price gamut, and have 1 in particular on 6 different rifles and pistols that’s very impressive. It’s the Tru-Glo TruTec. Without getting too deep in the weeds, it’s held up to some pretty heavy abuse, and maintained zero on everything I’ve hooked them to. They cost around 120$, come with 2 mounts of different heights, and would suit the average shooter quite handily.
Now, let’s say that our eyes are older, and picking up a dot isn’t as easy as it was even a couple years ago. If you’re not going to be paratrooping into a hot drop zone in the near future, consider something like the BSA in the 50 millimeter flavor. You can get these for well under $100 and they have an adapter that fits both Picatinny and Weaver rails, because Weaver is still out there. A big dot parked at the muzzle end of a pistol is indeed formidable at 200 yards, all day. I’ve set these up for dozens of casual shooters over the years.
Reflex Sights- I’ll keep this simple when I say there can be only 1, and that is Trijicon. I “grew up” with these, and could devote 10 articles to their reliability and amazing durability. These are the gold standard, and that’s all there is to say. The 24 millimeter version came first, and later the 42millimeter. I’ve got one of these on the business end of a .223 pistol, and that is my go-to for things worth investigating. At 200 yards with a good bullet, it will punch through a 2×6 plank, no issue.
For all of the nay sayers about needing at least 10.5 inches of barrel to get even minimal ballistic results for .223, I ask you to do this simple exercise. Pick any spot on your body, and press 2 fingers against it, and ponder if you are as rigid as a 2×6 plank. Right. Trijicon sells Reflexes for $400 and up, but if you don’t buy some of these other options, this is not unreasonable. Your family is worth $400, isn’t it?
Holographic- This boils down to one major vendor and if you don’t know who it is, search it. I’ve used them, and have no affection, at all. The reason is simple- we were working on “foot shooting” in a vehicular combat class. The idea is that sometimes when hostilities are unfolding around a vehicle, you can drop down and address the footwear of your aggressor, as this definitely disrupts their hostile intent. Well, the “donut” that you put on target got “stuck” in what would be the lower left of the field of view. When I returned to my normal ergonomic position of wandering the globe, the “donut” hadn’t moved. The remedy is to smack the side of the optic to right the “donut”. I’ve had other people tell me the same thing, so in my mind, that means I’m not being too critical/jaded.
Prismatic- I’ve got one set up for a .308 firearm, and it’s “old”. To me, it resembles a family sized can of ravioli on a mount, and weighs nearly as much. The idea is to have the best of both worlds, a magnified optic for distance work, as well as a sight that will allow you to do entries and not be caught flat footed living inside the optic, and NOT seeing the guy who gets you due to over magnification. This sight is really good at what it does, and it is better than me. Here is why- a lot of prismatic optics have an etched reticle- that means your cross hairs are constantly visible, in “black”, and that is the etching, no battery required. It also has a battery to illuminate the hairs if needed, in red or green. It also has hash marks for distance out to 800, and that’s where the issues start. The issues are NOT the optic, the weak link is me.
I’m not a prime specimen anymore (and quite possibly wasn’t ever one in the first damn place), and all of this stuff inside the optic is impossible for these old eyes to pick up. It’s already obsolete, as the newer models are a lot smaller, lighter, and economical. It has a fantastic kill flash and a lot going for it, but I’ve not ever had the chance to really test its abilities. There are no 800 yard areas around here, and it’s a fair bet that I couldn’t do it justice anyway. This type may be just what you need, and they are better than slapping on a red dot, and then a magnifier to give better visual acuity at distance, if that’s the mission.
This is kind of like a “Seventh Inning Stretch”, if you will. Let’s take a moment to ponder a couple of things. A big trend now is the red dot/magnifier combo. What are you going to do with this theoretical optical device we are speaking of in this context? If you want to shoot out to say 300, why not just get a low power scope, say 1 to 4, if you’re plinking with an AR platform in 223 flavor? Or, do you just want to have more parts on the rail, racking up the weight, with more lenses to look through, with a lot more things to break when fur flies? If you’re dead set on a dot/magnifier, you’re going to need mounts for both that are in alignment, equaling more money, and weight.But, if you’re wanting the cool “operator” profile, maybe they don’t have to line up, if manly bad-assery is being pursued.
My opinion alone- go with a dot, or a scope, and be content. Remember that ability/200 yard tidbit from earlier. The last thing I’ll cover is this- the more stuff you cram into the ever decreasing sizes of all these optics, the more potential you have for stuff to break. If you expect a device with 3 color options, built in range finding, built in thermometer, and wind direction indication to be dead nuts on for $25, you are delusional, or inexperienced.
