I remember when I was a young and up-and-coming shooter. I had the option to shoot with both a red dot AND a rifle scope on my AR-15.
In my experience, both were able to serve their purposes and provide me with the hunting specs I needed.
If you’ve ever been in my shoes, you might wonder which of the two is better for YOUR case.
I will help you answer your curious questions about these two options in this red dot vs. scope guide!
- What Is a Red Dot Sight/Red Dot Scope?
- What Is a Scope?
- Red Dot vs Scope Optics: The Main Differences
- Red Dot vs. Scope: Performance Comparison
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Final Verdict: Which Is Right for You?
What Is a Red Dot Sight/Red Dot Scope?
The red dot sight lets you acquire your target EASILY.
Hunting with a red dot sight helped me see my target IMMEDIATELY, which meant I could land a straight hit.
I didn’t even have to center the red dot on your target! (as long as you’re already zeroed in.)
It is very convenient that even law enforcement officers and the military use red dot sights and magnified scopes.
A red dot sight does NOT have magnification, any kind of optical distortion, or the lasers found in holographic sights.
As you can see here in the Vortex Venom:
Meanwhile, a Red Dot Scope is a magnified scope that basically works like a telescope:
Let’s explore the scopes and reticle dots further…
Red Dot Optics
A modern version of the reflex sight, the red dot optic works by reflecting the light emitted from an LED using a spherical mirror.
A red dot reflector has a special coating that only reflects red light, letting you see through the crystal-clear optic.
The red dots do not come in the same size. They can vary and fit into different guns, whether it’s a handgun, rifle, etc.
In other words, they are VERSATILE and easy to use!
Red dot sights also come in two types:
- A closed (tube) sight
- An open reflex sight
The closed type is also known as a tube red dot because it is enclosed in a tube.
It is BRIGHTER than open reflex sight and best for close to moderate distances.
Also known as the reflector sight, the reflex sight uses traditional reflective glass material.
This allowed the red dot to stay on my target no matter how much eye movement I made.
Check out the best reflex sights for under $100 here!
An OPEN reflex sight is meant to be used when shooting with BOTH eyes open.
It gives you a wider field of view, unlimited eye relief, and faster target acquisition than the red dot tube.
Reflex sights are CONVENIENT if you want a compact option since the red dot tube scopes can be heavier.
Without the tube, reflex sights are not protected by elements, and the light path can be blocked.
Holographic sights use lasers instead of the traditional lenses and mirrors that red dots use, as you can see in the EOTech Holographic Sight.
They project a holographic reticle that looks like the “sweet spot” is floating on your target when you look through it.
One thing I like about holo sights is they let me see through both the reticle AND the target simultaneously with both eyes open.
In contrast, a red dot optic makes me move one eye between the reticle and the target.
Holographic sights are also more durable than red dot sights. It can withstand more force and extreme weather and temperature conditions.
In contrast with red dots that are subject to parallax distortion, a holographic sight is PARALLAX-FREE!
Holographic sights are also more EXPENSIVE, reliant on batteries, and can only be mounted on medium-sized weapons.
And speaking of battery reliance, a holographic sight can only last 500-1,000 hours at most, which is very low compared to the red sight of up to 50,000 hours.
Now that I got those covered…
What Is a Scope?
A scope works like a telescope or a magnifying glass when you look through it.
It magnifies the mark and makes your aim LARGER in your field of view. It sometimes has no red dot or markings or optical guides of any kind.
The reticles in your rifle scope can be placed in two different focal planes: the First and Second focal planes.
First Focal Plane Rifle Scopes
The reticles here in the FFP are placed in the front of the tube, putting it closer to the objective lens.
Doing this increases magnification and makes the lines look larger.
I prefer using FFP rifle scopes for long-range shooting; whenever I zoom in, the reticle zooms in with me, so I am sure to land the shot!
Second Focal Plane Rifle Scopes
And in SFP, the reticles are placed at the back of the tube, meaning your reticles are now FARTHER from the objective lens.
This placement puts it closer to the ocular lens and does not change the reticle size when adjusting the magnification.
I feature both FFP and SFP scopes in our Riflescopes Buying Guide Under 500 Dollars.
Red Dot vs Scope Optics: The Main Differences
Red Dot Optic
Red dot sights are UNMATCHED for close-range shooting.
