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Red dot sights are a handy piece of firearm tech that greatly decreases the amount of time it takes to get a weapon on target. They have become the go-to for close to midrange shooting and with ever smaller and more efficient LEDs, are a great option for pistols too. There are two main types of red dot sights, open and tube style. Tube style red dots are typically used on rifles and shotguns, and have replaced the large open style red dots of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Modern open style red dots are usually miniaturized and designed to fit on pistols. The lightweight and compact size of modern red dots has also greatly increased the popularity of co-witnessing, since the weight penalty is usually very small. If you’ve seen folks with a red dot and iron sights on their gun, co-witnessing is likely the reason.
The goal is to have the dot of the red dot sight line up exactly with the tip of the front sight or just above, when aiming with the iron sights. There are a few advantages, the biggest one being the ability to shoot accurately if your red dot fails or is damaged. Depending on the user, a failed red dot and no backup irons can mean a ruined trip to the range, or a severe disadvantage in a hostile situation. It also makes zeroing in different optics a bit easier since all you’ll need to do is line up the dot with the iron sights. The concept should work with any non-magnified scope, but the height of the iron sights will factor into what works for your gun specifically.
Magnifiers are also a popular addition to red dot setups. They turn a red dot into a fixed magnification scope, but there are some drawbacks. The first concern is the added weight and bulk. The second is the effect magnification has on the dot in the red dot sight. It increases in size by the same amount as the rest of what’s viewed through the scope. Your 2 MOA dot can become a 6 MOA dot, and at the distance a magnifier would be used, it makes an even bigger difference. Those are just some things to keep in mind during your red dot search.
There are a lot of good red dot sights available right now, but some manage rise above the rest. These red dots were tested and chosen to be the best, by budget and style preference.
Best Budget: Bushnell Trophy TRS-25
- 3 MOA Dot
- Low profile
It would be impossible to have a list of the best red dots and not include the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25. Easily found for less than $50, it’s a great option that doesn’t break the bank. It has all the basic features you could expect, and a very compact size. The low mounting height is a nice bonus too, especially with the high height over bore some guns have today. I found it to be a great little sight, with no noticeable effect to weight balance. It really feels like there’s nothing on the gun, and at 3.7oz it was even lighter than the iron sights that came with the gun. The dot is bright and crisp, and stayed true to where I was aiming. The LED projector does eat into the visibility window, but it’s pretty minor.
The TRS-25 is waterproof, fog proof and shock proof, and the lenses have an amber coating intended to help with low light outdoor shooting. The lenses must have some type of oleophobic coating too, since the fingerprint smudge from installation was easy to remove. It has an overall length of 2.4” and a 3 MOA dot with an adjustment of 1 MOA per click at 100 yards. The turret on top has 11 brightness settings that can be used to dial it in depending on ambient lighting, and the dot remains visible even on a bright Arizona summer day. Included with the optic is a rubber lens cover, a CR2032 button battery, manual and registration card.
The standard mount has a very low profile that is easy to co-witness with, though shooters with flip up sights may need the riser model.
Since it is so small, iron sights do cover most of the visible range, even if you aren’t aiming down them directly.
This is how it looks without irons.
There are some sacrifices for the sub $50 price though, the biggest being battery life. The actual battery life isn’t listed on Bushnell’s website, the TRS-25’s box or the manual it comes with, which isn’t a great sign. That said, if you remember to turn it off after you shoot, it should last a decent amount of time. The dot is also a bit dimmer when the battery is on death’s doorstep, so you get a small warning before it cuts out on you completely. I discovered this when the included battery died on me shortly after I turned it on, but replacement battery is still going strong.
- Relatively inexpensive
- Good tech features
- 2 MOA Dot
- Low and high-rise mount included
This red dot is another option that is great for the price and is one step up in quality. The glass is slightly better, and it has a few high-tech features. One that I’m a big fan of is their MOTAC (Motion Activated Illumination) which is a fancy way of saying it will turn on with movement, and off if it’s left alone for a while. This is how Sig is able to claim a 40,000hr battery life. If the optic is left on, it will shut off the dot but be “awake” enough to detect if it is moved, which turns on the dot. If the dot were actually left on the whole time, the battery life would be a fair amount lower. Due to that, this is perfect for the typical range shoot, but I probably wouldn’t want to equip it on anything carried every day without keeping the date of the last battery change in mind.
For shooters with astigmatism (like myself), I found the dot from the Romeo 5 to be the least fuzzy of the bunch when not wearing my contacts, so if that’s a concern for you, it’s something to keep in mind. I’m assuming it’s a mix of the small 2 MOA dot and the Romeo 5’s reflector design.
With the Romeo 5, it’s the little things that make it feel a bit more premium. Note the form fitting lens cover, and buttons instead of a rotating turret.
The front has a similar type of coating to the Bushnell Trophy TRS-25.
It has a 2 MOA dot with a ½ MOA adjustment at 100 yards, and 10 brightness setting with 2 intended for night vision goggle use. I liked it at 7 for indoor use, and 10 for outdoor use.
