Looking Beyond the Red Dot—the Case for Low-Powered Scopes
By Firefield •
If you’re an AR owner, I bet you have a red dot or reflex sight mounted to it. Because of the ease of use, fast target acquisition and tacticool factor, red dot sights are the optic to have on your AR 15. Also, let’s not deceive ourselves—our industry, like all others, goes through trends and many (okay, most) AR-15 trends develop from what Spec Ops uses. Case in point—for the longest time, the IT red dot to have was the expensive one that starts with a big ‘e’ and a big ‘o’; however, a lot of shooters, myself included, don’t have pockets big enough to throw down that type of cash; plus, they had a little controversy there for a minute causing many gun owners to doubt the sight’s ability to operate in extreme environments.) But, that’s another story for another day…
Fortunately, there are many optics companies willing and eager to pick up the slack—and a large chunk of business—by offering less expensive red dots. Budget options run the gamut in quality, features and price but buying random red dots based on low price alone will only sorely disappoint you. Plus, average AR owners aren’t too worried about thermal drift when shooting in -40- or 122-degrees Fahrenheit—if you are; 1-I’m sorry, you should move to Texas and 2-the words “budget” and “optic” aren’t two you’ve probably ever spoken together. What is most important? Getting the most bang for your buck…so to speak—that means an affordable optic as versatile as our rifle.
Since the AR-15 is the one gun to rule them all, you need a sight that gives you not only speed and accuracy but also distance. Your go-to AR is your home protector, your swine slayer, your 3-Gun title taker, your beer can plinker and your zombie eradicator boomstick. A red dot or reflex sight is highly effective in many ways and certainly has a solid place in your arsenal, but just can’t do it all. What you need is a low-powered true 1x-4x/6x magnified scope.
Becoming increasingly common with military and law enforcement, the low-power magnified riflescope has multiple practical purposes that reflex and other non-magnified sights just can’t give you. From close quarters to mid-range, lower magnification scopes provide point and shoot capabilities, as well as mid-range accuracy for target shooting and hunting.
What Low-Powered Scopes Offer
CQB Quick Target Acquisition
Despite naysayers on the internet, the AR-15 is a legitimate home defense gun. With the right ammo, many chose the AR in .223 and pistol calibers to keep at their bedside. For this purpose, you need something that allows you to quickly and positively identify targets in low light when adrenaline is pumping. The red dot was made for this—speed and accuracy at up-close distances. Low-powered scopes offer distortion-free point and shoot at self-defense distances at 1x and even 1.5x.
Red dot and reflex sights do not magnify your target. At longer distances, say, out past 100-300 yards, you risk not hitting where you aim. A scope with 4 to 6x magnification enlarges a target many more times (4 times, for example) than you can see with your naked eye. If you aren’t a long-range precision shooter, 4x, 5x and 6x are plenty for mid-range target shooting—even for hunting.
Nighttime hog, varmint and predator hunters appreciate lower-powered riflescopes with an illuminated reticle for mid-range, (sub-100-yard shots) and fast-moving targets. Magnifications any higher than 4x are too much for mid-ranges.
Flexibility and Versatility
- Unless you are long-range precision shooting (1,000 yards or more) higher power scopes will limit your field of view, allow less light transmission and throw off the reticle when you move. Higher power scopes are best when shooting from a benchrest or shooting stick. Hog hunting, running and gunning, self-defense, 3-Gun—these types of shooting require accuracy and speed at closer distances. A lower-powered scope’s reticle will remain on target when kneeling, allows you to retain situational awareness and provide a clear image.
- Unlike red or green dot sights, reticles on a variable low-power scope can be more advanced, sometimes offering range estimation, bullet drop compensation and holdovers.
- Even though many low-power scopes have an illuminated reticle, they also have a black etched or wire reticle—still visible when the batteries die. Red dot sights are just plain dead when there isn’t any juice left.
Good glass can cost a pretty penny! If you don’t use that expensive riflescope for what its intended, you’ve pretty much just flushed hundreds, if not thousands of dollars down the toilet. These low-powered scopes are more compact and lighter weight, as well.
At the End of the Day…
You get a scope that can almost do it all, just like your rifle—quick target acquisition at home-defense distances as well as accurate mid-range shots.