What are red dot scopes?

Although the dot can be colours other than red, the category has become known as ‘red dot’ scopes, and sometimes as ‘holographic’ and ‘reflex’ sights. Although the arrangement differs slightly for each, as the name suggests, they make use of a dot, that is generated by an LED (Light Emitting Diode) instead of a crosshair reticle to provide an aim point. Typically the dot is projected onto a small screen within the sight which the shooter overlays onto the target. Red dot scopes should not be confused with laser dot scopes that project a dot onto the actual surface of the target.

On their own, red dot scopes do not offer any form of magnification, although it is possible to purchase a separate magnifying unit and position it in front of the sight itself. 

Why use a red dot scope?

Most airgunners use red dot scopes as an alternative to traditional telescopic sights for informal target shooting and back garden plinking as they are intended to facilitate fast target acquisition, making them a popular choice for speed shooting. Paintballers and airsoft shooters also like them for this reason, as, of course, do law enforcement and military. Some shooters who struggle to use a telescopic sight due to issues with their eyesight find it easier to use a red dot scope. 

What to look for

For airgunners, the main factor to consider is whether a red scope will be suitable for the type of shooting they plan to do. 

The lack of magnification means they are unlikely to be suitable for precise target or range shooting at anything other than short range for example. In addition, given the low power of air rifles, hunters will typically use a telescopic sight to ensure more precise shot placement on their quarry. 

Although some airgunners like the additional challenge of target shooting with a red dot scope, most tend to use them for informal target shooting and back garden plinking, especially as they encourage shooting at speed. The fact that the red dot will stay aligned on the target regardless of eye position also means the scopes are popular with air pistol shooters.

Intensity

Some models offer the ability to adjust the intensity or brightness of the dot. Whilst this is useful, it is not vital given that most airgunners will be shooting over short distances. 

Red dot size

Some models offer the ability to adjust the size of the red dot which helps those with eyesight problems. Increasing the size of the red dot will, of course, make it easier to see but will also obscure more the target. Whilst that is less likely to be an issue for informal target shooting and back garden plinking, it makes precise shot placement more difficult.

Main red dot scope brands

Most shooting optics companies offer red dot sights. Hawke, Sightmark and Walther all offer excellent affordable products. More expensive are sights from Aimpoint and Eotech with Sig Sauer and Vortex filling the middle ground.

Aimpoint

Swedish company, Aimpoint lays claim to having invented the red dot sight. It has been making them since 1975 and is recognised as one of the category’s premier brands. Its hunting and sport shooting range – there are separate products for military and law enforcement – comprises four main products – the 9000L, 9000SC and the 9000SC-NV, which is compatible with night vision. All of which are based on a 30mm tube. The fourth product, the Acro C-1 is intended mainly for use on pistols due to its low profile and compact size.

Eotech

US company Eotech offers a wide range of red dot, or holographic, sights for law enforcement, military and sporting use. With its origin in the early 1970s, the company marketed its first sight in 1996 and today offers a broad range of dedicated red dot holographic products as well as hybrid sights that make use of a separate snap in/snap out magnifier to aid precision shooting. Magnifier units are also sold separately.

Hawke

UK company, Hawke Sport Optics produces a wide range of products aimed primarily at sporting shooters. Its telescopic sights are highly popular with airgunners. As far as red dots sights are concerned, the company has three product lines. The six products in the Vantage range offer 20, 25 and 30mm objective lens options. At less than £100, they represent excellent value for money and build quality. The two Endurance models are slightly more expensive. In addition, Hawke offers five ‘Reflex’ holographic style sights.

Sightmark

Sightmark offers one of the largest ranges of red dot and holographic sights with 25 models currently available in a range of objective lens sizes, dot colours and body colours. Its brands comprise Wolverine, Element, Core Shot, Mini Shot and Ultra Shot. Many of them are compatible with a range of Sightmark magnifier units. 

Walther

Best known for its rifle barrels and branded air rifles, Walther also produces a range of affordable red dot and holographic sights, one of which, the EPS3 model comes with a snap in/snap out magnifier.

Richard Saunders Best Picks

Best red dot scopes for hunting

Red dot sights are designed to allow for quick target acquisition. As such, they are not generally thought to be suitable for airgun hunting which requires exact, precise shot placement on stationary targets. Red dot and holographic sights are used by some hunters for rat pest control at short distance, especially in low light conditions too dark for a traditional scope as an alternative to night vision equipment. The Walther EPS3 PS22 red dot sight is excellent for short range airgun use and comes with a 3x flip in/flip out magnifier to help more precise shot placement. The Hawke Reflex and Hawke Endurance ranges also have a lot to offer airgunners. Higher up the fiscal ladder, products from Aimpoint like the 9000L are hard to beat.

hawke red dot endurance

Best cheap budget mini red dot scopes

Given that most airgunners will use a red dot sight for plinking and informal target shooting, many are likely to find inexpensive red dot sights more than adequate for their needs. At less than £20, the Pellpax mkII Reflex Red Dot Sight and Crosman Wide Angle Red Dot Sight represent excellent value for money and are more than adequate for airgunners looking for a little variety and more precision for their plinking and target sessions.

crosman red dot scope

Best red dot scopes under £100

Hawke is a name many airgunners will be familiar with. Its Vantage Red Dot range of scopes are excellent quality and represent value for money at less than £100. The line up comprises six products, three each designed to fit picatinny and 9-11mm dovetail rails with objective lens options ranging between 20 and 30mm and variable reticle brightness levels.

hawke red dot vantage

FAQs

How does a red dot scope work?

A red dot scope should not be confused with a laser dot scope which will project a beam of light (laser) onto a target. A red dot typically uses an LED (Laser Emitting Diode) which is reflected from a mirror that is treated to only reflect red light, or green light in the case of a green dot, and projected onto a glass screen which the shooter then aligns with his or her target. The term ‘red dot’ tends to be applied to the general class of sights, but comprise two slightly different sights – reflex and holographic.

How to use a red dot scope?

The appeal of red dot scopes is that they are very easy and intuitive to use. Once zeroed in you simply place the red dot over the target you want to hit. Unlike traditional scopes, the reticle is a simple dot and therefore does not have markings to enable you to accurately assess hold over/under for distances further or closer than the zero.

How to mount a red dot sight on a scope?

Red dot sights are mounted in the same way as conventional scopes, using mounts designed for either picatinny or dovetail rails. Most red dot scopes have an integrated mounting rail, so make sure you buy a red sight that has a compatible mount for your rifles or you need buy an adapter.

How to zero / sight in a red dot scope?

As with conventional scopes, most red dot scopes have adjustments for windage – to move the aim point left and right – and elevation – to move the aim point up and down. Assuming your rifle shoots consistently, the easiest way to zero is to place a small target on a large piece of card at the distance you want to set your zero. Then shoot a group of three to five shots. Note where the group hits in relation to your target aim point. Use the windage and elevation adjustments and then shoot another group aiming at your target. Repeat the process until your group coincides with your aim point.