The growing interest for including a tactical carbine in a patrol “kit” has spawned the development of a multitude of accessories designed to enhance the weapon in one area or another. Probably no area has received as much attention as sighting systems. It seems that everyone makes some type of sight for use on a tactical carbine. There are red dot sights, reticle pattern sights, electronic sights, illuminated reticle sights, etc. It has gotten to the point that it is extremely difficult for the individual officer – let alone someone in a procurement capacity – to discern what is best for the environment in which they have to work.
Let me state up front that a sighting system is only as good as the mount that is used with it. I have seen too many $300 sights fastened to $1000 weapons with $10 mounts. The good news is that most sights can be purchased with the appropriate mount for your specific application and, normally, these mounts are very good. However, if you need an additional type mount for some reason then be sure that you purchase a quality product. The better known names in the mount business are A.R.M.S. and GG&G – either can usually be procured from a variety of distributors and dealers. The key to selecting the proper mount is based on anticipated use. If you are using both optics and irons, or possibly multiple type optics, you will need a mount type that is repeatable. If you are using night vision devices (NVDs), you may need a mount that allows the optics to move forward or rearward without zero loss in order to position the NVDs. The last bit of advice I would offer here is to ensure that your optics/sights are positioned high enough to allow proper cheek placement and eye position/relief.
The first step in selecting a sighting system for any weapon is deciding what you expect the weapon to do once the sights have been mounted. Sights are not magical. They will not make you a better shooter; they will assist you in acquiring a target quicker or seeing a target at an extended range. For the majority of law enforcement officers, average situations requiring the use of a tactical carbine involve close ranges, quick target engagement, and confined spaces/areas that have to be maneuvered. For this environment, a sight that offers quick target indexing, such as one of the red dot sights, is probably the ticket. For those officers working in more rural or open areas where longer engagements (past 50 yards) may be the norm, a reticle type sight might be more adequate.
The first sighting system we need to mention here is the one that is most commonly overlooked or ignored completely: iron sighting systems. Regardless of the area or environment in which you work, the one thing that I would HIGHLY recommend is that back-up iron sights always be available on the weapon. These sights must be functional and zeroed to the officer because when you need them, you NEED them. There are some really fine iron sight systems available today; many are designed to be incorporated with optical sights. Like the mounts, companies such as A.R.M.S., GG&G, and Knight Manufacturing produce some of the best iron sights systems available.
Tactical carbine sights generally come in one of two forms (either electronic or nonelectronic), meaning they either need batteries or they don’t. These two areas can be further broken down into reticle or aiming point types which are generally accepted as either a dot sight or a reticle sight. Let’s take a look at some of these sights and try to provide some insight into the positive and negative aspects of each. I have to caveat this article by saying that I have had extensive experience with a wide variety of sights and sighting systems; however, there are still many that I have not. If I do not mention your favorite sight, please forgive me. However, if I happen to say something negative concerning a sight you favor, then disregard it. Use what makes you happy and makes your job easier. If you believe in a particular sight (or any piece of equipment for that matter), then, by all means, use it.
The “red dot” sight is by far the most common electronic sight in use today and can be found in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and price ranges. These sights were made popular by products such as the Aimpoint sights, ProPoint® sights and the C-MORE sights which allow the user to index on a target quickly without having to line up a front and rear sight. Additionally, they allow the user to shoot with both eyes open and allow target engagement in limited or low light. Most red dot sights come in a variety of dot sizes, generally ranging from about two minutes of angle (MOA) all the way to sixteen MOA. The larger the MOA, the larger the dot and the quicker it can be seen. The smaller dots are intended to be used where longer shots may have to be taken (past 25 meters/yards). The majority of red dot sights allow the intensity of the dot to be varied by way of a switch. Many people mistakenly believe that, by varying the intensity of the dot, they are changing the size of the dot. This is only an optical illusion, as the size of the dot remains the same.
