Red Dot Sights: The Basics Explained

The red dot sight is a type of non-magnifying reflector sight that allows for fast acquisition of the target. Another term that is often used when referring to these sights is Reflex Collimator Sights. They are designed primarily for use of rifles for hunting. They are passive devices and this means nothing is projected from the system when they are in use.

TruGlo Red Dot Sight

The size of the red dot is measured in minutes of angle, or MOA. In basic terms, 1 MOA equates to 1 inch at 100 yards. A common reticle for hunters that is used in red dot sights is a 5 MOA dot which is both small enough so that it won’t obscure the target and large enough to give you a fast sight picture.

We have provided a closer examination of red dot sights with an in-depth analysis of 12 of the best red dot sights for hunters. Plus, the industry continues to release new and improved versions of their sights and you can catch the new red dot sight releases for 2016.

How Does A Red Dot Sight Work?

Above, in the introduction to this piece, we mentioned that the red dot sight is often referred to as a reflex sight. This refers to the fact that it uses non-magnifying reflectors to display the red dot. An LED generates the dot of light which is reflected against a small mirror. The dot is then focused by the mirror onto a lens and this is what you look at when you view the sight.

Mangin Mirror Red Dot

The better red dot sights will use extra lenses that are employed to eliminate parallax. What this is talking about is the fact that the position of the dot will change when you look at it from different angles.

A parallax-free red dot sight will keep the dot positioned dead on the target no matter how you position your head. This is a highly accurate sight and one that will cost a more than most, but will be worth it if you are hoping to shoot accurately.

Red Dot Reticle Types

As we have already mentioned the red dot reticle is measured in MOA, or Minutes of Angle. Generally speaking 1 MOA equates to approximately 1 inch at a distance of 100 yards.

A basic red dot sight will display a single red dot, with the most common size of the dot being 3 MOA which means that at 100 yards the dot will cover an area of 3 inches in diameter. There are quite a few red dot sights with a 2 MOA dot to provide more precise shooting.

The reticle pattern that you actually see when you look in the display lens of your sight may differ from model to model.

Displayed below are 4 or the more common red dot reticle types available.

Red Dot Reticle Patterns

But there are other variations available that might combine the dot with partial crosshairs. The reticle of the Bushnell Trophy scope differs slightly as can be seen below.

Red Dot Reticle Pattern Bushnell Trophy

The Baska Electro Red Dot sight offers another slight variation on how the red dot is displayed with this reticle.

Barksa Electro Red Dot Sight Reticle

As may have already been noticed with some of the examples that have been shown above, the dot in the reticle may not necessarily be red. There are many so-called red dot sights that display green dots.

Regardless of the type of reticle that is used or the color of the dot that is displayed, the concept is the same and the important fact is that you put the dot or the crosshairs directly on the target.

Types of Red Dot Sights

When looking to buy a red dot sight you will be faced with two different types of sight: a tube design and an open design.

Both have their strong points and weaker points and either will provide you with a reliably functioning illuminated sight.

The tube style has the appearance that more closely resembles a scope. As an example we can see the Burris AR-332 Prism red dot sight that clearly displays the look of a tube design sight.

Burris AR-332 Prism Red Dot Sight

The body of the sight consists of a tube of around 1” in diameter in which the lens and other optic components are housed. This style of sight is generally more sturdy and less inclined to be affected by dust. These types of sights are generally less expensive but they can result in some stunningly clear and precise optics. Take a look at the leading tube style sights in the market to find out the one which has been rated as the best.

The open style of sight provides you with the basic components that are needed for effective accurate sighting and shooting. For this example we are using the Barska Reflex Red Dot Sight.

Barska Reflex Red Dot Sight

In essence the reflector is the important part of the sight and this can be seated on a base with some type of support to hold it in place. We have gone into further examination of this type by checking out some of the best reflex red dot sights currently available on the market.

Both types of red dot sights do the job effectively and can be bought either as basic models or with several additional features.

There are an increasing number of high quality reflex sights being brought onto the market. These sights appear to be small and rather dainty. However their appearance belies the toughness and durability they are made with.

They also provide the shooter with a fast acquiring and accurate optic that vastly improves accuracy.