A low-rise mount is included in the box too, which is a nice addition. There are a few different versions available, one with a 65 MOA circle in addition to the 2 MOA dot. I had no real problems with the Romeo 5, it did everything I wanted it to, and nothing I did not. The Romeo 5 weights 5.1oz and is 2.47in long. Included in the box is a Torx wrench, cleaning cloth, low-rise mount, and instruction manual. It retails for $219, but it can be found for much less online.
Best Tube Style Red Dot: Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic)
- Durable/Combat ready
- Great battery life
- 2 MOA Dot
- High mounting height
Aimpoint has a long history of making quality products, having released the first modern LED red dot way back in 1975. Their CompM2 was adopted by the US military in 2000, and the PRO is based heavily on that design, with a few improvements.
Any concerns I had about damaging this red dot went out the window when I took it out of the box. From the clamp design to the heavy duty brightness dial, this sight was built to handle a hard life. To properly attach it to your gun, you crank that big knob down until it clicks three times. The instant feedback is nice to have, and while it feels like you’re tightening a clamp built by Hephaestus himself, your rails will emerge unscathed. It stayed snug too, despite a fair amount of shooting and overall jostling. The rear cover has a built-in clear window, which is another indicator of the PRO’s ‘always ready’ design. Your support hand can open the front cover, and the clear rear means you don’t need to reach back to open it or move your firing hand. If you usually shoot with both eyes open, you can also leave the front cover closed and let your brain do the work of superimposing what your eyes are seeing. I didn’t find opening the front cover to be that much of a burden, but debris hitting the lens and/or preventing scope glint are fortunately not big concerns of mine. If you would rather have a windowed front cover, or a non-windowed rear cover, both can be purchased from Aimpoint.
It comes with a 3v lithium battery, good for 30,000 hours of continuous use. And the red dot is always visible on this one, no motion sensor to worry about. It has the fog, water and shock resistance you would expect, while adding a chemical resistance too. The dot is 2 MOA with 10 brightness settings and an ½ MOA per click adjustment at 100yrs. Brightness settings 0-5 are intended for ultra-low light conditions or use with night vision goggles. 6 was visible slightly during the day, but I preferred it set at 7 for indoor use and at 9 for outdoor use. At 10 it was too bright regardless of location for my eyes. If being able to co-witness with irons is a priority, high-rise iron sights will have to be used.
It also includes two hex wrenches, spare mounting screws and a service sticker. The sticker has boxes to track its date of issuance and when the next battery and mount inspection should be performed.
The glass used in the Aimpoint Pro is so clear that photos barely do it justice. The LED projector is recessed enough that it doesn’t block the view at all, and the lens openings are threaded to accept a magnifier or an anti-reflection device.
Size-wise, it does not have the compact design of most modern red dots. It’s closer to my 2.5x PA scope in length and height, but given its durability it’s an acceptable sacrifice. And fortunately, it isn’t very heavy. It weighs 11.6oz, which is noticeably lighter than the 2.5x optic.
My only real gripe is the size of the rail clamp knob on the side.
It protrudes out from the side significantly. Even further out than the charging handle of my Scorpion. I’m sure it can take a significant beating, but I’d rather not have to find out due to it catching on something. The price is pretty eye watering for a red dot too, at $420, but the quality is superb. The PRO would easily be my first choice if I were stuck in a hostile situation.
Best Open Style Red Dot: Vortex Venom
- Works on pistols and rifles
- Auto brightness option
- 3 MOA Dot
- Lightweight and very low mounting height
The Vortex Venom is a very compact open red dot that can pull double duty on pistols and rifles. It’s perfect on SBR’s and guns that make use of a pistol brace. The Venom has a 3 MOA dot or a 6 MOA dot, depending on the model, and at 1.6oz and 1.9in it is the smallest and lightest red dot on the list. It really puts the large open style red dots of the past to shame. It doesn’t have the dot style options, like crosshairs, the opposing triangles or single triangle, but for the size difference I’d say it’s worth it.
Remember this guy?
You can’t help but appreciate the steady march of technological progress.
Like the Sig Romeo 5, it includes some tech features that help maintain battery life. It will auto shutdown after 14 hrs and has an auto brightness mode in addition to 10 manual brightness settings. The dot was plenty bright in both outdoor and indoor use, and the auto brightness feature worked fairly well. It’s easy to bypass if you’d rather manually set brightness though. The battery is accessible from the top, so the sight won’t have to be removed for a battery change. That means no re-zeroing, which is especially nice due to the smaller battery and consequently lower battery life in mini-red dots like this one. The Venom does have a smaller viewing window than a tube style sight, but not drastically so. If you’re able to shoot with both eyes open, then it really becomes no issue. The 3 MOA dot, and especially 6 MOA dot variants make it more suitable for close range shooting than midrange shooting.
For pistol mounting, a picatinny rail is included. The rail attachment point should be able to fit into the slot the rear sight of your pistol was in. An adapter may be required depending on the type of factory sights, primarily dovetail sights. The Venom comes with an unlimited lifetime warranty and is waterproof and shockproof.
My only gripe would be the adapter issue. It would have been nice for Vortex to include some adapter options, rather than needing to find and buy the adapter from a third party.
A Torx wrench (T-15), rain cover, lens cloth, CR1632 Battery, picatinny rail and screwdriver are included.