So, you are in the market for a red dot sight. You want to up your speed and recovery with your chosen firearm, be that a rifle, pistol or even your trusty old shotgun. You want spot-on accuracy at short to medium ranges just in case. No matter if it’s a holo-sight, red dot sight, or any of the larger family of reflex sights, we can help!
We dug deep and found them, all of the best red dot sights around. Want to know what we found? Then keep on reading. Not only will our select red dots perform but they are durable and range from premium models to some of the best budget red dot sights on the market.
And what a market it is with thousands of models, but we cut through the fluff and separated the wheat from the chaff. So, from your Mossberg to your Glock, your AR-15 to your rimfire rifles, these are the best of the best red dot sights when it comes to speed and reliability.
Our Selection of the Best Red Dot Sights
In the world of standard rifle scopes, very few companies are as prolific and well known as Bushnell. Even in the red dot sight world, they have gained quite a following for quality sights at very attractive prices. While most would not consider this a top of the line model, it is definitely one of the best red dot sights for the money.
Starting as a scope company, Bushnell was ahead of the game on optics and used some of their best long-range scope technology on this tiny .25mm mini red dot sight. The angled lenses are high quality and multicoated making target identification a snap. The interior is even nitrogen purged so you have no issues with fogging or condensation
But what good would a red dot be if that were all it offered in the way of protection. The Bushnell is shockproof and capable of resisting the forces of recoil on all but the most powerful firearms. The hard coat resists scratches while the internal components are sealed in place and tightly affixed. Unless you are very tough on your gear, you won’t be doing anything to harm this optic.
At only 2.5 inches long and weighing a mere 3.7 ounces, this is a perfect ultra-light red dot for all of your small arms. You can even match it up with a riser for co-witnessing and not add any significant weight to your firearm. It’s a tiny optic but it has a lot of character.
The center dot measures 3 MOA which is consistent with most other optics in its category and allows for super-fast target acquisition and follows up shots. Perfectly designed for the autumn woods with its amber bright finish, this scope was made to pick out hidden targets and critters that blend in.
This optic is high quality, durable, and just needs a single CR2032 coin cell battery to run. It’s a great choice for lightweight rifles, carbines, and even shotguns but may not be the best red dot sight for handguns due to its shape and size. But with a price like this, you could easily stick one on every rifle you have. With quick targeting, great runtimes, and superb, repeatable accuracy, this optic covers all your bases.
Don’t let the price tag fool you, this optic is a solid choice for those just trying to discover the market. It has everything you could want out of a red dot and will perform beyond your expectations for years to come. It’s even covered by Bushnell’s ‘Ironclad warranty’ should you have any issues with your device.
The first thing to know about Dagger Defense is that it is a company owned by combat veterans. They may still be finding their way with a lot of technology but their products are far from cheap foreign knock-offs. Take the HB red dot sight as a perfect example of a robust, accurate, and affordable addition to the red dot market that is loaded with features!
Starting with what makes the best red dot sights work seems appropriate, the electronics. This is a holo-sight that projects a small laser to create the reticle. In this case, the laser is variable through several brightness levels in either red or green for better use in a variety of light conditions. There are also numerous patterns so you can pick what you like or what works best anywhere you happen to be shooting.
The full construction on the housing of the HB red dot is aircraft aluminum that shows no machining marks and a clean finish before being coated with its hard coat. Since there is no interior, there is no need for fog resistance. One feature I found very interesting is their Zero Lock that allows you to tighten down a screw and absolutely ensure you will never have any issues with losing accuracy.
This tiny optic, just over 1 ¼ inches by 3 inches and weighing 10 ounces with batteries, is amazingly rugged and well crafted for the price. It is possible that this is the best red dot sight for the money you can get right now. It runs on a coin cell battery with reasonably good run times depending on your brightness level and color, green appears to use a bit more power.
Depending on your reticle choice, your center dot ranges between 1 and 3 MOA which works perfectly for a variety of uses. It may be a little on the heavy side for a pistol but works amazing as a shotgun sight and would be perfectly at home on any tactical rifle. With the variety of reticles and colors, I could see a value of this for the hunter while the size and weight make it great for backpacking guns.
No matter your use, you are sure to be pleased with the price and surprised by the quality. Add one to any gun, even just your airsoft for training. They are a perfect fit.
