There is no doubt that modern optics have revolutionized sporting, hunting, and military rifles. There is a vast array of optics choices for the consumer today and it can feel like a bit of a daunting prospect if you are newer to shooting or rifles for defense to pick a sound choice.
This brief guide is not intended to settle any debates on which optic is objectively best – rather it is meant to serve as a more realistic discussion for the newer shooter to evaluate what optics will serve them best.
What is your AO?
If someone asks “Should I buy a Red Dot or an LPVO?” The answer is never as simple as picking one without further information. The first piece of information we must understand is where is this rifle going to be doing the majority of its fighting?
Were I to be someone living in the plains of Kansas the answer would most certainly be a Low Powered Variable Optic (or LPVO). This is because I am likely to have longer lines of sight and targets I might need to engage at a further distance. (I may also want to consider a different caliber from .223 but that would be another topic).
What if I lived in an area with thick wooded forests and shorter sightlines? Well then a Red Dot sight is likely to serve me better. Anyone who has patrolled in forests would attest that a RDS is going to be easier to pick up and use and there is simply not much of a use case for the longer range magnification.
Your area of operations will in large part define elements of your optics choice.
One reason we see the popularity of RDS and flip-to-side magnifiers is they allow individuals to get the benefits of both, though with its own notable detraction.
What is the rifle’s purpose?
This is another question that relates to your AO but can be somewhat different. For example if you are running a short barreled rifle as a trunk gun that has a 10 inch barrel there isn’t a need for an LPVO. This rifles use and limitations in barrel length mean it’s going to get a Red Dot.
On the other hand if I’m defending a location with longer sightlines then maybe this rifle does need an LPVO or more powerful optic.
The rifles purpose can also start to drive your thought process around cost. There is a range of cost within Optics. Some people will only buy US/EU made optics from certain manufacturers. Nothing wrong with that.
However if you have a dedicated trunk gun – consider applying the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule. If a cheaper Holosun RDS gets you 80% of the way there on a gun that is just a vehicle weapon why not use it?
The rifles purpose can really be an instructive part of your decision on which optic selection to choose.
What do you shoot well?
Personal preference is important.
What you shoot well and have invested the time and money into getting good at is important consideration. If you’ve only shot Red Dots then going to the eyebox of LPVO in todays ammo climate seems quite foolish.
Are you more experienced with longer range shooting? Well this leads directly into the next consideration.
What does your squad look like?
For some reason this gets overlooked often? Could it be too many of us are thinking in a solo manner? Surely not…
In all seriousness though the make up of your guys and their gear and their skills might inform your decision. A squad can greatly benefit from a dedicated marksman. If that is you – your rifle might be the one with an LPVO and an offset RDS.
Or are you the guy who bought the heavier barrel, put the binary trigger in and carries a D60? Might be that you need an EOtech.
You may notice that we haven’t given you specific recommendations. There exist dozens of reviews online for each optic you may consider. Selecting the actual optic is not trivial but it is an easier task once you understand what you are selecting for.