Scopes-and holy cow, have we got scopes. Again, what is the rationale for what you want to do? Are we going to cancel out paper bad guys, or perhaps use it for that once in a lifetime hunt? The mission is yours to decide, but realize that there is glass out there that is as high as a decent used car, and if your AR platform choice cost you under a grand, do you really need that kind of scope? You will find that like everything else firearms related, there are those who have affection for one brand, only. Realize this, and do your homework- every major player, by and large, will also have components in more than one brand. The same applies to televisions , automobiles, and washing machines. Scopes are wonderful, but can be considerably more expensive than the other options above, quickly. Scopes are machines, if you will, and they are at a golden era. The best scopes I ever possessed back in the day are just like me- outdated, albeit capable within reason.
Night vision- video games and feral hogs, unite. Here are some insights from a guy who has 2 decades plus experience with various night vision devices. There is one company in particular that has a lot of stuff out there that’s affordable, depending on your definition of the word. Here are some points to ponder- if you have a lot of components assembled outside the U.S.A., there is no United Laboratories testing, which cuts costs. That also means the brain tumors from wearing them for extended periods of time are free, so you’ve got that to look forward to. Please don’t think that simply wearing them is going to be fatal, the point is just worth mentioning. There are early generations of night vision that allow you to hunt pigs or coyotes, or whatever, for not a lot of money. Don’t be upset when they don’t work as well as they do on a video game. Often times, you will need an IR illuminator to get any extended yardage, but you can get them for varying prices, and no doubt there is the obligatory You Tube tutorial to help you make a decision.
If you want to hunt pigs/coyotes you’ve no doubt got expertise as to what all that entails, but again you can quickly fill up rail space with the optic, illuminator and assorted sundries. This is not something that I have experience with-I’ve merely watched videos of this stripe, and it looks to be a lot of fun. If having fun is the pursuit, then by all means, pursue fun whenever you possibly can. Recreation is difficult to obtain at most times, and if this is your passion, go at it hammer and tongs. From the pure aspect of shooting targets, procure IR chem sticks from Amazon- they can be quite challenging to hit. If you don’t mind tinkering/experimentation, you can align a night vision monocular in conjunction with some red dot and reflex optics and get a potent combination-I’ve done it.The majority of quality red dots will have IR adjustment- some are better than others. If this is desired, do your research- ask compadres with different optics what they like, or better yet, borrow them and make your own decision. It’s a hell of a lot easier than mounting an optic in front of your eye, and then trying to peer though your optic of choice. Here is another tidbit in that regard- consider that you’ve got the thing on your eye, and now, through whatever miracle, you get alignment with your scope, and this is a bolt gun, NOT in the .223 flavor. When you touch off the round, you will get a really cool shiner to tell your friends about. Not that I’ve ever seen this happen…
With night vision, it’s typically best to hold still whenever possible, as depth perception is basically gone. This is in civilian context- if you’ve got a pal with night vision, borrow it and try to wander through the woods. This exercise will give you tremendous respect for our people who use night vision as commonly as putting on their boots. This should be mandatory training for all civilians to help them understand that our service personnel deserve our respect in ways most don’t even/ever attempt to fathom.
If pondering rapid fire with night vision in conjunction with, say, an AR platform firearm, consider this- if the piece is not auto gated, you’ll likely see nothing but illumination from muzzle blast. It will appear as pretty awesome whitish/greenish “balls” that cancel out what you see (or don’t). Night vision that is auto gated to negate muzzle blast typically goes up in price about 2000 additional dollars. If you ever get the chance to use night vision in a shoot house, and both auto -gated and non auto -gated is available, try an entry with each type. You will quickly decide that autogated is preferred from the aspect of staying alive-if two legged targets are on the docket. To make things even more fun, enter the room with a traditional carbine, then pistol length, and then a suppressed firearm.
One of life’s guarantees is that night vision that’s autogated with a suppressed firearm is preferred for staying alive, and living with the ability to hear.Touching off AR pistols in the open air is unique enough, and in the confines of a structure, it’s brutal. I’ve yet to fire an AR pistol from within a vehicle, as I’m older/wiser, and am in no hurry at this point. If the situation arises, I’ll do it, but if confined to the vehicle, I’ll stick to the little pistol as long as the mags hold out- that’s loud enough, thanks.
Thermal- again, this same company has thermal for critter reduction, and with colors. I’m going to say this now, and loathe me if you will. I’m lucky enough to have access to thermal technology that normal civilians cannot have, and there is no color, other than black and white. Black and white are not colors, either, Google it. The point is simple and worth repeating- the more stuff crammed into something, the more breakage potential there is in existence. Thermal at cheapest prices is going to cost thousands of dollars, so that kind of negates “fun” if you will, for most. In my opinion, thermal trumps night vision every time. I’ve been fortunate enough to use 3 separate thermal designs over the years, and just like my prismatic scope, things are constantly getting lighter, smaller, more effective, and economical. If you’ve got the money and want something simple/effective thermal wise, look at the EMX Zebra.
Featured image courtesy of Nikon. Nikon‘s new P-TACTICAL SUPERDOT is engineered with fully multicoated lenses and Nikon’s proprietary “TRUCOLOR” coating, which virtually eliminates the bluish tint associated with red dot sights.Intended for use on all weapons, it is a universal sight built rugged enough for shotguns.