If you want small, you want the Field Sport Mini Red Dot Sight! This thing is so tiny it would fit perfectly on almost any small firearm and works great on shotguns, either for tactical or hunting purposes. Measuring just over an inch by just over 2 inches and weighing just a few ounces, this is one of the smallest and most maneuverable red dot sights on the market and would be perfectly suited to a .22 rifle but would work just as well on any tactical weapon.
This is a true reflex sight and that means it will run forever on a single coin cell battery. You have options for green or red dots that measure very close to 4 MOA making them easy to see in nearly any condition. Especially when you can adjust the brightness from very dim for low light to incredibly bright for use even in full sunlight.
Made from a very high-quality aircraft aluminum, the FS Mini Red Dot Sight is as rugged as they come and is waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof meaning that the interior stays clean and dry. This sight should last forever with construction like that. Even the battery compartment is sealed so never fear those rainy days at the range or in the field, this sight will keep on ticking.
A 4 MOA dot isn’t optimal for longer ranges but this sight was designed with CQB in mind so if you take it into the field don’t expect 100-yard shots but from 25 – 50 yards it does perfectly. Just slap this on any Picatinny rail and you are ready to sight it in and go. It does not co-witness with an AR 15 out of the box but a simple riser is available for less than ten bucks that will get you perfectly lined up.
For the price, the Field Sport is hard to beat and probably one of the best red dot sights for light firearms where maneuverability and speed are appropriate. Since it is not a holo-sight, it may be a bit tricky on handguns.
Sightmark has been around about as long as holo-sights have. They started making models as close to the incredibly expensive mil-spec sights as they could and over time have become very, very close to mil-spec themselves with ultra-rugged construction. Unlike mil-spec suppliers, they actually took advice from the everyday shooter to aid in developing among the best red dot sights on the market.
This is not the smallest optic being designed with the professional shooter in mind. You could probably stick in on some tactical shotguns but its real home is on your AR 15 or other tactical rifle. It has a quick detach weaver style mount for ease of removal but it co-witnesses perfectly with an AR 15s sights so there should never be a need. In total, this sight weighs just under a pound and measures around 5”x3”x3”.
As a true holo-sight, you have a lot of options for brightness and even dual color modes for ease of use in different lighting conditions. It does not have a ton of reticle patterns, instead opting to stick with a few very effective patterns. On a single camera battery, you get over 2000 hours of continuous use which should do you for years without spending money on new batteries, especially since it will turn its self off after an hour just in case you forget.
With a simple two-button system in an aluminum housing that is water resistant and tough enough to handle the recoil of a .50 caliber rifle, this is no joke. It’s a high-quality sight made for intense use and would serve well in a variety of roles in just about any terrain.
For years, Sightmark was considered a contender for the best red dot sight on a budget for those who weren’t willing to invest hundreds on a true mil-spec model. Over the years, this technology has become cheaper to produce and turned their optics into some of the best red dot sights you can get for the price. I had the Sightmark QD years ago. This is the next evolution in the Sightmark line and it has truly evolved into one amazing red dot sight!
There are some features on any optic that you consider premium and only find on the most best red dot sights. It’s strange to find an assortment of those on a red dot sight that costs a fraction of the price. But that’s what you get on the Rhino, a red dot so tough they beg you to abuse it and then offer a lifetime warranty. That’s either a really good optic or a really bad business model.
The Rhino is a sealed optic that is nitrogen purged and completely fog proof, waterproof, and very resistant to shocks and bangs. Made from aircraft aluminum that is impeccably machined even if it does show a few tool marks here and there, its plenty durable. No matter what rifle you stick this on, it’s sure to take any abuse you feel like giving it.
This is a reflex sight so it’s a dot only reticle but you get either red or green options and full brightness adjustments. With a 4 MOA dot, this is a perfect close range sight but medium ranges are well within its capabilities. Long ranges would be tough unless you had a larger target. Still, this sight is sure to improve your quickness and make those follow-ups and transitions a breeze.
A single battery will get you over 3000 hours of constant on time. Not that you will ever need that much. Likely your battery will go bad long before you ever get to run this thing for 3000 hours. That’s a half a year of constant on and I don’t know anyone that shoots that much in a decade. It’s a great cost saving though and compliments the value of the Rhino
This red dot sight comes with a cantilever mount that will fit Waver or Picatinny base with no problems. It does attach like a standard scope ring so take care in mounting to get it right. After that and a very easy zero, this amazing little sight will put you on target every time.
