3 Things to Look for When Buying a Tactical Optic
What can tactical optics do for you?
I am a big proponent of iron sights. They are what I learned to shoot with as a young soldier. They keep you honest and make you focus on the fundamentals. In fact, I shot out to 500 meters with iron sites on my M16 rifles during infantry basic in the Israeli Defense Force. Shortly after basic my M16 was changed to an M4 and with the flattops came the optics. Quickly, I realized their benefit for target acquisition, nighttime shooting, and the ability to push the rifles to their limits.
Now-a-days, as a firearms instructor, I am often asked by my students which optics to mount on their battle or home defense rifle and what optics to go with on their handgun.
Precision optics aren’t just for going long. Top your rifle and your pistol with an optic and you instantly make it a more versatile weapon.
Choosing an optic for a battle rifle
When first asked, “What optic should I get for my rifle?” I ask the following questions:
- How far do you think you will ever get to shoot with it?
- What will you be doing with it?
- And what rifle are you mounting it on?
First, go with a brand name optic and avoid knockoffs—They will lose their zero and typically break.
Now let’s answer the questions above:
- Distance is the key to understanding if you will need a simple red dot or a magnified optic. Anything 100 meters* and in will be fine with a regular red dot. You will be able to make those shots quickly and accurately (granted you have a decent rifle). If you can shoot past 100 meters (not in theory, but actually practice past that distance), you should go with a Low Power Variable Optic, or LPVO. It gives you the flexibility of acting like a red dot at close ranges on 1X, and still make those longer-range shots with ease by dialing to the magnification of your choosing.
*If you want to be able to positively ID targets even at 50 meters and possibly closer, I still recommend an LVPO as it is very hard to see someone holding a gun (or a cellphone) at that distance.
How far do you plan on shooting? Answering this question can go a long way toward finding the right optic.
- Your end use is also important. If you are a soldier walking the mountains of Afghanistan, you should probably go with a top-of-the-line and very durable optic, something that your life can depend on. An optic that is robustly made, so it will not lose its zero if, let's say, you are riding on rough terrain or take a slip down a hillside. On the other hand, if you are the average joe just looking to protect your home, or maybe you just enjoy target shooting, you may not need a tank of an optic. A mid-grade, but brand name, red dot or LVPO will do just fine.
- Lastly, the rifle you are mounting your optic on is a big factor. You have to be comfortable when shooting! If you are shooting an AR, I typically recommend having your optic at a lower ⅓ mount height (meaning the iron sights will sit in the lower ⅓ of the optic when looking through it.) On an AK/Galil style rifle, you may want the lowest mount possible. So, if you are buying an optic, make sure it has the correct mount for the job. If the optic does not come with a mount, don’t be cheap, buy a quality mount! It would be a shame to have a great optic with a mount that won’t hold its place on your gun.
Choosing an optic for your pistol
Now, let's move on to pistol optics - Durability, dot clarity, and ease when zeroing are going to be the main things to look for:
- A pistol optic will get thrashed around every time you pull the trigger. Therefore, durability is key! The optic must be able to withstand constant recoil from the pistol. Additionally, it must be able to withstand impact - being used for racking off belt, barricade, table, etc. for one-handed shooting.
Your rifle optic might get bumped around, but your pistol optic is guaranteed to take abuse every time you shoot. Make sure to pick a dot that can stand up to training and shooting.
- Dot clarity is key. The whole point of having a red dot sight on a pistol is the ability to quickly acquire the target as well as be able to shoot more precisely. A dot that is not clear (“star bursting”) will make it harder to get a clear sight picture and, in turn, you will have difficulty shooting fast and precisely.
- Like any optic, you will have to zero your pistol red dot. Typically, a 1 MOA per click will suffice with a pistol red dot sight.
The optics world can be a very difficult world to navigate with the many brands and models out there. I hope that the above info will help you make a better decision in purchasing your next tactical optic.
Want to learn more about LPVOs for your combat rifle? Take a deep dive with our podcast. Hoping to make the transition from iron sights to an optic with your pistol? Check out our blog for three tips to make it easier. For more tips from Ron Grobman, checkout courses offered by Tactical Fitness.
Ron Grobman is a former Israeli Defense Force SF sniper and now a reservist. He is the owner of Tactical Fitness, an Austin, Texas-based company which focuses on tactical training combining Krav Maga and shooting. Additionally, Ron is an IWI Academy instructor and leads the IWI Tavor operator classes in Texas. Connect with Ron on Instagram and Facebook.
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