Gear, Parts and Accessories

Picking a Fighting Optic

composition with rifle ammunition and red dot sight

Whether mounting it on your home defense weapon, outfitting a SHTF rifle, or building a duty gun, choosing the right optic can make a difference in the effectiveness of your long gun.

There is no room for compromise when it comes to purchasing an optic that your life, or the lives of your loved ones, may be dependent upon.

If an optic is out of reach of your budget, it may be time to rethink your budget priorities (or time to get a job delivering pizzas). There are basically two choices when it comes to picking an optic: magnified traditional scopes or red dot sights (RDS).

To Magnify or Not

Most of us probably won’t need the ability to make precision hits on small or moving targets several hundred yards away. Yet if the need is there, nothing beats a variable power scope with an illuminated reticle.

These scopes are usually compact and on the low end of the magnification; as close to one power as possible. Most have a mil-dot or a reticle designed for close in engagements. These scopes let you dial the scope up to the higher magnification needed for long-range shooting, and dial the scope back to engage nearby targets using the illuminated reticle as a RDS.

Included in this category are the Leupold Mark 4 MR/T M2 Riflescope and the Leupold Mark 4 CQ/T Riflescope. Another option is a fixed power scope with an miniature RDS mounted on it. This gives you the option of quick acquisition close range sighting with the RDS, and the precision for longer range shooting with the fixed-power scope, although it does add bulk and weight to your weapon system.

The Ubiquitous RDS

Professionals know the red dot sight (RDS) almost universally lets you engage targets faster and with more precision. The RDS is also easier to learn to shoot with when compared to the traditional iron sights.

When you speak of quality red dot sights, the industry standard is Aimpoint. Adopted by the U.S. Army as the M68 CCO, the Aimpoint CompM2 is rugged and features a 10,000 hour extended battery life.

Replacing the CompM2 as the M68 CCO is the Aimpoint CompM4 which adds improved energy efficiency with an 80,000 hour battery life and the integral mount base screws directly into the sight – no separate sight ring is required.

The newest RDS that is causing a stir is the Aimpoint Micro H-1. With typical Aimpoint strength and battery life, while weighing in at only 3 ounces, the Micro series is light enough to be used anywhere you might need an RDS.

The Magnified RDS

As was mentioned earlier the option of having a traditional magnified scope with an attached mini red dot sight (MRDS) has been field and battle tested with very positive results. Another application developed from battle is mounting a magnifier behind an RDS. This magnifier is simply that, devoid of reticles or adjustments, its only job to increase the usable distance of the RDS. The most efficient way to mount this to the weapon behind the RDS is some sort of quick detach mount to allow the use of the RDS by itself. There is the Aimpoint Twist Mount and EOTech and others make flip to side mounts (FTS).


Your weapons system is only as good as its weakest link, whether that is magazines, ammunition, or you the shooter. When it comes to your fighting rifle do not let your weakest link become the mount for your optics.

Skimping on this completely undermines the idea of a solid optic for your fighting gun. For magnified optics some of the best scope mounts are the one piece mounts from companies like GG&G such as the AC-30.

The other option for mounting a traditional or tactical magnified scope on your fighting gun is a simple quality ring from companies like Leupold and Warne.

For attaching a 30mm RDS the Aimpoint QRP is hard to beat and GG&G is one of many manufacturers that offer an Aimpoint Cantilever Ring mount for those that need to mount a 30mm RDS further forward.


No matter which optic you choose, remember to practice, practice, and practice some more with your entire weapons system. This practice ensures your ability to deliver shots on targets and determine any weaknesses with your weapons system, not to mention the benefits that practice has on your confidence, confidence that you may find useful some dark day.

Have you found a favorite optic system? Or, have you found one you really don’t like? Share with your fellow CheaperThanDirt readers in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (19)

  1. Like the leupold Mk1 or their Mark 4 cq/1n I prefer durability, quality of image such as lt retention and repeatability to zero.
    Back up with good quality flip ups and there is but 1point of aim from15′ out to 400 meters smack dab , between the eyes or in ear holes.
    To range how far a target is takes practice until you do not think you damned well know how far.
    The nit pickers will say. This or that drop at 350 or at 425 will causeba missed head shot, they must be the thin between the ears types..
    Not saying ranged scopes are not great and a quality range finder is a bad thing but if your enemy is a match in training your peeking at range cards and using puters to figure windage at four hundred yRds takes time and by time you decide he “wS at 400 he is now at 250 throwing lead down your gullet.
    IN a domestic SHTF you will not be as our military fighting poorly armed untrained civilians and munching on cokes and MRE’s between shots He may well be Ex military militia trained or a fn swat cop wanting your wife and daughter so will be well hid.
    PRACTICE ADVANCING NOT AT FN STREIGHT AHEAD Trvets but move as “Nut”n”Fancy does.
    i have seen untold numbers of guys firing Ar’s that either mounts or scopes get knocked out of allighnment who are fn lucky to hit the berms through their flip ups.

  2. Smudge made a very good point. At my age my eyes don’t work like they used to. An inexpensive rifle will outshoot my eyesite easily. It makes no sense for me to spend mega dollars on an AR15 and then not be willing to pay more than a couple $100 on an optic. That’s why I spent $600 on my rifle and another $1,000+ on an ACOG.

