There are so many accessories for modern firearms, but only one type will allow you to fire with precision accuracy – optical sights. Although most will think on traditional scopes, we’ll concentrate on predominantly designed sights for rapid target acquisition and close-range shooting at moving targets.
A remarkably inexpensive alternative to classic rifle scopes, the Red Dot Sight (RDS) is a generic name for several categories of optical devices that provide both zero magnification and a wide field of view.
Red dot sights are universal non-magnifying sights mounted on handguns, crossbows, airguns, shotguns or rifles.
Red dot sights include subcategories of reflex and holographic sights that differ in their inner workings.
Reflex sights use an energy-efficient LED to project an illuminated dot onto a concave lens.
Though similar to prism and reflex sights, the holographic sights project a laser off a series of mirrors onto the viewing window to create a holographic red dot.
When deciding on the housing configuration, the RDS can come in either a tube style or an open style. The tube-style red sights are similar in appearance to a traditional scope, and they are more robust than the open-style red dot sights.
Tube or open housing
Being typically smaller and lighter, an open housing configuration consists of a rectangular-shaped objective window with a thin metal frame and illumination source.
That said, the tubular design sights are more suitable for long guns like shotguns and rifles, whereas the red dots with an open configuration are mainly designed for pistol use.
While the tube sight is less susceptible to the elements, reflex sights are more sensitive to harsh weather conditions.
The open reflex sights feature a heads-up display (HUD) design for a wider field of view.
The reflex or red dot sight operates at around 1x magnification, making it an ideal sight to go for close quarters (CQB) to medium ranges.
On the other hand, you can upgrade these non-magnified electronic sights with aftermarket magnifiers that come in 3x, 5x or 7x magnification versions. These optics will be a great complement as they will enhance your weapons system capabilities for mid-range engagements.
Red dot sight is parallax-free and offers unrestricted eye relief. Red dots provide you a situational awareness because they allow you to shoot with both eyes open.
Style of the Reticle
The basic reticle in red dot sights is a dot in red color, but it can also be a green dot, or a gold dot, depending on the color of the emitted beam. The dot can range anywhere from 1-10 MOA, but the standard dot size for general-purpose use is 2 MOA.
Dot sizes 4 MOA–10 MOA is a perfect choice for handguns, while the dot sizes 1 MOA – 4 MOA are great for rifles.
Besides single dot, reflex sights are available with multiple dot reticles, circle dots reticles, horseshoe dot reticles, crosshair or chevron reticles.
Regarding low light use, red dot sights are easy to aim in the dark of night since they project an illuminated dot reticle on a target. The dot only appears to the viewer and it is visible only to the shooter.
Battery Life of the Sight
Of course, speaking of illumination, these optoelectronic sights use batteries and you should consider models with very long battery life. If you are not budget limited, you can opt for the reflex sights with solar cells or shake-awake function, an automatic switch-on/switch-off feature.
As for the mounting, you should choose red dot sight of an appropriate size for your gun and have a standard footprint profile.
Best Red Dot Sights
Aimpoint PRO Red Dot Reflex Sight
Usually, in the Best Overall categories, you will find at least one specimen from the legendary Swedish Aimpoint company. Though on the cheaper side for this highly trusted brand, the Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO) red dot reflex sight would provide durability and reliability of an Aimpoint.
The Aimpoint PRO is a 1×26 tube-style reflex sight purpose-built for continuous use in all types of environments and terrain. This Aimpoint PRO is equipped with 2 MOA red dot powered by 3V lithium batteries, with 30,000 hours (about 3½ years) of battery life. A highly visible 2 MOA dot comes with 10 brightness settings, 4 of which are night-vision compatible.
The sight body features hard-anodized aluminum construction, which is o ring sealed, making it waterproof up to 150 feet.
The Aimpoint PRO red dot sight weighs a mere 7.8 ounces and measures just 5 inches in length.
Although a budget-friendly model, the Aimpoint PRO is shipped with an ingenious QRP2 Rail Grabber Mount to mount Picatinny rail. This mount comes with a spring-loaded tightening knob with torque-limiting twist features that ensure a perfect return-to-zero mount.
The military and competitors typically used the Aimpoint PRO, but it is now often employed for recreational means, including hunting and casual range plinking. That said, the manufacturer offers a 2 years warranty for professional use and 10 years for normal, recreational use.
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 is the best budget red dot sight, yet high-quality reflex sight can be used for target shooting or hunting.
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 has a simple 3 MOA red dot with eleven different brightness settings, visible in any light conditions. The large brightness dial is located on the upper-right of the sight with a CR2032 battery housed within it.
The manufacturer advertises 3,000 hours of battery longevity if you use it on medium settings for average use.
The capped elevation and windage adjustment knobs are positioned on the top and right sides of the sight, respectively. For adjusting, you will need a screwdriver or coin to turn the dials with positive clicks, where every click on the dials equals 0.5 MOA in reticle shift.
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 sports a multi-coated lens with an amber bright, high contrast coating.
The Bushnell TRS-25 is long, under 2.5″ and weighs about 3.9 ounces. Compared to the most traditional red dots, the TRS-25 is pretty small, making it almost unnoticeable on long guns.
The TRS-25 has dry nitrogen-filled housing and an O-ring sealed to make it waterproof and fog proof.
The Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 stands as a solid choice for a large variety of shooting situations and can be mounted on many rifles, shotguns and muzzleloaders.
Sightmark Ultra Shot A-Spec Reflex Sight
Another solid contender in the sub-$100 red dot sights market comes from Sightmark and it offers more features than Bushnell TRS 25.
