Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Low-Power Variable Scope vs. Red Dot

Living Room Carpet Photo.  Sorry.  At least you can't see my Crocs in the bottom edge. ;)

The Millet DMS-1 is a pretty good scope, however, a low-power variable scope will never be quite as fast as a red dot at less than 25 yards.  I don’t think it’s a function of the quality of the lenses.  The DMS-1 seems to be really clear to me.  It’s just the nature of telescopic devices.

When you’re looking through the eyepiece, the image that you see is the image that the objective lens “sees” more than a foot out in front of your eye.  The image is translated through the lenses, and then through the couple inches that make up the eye relief.

With a red dot, except for maybe a little bit of tinting because of lens coatings, and a little bit of color in the glass, you can actually see the same image through both eyes.  This is very intuitive.  With a low-power variable scope, even if the scope isn’t magnifying the target, you’re still not seeing the same image with both eyes.

When you’re looking through the low-power scope, and one eye is seeing. . . what it usually sees, and the other eye is seeing an image that’s actually more than a foot in front of your face it’s disorienting.  It’s really disorienting if you’re moving, or tracking a moving target.

I was actually a little bit surprised to find that it’s a little easier to hit index cards out to 25 yards with a red dot with no magnification.  I’d have thought that there’d be enough precision required that magnification would help.  Nope.  Put dot on target, squeeze trigger is all you need to do.  Even I can do that offhand.

Now, those index cards get harder to hit when you get out to 50 yards.  With a steady position, or some support, I can still hit the cards consistently at 50.  A 4 MOA dot covers 2 inches at 50 yards.  It’s getting hard just to put the dot on the card.  With the DMS, I can encircle the card with the reticle and I can zoom in a bit, and still get hits from a sitting position without too much difficulty.

At 75 yards that dot is about the same width as the card, and I pretty much need a bench rest to hit that sucker with a 4 MOA red dot.  Turning the DMS up to 4X, I can still nail the card pretty much all the time from a sitting position.  From prone or a good supported position the index cards don’t stand a chance with the DMS on 4X.

At 100 yards, I can hit paper plates almost 100% from various offhand positions at 100 yards, with the red dot, but I can’t hardly see the index card (20/40 vision), and the dot would almost completely cover the whole index card.  Maybe half the rounds will hit an index card taped in the middle of the paper plate.  I can’t do much better with a benchrest, maybe 75% hit the index card.

At 100 yards though, I’ve shot 10-round groups approaching 1” with the DMS at 4X.  The scope is definitely better for real precision.

Why am I going to so much trouble to hit those damn cards?  They’re cheap, and are a pretty good representation of the brain of someone who’s looking, and shooting, at you.  If your opposition is smart, then all you’ll be able to see of them is the top half of their head.  The head of a USPSA target is about 6” square, with a brain box about 2 x 4”.  The head of the IDPA target is just a 6” square.  An index card is a pretty good ½ size approximation of the “A Zone” of the USPSA target (6 x 10”).

There is an alternative to a low-power variable scope.  You can run a red dot sight with a magnifier.  Most of the magnifiers are 3X, but I’ve also seen 4X and 5X magnifiers.  With a detachable magnifier mount or ring that allows you to flip the magnifier over to the side, you get the close-range speed of a red dot with most of the precision of a low-power scope. 

The drawback of running a red dot and a magnifier is cost.  A half-decent low-power variable scope with a quick detach mount will run maybe $350-400.  The Aimpoint Pro package of a red dot sight and basic mount runs $400, and I’m not sure if you can fit a magnifier mount in between that Aimpoint mount and a back-up-iron-sight (BUIS).  The less expensive but still decent quality magnifiers run $150-200, and only come with screw-clamp rings.  The Larue Pivot mount is the only one I can really recommend, aside from the one that comes with the $500 EOTECH magnifier package, and the Larue mount runs $150.  To fit an Aimpoint-type red dot, magnifier, and BUIS all on a flat-top AR-15 upper, I think you kind of need a cantilever mount for the red dot.  The Larue QD cantilever that I have my Aimpoint M2 in runs $165, but you can get by with the Primary Arms cantilever mount for $25.

I would have thought that the red dot/magnifier combo would weigh more than a low-power variable scope, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I weighed up some stuff, expecting the scope to come out lighter.
  • DMS-1 in American Defense Recon-X 30mm mount – 1 pound 9.6 oz.
  • Aimpoint M2 in Larue LT129 cantilever mount – 11.3 oz.
  • Vortex 3X magnifier in Larue LT649 Pivot mount – 12.2 oz.
  • Aimpoint, Vortex 3x, and Larue mounts all together – 1 pound 7.5 oz.
If you are running something other than an AR-15, SCAR, or ACR, you’re going to have some trouble running a red dot and a magnifier.  I haven’t seen any low-mount flip-to-side magnifier mounts, and the AR-15 mounts will be sort of silly high on an AK variant, HK, M1A, or FAL.  You can still use the AR mounts, but you’ll have to add a cheekpiece to your stock in order to get any kind of cheekweld.

I prefer to run a red dot/magnifier combination for an all-round carbine.  I can’t quite get the same long-range accuracy this way, because the 4 MOA dots of my Aimpoints cover more of the target than the small dot or crosshairs of a scope.  If I ever needed to do any fighting around here, it would mostly be inside of 100 yards though.  If I really needed to shed some weight, I could remove the magnifier from the rifle, and just put it back on as needed.

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