According to Business Insider, AR-15 rifles are among the most common guns in the U.S., with over 20 million rifles in circulation.
But did you know that you could make your AR-15 rifle better by adding optics such as a scope or red dot?
The question is, which one is better? AR15 scope or red dot? Let’s find out.
Good Red Dot Sights For The Money
After reading this, we’d suggest you check out our article were we list a number of good red dot sights for the money and recommend options for every shooter.
Red Dot vs Scopes
In simple English, a red dot is an optic with a red or green dot in the middle. It lacks magnification or any type of optical distortion found in a holographic sight.
To operate, it has a spherical mirror that reflects red light emitted from an LED source. The name red dot comes from the fact that the mirror allows red light to pass through.
On the other hand, a magnified scope works by magnifying the target, bringing clarity at longer ranges and making it easier for you to hit it.
These two sighting systems improve shooting accuracy. But also, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. The decision to pick one becomes easier once you understand the pros and cons of each.
Rifle Scopes: Pros and Cons
- Ideal and accurate for extended distances
- Doesn’t require batteries
- Variable magnification
- Various reticles for precision shooting
- Perfects for beginners
- Quite heavy
- Limited field of view (FOV)
- Limited eye relief
- Not ideal for self-defense
Red Dot Sights: Pros and Cons
- Lighter than scope optics
- Easy to use
- Can use with both eyes open
- Unlimited field of view (FOV)
- Very long eye relief
- Perfect for low-light conditions
- Great for self-defense
- Not ideal for long distances
- Not ideal for those with astigmatism
- Requires battery to operate
- Limited magnification
Magnified Red Dot vs Scope
With the few limitations we’ve mentioned of the red dot optic, you might find it unsatisfactory. When that happens, most people get a magnified red dot. Basically, it’s adding a magnifier to a red dot scope to magnify your target.
So, how does it stack up if it’s a magnified red dot vs scope? Once you place a magnifier on top of a red dot optic, it works almost like a scope and has certain advantages.
What this setup brings is the advantage of speed and lighter weight.
However, the magnifier also introduces limited eye relief and field of view, making the rifle chunkier too. And unlike many scopes with their variable zoom, you’re working with the fixed power of a magnifier.
But typically, a red dot with magnifier combo is more budget-friendly and convenient. So, assess what you need, and if it’s a longer range you’re trying to accomplish, then a scope might serve you better.
Red Dot vs Scope at 100 Yards
When comparing a magnified scope vs red dot and your target is 100 yards away (91.4 meters) or less, we suggest a red dot optic. It’s perfect for close quarters, thanks to fast visibility and the ability to use both eyes. (Reference 1: Red Dot Sight)
With a magnified scope, adjusting it to see an image clearer can take time. And if you’re targeting something, that time you spend adjusting the scope may make you miss your shot.
That’s why you wouldn’t find it being used for defense. If you’re targeting anything less than 100 yards, a red dot’s eye relief will do because you don’t have restricted FOV.
When comparing red dot vs scope for hunting, many factors will determine which is best. After all, both can be used to hunt deer, turkeys, and coyotes.
If you’re in the woods and your target is 100 yards away or less, a red dot optic is the better optic. That’s because it’s ideal for closer targets and allows for quick target acquisition.
Nonetheless, a second focal plane scope can also be effective because it becomes easy to see the reticle even if the magnification is low.
Which Is Better For…
One thing we’re grateful for when it comes to the AR-15 is that it’s quite versatile. That means you can attach whatever optic you want. But in this case, which one is better? It will depend on your personal preference. (Reference 2: AR-15)
For the longest time, red dot optics have been the popular choice for AR-15 rifles, and with good reason. Their speed is excellent, they take up very little space, and they’re easy to train with.
As long as you can see the dot, you can hit your target. It’s that easy.
On the other hand, we have come to appreciate rifle scopes because they’re ideal for long-range. That said, recently, Low Power Variable Optics (LPVO) are getting quite popular. This technology often combines an illuminated reticle that acts like red dots and variable magnification, ensuring you get the best of the two.
