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Why a Red Dot is a Good First Optic

Why a Red Dot is a Good First Optic
Photo by Alfredo Rico

The beginning shooter is asked to drink from a fire hose of information.

Watch your muzzle. Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on target. Be sure that you have a good cheek weld on the stock. Place your feet just so. Lean slightly forward. Exhale and find the natural pause. Focus on the front sight. Blur the target. Press, don't jerk, the trigger. Let the sights wobble a bit. It can all be very overwhelming, especially when you add in a healthy dose of nerves and a natural fear of recoil and muzzle blast.

If a new shooter is going to be successful and have fun, we need to simplify the process as much as possible. One of the best ways to make life simple for the new shooter, or any shooter, is the use of a red dot sight.

Red dot sights first emerged as tools for competition and the battlefield. Early examples were big, expensive, heavy and often fragile.

Technology has turned brick phones into iPhones, however, and the miniaturization of red dot optics has been equally impressive. Today's red dot sights are compact, lightweight, durable and moderately priced. But how do they help us hit? Simplicity.

Let's take handgun shooters, for example. We ask them to incorporate objects at three different distances into the sight picture – something the human eye cannot accomplish without compromise.

Because we cannot focus on three things at once, the shooter must focus on the front sight while aligning it inside a blurred rear notch, all the while placing it in the proper relationship of a blurred target somewhere downrange. This takes many hours of practice to do well, and most never really learn it. With a red dot optic, life is simple – we have a dot, and we have a target. Place the dot on the target, and press the trigger. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Traditional wisdom told us that we should learn to shoot with basic iron sights before incorporating optics into the picture. Though I learned to shoot that way myself, I no longer agree that it is the best path to success. The quicker that we can teach the new shooter to hit the target, the more enjoyable the experience will be and the more they will learn. Your brain only learns from hits, not from misses. A red dot optic flattens the learning curve for new shooters and makes the process of learning to shoot a more positive and rewarding experience by producing hits early and often.

But how about a rifle? Surely we need a powerful scope on a rifle – after all, we need to see what we're shooting at. I hate to break it to you, but the largest, most expensive and complicated scope on the planet is just a sight. Sure, magnification helps us see our target better and can be an incredible aid in low light, but one does not need a powerful scope to make hits at reasonable ranges. The biggest advantage that the scope gives us is to put our sights and our target on the same visual plane – something that we can do with an unmagnified red dot.

As an experiment, we mounted a Bushnell TRS-25 red dot optic to a Savage Model 11 bolt-action rifle chambered in .308 Win. The optic mounted directly to the Weaver scope base included with the rifle, so the process took less than a minute. The optic was zeroed on a paper target using Federal Premium 150-grain ammunition before we transitioned into a more practical course of fire.

Our range has a lollipop-shaped steel "popper" target at 300 yards that is a foot wide at its center. Lying prone with the dot placed at the top of the steel to allow for a bit of drop, we fired eight rounds and hit the target seven times despite the challenge of using a glowing red dot on a bright orange target. That's enough precision for most practical shooting situations that you're likely to encounter.

A red dot offers us simplicity and precision over traditional sights, but it also gives us another advantage: Speed. The reason that red dot sights dominate speed-based shooting competition circles is that they are incredibly fast to use. Red dots are fast because of the inherent simplicity of a single aiming point on the same visual plane as the target: Put the dot on the target, press the trigger. Additionally, non-magnified optics can and should be used with both eyes open whenever possible which helps the shooter acquire the target rapidly and is a tremendous aid when transitioning between multiple targets.


The final advantage that we will discuss relates to eye relief. Eye relief is the functional distance the optic can be placed away from the shooter's eye. Non-magnified red dot optics have unlimited eye relief which means they can be mounted as far forward on the firearm as the shooter desires. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of the scope impacting the shooter during recoil, it allows for more peripheral vision and many find it to be a faster setup.

The variety of red dot optics and mounting solutions available can be affixed to most firearms. Shooters of rifles, handguns, and even shotguns can all benefit from a red dot. At this point, we need only determine the best red dot for our application and budget. Here are a few options.

Bushnell Trophy Red Dot First Strike $149.99

red dot
First Strike Red Dot is shockproof, waterproof and comes with self-regulating brightness, so you'll get your money's worth.

This tiny sight is ideal for handguns due to its size, but it will work equally well on long guns. It uses a 5 MOA dot, which means the dot will cover 5 inches of the target at 100 yards. A .22 handgun with a First Strike mounted would be an ideal learning tool for a new pistol shooter.

Bushnell TRS 1x 25mm $109.99

red dot
With this Bushnell TRS-25 Red Dot, we were able to easily hit a foot-wide steel plate at 300 yards with a bolt-action Savage Model 11.

Only slightly larger than the First Strike, the TRS-25 red dot is waterproof and very durable. Its 3 MOA dot offers a good balance of precision and speed and would be a fine choice for a rifle or carbine. This sight weighs less than 4 ounces and is 2.4 inches long.

Bushnell 1x28 Multi Reticle $109.99

red dot
Instead of having one fixed-size dot, Bushnell's Multi-Reticle Red Dot allows a shooter to quickly select a dot size for a specific shooting situation.

Unlike the majority of red dot optics which provide a fixed dot size, this versatile scope allows the user to choose from eight different reticle options of varying sizes and colors. The shooter can choose a 10 MOA dot for fast and close targets and immediately dial to a precise 3 MOA dot for precision shots at longer distances. This optic also allows the user to choose a red or green dot depending on the ambient lighting conditions.

Weaver Micro Dot Sight $109.99

red dot
Weaver's Micro Red Dot is small enough for a handgun, making it a perfect training tool for new pistol shooters.

The Micro Dot Sight is a compact, handgun-appropriate red dot optic with a 4 MOA dot. The dot's brightness is adjustable and the sight weighs just 2.8 ounces. Though it is small enough for handgun use, this tiny optic could be used on rifles or shotguns as well. Many competitive 3-gun shooters use a magnified scope for targets at distance and mount a small red dot optic like this one for fast and close shooting.

Millett Speed Point TRD 0005 $99.99

red dot
The Millet Speed Point TRD is specifically designed to mount on an AR-15.

Since AR-15 style rifles are among the most popular in America, it makes sense to have an optic designed specifically to mount to the "black rifle." Millett's Speed Point is just such a sight and comes equipped with the correct height rings for simple mounting. This sight uses a 5 MOA dot with 11 brightness settings.

Tasco ProPoint 1x42mm $89.99

red dot
The 42mm reticle on this Tasco ProPoint Red Dot allows for a fuller field of view when aiming.

Tasco's ProPoint brand was one of the early red dot sights widely available to shooters. For shooters looking for a wide field-of-view through the optic for moving targets, Tasco offers the 42mm ProPoint. This sight uses a 5 MOA dot that can be switched from green to red and is adjustable for brightness at 11 different levels.

Whatever option you choose, be sure that you get out, get zeroed and start shooting. As with anything else, the more you practice, the better you get. And these red dot options will have you shooting great groups in no time.

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