The decision of red dot vs iron sights is one of the first you’ll have to make in buying a rifle (and sometimes, a handgun).
The choice used to be easy: iron sights were all that was available. Carefully line up that rear sight with the front, steady it up, and pull the trigger. That’s how it was done since way back in the 15th century.
Initially, front sights were fastened to the barrel with a single screw. In later models, the sight was adjustable by driving it sideways in the appropriate direction. If you think this was archaic, it was.
But lots of game was brought down and lots of families fed by that simple, archaic sight. Not to mention, in times of war, battlefield casualties as well.
But now we also have red dot sights, and things will never be the same.
The Argument: Which is Better, Red Dot or Iron?
Some gun enthusiasts today would argue that the iron sight is fast fading into history. Yet most guns still come equipped with them.
The truth is, a well-trained marksman can still hit his target with an iron sight. It’s just that the red dot sight is so much better. How much better? Consider these points:
In the performance of red dot vs iron sights, red dot sights tend to be more accurate for the average shooter. You don’t have to line up a rear sight with a front sight. Just place the dot on the target and, adjusting for variables like windage, etc., pull the trigger.
Also, with red dot sights, you keep both of your eyes open; so you can spot your target faster while still seeing everything that going on around it.
Red dot sights keep your focus on the target,
exactly where you want it to be.
And here’s another advantage that comes with keeping both eyes open while you shoot: situational awareness. Imagine you’re in a home defense situation and things are happening around you with lightning speed.
Having both eyes open makes you more aware of evolving threats and movements. This could be especially advantages in deciding between red dot or iron sights for home defense.
In addition to spotting your target faster, red dot sights show exactly where your round will go. No waiting to line up the front and rear iron sights. Just look through the sight and fire. That’s an important advantage in situations where targets are visible for only a moment or moving quickly.
Additionally, red dot sights clearly outperform iron sights in dimly lit circumstances. That reticle dot is always easy to see through the sight, whereas iron sights are harder (if not impossible) to use in the darkness.
In home defense situations, which often happen in the evening or early morning hours, the red dot sight is much more effective at placing rounds on targets than an iron sight would be.
Iron sights are known for their durability. They stand up well against the elements and rough conditions in the field. But today’s red dot sights are also quite sturdy.
They are usually submersible (duck hunters, take note!), are shock resistant and have a long battery life.
4. Ease of Use
With a red dot, all you do is put the reticle on your target and press the trigger. If you calibrated the sight correctly, your round will go where the dot appeared.
Iron sights, on the other hand, can be a bit more challenging to use. How many times have you had to adjust the sights up or down, left or right, before going out into the field?
And those front sights: am I the only one who gets annoyed that they take up the entire bottom half of my target?
5. Weight and Space
Iron sights take up minimal space on your barrel. Likewise, red dot sights are both lightweight and take up very little rail space.
So in this comparison, let’s call it a draw.
Incidentally, I personally like that I can use both iron and red dot sights in combination or using the iron sight as a backup should the red dot sight fail. Iron sights can still be used through the window of the red dot sight when at a proper height.
Experts call this “co-witnessing,” and it’s a good option for many gun owners.
Red Dot Vs Iron Sights: What’s the Verdict?
It you could only pick one or the other, here’s what you get by going with the red dot sight alone:
- Greater accuracy
- Speedy target acquisition
- Equal durability
- Easier to use
- Lightweight and compact
In other words, in the battle of red dot vs iron sights, you give up very little when you opt for a red dot sight, but you stand to gain a number of game-changing advantages.
So don’t “settle” for the iron sight that comes with the weapon you choose. Step up to the red dot sight, as well.
In situations where milliseconds or millimeters may count, it can make a world of difference.