The Sightmark Ultra Shot A-Spec Reflex Sight is constructed of a durable 6061-T6 aluminum hood and protective shield. Combining plastic and rugged aluminum, the Ultra Shot red dot weighs in at only around 5.6 ounces.
The Ultra Shot A-Spec Reflex Sight comes with a quick detachable rail mounting system compatible with both weaver and Picatinny rail systems. The Ultra Shot’s integrated mount sports an internal interlocking system that holds zero exceptionally well.
This tough sight is shockproof, IP55 weather-resistant, and recoil rated up to .50 BMG.
A relatively large window measures 1.30 x 0.95 inches and provides a premium wide-angle lens system. The Sightmark Ultra Shot reflex sight uses an advanced AR scratch-resistant and anti-reflective red coating for crisp, intuitive targeting even in low light.
The Ultra Shot A-Spec has 10 brightness settings with Night Vision/Low Light Mode that dims the reticle for night vision devices. The optics is powered by a single lithium CR123A battery that features low battery indication while keeping you there with a battery life of up to 2,000 hours.
Compared to similar price class sights, the Ultra Shot A-Spec sight offers besides single 5 MOA dot, another three different reticle patterns: a 50 MOA circle with a 3 MOA dot inside, a 50 MOA crosshair-like pattern with a 3 MOA dot in the middle, and a combination of 30 MOA circle superimposed on crosshair with a 3 MOA dot in the middle.
In addition, the Ultra Shot A-Spec Reflex Sight offers a 1-hour auto shut-off, parallax correction, unlimited eye relief, digital switch controls, quick-detach Picatinny mount and Sightmark’s lifetime warranty.
Trijicon MRO Patrol
As you would expect from the ACOG (Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight) manufacturer, Trijicon’s MRO (Miniature Rifle Optic) also made solid success among professionals and serious shooters.
The MRO Patrol is an upgrade version of the MRO Trijicon, enabling you to mount two new sets of attachments. That said, the new Trijicon MRO Patrol has threaded metal rings to allow you to install patented ARD (anti-reflective device) called killFLASH and durable flip-up lens caps.
Unlike traditional tube-style red dots, the Trijicon MRO Patrol comes with different ocular and objective lenses diameters. Instead of a common 20mm objective, the MRO Patrol’s objective lens measures 25mm, a massive piece of glass that virtually eliminates the dreaded “tube effect” in red dots.
Besides cone shape, the whopping 20% improvement in sight picture is also credited to the multi-coated lenses, which allows the shooter to see through clearly.
The MRO has a 2 MOA red dot and eight brightness settings enabled by a single CR2032 lithium battery that provides up to five years of continuous use. The illumination dial is mounted on the top of the sight and offers six red dot brightness settings and two-night vision brightness settings.
The complete MRO Patrol sight body is machined of forged 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum and weighs about 5.1oz without the mount. The housing is filled with dry nitrogen and O ring sealed, so it is fog proof, very durable and waterproof down to 100 feet.
The Trijicon MRO Patrol is a solid option for any home defense or hunting scenario, whether you mount it on an AR-15 or HD shotgun.
Holosun Paralow HS503CU
A Paralow is one of the most popular red dot sight series made by Holosun. The Holosun Paralow 503CU is very similar to the Aimpoint Micro red dot sights but comes with a few technical innovations.
If you are looking at Holosun’s nomenclature list, you’ll find every letter and number indicates the presence of a specific feature. For example, the letter ‘C’ means that this red dot sight has a solar panel on top, though a CR2032 button battery powers the illumination. The combination of solar cell and coin lithium battery provides over 50,000 hours of run-time on the single dot and 20,000 hours on the circle dot reticle.
As a main selling point of the Partlow 503CU, the Holosun advertises their slightly more complex reticle, which consists of 2 MOA red dot sitting within a 65 MOA outer ring.
While this unique “dot and donut” reticle resembles the EOTech-style reticle, the addition of directional marks minimizes unwanted rifle cant. This model allows the user to switch between a 2 MOA dot and a 2 MOA dot surrounded by a 65 MOA circle.
The Holosun HS503CU sports similar buttons to those used on the Aimpoint T2 for the illumination control.
The rubberized buttons offer auto shut-off settings and 12 illumination intensity levels, 2 of which are night-vision compatible. The device also has a “shake awake” ability, which is an expected feature for the red dot sight for under $300 on the market.
The design of controls follows the Aimpoint T1 layout also with shielded windage and elevation turrets. The optics have full 50 MOA (Minute of Angle) of adjustment available with a click value of 0.5 MOA.
The Holosun HS503CU tube style optic is extremely durable since it features a single-piece housing made out from 6061-T6 aluminum billet and protected with an anodizing process called MAO (Micro-Arc Oxidation).
The Holosun HS503CU offers IP67 certification, which means that the unit is waterproof to one meter and finally, this Holosun comes with a limited lifetime warranty.
The Paralow 503CU is shipped with a low mount for the Picatinny platform and lower 1/3 co-witness mounting.
In this guide, we have reviewed a few classics and some fine red dot sights from relative newcomers in the industry.
While some offer Military Grade Quality intended even for the battlefield, others provide reliable function fully compatible for home defense, deer hunting, or competitive shooting.
With more than 50 years experience in the field and the testing lab, author L.P. Brezny is one of today’s most recognized shotgun experts and authors. He is a contributor to dozens of firearms publications, such as Wildfowl, Shotgun Sports, and Varmint Hunters, and he is a regular columnist in the Gun Digest annual as well as AmmoLand News.