Since red dots use electronic sights, adjustments are easier, and they’re more versatile.
- Optimum for large targets (like a person)
- Highest speed. The red aim is highly capable of rapid shooting
- No magnification, which means no optical distortion either
- Exceptional for low light conditions and even on no light
- Best for self-defense and shooting for fun in your backyard
- Powered variable settings for easier adjustments
- Better eye relief. Good for shooters who have astigmatism.
- Shot placement at longer ranges and large moving targets is not consistent
- Also not ideal for small (especially moving) targets at long range
- Maximum range is 200 to 300 yards on an unmoving target
- Most red dots have no holdover markings
- Not ideal for precision shooting, the reticle gets larger in longer distance range and is more difficult to see
- Optic is reliant on batteries; you lose your sight if you run out of batteries
Don’t be intimidated by the number of drawbacks just yet.
If you’re not someone targeting something in the longer range and do not have eye problems, most of these factors will have NO effect on you!
You can check out our Budget Buying Guide for Red Dots for some great options.
A big advantage of the rifle scope is that some rifle scopes come in a low-powered variable optic (1 to 4x), which work ALMOST as good as red dots.
I describe it as the middle ground between a standard magnified rifle scope and a red dot reticle.
Who needs the red dot vs. rifle scope discourse? Not this hybrid! It’s just right there in the middle of both.
The only downside of a dot rifle scope vs. red dot sight, basically being the same optic, is that it can only perform so much.
It can’t give you the best of what a standard magnified rifle scope has to offer, nor the best of the red sight.
It serves both scope level distance and short-range distance purposes well, but will NOT give you impressive performances of either one.
- Better for long range shooting
- Can easily shoot small targets
- Excellent for precision shooting
- Consistent shot placement
- Not reliant on batteries. Most rifle scopes use batteries to illuminate the reticle, so you only lose the illumination if the battery life dies but not the sight
- Made for target shooting and hunting
- Can cover extended distances thanks to its holdover marks
- Easy to use and most rifle optics mount on almost anything
- Lighter and more compact
- Perfect for beginners!
- Not for close range, since magnification is high even on minimum setting
- Not ideal for self-defense
- Will not work well in low light or no illumination
- Shorter eye relief
- Not ideal for those with eye problems
But then again, if you will only use your rifle scope for hunting and competitions, you would not mind these downsides.
Red Dot vs. Scope: Performance Comparison
At the end of the day, choosing between a red dot and a rifle scope is all dependent on the your preferences.
Here is a quick rundown on how the two compare in different categories.
When it comes to shooting with the AR-15, red dots may seem like the first choice because of their speed and ease of use.
I like them because they do not take up a lot of space on the rail, so it’s not as bulky or obstructive.
However, magnified scopes have the advantage because of the LPVO (low-power variable optic), which is a red dot AND rifle scope combined.
I get the same 1x magnification of a red dot, but its variable power allows me to shoot at longer ranges.
If you want the best of both worlds, I recommend an LPVO (which is a scope) for your AR-15.
Both optics can work well for hunting, but it also depends on a lot of factors, like the distance from animal.
If you are hunting an animal from a short distance, like 100 yards, a red dot sight is ideal.
Even if the animal is moving, the red dot’s fast target acquisition helps you land a shot easier.
However, given the nature of animals, you don’t want to be too close to them, so you would aim from farther distances.
Hence, the rifle scope provides more coverage and versatility when hunting for animals.
In my experience, scopes allowed me to see my target clearer from a safe, longer distance.
If you are shooting targets out in the open that aren’t moving, either optic should do the job!
The only difference is that red dots are for shorter-distance targets while scopes are for longer distances.
It also depends on what kind of firearm you are using.
Either way, if you are just shooting targets for fun, you can’t go wrong with either choice.
When it comes to competition shooting, many factors determine what kind of competition it is.
The distances at which you shoot from can vary, which means your optic of choice will also vary.
Some competitive shooters shoot from as close to 25-50 yards, so they equip a red dot.
If you need to increase their magnification and really aim for that bullseye, you are better off with a scope.
Either way, assuming there are multiple distances to shoot from, a red dot is better for the short-range portion of the competition.
When the distances INCREASE, it’s time to switch to the scope.