This optic was actually made by NcStar who has been producing optics, accessories, and performance gear for shooters for decades. They may never have made their name as the highest quality but they certainly did as a great value for cost brand. They have populated the shelves of gun stores all around the world with a wide variety of items that perform well and cost little
In the case of the M1 Tactical, they have done their best to make it fit just about any use you would want to apply it to. This isn’t a mini red dot sight so pistols are out but you can slap this sight on a rifle, shotgun, and even paintball guns with equal ease thanks to its included dovetail adapter. Or just mount it to any existing rail on your tactical rifle. It would serve you well either way.
Made from hard black anodized aluminum to stand up to any abuse your optics usually take, this isn’t a pushover when it comes to durability. Its also not a pushover when it comes to power. Running off a 3-volt battery you can expect extended run times approaching a thousand hours of use on lower settings.
Speaking of settings, it has options of red or green with a rheostat controlled brightness adjustment with three primary brightness modes on its 3 MOA dot reticle. With this smaller reticle, distance shooting is a little easier though this is still a sight intended for close quarters work. Medium ranges are possible expanding its use to hunting with little issue.
In addition to the 3/8” Weaver adapter discussed above, this sight also comes with an aluminum cantilever mount so it co-witnesses perfectly with your AR sights. It also comes with not one, but two batteries. That’s years of use right there in the box.
I will admit that NcStar has a rough reputation. Some of their optics have been a little rough around the edges but it seems like the quality on the M1 red dot sight is pretty solid and the design has a lot of thought put into it so that it properly feels a shooter’s needs.
If there was one optic on this list to get excited about, it would be the Strikefire II. I own, have owned, and will continue to own a variety of Vortex products and every single one of them is worth far more than the price I have paid for them. When it comes to quality and features there are simply no better for the money on the market. They even outperform a number of optics that cost far more.
Anyway, about this red dot sight specifically. What makes this so good? Let’s start with durability. Not only is this made from some of the highest quality aluminum alloy available but its also sealed and purged. This means you get a sight that is dustproof, waterproof, and will always remain free of fog and condensation. It can handle any shock from recoil and even some pretty hard impacts without losing zero, much less breaking. I am sure you could break it if you tried but that would be stupid, in the normal course of use, it will perform perfectly.
This is a true reflex sight which means it is a dot only. You can get a model that has a red dot only or for a few dollars more, one that has both red and green. Brightness can be set to one of 10 levels for shooting in any light condition at any color targets. And since it is a reflex sight that means you get outstanding battery life for thousands of hours of constant on time.
Everything about this optic screams quality from the precision engineering and smooth and even hard anodized finish. Even the optics are multicoated so you get the very best clarity that you can. This very well could be the last optic you need to buy for your AR platform. Everything is spot on, durable, and built to last a lifetime.
The dot is a standard 4 MOA dot for fast acquisition. It appears clear and bright at every setting in the appropriate level of light with little washout unless you crank it up too high in the dark. This is a serious red dot sight for serious shooters. Zeroing is simple and holds without wandering over time.
The Strikefire II comes as a package with a cantilever mount that is just as durable as the optic and ensures a perfect lower 1/3 co-witness with your iron sights. OF course, you could also stick this on a shotgun or any other rifle, it doesn’t have to be an AR. If you have a Picatinny rail you are good to go.
You also get the Vortex quality guarantee and will likely have a lifetime of service out of this optic. It is really worth the extra money if you can spend it. By any stretch, it is still a good value and easily one of the best red dot sights on the market.
Click here to read our in-depth review on the Vortex Strikefire II.
So far, we haven’t covered a pure budget optic and the CVLIFE definitely falls into that category. There are no optics of any reasonable quality that you can get for cheaper and that’s a promise. You do get what you pay for so don’t expect an optic that can stand up to hard use or last for decades. This optic shines when used as a light duty range optic or for home defense where it isn’t likely to be abused.
Though it’s called a reflex sight, this is actually a perfectly functional holo-sight with variable reticles and a lot of variability in how you use them. With four possible reticles to choose from including a personal favorite, the 10 MOA circle, and two different colors, you are sure to find something that works for you in any situation. With three brightness modes, any light condition should be covered. The reticle is quite visible, even against light targets in full sun with the brightness cranked up.
