Red dot sight and optics expert, Michael D. Faw gives us some tips on shopping for Red Dot sights as well as his top three picks of the best red dots for your firearms.
USA – -(AmmoLand.com)- Have a conversation with almost anyone in the know about firearms and accessories these days and the conversation will cross the realm of red dots. From the expensive, bulky and battery gobbling Holosights offered to shooting enthusiasts a decade or so back have emerged smaller and more user-friendly red dot sights. What’s not to love about these new, generally compact, and easy to use and install sights. Aiming is quick, and what’s in the circle or before that dot usually is what you hit when shooting—if all works according to plans.
Now for the glowing details, and the Top Ten Red Dot Shopper Tips:
- PRICE: Prices can range from about $50 for a basic entry-level model up to more than $1,000 for a military-grade model. Do your research, look into your wallet at your supply of greenbacks, and then make a selection. Be honest with yourself, are you competing, just want something for home defense, or just want one because red dots are cool? That answer will help you part with those greenbacks in a wise manner.
- MAGNIFICATION: While most red dot sight models provide 1X magnification (what you see is what exists in the real world) there are models with up to 6X and 9X magnification, and other units you can obtain a multiplier unit and install that ahead of the red dot sight if you have enough rail for those double units to ride on. If you like to load up your rails, then this is your market to be in!
- STYLE: There are two basic styles of red dots: small upright screens—looking like mini TVs—and the short tube versions that resemble riflescopes designed for Mini-Me.
- BRAND: The good news is most of the heavy hitters in the optics world you are already familiar with, like Leupold, Bushnell, Burris, Trijicon, and Vortex, plus EOTech, offer red dot sights. There are versions that are made by these and other manufacturers that can also wear other name brands. And then there are the cheap imports. Seems as shooter interest has grown, many manufacturers have gotten into the “we have one also” scramble. Some new kids on the block are just that=blocks. Take your dollars and move along. As a rule, if the red dot sight costs less than $150, there’s a reason. That economics class you slept through in high school covered this.
- MOUNTING: Nearly all models are designed to mount on the rail of a rifle, shotgun or handgun. Some can be mounted into slots on a pistols’ slide, like a Leupold DeltaPoint Pro. Look at the bases and read the installation manuals–carefully.
- BUYER BEWARE: When shopping, look at the sight, how the battery can be changed, and how low the unit sits onto the rail. The BIG problem becomes sights designed for use on pistols and revolvers may not work well or at all on rifles and shotguns because you can’t get your head low enough to see through the tiny tube or small screen. After many complaints, some manufacturers now offer bases that raise the height of the sight (at an additional price, of course). Shop carefully and look at the mounting design. You may want to forgo the quick disconnect bases because they may disconnect and not when you expect. Remember, the last thing you want is a flying red dot that comes for your eye or forehead. Flights happen.
- EYE RELIEF: While objective lens or screens on red dot sights can range from a scant 20mm up to 90mm, test as many models as possible and sit them on a firearm like or similar to the one you plan to install the unit on. Distance from your eye to the screen or lens matters. If your firearm needs a rail for installation, there are many styles, and lengths from numerous sources. Look at Brownell’s, Midway and Low-Pro for starters.
- RETICLE: Now for another factor that you need to determine: can the unit be adjusted for intensity? Brilliantly bright red glowing orbs in a pitch dark night can become so distracting that they disable your eye’s ability to see past the glow and determine the target. Not good, Batman (a known dark cave expert!). And since you are looking, decide if you like a dot, a circle, something similar to a riflescope reticle or possibly a horseshoe-shaped aiming aid. All exist. Then you may need to decide whether you want green or red glowing reticles. Those shooters who may be colorblind will find these choices a saver.
- RED DOT vs LASER SIGHT vs HOLOGRAPHIC: Next, don’t confuse a red dot with a laser sight. Nothing is projected onto a target by any red dot sight. Repeat after me: red dots are not laser sights. Also, red dots are not holographic sights. Holographic sights use a laser and mirrors to send a hologram reticle into your line of sight in the optic.
- CASE COLOR: Finally, what color do you want the exterior of your red dot to be? Tans, blacks, camouflage, and other exteriors are out there. If you can’t find the red dot sight you dream of, keep shopping. I found 1,500 models in one online search.
Tested: I tried a variety of red dots optics on a pistol and a couple of rifles to find the best. Here are my top three red dot optics picks that all worked great, but keep reading to the end find out my choice of the best red dot optic.
Leupold Deltapoint Pro Red Dot Sight
The great news is Leupold Deltapoint Pro Red Dot Sight is easy to use, and you can obtain a base for the S&W CORE 9mm full-size pistol for mounting (my handgun choice), and with 2.5MOA Dot, it’s easy to see. To aid with securing, use the Leupold base and screws, they have a substance on the threads to help the screws stay tight. Look carefully and note that the two small knobs go up and to the rear when you secure the base on a S&W CORE pistol, then the red dot goes atop this. Easy to install and operate, and it’s solid once properly placed into the notch atop the pistol’s slide. Yes, with the base system, it sets into the slide and not atop on a rail.
