Would a rifle scope be more effective for hunting compared to a red dot sight? We all know that most game shootings are within the short or medium range shooting distance. Therefore, it’s usually a problem to decide whether to attach a red dot or a rifle scope to your new gun.
Let’s dive deeper into the way user preferences are formed when comparing rifle scopes vs red dot sights.
- Red Dot VS Scope
- Red Dot vs Scope: How to Choose?
- Which Is Better: Red Dot or Scope?
- Other Types of Sight
- Considerations for Different Types of Game
- Shooting Environment
- User Skill Level
- Mounting and Compatibility
- Which is better for close-range shooting: a red dot or a rifle scope?
- Which sight is most suitable for low-light conditions?
- Can I mount a red dot sight on any type of firearm?
- Are there red dot sight models with magnification capabilities?
- Can I use a red dot sight and a rifle scope together on the same firearm?
Red Dot VS Scope
Red dot sights and rifle scope comparison
There are pros and cons to using magnified scopes and red dot sights. Neither will be naturally perfect for all shooting applications or shooter’s requirements. Red dot sights are quick and simple to operate, but rifle scopes have magnification and long-range accuracy and take longer to adjust settings.
Here is a list of advantages and disadvantages to help you visualize the benefits and drawbacks of magnified scopes and red dot optics.
Red Dot Sight Pros & Cons
There are several advantages and disadvantages of using a red dot sight on your rifle.
Red Dot Sight Pros:
- Quick target acquisition: A red dot optic can be used quickly (fast target acquisition) because you do not need to adjust any setting before taking a shot.
- Both eyes open: When using red dot optics, you can aim at your target with both eyes open.
- Long eye relief: A red dot sight is usually mounted far away from the eyes compared to rifle scopes, therefore you don’t need to worry about “scope bite” when using a red dot sight.
- Light/Compact: Red dot optics are lighter and would not add extra weight to your weapon.
Red Dot Sight Cons
- Not for long-range: You cannot use a red dot for a long range shooting.
- Requires battery operation: This device needs a power source to produce the red dot.
- No magnification: You cannot zoom in and out of this device because it does not have a magnified optic. As a result, seeing targets that are far away would be impossible.
Rifle Scope Pros & Cons
PROS & CONS
Rifle Scope Pros:
- Variable magnification: A rifle scope is a magnified optic device and it has two types of magnification (fixed and variable). Variable magnification makes it easy to zoom in and out when sighting a target.
- Extremely versatile: A rifle scope has more uses than other sighting devices.
- Accurate at longer ranges: When a rifle scope is properly mounted and zeroed to the right shooting range, you are almost sure of hitting your target at every shot.
- Various reticles: A rifle scope can have different types of reticles.
- No batteries required: This optic does not need a power source when trying to aim at your target.
Rifle Scope Cons:
- Heavy/bulky: Rifle scopes are heavier and they add extra weight to your rifle.
- Limited eye relief: Because you have to zoom in and out of the scope, it always comes with shorter eye relief.
- Limited FOV: Your field of view in a scope is limited. You can get a bigger field of view if you zoom out of the scope.
- Prolonged Target Acquisition: When aiming with a rifle scope, you want to be sure that you have your target in the right place and that your magnification is in the right settings. A rifle scope does not have a quick target acquisition.
|Red Dot Scope
|A sight that uses a projected red dot
|An optical device with magnification
|Quick target acquisition
|Enhanced accuracy at longer ranges
|Typically no or minimal magnification
|Variable magnification available
|Simple red dot or reticle
|Various reticle options available
|Varies depending on the scope
|May have parallax at longer ranges
|Field of View
|Wide field of view
|Narrower field of view
|Bullet Drop Compensation
|Available with specific scopes
|Ideal for close to medium ranges
|Suitable for long-range shooting
|Varies, can range from hours to years
|Can be heavier
|Generally rugged and durable
|Built to withstand recoil and elements
|Tactical, competition, home defense
|Precision shooting, hunting
Red Dot vs Scope: How to Choose?
Purchasing a rifle scope or a red dot should generally be based on how the weapon will be used. The user’s preferences and intentions determine if a scope or red dot optic would be perfect for the shooting application.
Because you will be selecting your optic mostly based on intended uses and features, here are a few comparisons of the red dot optic vs a rifle scope.
What do you get when red dot optics and rifle scopes are mounted on AR15 rifles?
The current AR weapons are incredibly modular, with virtually limitless possibilities for stuffs that can be added to them. Would it accept a scope, a red dot, or a combination of both?
For some reason, the red dot has always been the optic of choice for ARs and tactical carbines. They are quick to use, simple to train with, take up minimal rail space, and may be used with a variety of extra optics and accessories. Also appealing is the fact that you can take a shot as long as you can see the dot.
A magnified scope, on the other hand, can be mounted on the Modular Sniper Rifle and used for long distance shooting.
Manufacturers have just lately combined the two features of red dot optics and rifle scopes to produce the LPVO (Low Power Variable Optic). This new device offers the numerous advantages of a red dot and the greater distance engagement and power of a scope, with 1x magnification. For those who are confused about their choice of optics, the Low Power Variable Optic may be the ideal sight for your new rifle.
What are the results of mounting a red dot sight and a rifle scope on a hunting rifle?
Whenever it comes to hunting, it’s impossible to say which is superior because both types of optics are utilized for different kinds of game. Weatherproofing, hunting ranges, environment, rifle type, and other considerations will all influence this decision.
If you are in the woods using an AR or shotgun at ranges of about 100 yards or less, a red dot sight will suffice. In these scenarios, close-range and fast target acquisition would be important, especially if the target is mobile.
Magnified optics will not make you a better shooter, but they will allow you to see better, especially if you are hunting in a wide area. The 3-9x magnification is a highly popular hunting scope option.
Although red dot sights are accurate up to 200 yards when used by an average shooter, most people only use them for shots up to about 100 yards. Rifle scopes have an advantage due to their magnification, BDC reticles, and extended range capability.
For some reason, many shooters do not fire beyond the 100 yard shooting distance. Plinking, 100 yard target ranges, or Close Quarter Battle operations eliminate long distance shooting from the list.
Its common to find people shooting in the 10, 50, and 100-yard ranges. Although you can shoot at these ranges simply using iron sights and no optics, a red dot sight would however enhance vision and accuracy, and make shooting a lot faster and easier.
The quick visibility of the red dot on the target, particularly in dynamic tactical and Close Quarter Battle operations, together with the choice to open both eyes makes it the best optic for close-range engagements.
If the target is within 100 yards of shooting distance, a magnified scope will make the shot accuracy easier. Closer shots within the 100 yards shooting range with a red dot optic, on the other hand, are faster since you have unlimited eye relief and a wider Field Of View in the red dot compared to the scopes.
Rifle scope, red dot sights, and shooting targets
Target shooting or range shooting can be used to sight in an optic device, plink, or just to keep the shooter’s marksman skills strong. Whether the target shooting is with a red dot or rifle scope, it is always an enjoyable experience.
A red dot optic can help you strike a target every time if you routinely fire at the 100 yards range. You can practice different stances and postures or do routine training to get better results.
A rifle scope, on the other hand, will complement your shooting technique if you frequently shoot from a bench or go beyond the 100 yards shooting distance. Many people believe and it is true that a rifle scope is more accurate than a red dot sight and allows for more precise groupings.
There is a lot to take into consideration, from tracking accuracy and adjustments to the mechanical accuracy of the rifle and shooter’s abilities, and so much more.
If frequent trips to the shooting range are your primary reason for purchasing a new optic, consider the distance limitations as well as whether you want to shoot primarily from a dynamic or prone position. Your rifle, shooting distance, and abilities will all contribute to your accuracy.
Every competitive shooter needs to use their own preferences for the kind of optic they like and find useful. Most competitions need firing at extremely close ranges such as 25, 30, and 50 yards before engaging targets at further distances.
Red dots are wonderful for quick shooting at a close range target, but getting more points at a longer distance requires precise targeting and accuracy.
Competitive scopes typically incorporate throw levers to swiftly alter magnification between low and high levels. However, even smaller powers may not be able to compete with the advantages of having a red dot.
A magnifier at the back of a red dot sight is included in several common combinations. The magnifier may be swung in and out of position when needed. A rifle scope and red dot combination is another option. When utilizing a swing or offset mount, you have the option of employing a red dot for close range shooting and a First Focal Point scope for longer shots.
Which is more convenient to use? Is it better to use a red dot or a rifle scope?
The red dot sight is no doubt the fastest. The bright red dot is obviously basic, catches the attention, and is designed to be quick to aim and shoot with. Furthermore, the red dot sight is far more tolerant of poor head and cheek weld locations. You can aim at your target with both eyes open, with unlimited eye relief, true 1x magnification, and unlimited FOV, making for fast target acquisition.
In terms of speed, a magnified rifle scope cannot compete with the red dot. When speed is the goal of the game, it would take you too much time going through the process of putting the rifle to shoulder, eye to eyepiece lens, changing magnification, and then aiming at the target.
Weight & Size
Rifle scope vs red dot sight size comparison
Red dot sights are more lightweight and compact than magnified scopes. With a weight of less than 16 oz, a red dot optic is a lightweight device for an AR-15 that probably has more accessories than it needs.
Scopes have glasses and magnification, which adds weight to the rifle. Sometimes, scopes can be as light as 10 oz, but most are between 16 and 25 oz. Heavier and bigger rifle scopes often feature 30mm and 34mm thick tubes, high variable magnification, and a massive objective lens with apertures greater than 44mm.
The mounting accessories for a rifle scope or red dot will add weight to the entire package.
The optical size and mounting framework must be addressed since they might have an impact on the mounting profile.
Seeing a target through a rifle scope or red dot sight is quite different from seeing your reticle. There are several types of reticles available for scopes and red dot sights, and existing visual impairments can compromise focus and viewing quality.
While red dots are popular because of their luminosity and easy dot reticle, persons with astigmatism will struggle to use them. The dot may appear as two dots, clusters, a smudge, or another oddity. This may need the shooter to explore prismatic sights, which may aid in reducing aberrations.
If you’ve determined that red dots aren’t an option, a magnified scope may be your only alternative. However, not every scope is suitable for old eyes. Other factors to consider are glass quality, eye relief, and others.
The final lesson is that most people can overcome visual impairment difficulties with a magnification scope rather than a red dot sight.
Red dot sights and rifle scope worth
Notwithstanding your budget, rifle scopes and red dot optics are available at different price ranges. Under $100 scope and red dot sights are available.
Which is the more costly option? Rifle scopes are more expensive than red dots.
If you were to compare some popular and expensive optics, the best rifle scopes would be more costly than the best red dot sight.
Some of the best red dot sight might cost thousands of dollars too, but you’re sure of getting specialized hybrid features like lasers, magnification, infrared, night vision, and more. Remember that when you look into specialty features like infrared and night vision, scopes become far more expensive.
Which Is Better: Red Dot or Scope?
In general, the red dot is quick to use and works well over short distances. It provides several benefits that the rifle scope cannot match. Rifle scopes, on the other hand, provide better precision at a longer distance with magnification that allows you to view and place crosshairs on the target.
Whichever option you select, it means you’ll have plenty of range days to train and become acquainted with your setup.
Other Types of Sight
Apart from the rifle scope and red dots sights, we also have other types of sight like the Iron sight and holographic sight.
The iron sight is mostly a rear sight on the rifle, it is not a tube sight like the red dot and scopes.
Holographic sight eliminates the reflective coating found on dot sights in favor of a laser emitter that illuminates a glassed-in reticle. The advantage of this setup is that the viewing sights are not discolored in the same way as dot sights, and the laser allows for a considerably illuminated reticle, eliminating the need for a closed tube sight. You can use the open or reflex sight style.
Considerations for Different Types of Game
When choosing between a red dot sight and a rifle scope for different types of game, several considerations come into play due to the unique characteristics and behaviors of each game type. Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using each optic for small game, big game, and varmints:
Small Game (e.g., rabbits, squirrels, small birds)
Red Dot Sight
- Quick target acquisition: Small game animals are often fast and elusive. A red dot sight’s rapid target acquisition can be a bonus when tracking and engaging these agile creatures.
- Wide field of view: Red dots offer unlimited eye relief and a wide field of view, making it easier to scan the surroundings and spot small game animals hiding in foliage.
- Limited magnification: Small game hunting may sometimes require shots at slightly longer distances. A red dot sight’s lack of magnification can be a disadvantage when precision is needed beyond the optic’s effective range.
- Variable magnification: A riflescope allows hunters to zoom in on small game animals, increasing accuracy and shot placement at various distances.