Despite the low price, you do get some premium features like the coated glass that reduces glare which is a great thing on open style holo-sights and something that is frequently missing. There is little worse than having an optic that the reticle disappears when you point it the wrong way. Also, unlike most budget optics, this sight is actually made of aluminum and is fairly robust with an anodized black finish that stands up fairly well.
Speaking of durability, this does well on a variety of firearms including most rifles and shotguns. The open style also makes it possible to mount on a pistol if you have one with a mounting system. You could probably use this optic for hunting as long as it wasn’t pouring buckets of rain but most of us don’t hunt in those conditions anyway.
With its lightweight, small size, and reasonable durability this is actually a quite capable sight for the money. As I said, don’t abuse it and it should last for quite a while. Even if it doesn’t, for the price you can easily get a spare or two.
Moving into the range of budget options that are true reflex sights, we have the Predator V1. A rugged sight with all of the options you could ever need and a premium construction despite its very affordable price tag. Like many red dot sights, it’s modeled after the Aimpoint brand optics that have proven to be very well designed and highly usable.
Like many of the options above, Predator has a variety of modes to choose from so it doesn’t get left behind in any adverse conditions. With the single dot reticle universal to reflex sights, red or green, and a full scale of brightness settings, any light level or weather is well within the capabilities of this sight. Even rain and fog aren’t going to interfere.
Complimented by its durable aluminum housing is a sealed and nitrogen purged interior that keeps out all dust, water, and even fog for constant use in harsh conditions. It’s shock-resistant enough to handle almost any rifle you want to slap it on but perfectly compliments the AR 15. By design, the included cantilever mount will provide a perfect center co-witness with most brands of iron sights. If you prefer a lower co-witness, there are a variety of inexpensive mounts available to accomplish this.
In this case, though, I really have to compliment the included mount as being very rugged and secure. With the durability of the mount and scope, once you get everything zeroed, it’s not going anywhere. You will get the same fast, accurate target acquisition you do on the thousandth round as you did on the first. Where you put the dot, the bullet will hit provided you do your part.
This isn’t a small or light optic so pistols are out but these do well on shotguns if you get the right mount which is often a standard ring. You could even use one of these on your rimfire rifles for a good varmint rig if you have issues as I do.
Not to leave it at that, Tacticon also offers a lifetime warranty on the Predator which is almost inconceivable on such a budget optic. That shows a lot of faith in their product. If they trust it enough not to cost them their business, you can probably trust it enough for your shooting needs.
10. AT3 LEOS
To round out this list I think it would be good to have something a little more accurate to balance things out. In this case, it’s the LEOS and it’s a lot more than accurate. Its quite rugged, well made, and offers some features that we haven’t seen on an optic so far on this list. If you are interested in the tactical and tacti-cool at the same time, this is a good choice that should keep you satisfied for years to come.
To get the basics out of the way, this is a very well-constructed and durable red dot optic featuring a full aluminum housing with an integrated mount. It is fully waterproof and fog proof with a dry nitrogen purged interior that is sealed and will stay that way for a lifetime. By the way, that’s a company guarantee!
The dot is variable red and green with a great scale of brightness for use in low light to broad daylight. What is different is the size. At 2 MOA the dot is smaller which can be a little slower but is much more accurate at range. 100 yards plus, even small targets are within reason with this optic.
But the unique feature is that this reflex sight is also a laser sight with a powerful laser sight mounted adjacent to the scope objective and sighted to match your zero, you can use this in conjunction with or independent of the standard red dot. If you are interested in lasers, this is absolutely the sight for you.
Still, the one feature I like to see most is the lifetime warranty. Even when that laser burns out as they all do, you can get it corrected without the pain of shelling out for a new optic. For shotguns, rifles, and even on an air rifle, this is a great scope that will stand up to whatever you throw at it and keep going. If it doesn’t you are covered but I doubt you are going to have much in the way of issues with this optic.
If you are new to the world of red dot sights, it’s confusing. There are a lot of terms and types and patterns to deal with and that doesn’t even start to take into account things like size, weight, and mounting options. The best purchase is always the one you fully understand. To get to that point, we have a lot to cover so let’s just get right to it.
What is a Red Dot
We use the term red dot interchangeably to cover a whole family of optics that share some common traits. All of the red dot family of optics have some form of reticle projected on a screen. Because of the way they function, typical concerns someone may have with optics are mostly eliminated.
