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Choosing the Right Optic for Different Shooting Environments
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Choosing the Right Optic for Different Shooting Environments

Hey readers, I'm sure you've read the title so let's get into it. I see this topic on various forums quite a bit, so I figured it may be worth a blog write-up. On Reddit, Instagram, and some web-based forums, I come across the "which optic should I use for my AR-15 for X purpose?" - let's discuss it. 

First, let's understand the different optic types. I've covered this in previous posts, but let's do a quick rundown. 

  1. Red dot sights - 1X optic, has an LED emitter that sends a beam at the glass.
  2. Holograph sights - 1X optic, contains an embedded holographic reticle pattern. Can function with glass partially shattered or obscured.
  3. Scopes - everyone knows what a scope is. Differs from the others because it usually has a magnification range, or a fixed range in some instances (mostly older scopes)
  4. Magnifiers (in coordination with a 1X optic) - a magnifier (often with the ability to flip to the side out of the way of the optic) allows the user to have magnification ability with their 1X optic. A common usage is a 3X magnifier with something like an Eotech HWS, Aimpoint T2, some of the Holosun/Vortex/Sig dots, etc. 

Though that wasn't an all-inclusive list of every optic, that gives a generalization of what we're working with. Next, let's talk barrel length considerations. Most commonly, it seems like users are rocking 16" AR's to avoid NFA regulations, or something like a 13.9/14.5, etc. with a "pinned and welded" muzzle device, to also avoid NFA regulations. Barrel lengths and ballistic coefficient will be the driving factor on what optic is best for you, but other considerations include the usage for this rifle. If you're the type of person that owns one rifle, and you intend to use it for everything from defending your home and property, "bugging out" if that's ever needed, plinking at the range with your friends, you'll want an optic with some versatility. I like to go down the line of personal importance for an optic, the most important usage would be to defend your family, life, or property from evil. So your optic should focus on that, but be able to effectively do other tasks as well. 

  1. Shorter rifles or pistol caliber carbines will likely want to utilize something like a red dot or holographic sight, though can be paired with a magnifier for positive identification (PID), or for stretching it out further. 
  2. Your longer rifles will likely want something with a little magnification, your 16"/18"/20" rifle can still be effective with just iron sights (ask any Marine), but technology has come a long way for a reason. Throw some magnification on there, make your life simple. 

Next, let's talk about low-light considerations and night vision capable opticsIf you're a nightvision user like myself, you'll want to ensure your optic is capable with a nightvision setting. Additionally, you'll want to ensure your optic is useable under nightvision; for example, something with a tiny eye box will be incredibly difficult to 'get behind' with a PVS-14 or dual-tubes on your head. 

Reticle options is also something to be concerned about. Some people enjoy the simplicity of a dot (me being one of them), but if you're getting something with some magnification, often times they have something like a bullet drop compensator reticle, or other useful reticles for windage, ranging, etc. - make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy it. And understand how to use the reticle, read the manual! 

Durability is another important factor. Spend the money on your optic! Don't go to Amazon and type in "red dot optic" and grab the $40 Chinese factory special. Seriously, spend the money on quality glass. Reputable brands that I will stand behind are: Aimpoint, Eotech, Vortex (some of their products), Sig Sauer (some of their products), Trijicon, Nightforce, and Leupold.

Now, we'll get into my non-paid, non-sponsored product recommendations for each use-case. 

  1. If you've got a shorter rifle or pistol-caliber carbine, my optic recommendations would always go to something from Eotech, Trijicon, or Aimpoint. Yes, they are costly, but you can't go wrong with almost anything from them. An Aimpoint T2, an Eotech HWS series, a Trijicon MRO HD, all of these are fantastic options for something setup for close quarter shooting. If you're running maybe an 11.5/12.5 5.56 rifle, you may want to pair it with a magnifier, such as an Eotech G33. 
  2. If you're planning on "reaching out and touching something", you may want to opt for a low-powered variable optic (LPVO) or mid-powered variable optic (MPVO) for your 13.9/14.5/16+ AR15. Personally, on my 13.9" AR, I run a 1/4X Elcan, and on my 18" I run a 2.5-10X Primary Arms GLx. My personal recommendations would be something along those lines, though again, you can't go wrong with an Eotech and magnifier combo! 

In conclusion, yes, a lot of my recommendations are above the "budget" optic options, but I seriously recommend spending the money on quality glass. My early years in the firearms game I was buying Chinesium optics, lower end optics from "reputable" manufacturers, etc. - and I always ended up wanting more. They ended up breaking, dying, losing zero, or just not fitting my needs. Save money a little longer and grab something worth using at the end of the world! 

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