Price and quality are important, but don’t lose sight of the fact that not all scopes are designed equal when it comes to close-quarters work.
» CHOOSING A FIREARM to protect your home, property and family is an important decision. Equally important is how you equip that firearm. A properly equipped defensive firearm should be easy to use and reliable in high-stress situations. Regardless of how it’s employed, any firearm is useless if it can’t be put on target accurately, reliably and in a wide variety of situations. The choice of optic for your defensive home rifle might be second only to the rifle itself. We will discuss the considerations to help you choose the right optic for your application and the benefits and drawbacks of each option.
In broad terms, there are two options when considering CQB optics: red-dot-style or traditional optical scope. A red-dot-style scope has no reticle in the construction. The aim point of a red-dot scope is projected onto a reflective coating inside the scope that directs the light back to the shooter’s eye. This projected point of light is used as the aiming point.
Red-dot scopes also have two distinctive style categories: tubestyle and reflex-style. A tube-style red dot can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but the first and most recognizable resembled a toilet paper tube painted black with a weaver base attached to it. If tube-style red dots are sedans, then reflex-style sights are convertibles. Typically smaller, a reflex-style scope uses only a single lens to reflect the projected light to the shooter’s eye as an aiming point.
The primary attraction of the reflex style is that it offers an even lower profile than most tube-style scopes, even in the lower-priced entry-level models.
Tube-style red dots offer the lowest price barrier for CQB optics. An entry-level model can be had for $50 or less, and the function is exactly as previously described. It will provide a single-dot aiming point that will be illuminated to maximize visibility. If you are on a budget or just need to get something temporary, this is your most cost-effective option.
There are also premium-performance tube-style red-dot scopes. From a practical standpoint, these scopes are going to function the same as the entry-level models. They will have more options and features, but the basic design remains the same. They are often available in smaller sizes, which provides your rifle a smaller profile and reduces the chances of catching on a door jam or loose clothing.
Additionally, it pays to compare the warranty of the red dots. Most entry-level models are going to have a one-year warranty, maybe two. Since a red dot is a battery-powered electrical device, there are myriad things that could go wrong with the circuitry that will not be covered after that warranty window. Meanwhile, it is not uncommon for premium red-dot models to be covered by a lifetime warranty. Should anything happen to the scope, excluding damage, misuse or neglect, the scope will be repaired or replaced.
Virtually everything that has been said about the tube-style red dot holds true for the reflex style as well. The primary attraction of the reflex style is that it offers an even lower profile than most tube-style scopes, even in the lower-priced entry-level models. The warranty statement holds true here as well. You will pay more for a reflex scope that is covered by a lifetime warranty, but if overall size is important, you can get a smaller reflex-style scope for less money than the premium tube style, giving up only the warranty coverage. Red-dot scopes offer a compact, easy-to-use, affordable option for optics on a defensive rifle.
Reliance on a battery does add a layer of uncertainty to your fighting rifle.
The dot aiming system is intuitive and doesn’t require thought in a high-stress situation. The illumination makes the dot highly visible, even in shadows or a darkened room. Because most models don’t use magnification, they are parallax-free. This allows the shooter to keep both eyes open when using the optics, thus maintaining better situational awareness and providing quicker target acquisition.
Red-dot scopes also have their limitations. If the rifle is to be used exclusively as a CQB/home-defense weapon, one downside is that red-dot scopes limit the effective range of the rifle for most shooters. Because there is no magnification and most dots range in sizes from 2 to 5 MOA, a red dot does not function as a precise aiming device for most shooters beyond 50 to 75 yards. Again, if the rifle is being purpose-built for home defense and that is to be its only use, this is negated, but it does reduce the flexibility of the use of the rifle.
Additionally, as touched on previously, red dots do require battery power to function. This means that, in a high-stress situation, the shooter must remember to turn his scope on for it to be helpful. Failure to turn it off after a day at the range can leave the battery dead a week later. Should an emergency situation arise, this is a big issue. Reliance on a battery does add a layer of uncertainty to your fighting rifle. Battery conservation is another feature often present in premium red-dot scopes and is worth the time to research.
Traditional Optical Scopes
Traditional optical scopes equipped with a variable power magnification system provide another option for your defensive rifle. Traditional scopes are constructed of a one- or two-piece scope body and encase the erector tube assembly. The erector tube assembly contains the lens that allows the scope to be magnified and also contains the reticle lens. The reticle might be constructed of wire or it might be laser-etched directly onto the lens. Either reticle construction method could be illuminated for improved visibility, but neither requires the illumination for the reticle to be seen.
Traditional variable power scopes provide an additional layer of flexibility in the way the rifle is used. On a 1-4 or 1.5-6 model — both common choices for home-defense — the 1x or 1.5x magnification allows the scope to be used much the same way as one would use a red dot. Most shooters are still capable of keeping both eyes open when using a traditional scope on 1x, and if the scope is equipped with illumination, it functions much the same way as a red dot. If, however, you also plan to use the rifle for longer-range shooting, or you happen to have a varmint problem and you want this rifle to pull double duty, the 4x and 6x magniication settings give you full advantage of the rifle cartridge you are using.
Traditional scopes are usually viewed as more durable than red-dot designs. This is truer at the entry-level price point, as premium models of both designs are quite durable. That said, most traditional rifle scopes, even entry level, are now offered with a lifetime warranty, with a significant number of scope makers recently going to a no-fault warranty that also covers accidental damage.
Always remember that your choice in optic should be dictated by the primary purpose of your rifle.
Again, it is worth noting that traditional scopes often offer illumination as an option, but that it is not required for the scope to provide the shooter an aiming point. Though a dark reticle in a dark room on a dark target might be difficult to see, it is possible. There are also more reticle options in traditional scopes. The last few years have seen the rise of ballistic reticles, especially for the common .223/5.56 rounds so often used in home-defense rifies. These ballistic reticles allow for accurate fire at close range and might provide aimpoints out to 600 yards. If rifle flexibility is important, the additional options to choose from in traditional scopes might be the way to go.
Traditional scopes, however, are typically much heavier and bulkier than their smaller red-dot counterparts. They require more consideration when mounting. If not done properly, the eyebell of the scope might interfere with the charging handle of the rifle. Even when used on 1x, the field of view of a traditional scope is often smaller than that of a red dot because of the elongated construction of the traditional scope, which might make target acquisition more difficult. Also, while premium models of red-dot and traditional scopes are comparable in price, entry-level traditional scopes are usually going to cost more than similarly placed red dots.
Always remember that your choice in optic should be dictated by the primary purpose of your rifle. The rifle you choose for home protection could easily be utilized for varmint hunting as well. While the gun is exactly the same, the purpose of the gun couldn’t be more different, and the optics need to account for a drastically different list of needs, as well as budgetary and personal preference considerations. Red-dot and traditional scopes are equally capable of serving on a home-defense rifle. Careful research and planning on your part means years of security for your family and property.