When it comes to speed, it’s no contest. Red dots all the way!
The bright red dot draws your eye right to where the target is. Plus, you don’t have to compensate for eye relief as red dots offer UNLIMITED.
The fact that you can shoot with both eyes open makes it even easier!
In contrast, you can only use one eye with scopes, but you also have to adjust the turrets, magnification, eye relief, and so on, which takes some time.
WINNER: Red dot
Weight and Size
At first glance, it’s obvious that red dots are smaller. Once you lift them, the weight difference is also more apparent.
Meanwhile, a scope’s tube size and internal parts add to its weight.
Not to mention, scopes with a HIGH objective lens are heavier because there is more glass.
The two optics’ mounting systems will also add to the overall weight of the rifle.
For portability’s sake, it would be ideal to choose a red dot.
WINNER: Red dot
Since red dots and scopes are different machines altogether, expect them to come at varying price points.
However, rifle scopes will definitely set you back more dollars than red dots.
If I were to guess, I would say a red dot costs about a third to a fifth of a rifle scope, which is a considerable amount saved!
WINNER: Red dot
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How Accurate Is a Red Dot Scope?
You can shoot accurately with a red dot optic until 100 yards. But of course, a gun is only as good as its shooter.
The accuracy depends more on your skill and technique, or even other outside factors like the make and brand of your red dot scope.
2. What Is the Advantage of a Red Dot Scope?
Speed and accuracy!
And as soon as you see the red circle aim at your prey, you already know you will hit it.
I can be quite antsy on the field, so I use red dots for fast target acquisition and close combat.
3. Are Red Dot Sights Always On?
It depends on which model you buy.
I personally turn mine off manually when not in use to preserve the battery life. Others like to keep theirs on all the time so they will be ready for emergencies.
Doing so is especially useful for home self-defense situations.
Because of this, many brands have incorporated an automatic turn-off feature when the rifle is not in use to conserve battery power.
This feature is motion-activated.
There are also brands with products like the Aimpoint Pro that do not include this new feature, but boast long battery life that can last you for YEARS!
4. Which Is Better for Close-Range Targets?
RED DOT SIGHT. It is simply unmatched for close combat.
My success rate has been through the roof with close-range targets using red dot sights.
Since it doesn’t have any magnification, it does not distort your sight and is made for rapid shooting.
5. Which Is Better for Longer Ranges?
Scope optics for sure!
A dot reticle only has your back for 100 yards at best, and up to 200 to 300 yards at most for an unmoving target.
However, magnified scope optics have never let me down when it comes to shot placement, precision shooting, and hunting small prey over long distances.
It’s great whether you have a high-power magnified scope or a low-power variable optic scope!
Final Verdict: Which Is Right for You?
Okay. You still have not made your decision?
The major deciding factor between a red dot vs. scope would be WHAT you’re going to use your gun for.
And, of course, your own personal preference.
Is the Red Dot Sight for You?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Is it just for home defense and some target practice in your backyard?
- Will you only use your gun in close quarters?
- Are speed and accuracy the most important factors for you?
If your answer is YES, then the RED DOT reticle is your best bet.
Are Magnified Scopes for You?
Similarly, ask yourself these questions if you are thinking about getting a magnified scope:
- Will you go long-range hunting or participate in competitions?
- Is precision and consistency a priority?
- Is there no need for speed?
If your answer to these questions is YES, then the MAGNIFIED OPTIC scope would win your internal optic vs. red dot sight discourse.
There is always the option to get the HYBRID SCOPE equipped with a low power option, so you get the adequate (not the best) of both worlds.
This is a great option if:
- You actually want to get both types but just have the budget for one.
- You want a two for the price of one deal, and you do not care about the best features each opposing side has to offer.
You can also try your hand at iron sights for your AR-15!
Red dot sights are better for close-up targets, home defense, and speed.
Meanwhile, magnified scopes are better for extended distances, long-range hunting, and precision shooting.
That should help you decide confidently on one option!
I personally prefer using scopes because they are more versatile and are more in-line with what I like to do, which is hunt and long-range target practice.
I hope we have cleared some of your confusion, and you are no longer torn between the two choices!
FINAL TIP: To learn more about scopes, check out my list of the best scopes for 1000 yards!