That means you generally enjoy the faster acquisition speed and precision of a red dot while also being able to shoot longer distances. For its versatility, LPVO is the better optic for your AR-15.
But when it comes to a scope vs red dot predicament, it all boils down to how you use your rifle. For target practice or short distances, red dot sights will do. But for longer ranges, go with a magnified scope.
If you’re seeking maximum speed, use a red dot, especially a reflex sight. A reflex sight uses reflective glass materials and lets the dot remain on target despite how much you move your eyes.
Thanks to the simple dot reticle found in most red dots, you can shoot quickly.
In addition, these optics have unlimited eye relief and FOV, and most are parallax free. That means you can easily gain a sight picture despite your head position.
These essential features make red dot sights perfect for close-range engagements, tactical use, and self-defense application.
On the other hand, a magnified optic isn’t that great when you’re factoring in speed. Setting up your rifle, positioning the eye to the eye box, getting the right magnification, and focusing on the target takes time, which you might not have when speed determines if you’ll make the shot.
Some people have become experts in this game in that they can accurately hit targets, whether using red dot sights or magnified optics. But we have to say that being able to see your target well significantly contributes to accuracy.
For close-up targets, a red dot optic will let you shoot accurately. Besides, they’re compatible with iron sights which help improve aiming accuracy.
Now imagine your target is 200 yards away. As long as you have proper trigger control, a magnified rifle scope will give you an advantage.
Distance limitations are likely to determine accuracy. In this case, both optics are great for accuracy. It just depends on your shooting abilities and how far your target is.
As technology evolves, companies are producing lighter optics with amazing glass quality, meaning you can get a magnified scope or a reflex sight that weighs very little.
Now, consider that red dot sights are already smaller and lighter than magnified scopes. For instance, a micro red dot can weigh 3.5 to 4.5 ounces.
Considering your AR-15 probably already has many accessories, you don’t want to make it chunkier using a heavy optic.
Magnified scopes have more glass which makes them bulky. Some are around 16 to 25 ounces. A heavier rifle scope has a larger objective lens, thicker tubes, and high variable magnification, hence the weight.
Remember that the scope mount for red dots and magnified scopes add to the rifle’s weight. Therefore, consider the mounting system as well when purchasing an optic.
But generally, a red dot sight is lighter than a magnified scope.
Both types of optics are used for hunting, one more often than the other. But factors like the environment, weatherproofing, and hunting ranges will determine which optic is right.
If you’re hunting in the woods and your target is within 100 yards (91.4 meters), a red dot sight will come in handy. Its close range and quick target acquisition benefits will help you hit your target quickly.
On the other hand, a rifle scope helps you see with more clarity. This is especially useful when you find yourself a ways away from something and need to identify it, and also for the job itself when you need to get the shot right to take it down in one go.
Most hunting occurs at a distance, where you don’t want to be detected by your target. Whether that’s because you want to avoid spooking it or prevent dangerous game from attacking you, most hunters opt for a magnified scope.
So, red dots work for short-distance hunting, but generally, a scope is preferred because of its magnification capabilities.
Both sighting systems can be used for target shooting. It just depends on your circumstances. If you’re always practicing within 100 yards (91.4 meters), a red dot sight is the best optic, as it will help you achieve precise shots.
You can target practice in different positions and stances and practice making your shot with speed and accuracy. However, if your style is more of going out in the field and encountering targets exceeding 100 yards, a rifle scope is the optic to get.
We have heard several shooters say they prefer a scope as it’s more accurate for target shooting. But more than that, there are other things to consider, like a shooter’s ability, tracking accuracy, and the rifle’s accuracy.
If you factor in all these things, you’ll see that while an optic helps, it’s not the only determining factor.
With that said, when picking a new optic for your rifle, consider the skill you want to develop and the shooting distance, then choose an optic ideal for that distance. That way, hitting your target will become much easier as you practice.
People participating in competitions tend to have their preferences depending on the kind of competition they’re participating in. Most shooting competitions are at close ranges like 25, 50, or 100 yards away (22.8, 45.7, and 91.4 meters), but some can also be at extended distances.
