I recently conducted a poll amongst the shooting community about what sighting system they use for their primary AR-15 or other carbine style rifle, such as an AK-47, Tavor, SCAR 16, or whatever other semi auto rifle firing an intermediate caliber. This poll focused on what people are using on their primary carbine. Since many firearms enthusiasts own many rifles with many different optics, this focused on what they use the majority of the itme. The results were a little surprising to me.

Poll Results

Primary Sighting System on a AR-15/Carbine Rifle

Red Dot: 215 votes / 39%
Iron Sights: 137 votes / 25%
Low Power Variable Magnification Optics (like a 1-4, 1-6, or 1-8): 108 votes / 19%
Fixed Magnification Optics (like a 4x ACOG): 36 votes / 6%
Red Dot with Magnifier: 32 votes / 6%
Higher Magnification Variable Optics (like a 2-10, 4-14, or greater): 30 votes / 5%
Total votes: 558

Personally, I’m not surprised about the red dot being ranked first. It’s a cheap and versatile optic that meets the needs of most riflemen shooting a hundred or few hundred yards and in. I am surprised that iron sights are still so prevalent on a primary rifle. With our current technology and red dot battery life, red dots and other optics are clearly superior to iron sights. Many red dots can stay on for years before the battery needs to be replaced.

AR-15 with a red dot optic

Red Dot – 39%

Red dots, holographic sights, and prism sights are the only “true” 1x options on the market. Magnified optics have eye relief, meaning the eye must be a specific distance from the scope in order to obtain a clear picture. There’s no need to obtain a specific cheek weld in order to be able to see through a red dot scope. Fast and useable in all light conditions – there’s a reason why red dots are so popular.

M-16 with iron sights

Iron Sights – 25%

Iron sights used to be the only option for a general purpose rifle, but have been eclipsed by new technology. Like with many advances, it can sometimes take time for people to change to new technology. Early adoptions often have lots of drawbacks or reliability issues, but modern optics are extremely reliable. The main benefit of iron sights is weight. If a shooter wants an ultra light build, iron sights are the way to go. The often stated other reason for iron sights is no need for a battery – but there are plenty of etched reticle optics which do not require a battery and are just as durable as iron sights.

Variable magnification optics

Low Power Variable Magnification Optics (like a 1-4, 1-6, or 1-8) – 19%

Low power variable magnification optics are very clearly on the rise. Modern low power variable optics are getting lighter, more durable, and with much more forgiving eye relief than even 5-10 years ago. I’m seeing more and more shooters switch on over to the variable magnification optics for their carbines due to the versatility they provide.

Low Power Fixed magnification Optic

Low Power Fixed Magnification Optics (like a 4x ACOG) – 6%

The Trijicon ACOG was adopted by the US Special Forces for the M4 carbine in 1995, making it the first official optic enhancement of the M16 family by the U.S. Military. Naturally, the Trijicon ACOG and its many competing fixed low power optics have been popular amongst the shooting community. Though lately their popularity has been falling due to the improvements to the low power variable magnification optic.

Red dot with a magnifier

Red Dot with Magnifier – 6%

Magnifiers paired with red dots are an attempt to take advantage of the red dot’s lack of eye relief for close quarters work, but flip over magnification for distance shots. While fast, magnifier and red dot combos tend to be heavy and block the field of view when the magnifier is not in use.

AR-15 with a riflescope

Higher Magnification Variable Optics (like a 2-10, 4-14, or greater) – 5%

Higher magnification optics are common on semi auto hunting rifles using intermediate calibers. When only one shot counts on the game you’re hunting, and field of view and weight matters less, the extra magnification provides an advantage that other optics do not.

My Thoughts

There is no true one size fits all optic for an AR-15 or other carbine. Each sighting system has its own drawbacks and advantages. Shooters must determine what needs they have for their rifle, and choose an optic that best fits those needs.

In my opinion, a quality variable magnified optic is the closest we can get to a “do it all” optic. A quality variable magnified optic has very forgiving eye relief that can be used in awkward and tight positions – I have used my US Optics 1-8x scope in many compromised positions. While a red dot would have been slightly easier in those situations, I don’t believe it would have provides a significant advantage since the red dot’s eye relief advantage must be balanced against the magnification advantage.

I will be going into why I choose the variable magnified optic in more detail in a future article.

In short, if you plan on shooting beyond 100 yards, I believe a low power variable magnified optic is the way to go. If you only plan on shooting 100 yards or in, then a red dot is best suited for those needs.

What do you use on your primary rifle?