There is no specific eye relief or focus on a red dot sight. The reticle is not and does not have to be centered on the lens for the red dot to be accurate, your bullet goes where the reticle is every time. There is no parallax or distortion to worry about. Just put the reticle on the target and send your bullet, if you do your part it should hit.
The term Red Dot used to be a specific optic where it is now a family. The originals were like the Trijicon ACOG and are still some of the best red dot sights around. These early optics sometimes had magnification but were mainly characterized by the dot that was used for a reticle. While in appearance and function of these sights was very similar to a reflex sight, the technology was somewhat different, usually relying on tritium to generate the dot.
The next step was what we call a reflex sight, a shortened term for non-magnifying reflector sight. Reflex is just much easier and catchier. These sights are usually the most durable of the red-dot family with very simple functions.
A reflex sight uses an LED to project a dot on a lens that is specially coated to reflect the color of the dot back to your eye but let all other light pass through. This makes the dot stand out to you but not to anyone in front of the sight. Because of this, reflex sights usually have outstanding battery life.
The final red dot sight is the holo-sight which uses a laser rather than an LED and rather than projecting it directly on the lens, a holo-sight has a grid that the laser hits and refracts into a reticle pattern. With a normal reflex sight, a dot is the only option for a reticle but a reflex sight can have nearly any pattern a manufacturer desires.
Whatever reticle pattern is etched onto the grid will reflect on the lens much like a reflex sight but with more precision and an almost ghostly appearance. Typically, a holo-sight will not have as bright a reticle as a reflex sight but can incorporate features that will allow you to use it for ranging and holdover.
If this seems complicated and you want to know more, this is the best explanation of how these sights work.
Purpose of a Red Dot
Now that you know what we are talking about, why would you want one of the best red dot sights on your firearm? The primary reason is speed. Target acquisition with a red dot scope can be as much as 40% faster on a first shot and gets much faster if you are transitioning between targets or even on recovery from a previous shot.
That should be enough to convenience you but in case it isn’t, new shooters find shooting with a red dot to be easier and more accurate than with conventional sights. Unless you are a gold level shooter, you will improve your accuracy with a red dot sight on all but the smallest targets. Shooting accurately will be far easier with less time spent trying to line up sights, even on a pistol.
If you are often around new shooters, a red dot is a great way to remove a big part of the stress that novices experience. They are great training aids that allow a shooter to focus on safety and control of the firearm without simultaneously needing to worry about sight picture. They can develop that skill later when they are more comfortable.
Even if what you end up with is more of a budget option, you don’t have to have the absolute best red dot sight to see a difference in speed and accuracy. The cheap models will do a great job, they just don’t tend to last as long as the best red dot sights.
Uses for Red Dots
As stated the primary use of a red dot sight is for home defense, an area where it excels for sure. But that is not the only reason that a red dot may be beneficial for many shooters. If your firearm doesn’t rely on a magnifying optic like a standard scope, it can probably benefit from a red dot.
Many shooters keep mini red dot sights on pistols and revolvers for competition shooting and even big game hunting use them on firearms like the Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum. Getting used to shooting a pistol in this way is a little more challenging than a rifle but most shooters adapt to it quickly.
For hunters in general that do not need excessive range like those hunting small game at closer ranges or even deer in the dense eastern woodlands, a red dot sight can be a game changer. With the added speed its much harder for a buck to get outrun a person’s ability to aim and leading is much easier than with a standard scope.
Competition shooters are a huge part of the red dot market. They long ago recognized the advantage a red dot gave them in all forms of competition except for perhaps trap and skeet shooting. You will see red dots in pistol competitions very frequently and almost all competitors in two or three gun competitions use red dots on their rifles if not shotguns and pistols. Even most race guns use red dots. With added speed and accuracy, where is the downside?
Mini Red Dot Sights
When it comes to size, mini red dot sights are about the smallest there are. Often weight mere ounces, these are an unbeatable option when weight is a factor. For use on handguns and even shotguns, these are a very popular choice.
Usually, when things get smaller, they get more fragile but that really isn’t the case with a mini red dot sight. These are often made of durable materials and are every bit as rugged as their full-sized brothers but at a fraction of the weight.
One of the primary uses I see of mini red dot sights is on carry pistols. Some of these are so small that they can be holstered without issue meaning you have a fast and accurate sight right on your carry gun. I will admit that I do not do this but I do have a mini red dot sight on my camping gun. I can carry it in a case without issue because of the size and it adds no weight
Mini red dot sights are frequently holo-sights but not universally. There are plenty of reflex sights that are tiny and very accurate.