Look for sights such as the Burris FastFire II, Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and Aimpoint 9000L as just a few that feature clear, sharp images set on a wide field of view.

Cheap Is Not Necessarily Inferior

Naturally, if you buy a red dot sight for under $100 you shouldn't expect to be getting the same quality as an Aimpoint or EOTech. But you can expect to get a sight that will be accurate, reliable and reasonably durable.

There are quite a lot of worthwhile red dot sights at very affordable prices and they are perfect if you are looking at buying your first ever red dot sight, or if you want a sight for your backup rifle.

To help with sorting through the various qualities of the low-cost end of the market we have made the process of finding a good quality sight at a very reasonable price easier by creating a ranked list of red dot sights under $100.

Iron Sights vs Red Dot Sights

The use of red dot sights has increased dramatically in recent times with technological improvements making them extremely reliable and useful tools. Iron sights, or Back Up Iron Sights (BUIS) consist of a rear sight that is mounted perpendicular to the line of sight and a front sight that may be a post to line up with the target.

The Argument for Red Dot Sights

  • The argument for the red dot sight over iron sights is the speed with which you can acquire the target. With optics you simply have to locate the dot on the target and shoot to ensure accuracy. Iron sights, on the other hand, require you to take the time to line up the front and rear sight to the target before you pull the trigger.
  • Another reason why shooters prefer to use optics is that they show up very clearly in low light conditions. When you use an illuminated reticle sight you have the ability to increase or decrease the level of illumination so that it clearly shows up in front of you. When using an iron sight you can’t do this.
  • The red dot sight does not have parallax error. This means that the shooter doesn’t have to keep the dot centered in the housing like you do with a traditional scope. In fact, as long as the dot is visible the sight and weapon will remain aligned.
  • Red dot sights have unlimited eye relief. This means that they may be mounted at any distance from the shooter’s eye. You can either have the sight mounted up close to the eye like with a traditional scope or you can set it at arm’s length, such as you might on a handgun.

BUIS SightThe Argument for BUIS

  • However, when you place a red dot sight on top of your rifle you are adding weight to it and this may also affect the balance. This can ultimately affect the accuracy of your shot, particularly if you are not used to the extra weight or are carrying the rifle for long periods of time.
  • Iron sights are also a low tech solution in that you are not relying on a battery to produce an illuminated reticle. Although many red dot sights can be bought that use low power and the batteries can last for long periods of time, the bottom line is that there will come a time when the battery runs out – you just have to hope it’s not at the most inopportune time.
  • Another reason why people may prefer the iron sight is that they are cheaper than an optic

Red Dots v Micro Dots

The most commonly recommended size of a red dot sight reticle is 5 MOA. This means that the dot will equate to a 5 inch area on the target over a distance of 100 yards.

The more usual larger red dot is used for close shooting where fast acquisition of the target before taking the shot is preferred. But there has also been a move towards micro dot sights that are used for longer, more precise shooting.

There is no real difference between what might be considered a standard red dot sight and a micro dot apart from the technology that has gone into refining the size of the dot. However you will also usually find that the micro dot sights are smaller and lighter than the other models.

Possibly the other difference that will become very apparent is the price of the sights with the micro sights generally the more expensive option.

If you are looking for a particularly good micro dot sight that has been designed with an anti-glare lens, 11 brightness settings, has the ability to fit any industry standard Micro mount and gives stated cowitness the recommendation is to look at the Primary Arms Micro Red Dot Sight with Removable Base.

What About Holographic Sights?

EOTech Model 512 Sight

The holographic sight is a variation of the original red dot concept but has taken it to another level. This type operates differently to the standard red dot because it uses laser-driven technology to produce the dot.

The company that is best known for introducing and perfecting holographic weapon sights is EOTech and the selection of holographic sight models is extensive.

As the company would happily tell you, holographic sights are superior to red dot sights with the holographic sight capable of producing a smaller dot and are capable of delivering faster target acquisition speed.

EOTech ReticleUsing the laser-driven holographic technology these sights operate by constructing an image of a reticle which is then illuminated by a laser as a hologram. When you look through the sight window you can see the reticle at the target.