  3. Kind of a vague article with little information. I guess you’re looking for clicks and not for repeat readers.

    1. Right?! To call it an article would be using the term very loosely? This is just click bait that took 5 minutes to write up and fails at its proposed intent of educating the reader in choosing a fighting optic.

  4. I have an Eotech, BSA Panoramic, and a BSA 40mm red dot scope mounted on my AR, AR pistol, and Remington shotgun respectively. Other than the Eotech housing being more robust, all three sights perform equally. Since installing them a couple of years ago I’ve not had to replace the batteries. I like the wafer-style batteries over the cr123s but worry about ease of procurement. I am retired LEO teaching weaponry skills to the private sector.

  5. You sir, are correct. Trijicon, EOTech, and Aimpoint are all in service with military units and the price reflects that. I think because of that, that is why the price point is a little on the high side. Think Colt, and the dependence of contracts and you see that because of military contracts the prices are jacked up. But if you really want that optic, by all means…I don’t need to engage targets at max distance or any distance close to that so I don’t need to spend to meet an inflated price.

  6. I’m old army and after being out for 20 yrs things have changed. Last year I put my first ar together and I’ve been using a sightmark holo until a few months ago and the only problem has been battery life. I’ve put it on and taken it off and always remained zeroed. It’s also accurate enough that at 200 I can still hit the head. So why does the average joe need the very expensive?

  7. Not sure there is the one perfect optic for everyone….We all like the “best” but also have to live in our budgets…I chose the EoTech EXPS because I liked the slightly bigger sight picture and now that I’m running a magnifier I’m in sight heaven. I consider my AR to be a 0-200 yrd rifle so this setup works for my use….

  8. Save up for an Aimpoint and really liked it. But being not a young man, I needed some magnification. Tried a few magnifiers with not really liking them so I saved again for Aimpoint’s 3Xmagnifier. Really helped.

    Then at the range a young man came by to see what we were using as he had just purchased an ACOG. I asked if I could look thru it as I hadn’t had the opportunity. Took one look thru the ACOG and was stunned at the clarity. Bought a 4x ACOG the next week. LOVE IT!!

  9. An eotech with a laser dot. Maybe put a pressure light on it also. Can’t miss! That’s a combat ready rifle. On any weapon! And the price of eotech’s have went down drastically since they came out. Still pricy but $600 when I first seen them in cabelas. Now the same one is like $400.

  10. I too am sold on the Triji ACOG. I know that they are very pricey(They cost more than two of the rifles I have them on), but IMHO there is no equal to this optic. At my age the optic has become more important to my ability to shoot than the weapon or ammo. After outfitting my Favorite AR(Colt 6920) with one I put one on the wife’s S+W AR15, I liked them so much that I replaced the factory optic on an FN FAL FS 2000.

  11. I searched for a RDS for my Colt and was pretty much going to look at the EOTech, or the Aimpoint M68 . The M68 because of my familiarity with it from the Army. Didn’t see the need for an ACOG because I probably have to shoot at distance. I then read an article about the Meprolight Tru-Dot RDS and the reviews were positive so I got one from Amazon with 2 day free shipping. I weighed the price points and that was a major factor. Also if it is good enough for the Israelis, who are constantly in combat mode and these are combat tested, good enough for me. I believe the difference in models are that the actual optics IDF use has a IR laser designator or something like that and I don’t plan on calling in any air strikes or directing fire from my bedroom during a home invasion. I’m very satisfied.

  12. Love my Leupold CQT! Typical excellent Leupold optics and built tough as they come. The illuminated “circle of death” makes for quick target acquisition amd the amber color isn’t overpowering in low light. I was lucky and got a deal on mine too. Makes the scope that much better!

  13. I know this is close to Trolling, but I really love my EoTech.

    It’s as bright or as dim as I need it. The 65 moa circle is fast to align. I’ve dropped it once off of a 2nd story deck with no ill effects and it maintained zero(made a scream like a little girl when I knocked my AR off the railing). I’m a causal shooter but I’ve had the same cr123s in the site for over 2 years now.

    It just works.

  14. I think the Aimpoints and the like are far too spendy for the average joe. If you have a .gov or company paying the bills then they are great. The knockoffs are usually too crapy to be usable. I have had really good luck with my Lucid HD7 though. Uses a single AA battery and has multiple reticles and is bright enough to see clearly in full daylight (the biggest problem I have had with the knockoffs). It has been mounted on my AR for 3 months or so without loosing zero. At $270 for the sight, mount, and screw in 2x magnifier it is far more affordable than the Aimpoint.

    1. Love my ACOG also, I have the same model on my M4 that the Marines use on theirs calibrated for the M855. My wife uses an EOTAC with a 3X folding magnifier. On my 7.62X51 LaRue I have a Vortex 2.5X10 with a side mounted Vortex red dot for up close and personal.

    2. The military SpecOps guys trust the Trijicon so that is close enough for me. They are as pricey or more so than AimPoint but it gets down to personal choice. Most of us may not ever need a combat weapon. My Redfield 3-9 with mildots will probably serve me well. But the Trijicon is on my wishlist.

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