That means you need both magnification and precision. While red dots are ideal for close-range targets, it will be hard to accurately shoot your target if it’s at a longer distance, making a variable optic the better choice.
Shooters participating in competitions use rifle scopes with throw levers. These tiny devices help them to quickly change magnifications from high to low levels and vice versa, facilitating faster target acquisition.
But on the other side, there are configurations where you will find magnifiers behind red dot sights. Competitors can swing the magnifier in and out depending on their needs.
You’ll also find a combination of red dot and rifle scope that lets you use red dot optics for close-range engagement and a first focal plane (FFP) scope for extended shots.
Red dot sights and rifle scopes are available at different price points depending on their features and the brand. It will depend on your budget and what you’re looking for.
Some reflex sights cost less than $100 and are still reliable. If price is your major deciding factor, red dot sights tend to be cheaper than scopes. If you compare high-priced optics from popular brands, you’ll notice that most regular scopes are more expensive than the best red dots.
Other Factors to Consider
Another factor you should consider when comparing red dot vs scope is reliability. The fact that rifle scopes don’t use batteries gives them a slight edge over red dot sights.
As we’ve mentioned, a red dot sight relies on battery power to operate, and batteries eventually run out. Although some red dot sights come with amazing battery life, the fact is that at one point, they will die, catching you unawares.
Scopes have reticles etched on the glass, meaning they don’t require batteries for you to aim, making rifle scopes more reliable in this regard.
Nonetheless, you can easily address the battery issue with your red dot sight using backup iron sights. You can run your backup iron sights with your reflex sight to get a proper aim even if your battery dies.
Some people also do this with rifle scopes, although we don’t think that’s necessary. But if it enhances your accuracy at the shooting range, go for it.
So, while we find a scope to be more reliable because it doesn’t use batteries, reliability concerns disappear when you support your red dot optic with backup iron sights or have backup batteries on hand.
Plus, new red dot sights have a long battery life, making this less of a concern during the first months of purchasing your optic.
For more, take a look at our write up where we compare red dot sights or reflex scopes for different shooters and another on when is it appropriate to offset a red dot sight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I put a red dot or a scope on my AR-15?
Choosing to put a red dot or scope on your AR-15 depends on how you plan to use the rifle. The red dot sight is the better optic if you’re using your rifle for close-range shooting, such as defense. But if you’re using your rifle for long-range shooting like hunting, consider a scope.
What is more accurate, a red dot or a scope?
A scope is more accurate than a red dot because it has finer reticles and higher magnification, allowing for precise aiming at longer ranges. However, accuracy also depends on your skills and ability to use the optic effectively.
How far is a red dot accurate for an AR 15?
A red dot for an AR-15 is accurate as far as 100 yards (91.4 meters), although high-quality red dots can be accurate as far as 200 yards (182.8 meters). Keep in mind that they aren’t ideal for long-range shooting, so you’re better off with a magnified scope in such situations.
Is a red dot good at 100 yards?
A red dot is good at 100 yards (91.4 meters) for many reasons. The unlimited eye relief and the unlimited FOV make it easier for you to make the shot. In fact, experts suggest using them or holographic sights when engaging targets at 100 yards or less, as they are more accurate.
Does the military use a red dot scope?
The military does use red dot scopes in some firearms, namely the famous Aimpoint, because they allow for fast target acquisition and are easy to use. In addition, they’re lighter and have a low profile, making them ideal for most circumstances that the military encounters.
- The Loadout Room, ROMEO4M: FBI Picks Sig Sauer Red Dot Sight For Patrol Rifles. Retrieved from https://sofrep.com/gear/romeo4m-fbi-picks-sig-sauer-red-dot-sight-patrol-rifles/
- Matthew Loh, America has 20 million AR-15 style rifles in circulation, and more guns than people in the country. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/us-20-million-ar-15-style-rifles-in-circulation-2022-5?r=US&IR=T
Dakota Potts is a gunsmith, armorer, and gun rights advocate with nearly 10 years of experience. He is well respected in the industry and his work has appeared on various industry leading firearm publications. He enjoys learning about firearm history and technology. You can follow Dakota Potts on Youtube or see his Facebook.