As already mentioned, the best known manufacturer of holographic sights is EOTech but you will have to pay for the privilege of using one of their sights. In terms of clarity, precision and speed, though, you are more than likely going to find them to be value for money.

Red Dot Sights With Magnifiers

One of the features of a red dot sight is that it offers no magnification. In fact, you could say that it is simply an electronic iron sight that is projected in a nice clear display.

But there is a way to add some magnification to your sight to turn it into a rifle scope, albeit a low-powered one. There is increasing interest in pairing a magnifier with a red dot sight, so much so that some companies are selling the two pieces of equipment together.

Vortex VMX-3T Magnifier

The example displayed here is the Vortex VMX-3T Magnifier which is designed to sit behind a red dot sight and features the ability to be flipped out of the way of the sight when not required.

Although a magnifier will increase the size of the target in your display the effect it will have on the dot that is displayed is that it will also be larger and will also be dimmer.


 

And now it is time to take a look at a few of the most popular red dot sight models that are available on the market. These sights sit at different price points but they have all proven to be very popular with hunters and have consistently returned positive reviews.

Looking For A Good Affordable Red Dot Sight

At the very least, most hunters are looking for an optic that will provide them with an accurate and reliable sight at an affordable price. Buying a good affordable red dot sight is not necessarily an impossible task because the quality of optics continues to improve and at the same time prices are continuing to fall.

We can consider that any red dot sight available at under $100 to be sitting comfortably in the affordable range. It’s just a matter of picking the one that will not only provide consistent accuracy but will continue to perform after thousands of rounds have been fired.

The overwhelming popular choice as a very good affordable red dot sight is the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight. It can be found for around the $75.00 mark and is reliably accurate even when mounted on larger calibre firearms.

When you visit many of the online stores and ask around in hunting forums the most consistent leader when it comes to lower priced red dot sights is invariably the TRS-25. And this comes on the back of thousands of customer reviews about the product.

We have also included another couple of sights that have also been popular with customers looking for a worthwhile low-priced option.

Field Sport Red and Green Reflex Sight

Field Sport Red and Green Reflex Sight

This model is an open design red dot sight that definitely sits in the value-for-money budget price range. That's not to say that it is not a good quality sight. In fact, it has proven to be extremely popular for use in all types of hunting situations and on heavy rifles. The sight features four reticles and you can choose from either a red or green dot. It provides a wide field of view and infinite eye-relief. It is shock proof, fog proof and water resistant.

Click for Pricing Details and Reviews at Amazon.com


 

Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight

A good affordable red dot sight

This is a high quality 3 MOA red dot sight that has topped the list of many "Best of..." analysis articles. The sight will suit handgun as well as hunting applications. It has an Amber-Bright high contrast lens coating to aid the fast acquisition process and is 100% waterproof, shockproof and fogproof.

Click for Pricing Details and Reviews at Amazon.com


 

Vortex Optics StrikeFire 2 Red/Green Dot Sight

Vortex Optics StrikeFire 2 Red Green Dot Sight

This is the red dot sight to choose for fast target acquisition and a wide field of view. The sight has been universally approved by hunters who have bought it for a variety of uses. It has ten dot intensity levels, the lowest two being suitable for night-vision. It is a tough and durable sight with the chassis made from aluminum alloy so it has a high recoil rating. It is both waterproof and fogproof.

Click for Pricing Details and Reviews at Amazon.com


The red dot sights that have been provided on this page are some of the most popular and widely used sights by hunters that are readily available today. They are mid-priced models that are also very durable and have been built with  a range of features that will suit the majority of hunting conditions.

We have also performed a deeper examination of some of the best red dot sights for hunting and if you are looking for something a little more specific we have provided a guide to red dot sights for shotguns and to extend your range you should look at our list of red dot sight magnifiers.

There are numerous different types of red dot sights that are being created by the many manufacturers, some of them designed for light shooting and others for heavy duty work.

When starting out with using a red dot sight, it is advised to choose a low-priced model and try it out.

When you have an understanding of the benefits that come from using these types of optics you might then move on to the more expensive models that will also allow you to step up into the high-precision and extremely durable categories.

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