Iron sights are standard equipment on most entry-level AR-15 rifles and other firearms. There’s a lot to like about iron sights—they generally adjust for windage (rear sight) and elevation (front sight) easily and quickly, they’re durable, and learning to use them properly goes a long way in developing competence as a marksman.
Practical as they are, though, irons have limitations. Here are five reasons to consider adding a red dot to your AR:
1. Faster target acquisition
Shoulder the rifle, put the dot on target, bang. There’s no rear/front sight alignment, no mental bandwidth expended reminding oneself to focus on the front sight when our natural inclination is to look at the target. This is the greatest advantage of a red dot.
There are still purists who scoff as this concept, saying it’s the cheater’s version of an age-old skill, and reminding red dot users that someday, that battery could die at an inconvenient moment. To them I’d say yes, both these things are true, along with suggesting one of the many sights on the market that allow the user to co-witness, meaning using the irons with the electronic sight attached. Thus, a common moniker for irons is BUIS, or backup iron sights.
2. Better accuracy at distance
Along with enhanced speed at finding the target, the properly zeroed red nearly eliminates doubt as to where to aim at longer-distance targets. Whereas there’s a window of judgment regarding the position of the front sight within the rear when viewing a target through BUIS, most red dots offer a precise point of aim. Of course, there’s a point when distance shooting requires a magnifying scope and use of a reticle. But for distances up to around 200 yards, and even larger targets at longer distances, the basic, non-magnifying red dot makes an ideal shooter’s helper.
3. Compensates for eye limitations
Many shooters find it a challenge to focus on the front sight once the AR is on target, either because it’s too tempting to focus on the target or physical limitations within the eye itself which prevent objects around arm’s length from being in focus. This is often an unwelcome development in shooters, whose eyesight is undergoing age-related changes.
Using a red dot is simple and can often reduce or eliminate psychological or physical barriers to proper aim. While a non-magnifying unit can’t make small targets appear bigger, these sights can enhance a shooter’s confidence in aiming at small targets. Many models even lend themselves to an additional optical accessory that magnifies. That advantage is not without costs in addition to the literal sense of the word. Generally, these dual accessories will consume the “rail estate” the rear iron sight occupies, and visual distortions can occur in some conditions or distances.
4. Easier shooting in dim-light conditions
Red dot optics are not capable of casting light onto a target. However, they outshine plain black BUIS in making the point of aim clear when ambient light is scarce. Since most defensive encounters and varmint hunting doesn’t occur in broad daylight, a red dot can expand the hours of your AR’s usefulness.
A sight with adjustable brightness can really prove its value in being able to move from daylight to darker conditions. A quality red dot optic will allow the user to choose among several brightness settings.
5. More good choices at entry-level prices than ever before.
For years, the electronic sight market was crowded at the far ends of expense—and price was almost always commensurate with quality. It’s pretty much still a guarantee that the $60 sight/mount combo on Ebay won’t hold zero and won’t satisfy the need for accuracy that any responsible shooter holds dear. Today, a wide range of choices are available that can provide years of service and good accuracy. Two examples that come to mind are the Bushnell Enrage, currently available at less than $150 including complete mounting equipment. Or try the feature-laden Lucid Optics HD7 for under $300.
Of course, there are premium optics and mounting gear out there, too. I’ve spent time behind bargain-basement optics, upgraded bargains like the ones mentioned above, as well as setups that cost in excess of $700. All in the latter two classes delivered performance that allowed me to put rounds where I wanted them to go, within a reasonable distance.
Having a new accessory like a red dot doesn’t make anyone an expert shooter. Understanding a proper zero for your anticipated engagements, and knowing the mechanical offset effect of your bore/optic is a necessary part of responsible AR red dot operation. Get good training and practice regularly.
What do you think about red dots? Share your thoughts in the section below: