Recommended Red Dots And Iron Sights

An Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic and Magpul MBUS rear sight.

You got yourself that black rifle you were eyeballing the other day. You beat the Chinese Engineered Virus panic buying, and it’s now sitting pretty in your possession. Out of the box it has some basic sights, probably from Magpul, sitting on the top rail. You’re perusing the interwebs and innumerable people, most with a host of knowledge beyond mine, have picked sides on the Red Dot Sight vs Iron Sights debate.

My take? Why not both? You got a lot of room on that top rail.

Yes, rare is the gun owner who completely ditches iron sights for a red dot. But most have their specific preferences, either from training or tradition. The younger generation of gun owners, raised on Call of Duty, Fortnite, and other shoot-em-up games, love their Aimpoints and EOTechs. They want to build a gun like they saw in their games. Nothing wrong with that, at all. Just practice real gun safety, that’s all I ask. Recent veterans and law enforcement users will express an affinity for red dot sights as well, since that’s what they were issued.

Iron sights tend to be the provenance of traditionally-oriented hunters, as well as older veterans, where the qualification was specifically to use iron sights, and not optics. Until recently, United States Marines were required to make scoring hits on their targets, from 500 yards away, using only iron sights, owing to the ethos of “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a rifleman.” Yes, in order to be called a Marine, you had to score hits from 500 yards using a sighting system developed over a century ago.

The goal of both ways, of course, is the same - hit the target for the desired results.

Magpul MBUS

Red Dots Versus Iron Sights - It’s An Argument

As has been noted, each sighting system has it’s adherents and detractors. The line is definitely related to culture and tradition. However, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

Worth noting is that the type of sight is not regarded as a fundamental of marksmanship. “Aiming” is, but the fundamental says nothing about the type of sight.

Advantages of Red Dot Sights

  • One less variable to worry about. When using iron sights, you have to worry about your front sight, rear sight, and target. You have to line up all three. With a red dot sight, you are only lining up the projected dot or reticle, and the target. Get your sight picture, align, and fire.

  • If your focus is on the target rather than the reticle, in some cases, red dot sights will work better. With iron sights, your focus is on the front sight, leading to a blurry target.

  • Sight radius (distance between the front and rear sight) becomes a non-issue.

Disadvantages of Red Dot Sights

  • Cost. A good red dot sight will cost at least $400 unless the dealer is running a sale. Yes, there’s cheaper options out there, but most of those are low-quality products from China. Plus, we’re trying to avoid sending our money to China. Buy once, cry once. Buy an American or European optic.

  • Electronics. A good red dot sight is pretty durable, and the electronics are housed in damage-resistant enclosures. But nothing is perfect. A solid drop can ruin your day. Plus, if someone cooks off an EMP, your optic could very well be a fancy little glass window.

  • Batteries. Most decent optics will run for months, even years on one set of batteries. Most will provide some sort of notation on when to change the batteries. However, it’s not precise. The batteries could die, at the worst possible moment.

  • Can fog up in inclement weather or sudden changes in environment.

Advantages of Iron Sights

  • Cost. Outside of competition sights, most iron sights such as the Magpul BUIS will cost less than $100, and will often ship with your rifle anyways.

  • Weight. Most red dot sights are light as it is, but irons are even lighter. If you are looking for a minimalist build, irons are the only way to go.

  • Iron sights don’t care about EMPs, water, mud, or anything. Barring a major unscheduled kinetic event, the irons will just be there.

  • Ubiquity. You can usually score irons from just about anywhere. In a SHTF scenario, you’ll probably find irons as a “battlefield pickup” way more easily than a red dot.

Disadvantages of Iron Sights

  • Slower to acquire target. As stated above, when using irons, you are worrying about the front sight, the rear sight, and the target. You may also have to flip the aperture around on the rear sight depending on the distance to target. That’s a lot to think about, especially in an emergency.

  • Target identification becomes problematic. You’re focusing on the front sight post, rendering your target as a blurry shape. Is that the bad guy or an innocent?

  • Accuracy. That front-sight post covers up a lot of the target at a certain range. A good red dot offers 1 MOA (minute-of-angle, a measurement of accuracy) or better.

  • Harder to use at night. Excepting illuminated irons where the posts are painted with a luminescent material, most iron sights are just that, stumps of steel or plastic. Good luck with that in the dark.

Why Not Use Both?

OK, as we stated above, both systems have their specific advantages and disadvantages. Your red dot is faster for target acquisition, but may crap out under stress, whereas your irons are just there and working. So, why not both?

Most modern iron sights are of the “flip up” variety. Offerings from Magpul, Diamond Head, and so on can be flipped up and active if and when your red dot sight fails. Others still can be mounted “offset” where they are at a 45 degree angle as related to the rail system on your rifle. That setup is more for competition use, but can be used in a defensive setup as well.

Your AR has sufficient rail space to accommodate a red dot sight, and a front/rear iron sight setup. Your AK definitely has built-in sights by default, and most likely an attachment point of some sort for an optic. In other words, each system can complement the other, and “get out of the way” when it is not needed.

Why bother with the debate - use a red dot sight, and have irons handy for unforseen circumstances. Learn and train on both. Besides, firearms training of any sort is fun.

Sight Recommendations

I’m just a Regular Guy and itinerant Second Amendment Radical, but I’ve got my share of experience with optics and sighting systems of both the red dot and iron variety. Below is a small list of recommendations for each type.

  • EOTech 512. EOTech started the current trend of using a tiny holographic projector to project a reticle onto a small piece of glass, much like the heads-up-display in a fighter aircraft or fancy-as-hell luxury car. The EOTech 512 set the standard. You’ve probably seen it in military and law enforcement use and didn’t even know it. It’s a good place to start. The 512 sports a 65 MOA circle with a 1 MOA dot in the middle defined by the crosshairs. It uses common AA batteries so keeping it lively isn’t a big problem. I recommed Energizer Industrial AA Batteries.

  • Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO). Much lik EOTech, Aimpoint also supplies to the US and other militaries around the world. Based out of Sweden, Aimpoint supplies the CCO (Close Combat Optic) that has become common for NATO forces these days. The Patrol Rifle Optic sports a 2 MOA dot, and an incredible always-on lifetime of 3 years just using 1 battery. It’s also waterproof down to 150 feet. The PRO’s dot intensity can be adjusted low enough to be compatible with night vision equipment, even.

  • Meprolight M21. It looks a bit like an EOTech in reverse, but the Israeli-built Meprolight M21 is an interesting take on a rifle optic. It’s technically not a red dot sight at all, instead using directed sunlight and a tritium-coated light source (glow-in-the-dark) to project a variety of amber/orange reticles onto the glass, including a 1.8 MOA X, a bullseye, a triangle, and dots of various MOAs. It’s super rugged and combat-proven, designed to be banged around by 18-year old conscripts. The beauty is in it’s simplicity. No batteries mean no electronics, and the tritium source is guaranteed for 14 years. It’s almost a marriage between red dots and irons, in a broad sense.

  • Magpul Polymer MBUS. Lightweight, and pretty much “the” standard nowadays. They are accurate enough for “irons” and serve well for a minimalist setup, or in the backup role. Press the tab to flip them up, and they are ready to go. Chances are your rifle came with a set already. They work for what they are.

  • Diamondhead Polymer Integrated Sighting System. These are a little more beefier than the Magpul variety, and have a small “Nitebrite” insert which glows in the dark after brief exposure to a light source. The apertures are, well, diamond-shaped, allowing for faster target acquisition. They’re not as low-profile as the Magpul variety, but they work, and you may have a slight edge in a nighttime situation with these.

  • Knight’s Armament Offset Sights. If you have to have Tier-1 everything, you can’t go wrong with gear from Knight’s Armament. Their iron sights are no different. These specific sights are offset at a 45 degree angle, making an immediate action upon optic failure a breeze. No flips or anything - just cant your rifle 45 degrees and your KAC sights are ready to go. I ran these, once - it took some getting used to, but I kinda dig the idea. These are “true” irons, as they aren’t made of polymer, but of real metallic alloy. Rock ‘em.

Bulk Ammo In-Stock

Your Rifle Is Just A Funny Boomstick Without Sights

At the end of the day, one should be proficient with both red dot optics, and traditional iron sights. There’s no specific logic to an either/or battle in this case. One complements the other, and equipping your rifle with both is a minor expense if everything is factored in. Red Dots and irons - why not both?

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