Now, one word of caution: The small wafer battery sits under the circular trap door in the base’s top and behind the screen. You must move that glossy black locking mechanism out, install the battery, SECURELY hold the spring door down and slide the lock back. If you release the battery compartment trap door before the lock is fully in place it will fly open and the battery will launch across the room, ask me how I know. Keep the pressure on.
The Leupold Deltapoint Pro Red Dot is waterproof and fog proof, provides 1X magnification, has the screen protected by a durable aluminum shield and can be adjusted for windage and elevation. Yes, it can be installed on a rifle or shotgun and used for hunting where legal. An on & off, built-in, motion sensor helps maintain battery life. At the range, it provided quick aiming reference and was easy to see in bright sunlight. Thumbs up here.
More bad news about a S&W CORE pistol used in this red dot test project: removing the factory-installed cover on the CORE was a pain in the you-know-what. Neither the S&W tool kit nor a well-equipped B-Square tool kit had the required wrench—a 5/64 hex key. And this tool is so small many hex-wrench kits do not contain this size tool. Next, be very careful when removing the 2 securing screws in the CORE or the thin hex wrench will snap. Then removing that base or pre-cut opening cover is a chore. I finally had to insert a sharp knife tip and pry, pry away. It finally came off. Odd, there’s no mention of that cover in the owner’s manual, but once off installing the Leupold Delta Pro red dot sight is a breeze. In S&W’s defense, they provided a half dozen bases and several screws. Good luck with selecting the right one. You’ll need an engineering degree or calipers to select the right one. Buy that base from Leupold and move along. If you have another pistol without a slot, this sight could be attached to a rail or you can have your pistol machined for a couple of hundred bucks.
The Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for the DeltaPoint Pro is about $450 for the sight and $45 for the base. A larger 7.5 MOA unit is also available.
Bushnell AR Optics TRS-26 1X26mm Red Dot Sight
I removed an older Bushnell TRS-25 red dot model to install this newer Bushnell AR Optics TRS-26 1X26mm Red Dot Sight version, and it went on in grand ease. In fact, you just sit the sight in place on the rail and tighten two screws (the wrench for this was provided). I needed to tighten them until I thought they would break, but once in all the way, the 3 MOA Dot red dot sight is secure. The battery for this tube-style red dot was pre-installed, but you must remove the plastic insert under the battery before operation begins. Future battery removal and installation will be a breeze with the screw on-off cap on the side. To make the dot appear, press and hold an up or down button on the side.
This is a well built and well-designed red dot. Bushnell shows why they rule a huge portion of the optics market. It provides a great field of view once you determine where to place it on a rail for correct eye relief. It is easy to adjust with a coin and no need for a wrench or screwdriver. I noted the box says the unit is Fog-, water- and shock-proof and provides extended battery life. The Bushnell TRS-26 Red Dot Sight is a great unit for a rifle or shotgun, so seek one out. There was no owner manual; you must find the details online, so install at home where you have access to a computer and the internet—that Al Gore invented. MSRP is about $215.
Crimson Trace 2 MOA CTS-1000 Sight
The Crimson Trace 2 MOA CTS-1000 Sight unit is small, lightweight, and easy to install with the flip-lock quick-disconnect lever on the base. Made for use on a rifle or shotgun. Note, there is a button on the quick disconnect locking lever, and you must move that button before the lever can be moved and locking parts engaged. Like all disconnect bases, it could take that step on its own inside a gun case when you do not need it to happen. Beware.
This 2 MOA red dot unit has ten brightness levels and is covered under the company’s Free Batteries for Life program. A screw-on/off cap on the side permits easy battery changes. Note one drawback; this red dot only fits securely to Picatinny rails. Yikes. So be certain what is on your firearm before making this purchase. The unit is shock, fog, and vibration resistant. MSRP is around $250. On a scale of 1- 10 with 10 being a top, the unit gets a 4 or 5. You will find it appears very similar in size and shape to other units on the market, such as a Sig Romeo. Enough said.
The Best Red Dot Sight Winner Is:
There is a reason Leupold has been making and selling the DeltaPoint Pro red dot for more than a decade—it works and works well. If you have a pistol with a slot on the slide, this could be your dog for the fight. It’s an easy-to-see TV screen type sight so you can use it from many angles and find the dot quickly.
Want to read more on our winning red-dot pick? Read AmmoLand News’ recent review of the Leupold Deltapoint Pro Red Dot Sight here.
About Mike Faw
Michael D. Faw is a former US Army soldier and served nearly a decade as a Master Law Enforcement Officer with an Advanced LE Certificate. As a soldier, Faw qualified Expert with the .50-cal Browning M2 Maw Deuce and was an explosives expert specializing in minefields. His articles about hunting and firearms span more than three decades and have appeared in nearly all leading websites and publications on those subjects. In his spare time, he hunts birds with his well-traveled Weimaraner, Cameron.