Should you have optics on your rifle?

Should you have optics on your rifle?
Should you have optics on your rifle?
Should you have optics on your rifle?
Should you have optics on your rifle?

This Saturday I’m teaching a defensive rifle course. And if it’s like most courses, I’ll have folks show up with a wide variety of optics on their rifles and most will be surprised to see that I use iron sights and I don’t use any optics at all.

There are many reasons for this. One of the main reasons is because I’m a simple man… a minimalist if you will. I like my guns simple and I don’t like to put a bunch of accessories on them if I don’t need them.

Luckily, I’m not out in the mountains of Afghanistan where I might have to take a 300-yard shot and my eyesight is good, so I do just fine without a red dot for my defensive rifle purposes. (In other words, I don’t pretend I’m Rambo, I realize my rifle is for my urban environment.)

Another reason I’m not a huge fan of optics is because I’ve seen them fail many times.

In fact, here are two instances from the last two rifle courses. In one case, I saw a guy staring at his red dot and pushing a bunch of buttons with a funny look on his face. He said his battery was dead so he went to change his batteries. He seemed to be back there for a long time and finally came back to say he had accidentally purchased the wrong batteries for his red dot so it was now useless to him.

In the other instance, the fellow was doing the same thing, staring at his red dot making a funny face, but this guy did bring the right batteries.

Remember, these were classes, where it’s no big deal if you run out of batteries, but if that was a life or death situation, obviously things could have gone downhill very quickly. That’s why, if you use any type of optic on your rifle you must have back up iron sights.

Even more importantly, both your optic and your iron sights must be zeroed.

If you’re too lazy to zero your iron sights and your batteries go dead, then I’d be very careful taking any shots because you don’t know where the bullets headed, and, as you’re well aware, you’re responsible for every round that leaves your gun.

But if you really want an optic on your gun, I’d go with Aimpoint if I were you. Their batteries last for a long time and you should only have to replace them every 5 years, even though I recommend getting fresh batteries every year, no matter what.

And if you really want to break the bank and pretend you’re Rambo, then go with an ACOG. It will probably cost you more than you paid for your rifle, but it should last you forever and you can certainly bet your life on it.

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Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and author of The Covert Guide to Concealed Carry. He is also the creator of the Ultimate Concealed Carry Experience, which allows you to take your concealed carry training without leaving home. For full details about this training, please visit Concealed Carry Academy. You can also follow him on Google+ and Twitter.
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A good article and in general I too try and adhere to the Keep It Simple principle when possible. I also think there are times when good optics on a long range weapon really makes a lot of sense even in an urban environment. It’s really not so much a matter of “either / or” actually. You can have both via see through raised rings that allow you to keep your iron sites as well as have the benefit of magnifying long range optics.

Your advice on the Aimpoint is right on. I like the Aimpoint T1 myself because it’s super compact, lasts for five years, has night vision capability (you’ll want that in an urban environment) and costs less than an ACOG.


A1 and A2 sights on all 3 ARs and a 4X carry handle scope that doesn’t block the iron sights.


I am with you. I have the standard iron sites, with a carry handle optic that doesn’t block the iron sights. It’s reticle is also black, so I don’t need the batteries even if they do fail, just won’t work at night.

Just Some Guy

Major disappointment for me as I saw everyone going to optics… then I tried an EOtech, and fell in love.

I’m not about to depend on some battery operated gizmo, however.. it’s nice, but I still insist on manual failover.. co-witnessing “for the win” as the kids say, these days.

Clay Hendon

The Aimpoint series of optics is pretty much the gold standard for professional gunfighters. Newer EOTech’s (which have addressed previous issues with battery contact/shut-off) are also great. Never underestimate the ability of something that can make you more successful. Many civilians simply do not have the time or resources to train properly on their respective rifle/carbine…but the right red-dot sight (Aimpoints can be turned on and left that way for years and are damn near indestructible), can take “point and shoot” to a whole new level.

David Brooks

I have an Aimpoint CompM4s on my AR, one single “AA” is supposed to last 8 years, so I just leave it on all the time! I can’t vouch for that run-time, since I’ve only had it a year, but that’s what Aimpoint advertises. It came with a picatinney rail mount (no extra cost) and co-witnessed with my back-up iron sights straight out of the box. I love it!


I’ll keep my optics, thank you. My vision has gone downhill over the years, and iron sights are useless to me. However, I won’t trust my safety to someone else, and I don’t want to wound animals when I’m hunting.


So everybody that mounts an optic on a rifle is a ‘Rambo’, Mr. Hanson? Nice bit of condescension there.

I suppose the fact that it’s standard issue on US Military rifles, used under all conditions and at all ranges (or do you really think they detach them when they go indoors) might be a clue as to their overall utility and usefulness under a wide range of situations and conditions?

Guess not…


Retired Green Beret (Opns and Weapons), here.

You’re not a Rambo? Most of the “SHOOTERS” I now ARE Rambo. They are empowering themselves with guns and testostrone. That included me at one time. It was really cool to take a 1911 and rapid fire it for 100% hits.

You must be like me. Had so much weapons exposure that you’re bored with it and never car to clean a gun again.

Lighten up Francis. Every comment isn’t about you. This is just a “reasonable” stereotype. I witnessed it as an S.F. Weapons Instructor.

Jim Lagnese

That’s assuming someone would use an AR. For defensive rifle work, chances are it’s going to be under 25 years as anything longer will probably be offensive. Open sights make sense, but I can think of other rifles I might like better, like a Marlin 1894. As far as batteries, I wouldn’t use a sight that needs them.


Remember, for you see under readers, that the higher the mount on a scope, the greater the variance in your aiming point at different distances.
Technology or not, practice practice practice transitioning of distances and of sights. HooRah


I have a few AR15’s and heres one of mine with a scope. It’s very accurate!