In Defense of the Red Dot Optic with Mark Smith

With so much talk around Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs), it can sometimes seem like 1x red dot optics are falling out of favor. We’ve worked with Mark Smith in the past to bring you the benefits of Low Power Variable Optics (LPVOs); however, in this article, we wanted him to discuss the fact that for many, red dots are still the preferred optic for the AR platform.

Q: We’ve discussed the benefits of LPVOs a few times, but you reached out recently to discuss red dots. Can you explain what prompted you to want to do an article in defense of the red dot?

Mark Smith – JBS Training Group – I had a friend reach out to me, and he told me he had a minimal amount of money but wanted to know what LPVO he should purchase. I told him frankly that his best bet was to purchase a red dot instead with his budget. A red dot is better than a poor-quality LPVO. An excellent Aimpoint T2 will more than hold its own when compared with a 400 dollar LPVO.  

My friend immediately balked at that idea. He stressed that he wanted his rifle to be able to perform to its true capability. We then discussed the importance of capability versus meeting his actual, real-world requirements. Just because something might be capable of something doesn’t necessarily mean that we need it to do that or we fail.  

You can take the AR platform and make it anything you want it to be. Right now, I am building an 18” 6mm ARC to shoot out 800-1000 yards. It will do things better than what a 5.56 gun would do at those distances.  

Mark’s 18” 6mm ARC

Is this a requirement for everyone building an AR today? Not at all. You don’t need to have a gun that shoots super-flat, super-fast, because perhaps you’re someone who’s shooting distance is no more than your indoor range, or at your home, God forbid, should the need arise.

Don’t Mislead Yourself

I think that many people have misled themselves or have been misled by others intentionally or otherwise. Their thinking is that without magnification capability, they are leaving something on the table. This is even though their scenario does not require magnification.

If you’re the guy that lives in an apartment complex and you don’t have any defense-of-life requirement like a police officer might have, a good solid dot on your AR is not going to make you incapable. In a lot of ways, it will actually increase your ability to do certain things that an LPVO has challenges with.

It would help if you felt out who you are and what you are doing with your gun. It would be best if you had a realistic heart-to-heart conversation with yourself. Ask yourself if you really need that new Vortex 1-10, or do you just want it because all the cool kids have it. 

It’s the same conversation you’d have about that new 2.04” mount. Do you just want it, and you’re not sure why? Or, do you want it just because that’s what everybody else has? Remember that everybody else is not you. It helps when you know the pros and cons of something, and I think that’s where people need to start when it comes to determining what is right for them.

Barrel Length & Optic Choice

There seems to be a trend where people relate optic choice to barrel length. They’ll say they don’t want to put an LPVO on an 11.5” gun, or they don’t want to put a red dot optic on an 14.5.” I don’t care about the length of the barrel in regards to optics. What I care about is what you will be doing with the gun, and what is the gun going to be required to do? 

If all you have is an 11.5” gun and you want to hit something at 200 yards away, you’re probably going to want a 1-6. If you’ve got a 14.5” gun, but you live in an apartment, or you don’t take the gun with you in your truck, and all you do is shoot at the indoor range, why in the world do you really need that 1-6? The answer is that you don’t, and that’s o.k., because you’re just you.

Q: Let’s dive into the capabilities and determining what is right for you…

Mark Smith – JBS Training Group – What does a dot do for me that a magnified optic can’t? First and foremost, you hear far fewer failures with red dots that you do of magnified optics. You gain potentially a slight advantage in the durability category.

The other thing that matters to me is the weight. People can turn their nose up at that if they want to, but to me, weight matters. I’m pretty big on the weight of guns. I don’t like heavy guns, and it isn’t because I’m some sissy that can’t carry it. Who would want a heavier gun unless you’re shooting some PRS match? I want a light, nimble gun that I can hold and manipulate easily with less fatigue. A lighter gun really does make a difference.

With a red dot, I also appreciate that I have a source of illumination that I can leave on all the time, depending on the optic. Battery life also seems to be better. I’ve also got a completely different field of view and a more forgiving eye relief situation going on with a red dot optic. It is very helpful and beneficial for things like unorthodox positions and certain movements. I find that red dots in those situations can be far easier to shoot than having the tight eyebox of a magnified optic.  

Q: I’ve had commenters say that they think the red dot is obsolete with the rise of the LPVO. Clearly, that’s not the case…

Mark Smith – JBS Training Group – I don’t think that’s the case. Also, keep in mind that shooting a red dot is more straightforward than shooting a magnified optic. It is more user friendly for new shooters. It’s harder to goof up with a red dot. More stuff goes on with a magnified optic…things that you need to know about, and it can be tricky if you’re new or don’t do it frequently. I find the red dot is easier to work with in that regard.

With an LPVO, there is an amount of work that must be done to become accustomed to it. When you get your first 1-10, it’s a little weird not having that perfect, unadulterated vision. You’ve got multiple pieces of glass between you and your target, and it can take your brain a little while to figure out what it’s trying to do and get your eyes to accomplish it. It takes a bit to get used to, and it can be a struggle in the beginning.  

Putting an LPVO on a carbine can be a bit like putting a red dot on a pistol. You don’t just throw the red dot on the pistol and are magically able to take full advantage of the dot. You have to work a bit to train your mind, eyes, and body to work together. By sticking with it, you’ll get to where you want to be, but it does take some practice. Using an LPVO effectively then takes some work. My question is, do you need to do all that to accomplish what you need to with your gun? The answer for a majority of people is “no.”

Are Your Requirements Realistic?

For the average citizen in civilized America, I cannot produce a scenario where you would be shooting at a lethal target at 200 yards away. I just can’t imagine that scenario and have it be legal… I think some people play too much Call of Duty and get these fairy tale scenarios in their head where they will be a character in The Walking Dead or something. The way things are going, maybe one day, but we’re not there yet. (laughs).  

Right now as we’re speaking, there is a 14.5” Hodge rifle in my vehicle with an Aimpoint red dot on it. That’s the gun I carry, and God forbid, that would be the gun I would fight with…The bottom line is I just don’t want people to give up something really good, that fits their requirement list because they think it is going to diminish their ability.  

As a citizen in civilized America, in many cases, the red dot is the way to go, and I view LPVOs as ideal for someone who has a lot of property and needs to see something better at a distance. Perhaps they need to determine if what they are looking at is a coyote or the neighbor’s dog. They’re also great for the guy that just wants to shoot targets at 300-400 yards. In my experience, 90 percent of the people I run into don’t fall into either of those categories.

LPVOs are great and have their place, but I think people should just take the time to sit down and have a realistic conversation with themselves to determine what they need versus what others say they need or what the rest of the internet does. It’s a bit like putting on an extra pair of socks because someone else works in the cold, even though you’re in Florida (laughs). Pick what works for you and your unique situation.


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Lucus Farber
3 years ago

I agree red dots are amazing. Especially for the first time shooter. They are really easy to get behind. Thanks big mark and arbuildjunkie.

David Zakar
3 years ago

Fantastic article, Mark. Mission should drive gear, but a lot of people are pretty confused about what the mission is.

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