- Narrow field of view: The magnification in scopes reduces the field of view, potentially making it harder to track fast-moving small game animals.
- Heavier and bulkier: The additional scope weight might be less desirable for hunters looking to maintain a lightweight and agile setup for small game hunting.
Big Game (e.g., deer, elk, bear)
Red Dot Sight
- Limited range: Big game hunting often requires shots at longer distances. Without magnification, a red dot sight may not offer the necessary precision for ethical hunting beyond its effective range.
- Magnification for long-range shots: Riflescopes provide the necessary magnification for big game hunting, allowing hunters to take precise shots at extended distances.
- Slower target acquisition: In situations where big game animals are moving quickly or suddenly appear at close range, the process of acquiring targets through a magnified scope may be slower compared to a red dot sight.
Varmints (e.g., coyotes, groundhogs, prairie dogs):
Red Dot Sight
Quick target acquisition: Varmints can be quick and elusive, making a red dot sight’s fast acquisition invaluable for successful varmint hunting.
Limited range: Some varmint species may be targeted at longer distances, requiring the precision and magnification that a red dot sight lacks.
- Variable magnification: A rifle scope’s variable magnification is advantageous when hunting varmints at different distances, especially for those in open terrain.
- Precise shot placement: Varmint hunting often requires accurate shot placement due to their smaller size. A rifle scope’s magnification aids in making precise shots.
- Slower for close-range shots: If varmints appear suddenly at close range, using a rifle scope may be less practical due to the slower target acquisition process.
The shooting environment plays a crucial role in determining whether a red dot sight or a rifle scope is better suited for the specific conditions. Different environments present unique challenges and opportunities that can impact visibility, target acquisition speed, and shooting distance. Let’s discuss how dense forests, open plains, and urban settings affect the choice between a red dot sight and a rifle scope:
In dense forests, visibility is often limited due to the abundance of trees, foliage, and obstacles. The thick vegetation can obstruct the line of sight, making it challenging to spot game or targets at a distance.
A red dot sight is well-suited for dense forests due to its wide field of view and unlimited eye relief. It allows shooters to maintain situational awareness and quickly acquire close-range targets. The illuminated red dot stands out against the background clutter, making it easier to aim in low-light conditions. A rifle scope, on the other hand, may not be ideal for dense forests, especially at close ranges. The narrow field of view and magnification can limit situational awareness, making it harder to track moving targets through thick foliage.
When shooting in open plains, the visibility is usually excellent, with few obstructions and vast expanses of terrain. Targets can be seen at extended distances, and there may be a need for precision shooting.
In this case, red dots can still be used for close-range. However, its limitation in magnification may hinder precision shooting at long distances. A riflescope shines in open plains due to its magnification capabilities. Shooters can effectively engage targets at extended ranges, taking advantage of the scope’s reticle and bullet drop compensation features.
Urban settings can vary widely, with a mix of close and long-range shooting scenarios. Targets may appear suddenly from different angles, and there might be reflective surfaces that affect optics.
A red dot sight’s quick acquisition and wide field of view can be advantageous for close-quarter engagements. A rifle scope with variable magnification can be useful in urban settings when precision shots are required at longer distances. Shooters can adjust the scope’s magnification to adapt to different shooting scenarios.
If you expect to encounter fast-moving targets or engage in close-quarter combat, a red dot sight is an excellent choice for its speed. If you anticipate shooting at longer distances or require precision in your shots, a rifle scope with variable magnification is the better option. For shooters who require versatility and adaptability in various shooting environments, a Low Power Variable Optic (LPVO) might be the optimal choice. An LPVO combines the advantages of both a red dot sight and a rifle scope, allowing shooters to switch between 1x magnification for close-range engagements and higher magnification for long-range precision.
User Skill Level
The user’s skill level and experience play a significant role in determining the effectiveness of a red dot sight or a rifle scope. Different optics cater to the specific needs and preferences of shooters at different proficiency levels. Let’s explore how skill level impacts the choice between a red dot sight and a rifle scope:
Red Dot Sight
Red dot sights are simple to use and require minimal adjustments, making them ideal for beginners who may not have extensive experience with firearms or optics. The red dot’s point-of-aim, point-of-impact simplicity allows beginners to focus on proper shooting fundamentals without worrying about complex reticles or magnification adjustments.
