AR-15 Scopes: Optics Ideas for AR-15 Rifles
Optics choices for the AR are pretty simple; after all, you’re just picking a scope for a rifle. You’d use the same criteria you’d use for any other rifle: expected ranges, anticipated target size, amount of light available, and durability desired.
Of course in the defensive, law enforcement or military context, durability becomes much more important than in hunting. If I’m spending an afternoon on a ridgeline over a prairie dog town and my scope breaks, I can get another out of the truck. (Rifle or scope, my choice.) Or come back another day. If the bad guys are shooting at me and my scope breaks, I might not have the option of going back to the truck. As for the option of coming back another day – well, things don’t work that way.
Scopes selected for military use tend to be heavier, bulkier and a lot more costly than what would be “good enough” for hunting. That’s why you see bullet-proof rings like LaRue and Badger Ordnance on military rifles, and honkin’ big scopes like Leupold or the European makers. A few ounces, or even a pound, of extra weight don’t matter in those circumstances.
Consider the situation of a squad designated marksman (or even a school-trained sniper) in a small group of SpecOps troopers, hiding on a ridgeline. Between the bunch of them, the government has spent a staggering amount of money: they all draw pay (not enough, in my opinion) and have since they enlisted. They’ve been fed, housed, clothed, and sent to an impressive number of schools. They’ve been through training exercises that cost bundles of money. Then, the government ships them and all their gear halfway around the world. Going over on a C-5A or a C-17 costs a lot more per-person than flying coach on a commercial airliner. Then, they took a helicopter ride. That chopper requires another group of people; pilots, maintenance techs, air traffic controllers, all of whom cost the government a lot of money. Lying there in the dust, each one of those SpecOps troopers represents a million dollars or more of invested money.
Do you really think, once you start considering the costs, that the government really cares that another scope is “just as good” and costs “hundreds less”?
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The beginning of red-dot scopes in practical competition began with Jerry Barnhart in 1990. He mounted an Aimpoint on a .38 Super Open gun and proceeded to win the Nationals with it. Later that year, Doug Koenig, having mounted a red-dot scope on his Open gun, won the World Shoot. After that, there was no going back. Well, at least not for a few years.
The original scopes were dim, had narrow tubes and were quite fragile. It was not unheard of for a competitor to have two or three pre-zeroed scopes in their gear bag. Should one decide to break, they’d unbolt the old one and install the new one. I recall one time, at a USPSA Nationals, after a hard rain the sun came out. My extensively-modified and unsealed scope fogged up. By holding a butane lighter flame against it, I was able to dry it out. We’ve come a long way since then, and Aimpoint has done a lot to advance the field.
The method of operation of any red-dot scope is the same: you look through it, at the target. For fast, close in shooting, you simply let the dot “fl oat” in your field of view. Where it is, is where you hit. Optical purists quibble about which red-dots are and are not perfectly parallax-free. Parallax is the change in point of impact from the dot (or crosshairs) of a scope, when you move the dot or crosshairs from the optical center of the scope by moving your head. A scope with parallax will have the point of impact away from the dot or crosshairs when they are near the edge of the field of view.
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