Full-Size Red Dots
A full sized red dot sight is often what you would see on a military rifle. These are larger but still not huge or heavy, at most weighing in about the same as a standard rifle scope. The added size often provides more run time on a set of batteries and sometimes modes like changeable reticle colors. The longest running red dots are all full sized.
The primary use of a full sized red dot is on a battle rifle like an AR 15. This is mostly because you can use them to co-witness with your iron sights but we will get into that later. These sights really started with the military and worked so well they began to transition into the world of law enforcement and eventually civilian use.
Full-sized red dots are the older technology but far from outdated. You see less of these but, with their over the top ruggedness and frequently cheaper price, there is still a huge market for full-sized models. Some even come with low-level magnification that can be used to easily extend range.
Just because we call these full sized doesn’t mean they are large. Some will exceed a pound or so but will always be smaller than a standard scope. Some aren’t much larger or heavier than what we would call a mini red dot sight so the lines there blur a little.
Open or Tube Style
There are a lot of other considerations that may make this choice for you. For example, almost all tube style scopes are reflex sights instead of holo-sights. Most mini red dot sights are open style sights. Holo-sights are generally open sights with very few exceptions.
The primary difference is in durability. Due purely to their design and construction, a tube style sight will always be more durable than an open sight. Nearly all military use red dots are tube style and even law enforcement seem to prefer them overall. They are far more weather resistant and less likely to break from impacts.
However, open style sights are frequently much faster than tube sights just because you only have to look at a lens rather than down a tube. Most pistol sights are now open style sights because they are easier to see and focus on than a tube style sight.
If you are looking for a red dot with some magnification, they will always be tube style sights for the extra lenses needed.
The end result is that it is secondary to other considerations but should you come down to two options, one open and one tube, you will have to make your choice between speed and durability as to what is most important to you. Either way, you go, you will be better off than with iron sights alone.
Dot Size and Pattern
While it is a factor in deciding if an optic is the right choice for your intended use, most people don’t decide based on dot size alone. Some few do decide purely on reticle pattern. But this needs some explanation before you can find what your preferences are.
When we talk about dot size or reticle size, we really mean what the Minute of Angle Accuracy is of the dot. Larger dots tend to be faster and easier to see but they can partially or completely obscure targets at medium to long range. For close range work, a large dot is probably preferable but when you add any range, smaller is better.
When it comes to patterns, there are a very, very few reflex sights that have a pattern but it’s mostly holo-sights that we are concerned with. Even some holo-sights will stick to a plain dot and that works just fine but they may opt for a diamond, triangle, or something more complicated similar to a scopes MOA or Mil reticle pattern. What one works for you is a matter of personal style and choice. It often makes little difference with patterns. I personally love a chevron pattern and feel it provides the best compromise between ease of seeing and range.
The best bet would be to try a few but that usually isn’t possible. If you get one that isn’t exactly what you want, you will still be far above what you were without an optic.
Some reticle designs even have bullet drop compensation reticles, many times caliber specific to an AR-15. If that’s your gun of choice, this is an amazing idea and very helpful at medium ranges. Red dots made for more distant shooting will always have more complicated reticles, some even have etched standard reticles that the red dot overlays with.
Red Dot Position
With some firearms, position won’t be an issue with lack of space to mount an optic with some firearms barely having room for a mini red dot sight. This is common on handguns that often have very short mounting rails. The opposite side of the spectrum are AR style rifles that have very long rails and tons of space to mount an optic but you will have to mount it around any other accessories you may have.
Let’s approach this first as how far forward you would want to mount a rail and why. Generally, you want the optic to be as close to the rear as possible without getting in the way of your natural shooting position. This will generally be slightly farther forward than you would mount a standard rifle scope.
Generally, a holo-sight or at least an open sight is more forgiving of being mounted farther forward. The small size makes them perfect for this application and it’s the main reason why most pistols use these types of sights.
If you use a magnifier, it will have to be mounted behind the red dot which will push your optic placement much farther forward to have space for the accessory its self and the space needed between the two for it to function properly.
But forward and back is not the only consideration in placement. Many people choose to have a red dot that co-witnesses with their standard sights. This means that you can clearly see the front and rear sights of your rifle through the red dots lens.