The C-MORE red dot sight is available with specific mounts which allow the use of the standard M-16 aperture sights in conjunction with the red dot on M-16 style rifles and carbines, allowing you to always have iron sight backup. The C-MORE is a favorite among competition shooters for use in action pistol and three gun matches. The C-MORE uses a “Heads Up Display,” or HUD, meaning that the reticle pattern appears to float.
One of the newest electronic sights is the “holographic” sight that project an image (dot or reticle) onto a lens which the operator looks through. An example of this is the Bushnell HOLO Sight which is unique in that the reticle pattern is either placed or projected onto a lens. When viewed, the reticle appears as though it is transposed onto the target which makes target engagement extremely fast. Both the HOLO II and the C-MORE red dot sight are parallax-free which means that the sight looks the same, regardless of where the head is located in regards to the sight (unlike normal rifle scopes). Additionally, in the case of the HOLO and C-MORE sights, should the lens break, the aiming point will appear on the available glass remaining and still be zeroed.
Regardless of the type of electronic sighting system, the obvious downfalls are that they all need batteries, have to be adjusted, and are prone to failure at the most inopportune time. Additionally, red dot sights suffer from what is called “washout,” meaning that, in bright light against a light background, the dot will disappear (the C-MORE seems to be the brightest dot and will not wash out). With all that said, the electronic sight remains the most popular style of sight for the tactical carbine, especially when used in an urban environment. The new holographic sights are quickly gaining popularity due to their flexibility and ease of use; however, the traditional red dot sights remain the predominate electronic sight. Pricewise, most of the red dot sights are comparable, ranging from around $200 to $500 for some of more sophisticated night vision capable systems. A couple of tips here: Always carry spare batteries (preferably on the weapon itself) and always have a backup iron sight mounted and zeroed on the weapon.
The next variety of sighting systems are the nonelectronic dot type, which generally means that the dot is illuminated by some type of radiating element (usually tritium). The two sights that come to mind in this area are the Mepro 21, made by Meprolight, and the Reflex, made by Trijicon. Like the electronic variety, the illuminated sights are offered in different sized dots, anywhere from four to twelve MOA, for the same reasons. Most of the illuminated reticles either come with (or have) optional polarizing filters that allow the user to increase or decrease the amount of light that enters into the objective (front) of the sight, thus making the dot brighter or dimmer. The upside of these sights is that they do not need batteries and, therefore, will not die when you need them the most. The down side is that they cannot be adjusted in intensity to meet the lighting conditions, especially in low or dim light. Many times, the dot in these sights is “fuzzy” and can be hard to distinguish, especially when trying to obtain pinpoint accuracy at 25 yards or more. The price of these sights is comparable to the electronic variety, again ranging from $200 to $500, depending on the options chosen.
The last type of sighting system that I will talk about is the reticle type which, as the title implies, has a reticle (crosshair) type aiming point. These sighting systems are normally telescopic in nature and generally familiar to anyone who has ever used a scoped rifle, except that most of the reticle patterns are not the common crosshair (duplex or otherwise) style. Most of the reticle patterns found in these systems incorporate some type of range finding system out to (normally) 500 yards or meters. A couple of the more favored systems are the Elcan and the ACOG. The reticle style sight is intended for use in areas that allow longer range shooting than typically found in urban environments, although they can be very effective when employed as an urban sniper optical system, even on the tactical carbine. Many of the reticle systems can be had with illuminated reticles that, like their dot cousins, use tritium to make the reticle visible in low light situations. One of the negative aspects of the reticle type sights is that many times the reticle itself is extremely fine and very hard to see in all but perfect light conditions. Another is that, in many cases, in order to use the sight properly, it must be mounted in a position that does not allow the use of iron or backup sights which greatly reduces the weapons’ flexibility and usefulness. Reticle style sights are generally much more expensive than either of the dot type sights. These sights run between $300 and $1000, again depending on which model, the magnification, the reticle, etc.