Riflescopes can be more daunting for beginners due to the learning curve associated with adjusting magnification, zeroing the scope, and understanding reticle subtensions. While beginners may not engage in longer-range shooting immediately, a rifle scope’s magnification can be advantageous as their shooting skills progress.
Red Dot Sight
Experienced marksmen may prefer red dot sights for their speed and versatility in dynamic shooting situations. Marksmen with extensive training can make swift transitions between multiple targets, and the red dot sight’s unlimited eye relief facilitates peripheral vision during such engagements.
With more shooting experience, marksmen may find themselves engaging targets at longer distances, where the magnification of a rifle scope is essential for accurate shots.
Mounting and Compatibility
Mounting options and compatibility are essential considerations when choosing between a red dot sight and a rifle scope for different firearm models. Different firearms may have varying mounting options, and certain optics might require additional accessories for proper installation. Let’s discuss the mounting options and compatibility for red dot sights and rifle scopes.
Red Dot Sights
Picatinny/Weaver Rail Mount
Most modern firearms come with Picatinny or Weaver rails, which are standard mounting systems for red dot sights. Red dot sights with Picatinny/Weaver mounts can be easily attached to these rails using screws or quick-detach levers.
Some handguns and pistols may not have built-in mounting options for red dot sights. In such cases, adapter plates are available that can be attached to the firearm’s slide, allowing the red dot sight to be mounted securely.
Certain handguns and optics-ready pistol models have slides with built-in cutouts or mounting points designed to accommodate specific red dot sights directly onto the slide.
For rifles equipped with magnified scopes, shooters may opt for offset mounts to attach a red dot sight at a 45-degree angle to the rifle’s primary optic. This allows for quick transitions between the red dot and scope without needing to adjust the rifle.
Rifle scopes are typically mounted using scope rings that attach to the firearm’s scope base or rail. Scope rings come in various sizes to fit different scope tube diameters, such as 1 inch, 30mm, and 34mm.
Picatinny/Weaver Rail Mount
Some scopes have built-in Picatinny or Weaver mounts, allowing direct attachment to compatible rails without the need for additional rings.
Bolt-action rifles may require scope bases to provide a stable mounting platform for the scope rings. The type of scope base will depend on the rifle’s make and model.
Quick-Detach (QD) Mounts
Shooters who need to switch optics frequently or want to remove the scope for maintenance may opt for quick-detach mounts that allow for tool-less removal and reattachment.
Which is better for close-range shooting: a red dot or a rifle scope?
For close-range shooting, a red dot sight is generally better.
Which sight is most suitable for low-light conditions?
Red dot sights work best in low-light conditions. The illuminated red dot stands out and helps you see where you’re aiming even when it’s dark.
Can I mount a red dot sight on any type of firearm?
In many cases, yes! Red dot sights can be mounted on a wide variety of firearms, like pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Most modern firearms have rails or mounting options that make it easy to attach a red dot sight. But it’s a good idea to check the manufacturer’s recommendations and make sure your firearm is compatible before mounting.
Are there red dot sight models with magnification capabilities?
No! Although most red dot sights are compatible with Red Dot Magnifiers. This means you can zoom in a little bit to make your target look closer.
Can I use a red dot sight and a rifle scope together on the same firearm?
Yes, you can! People often use a red dot sight on the side of their rifle and a scope on top. This way, you can quickly aim close up with the red dot and use the scope for faraway shots, making you enjoy the best of both worlds!
Mike Hardesty is a published freelance gun writer. He also possesses specialized expertise in rifle scopes With dozens of articles and reviews published in Pew Pew Tactical, Snipercountry.com, and TTAG (The Truth About Guns), Mike is considered a firearms expert. His special area of expertise is handguns.
Mike is a long-time shooter. He has been punching paper targets, taking deer and other game and shooting at competitions since about 1975. Other related pursuits include reloading and bullet casting. He currently reloads for over 10 calibers, both handgun and rifle. His reloads, particularly for 9mm, were in great demand during the height of the ammo shortage among family and friends. He donated hundreds of rounds to informal shooting sessions. He was quoted as saying “I do not sell my reloads but I sure will help my guys shoot ’em for free!”. He has a few cherished firearms that he has inherited or otherwise procured — those are his favorites.
He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees from Indiana State University in 1974-1975.
He’s a firearm experts and is the founder of mhardesty.com.