The benefit of this is that if your red dot goes down, it will not obscure your normal sights and you won’t have to remove it to shoot your rifle normally. With an AR 15, you can also use the standard peep sights for shots that are too far away for effective use of your red dot.
In order to get a proper co-witness, you will need to mount your red dot at a specific height, usually using some form of mounting arm. Not all optics will be compatible with the arm mount. Some mounts are designed from the factory to co-witness with standard AR style sights.
Sometimes you may have to switch out your standard sights to get everything to line up right but this is a very important capability to have in a rifle. You never know when you may run out of battery power or accidentally break your red dot.
You can read up on all of the details about mounting locations here.
Power sources for your red dot run the full spectrum of possible batteries from standard AAA batteries to coin cells and even no batteries at all. One of the defining traits of a premium red dot vs a budget red dot is the length of time it can go on a single battery or set of batteries.
There are a few red dot models that rely on tritium for their light. These are often very expensive, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars. The benefit is, of course, that you never need to worry about batteries. The tritium will eventually run out but not for years or decades.
More common are those that run for hundreds or even thousands of hours on a single battery by using very sophisticated electronics. Some of the best red dot sights on the planet fall into this category but any red dot on the market these days should run for a very long time on a set of batteries.
The most common batteries used are probably coin cell batteries that are very light, small, and readily available. Even with these batteries, runtimes can be quite long. If you choose a mini red dot sight, this is more than likely the battery you will be using. They are a good choice and fine for a red dot that uses little power.
Some run on a single standard AAA battery and may get over a thousand hours off one battery. This would be common with the larger, full-sized red dots. AAA batteries are very common and cheap allowing you to run your red dot for years off a single pack of batteries.
As long as you choose a red dot that uses a common battery you should be fine but avoiding those red dots that use specific or proprietary batteries is a good idea. They are hard to find and very expensive. You would be better off to spend more on your red dot than to mess with rare and costly batteries.
Magnification & Magnifiers
As was mentioned earlier, some red dots have low levels of magnification, often less than 3x. While in early red dots, magnification was very common it has slipped from popularity over the years. There is little real benefit to using a magnified red dot. When the purpose is really to increase the speed of target acquisition, magnification does the opposite and slows it down.
What has replaced magnified red dots is a separate magnifier that flips to the side when not needed. These have steadily grown in popularity but are not compatible with all red dots. If you want to use one of these, you are looking for a tube style sight that is probably full sized. They work very poorly with mini red dot sights and even worse with holo-sights.
One issue in general with magnifiers and the one thing that makes them a poor choice in accessories is that they magnify not only your target but also the reticle of your red dot. A 5x magnifier will make your target 5 times larger but the dot in your red dot will be 5 times larger too. It will be very likely to obscure your target at best and at worst may actually be impossible to see past.
There is a niche where these are handy with red dots that have a small MOA dot. Getting one won’t hurt if you have the proper optic but it may not be as useful as you thought it would be.
When red dots were the newest thing on the market, actually managing to attach some of them to your rifle was a daunting task. Many mounts were made by only one company and were hard to get and very expensive. With the proliferation of red dots, many companies have dedicated themselves to just producing mounts. The large variety of options on the market today are very affordable even for the best quality.
Many of the best red dot sights come with their own mounts, some of which are designed to be quick release should you need that feature. The only time you are likely to need to worry about a specialized optic mount is with older optics or if you need a specific height to co-witness with your standard sights.
Occasionally you may want to mount a red dot to a firearm that normally doesn’t allow for mounts. These can require very expensive mounts that may even need to be custom made. You are not likely to go down that road for some time if you are new to red dots but its something to aware of.
For the time being the main concern is does your optic come with a mount and will that mount fit your chosen firearm. If not, you may have to do some digging to find the appropriate mounts or adapters. Many will come with mounts and most firearms use Picatinny rails for mounting with Weaver mounts being slightly less common, usually on handguns. Fitting a red dot to these should cause very few issues.
It’s time to up your game. It doesn’t matter if you want something for the range, home defense, or just to give you an edge in your next 3-gun competition. One of the best red dot sights is exactly the tool for the job. What used to be select and very expensive technology is now available to even the most budget conscious consumer. Get one on your shotgun and one on your rifle. Pick up a spare for training while you are at it.
If you are new to red dots, you can’t possibly understand how much they will improve the speed and accuracy of your shooting. I have watched people knock 10 and even 20 percent off course times in competitions. I was one of them. It’s something you are just going to have to try to believe.