Pros and Cons
To sum all of this up, let me break it down with a “P” for positive and an “N” for negative, and with a synopsis at the end:
Urban – generally typified by quick target engagement, confined area maneuvering, multiple users, and vehicle storage:
- Electronic dot – (P) Good sight that enables quick target engagement.(N) Relies on batteries and has to beadjusted for the existing light conditions. Good Choice
- Nonelectronic dot – (P) Good sight, provides quick target engagement; does not need batteries for use; always “on”; normally very durable, usually retains zero well. (N) Normally dim, sometimes fuzzy aiming point.OKChoice
- Holographic sights – (P) Good sight that enables quick target engagement which, depending on reticle or aiming point, can be used for longer range shots, if necessary. (N) Relies on batteries and has to be adjusted for the existing light conditions.Good Choice
- Reticle or telescopic – (P) Magnification of distant targets; precise engagement of targets; range determination (reticle dependant). (N) Slow target engagement; limited field of view; cannot be used inside buildings.Worst Choice
Semiurban – generally typified by quick target and medium range engagements, confined area maneuvering, multiple users, and vehicle storage:
- Electronic dot – (P) Good sight that enables quick target engagement and can be employed at longer range with practice. (N) Relies on batteries and has to be adjusted for the existing light conditions; at longer ranges, the dot can obscure vital target areas.OK Choice
- Nonelectronic dot – (P) Good sight that enables quick target engagement and can be employed at longer range with practice; does not need any batteries for use; always “on”; normally very durable. (N) Normally dim, sometimes fuzzy aiming point.Good Choice
- Holographic sights – (P) Good sight which enables quick target engagement; alternate reticle patterns can provide longer-range engagements. (N) Relies on batteries and has to be adjusted for the existing light conditions.Good Choice
- Reticle or telescopic – (P) Magnification of distant targets; precise target engagement. (N) Slow target engagement; limited field of view; cannot be used inside buildings.OK Choice (depending on amount of open area)
Rural – Generally typified by quick target and medium range engagements; confined area maneuvering; multiple users; and vehicle storage:
- Electronic dot – (P) Quick sight employment. (N) Relies on batteries and has to be adjusted for the existing light conditions; some examples not extremely durable; dot can obscure target or desired point of impact.OK Choice (depending on specific usage)
- Nonelectronic dot – (P) Quick sight employment, does not need any batteries for use; always “on,” normally very durable. (N) Does not magnify the target; normally dim, sometimes fuzzy aiming point; dot can obscure target or be very difficult to hold on desired aiming point.OK Choice (depending on specific usage)
- Holographic sights – (P) Quick sight employment; alternate reticle can provide long-range aiming points. (N) Does not magnify the target; relies on batteries and has to be adjusted for the existing light conditions; reticle or dot can obscure target and make holding the target very difficult.Good Choice
- Reticle or telescopic – (P) Magnification of distant targets; allows for range estimation and target hold off; can be used for moving targets. (N) Slow target engagement; limited field of view.Good Choice
The point to all of the preceding paragraphs was to try and give you, the reader, some idea of the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of sighting systems available for use on the tactical carbine. Like everything in the shooting community, everyone has an opinion and a multitude of reasons to back it all up. For those interested in my opinion, I have to say that, having used the majority of the systems I mentioned, I prefer the holographic sights for close quarters work. I prefer a duplex style reticle (preferably one with a range finding capability) and variable power ranging from 1.5 – 6 power if I am using the weapon for long-range or precision work.
This article is not meant to be a “single source” document. Additionally, it is very hard to single out specific products as being “the best.” However, readers should take from this article what it intended, and that is to provide some basic information and to identify some specific aspects of the more common systems. Those interested in procuring sighting systems for themselves (or their unit) should conduct a mission analysis to determine the parameters for use. Once this has been accomplished, I would recommend that focused research be conducted on the specific types of sights needed. I know this last line will be somewhat lost, but I feel a need to say it anyway: Let the use/mission choose the sighting system – not the price of it.n