One of the most dynamic features of the AR-15—and also what makes it so popular—is how modular the rifle is. You can build it to meet specific needs with different barrel sizes, stock options and nearly an endless amount of accessory configurations. Whether you are interested in a lightweight, short-barreled carbine for home defense or a long-range precision rifle with a heavy barrel, you can buy or build the perfect AR. AR-15 accessories are purpose-built, as well. For the hunter, competitor or operator, you’ll find accessories like stocks, triggers, handguards and optics optimized for your specific use, so you get the most out of your rifle.
One of the most important accessories you’ll pick out for your new rifle is the optic. Optics give you an advantage. Though you don’t need a riflescope or red dot sight, mounting one on your AR-15 will make you a better shooter over using your iron sights. Iron sights present a challenge at longer ranges, which some shooters thoroughly enjoy pushing their rifle and their own skills to the limits. However, adding an optic to your rifle will improve your accuracy and speed at all distances.
There are a few different types of optics to choose from—red dot or reflex sights, traditional variable magnification riflescopes and fixed power scopes. All are made for different situations.
Why should you buy a riflescope?
- Improve accuracy
- Increase speed
- Better performance (tighter groups)
- Engage targets at longer ranges
What to look for an AR-15 scope:
- Durable construction
- Shockproof and recoil-rated
- Clear glass
- Operation in temperature extremes
What are you using your AR-15 for?
Your primary use dictates the right optic for you. Before picking out an AR optic, decide what shooting sports or activity you bought that rifle for. Is it predator hunting? Home/self-defense, plinking, competition, truck gun? These scenarios require different types of optics. You can’t just run out and buy the most expensive, biggest name in optics out there and expect it to be perfect for every situation. That’s why this article explains the best uses of each type of optic.
Red dot and Reflex Sights
Reflex sights utilize a reflective glass lens to display an illuminated red dot superimposed on the field of view. Even though we use the terms “reflex” and “red dot” interchangeably, they technically are two different designs. A reflex sight is an open sight and red dots are tube sights.
Red dot and reflex sights do not magnify. This means there are no adjustments that need to be made. You simply shoulder your rifle, aim your red dot and pull the trigger. Reflex and red dots are very popular with AR owners. They allow you to aim with both eyes open, they are easy to use, accurate, good for low-light and offer very quick target acquisition. There are sights such as these with green or amber illumination with variations on the “dot” like human silhouettes, dots with outer circles and other different shapes.
Red dots are perfect for practical shooting like 3-Gun where competitors transition between targets quickly. Since they don’t magnify without an additional magnifier, red dot and reflex sights are generally used for close range shooting and close quarters combat (CQB).
For the best of both worlds, a magnifier allows you to increase your accuracy at further distances at 3x, 5x and 7x using your red dot.
The Impact XLT reflex sight is recoil-proof up to .308 Winchester and quickly mounted to a shotgun or AR-15. It has 4 reticle patterns—5 MOA dot, 3 MOA dot with 50 MOA circle, 3 MOA dot with 50 MOA crosshair, 3 MOA dot with 30 MOA circle/crosshair and 5 brightness settings. Made of aluminum and polymer, it incorporates a protective hood and is shockproof and water-resistant. Ergonomic digital controls make the Impact instinctive and quick to operate. It is 2.1 inches tall and weighs only 7.8 ounces.
The Impulse red dot sight with anti-reflective lens coatings provides a 3 MOA dot with 6 brightness adjustments and a 30mm objective lens. Constructed of 6061 aluminum, the Impulse is recoil-rated to 800Gs. Flip-up lens caps protect the glass and it mounts to any Picatinny rail. An integral red laser aids in quick target acquisition—especially in a self-defense situation. The Impulse is 3.7 inches long, 2.4 inches wide, 3.1 inches tall and weighs 8.4 ounces.
What is a Riflescope
A riflescope is a magnifying sight used to enlarge a target. They are available with fixed or variable magnification. The magnification of the riflescope is designated by the first number in its optical configuration. For example, a 4x riflescope enlarges the image 4 times the size as seen by your normal eye. The type of shooting you do determines the magnification needed. A 3-9x scope is good for hunting deer, elk and similar medium-sized game at ranges up to 400 yards. Smaller magnification scopes are good for small game, predator and varmint or moving targets at medium ranges. The higher the magnification, the longer distances you can shoot. Lower magnification scopes provide rapid target acquisition and a wide field of view ideal for close ranges.
Fixed Magnification Scope
A fixed magnification scope will only magnify your target in one power, listed first. These are generally used for tactical and defense situations. Lower power fixed scopes will also be good for typical steel target shooting to 100-300 yards. 4x will even get you on target out to 500 yards!
The Agility offers 4x magnification for medium-ranges and an illuminated red or green Fine Duplex reticle for fast target acquisition at closer distances. See your target clearly during the day or in low-light due to the fully multi-coated and anti-reflection lenses. Five different brightness settings ensure your reticle is always bright enough for positive target identification. A fast-focus eyepiece allows you to make quick adjustments for moving targets. The Agility is weatherproof, shockproof and fogproof. It has a 1-inch tube, a 27.5’ field of view at 100 yards and weighs 11.8 ounces.
Variable Magnification Scopes
Gaining in popularity is the lower magnifications starting at a true 1x—meaning no magnification. A 1x power scope will act like a red dot at 1x but magnifies at further ranges. A very good, close- to mid-range scope is 1-6x. The larger the magnification, the heavier the scope gets, as well as the narrower field of view. The lower magnification ranges help maintain your situational awareness. The U.S. military uses these 1x- power scopes. and are also popular with 3-Gun competitors.
If you are a hunter—varmint, predator or hog—the most common variable power hunting scope is 3-9x. This is a good mid-range scope and will have you taking down the coyote, hog and prairie dog day and night. Many scopes now offer illuminated reticles. Be aware though of over magnification. For hunting moving targets, a shorter-range scope is better.
The Barrage is specifically designed for AR-15 shooters with a red and green illuminated Mil-Dot .223 Remington 55-grain bullet drop compensating reticle with a knob for elevation adjustments out to 500 yards. The 2.5-10x engages close- to mid-range targets accurately, while the fully multi-coated anti-reflective lens coatings are scratch-resistant and provide a crisp, clear image of your target. The field of view ranges from 34.86’ to 11.53’ at 100 yards. The Barrage is constructed of durable aircraft-grade 6061-T6 aluminum with an anodized finish and has a two-piece mount design. It is IPX4 waterproof rated and weighs 17.7 ounces.
If you really want to reach out and touch something, check out the Tactical 8-32x50mm adjustable objective second-focal plane scope with red and green illuminated mil-dot reticle.
Since most AR-15 optics depend on batteries for operation, it is important to get a set of backup iron sights. Many will co-witness with your red dot. Batteries fail and with a red dot or reflex sight, you’ll be without a way to aim. Fortunately, though, most riflescopes’ reticles show black when illumination fails.