Red Dot vs. Scope for AR-15 for Hunting: What You Need to Know

Picked up a brand new AR-15 and are looking for a sight to match it on the hunt? Most people choose either a red dot/reflex sight or a full-on scope as their optic of choice.

Both the red dot sight and the venerable traditional scope have advantages and disadvantages depending on how you will use your weapon.

Weapon ranges and preferences come into play when shooting. These differences will be laid out in this guide on picking a red dot or scope for your hunting AR-15. Click here for more details on which sight to choose.

Advantages of Red Dots

Advantages of Red Dots

Red dots have a few distinct advantages compared to scopes, mainly when used in more closer engagement distances. Here are a few features that make them more ideal than scopes:

Unlimited Eye Relief

Eye relief is the distance your eye must be from the scope to see your target clearly. On red dots and reflex sights which project the reticle onto the front glass, this makes them highly flexible no matter the situation.

This means that your eye can be at varying distances and angles from the sight and still maintain a clear sight picture and sight alignment, allowing you to readily acquire your target.

This is an excellent advantage if you’re engaging at close range and need to scope in and out while maneuvering or creating weird angles, such as when tracking small game and needing to shoot from an unstable position.

Compact and Lightweight

Red dot scopes don’t have the large lenses and complicated machinery of rifle scopes to weigh them down or bulk them up.

While full-size scopes make a rifle heavier by adding two pounds to the weight, red dots can weigh as light as 0.3 pounds. In a tactical situation, that weight difference can mean life or death.

This means the heft and bulkiness are kept to a minimum – making red dot sights the perfect candidates for a compact and lightweight optic that is convenient to mount on your AR-15 for hunting or home defense.

Compact and Lightweight

Fast Target Acquisition

The non-cluttered reticle of a simple red dot, the bulk-free exterior, and unlimited eye relief combine to make it quick and easy to find your targets.

Factor in the lighter weight, and you have a sight that allows you to effortlessly aim while moving, fire from unconventional positions to minimize exposure, and take on multiple targets in one shoot.

Red dots are also the optic of choice for handguns and other close-range focused weapons because fast targeting is crucial in short-range engagements.

Great Situational Awareness

Another benefit of the unlimited eye relief and bulk-free exterior is that you can shoot easily with both eyes open. You can avoid the tunnel vision you tend to need when working with scopes.

While it is technically possible to keep both eyes open on longer-range rifle scopes, it’s much harder because their eye relief isn’t as generous as on red dots.

This makes red dots surprisingly important if you’re hunting and you need to keep track of potential predators that may be a danger to you. Noticing them in your unobstructed peripheral vision could save your life.

Advantages of Scopes

Advantages of Scopes

On the other hand, full-size scopes like LPVOs (Low Power Variable Optics) are usually more robust and more reliable at long-range engagement distances. Here are some of their advantages over red dots:

Long-Range Adjustment Mechanisms

Rifle scopes have adjustment mechanisms that make shooting at 300 yards or farther possible. All the record-breaking long-range shots in history have been made using rifle scopes.

While it does add a bit of bulk and weight to your AR-15, having a rifle scope mounted will help you adjust for windage and bullet drop.

At ranges past 300 yards, the bullet travels so far that wind and gravity start affecting it. Rifle scopes will allow you to compensate for this BEFORE the bullet leaves the chamber. Red dot sights won’t.

Clear Optics

Many rifle optics come with high-quality multi-coated optic glass that provides a crystal clear view of your target no matter how far away.

These optics are usually waterproof, fog proof, scratchproof, and glare resistant. This means the view will stay clear no matter the environment and situation, perfect for the great outdoors.

The one extra trick scopes have over red dots is their magnification. Even fixed non-variable scopes are far better than red dots at aiming at a target far away.

Advantages of Scopes - Clear Optics

No Fuzziness

Red dots use a projection system to show the shooter where to aim. While this is usually clear for most people, some have an eye condition called astigmatism, making the dot blurry.

Rifle scopes don’t use that system to show the aiming point, which makes it a viable option for those affected by astigmatism.

Variable Zoom (For LPVOs)

While not all rifle scopes have variable zoom, most do. The most common of these types of scopes are LPVOs or Low Power Variable Optics.

These usually start with a low zoom level, like 1x or 3x, and can go up to 12x or higher. This makes them versatile for different engagement situations.

What About Using Two Optics on an AR-15?

If you can’t choose between a red dot and a rifle scope on your AR-15, there’s a workaround to get the best of both worlds.

Canted optics or offset sights are an alternative sight that is mounted at an angle so that it can be placed alongside your main optic (usually a rifle scope).

The red dot will usually be canted off to the right or left side, while your primary optic will be mounted normally. You’ll have to practice switching between the two, as this involves tilting your rifle and firing it at an awkward angle.

What About Using Two Optics on an AR-15

Frequently Asked Questions

After learning more about red dot sights compared to rifle scopes, you might still have some questions about how they work.

What Distance Are Red Dots Good For?

Red dots are consistently effective up to 100 yards. It’s possible to shoot farther, but the accuracy will decrease significantly the further out your target is.

Which Optic Is Night Vision Compatible?

Red dots are usually compatible with night vision equipment, while scopes aren’t. However, rifle scopes sometimes offer their own night vision/low light vision modes.

How Long Do Red Dot Sights Last?

Red dot sights run on batteries, which will eventually deplete. However, you don’t need to worry too much because most last up to 50,000 hours when well maintained.

Final Verdict

Red dot sights and rifle scopes have their own pros and cons. The one factor that will decide which one is a better piece for your hunting gear is what range you’ll be using your AR-15 at.

If you use it primarily for close-range cases, go for the red dot. If you’re looking for a more medium to long-range optic, the rifle scope or LPVO is the way to go.