Best Short-Range AR Optics

   11.19.20

What’s the “best” anyway? It all depends on the ranking criteria, right? Is the “best” car one that hits 60 mph in 2.9 seconds or one that can tow the lower half of South Dakota to Manitoba? The same goes with optics, so as I own the ink until this article goes live and comments open, I’m going to define the selection criteria. To me, a great short-range AR optic must offer speed and just enough precision to hit something accurately inside of 200 yards, with a strong emphasis on less than 50 yards. Magnification features allowing me to see a gnat’s eye color at 400 yards is irrelevant. Reliability is also a factor. If all you want is a range toy, then you can buy a cheap optic and take your chances. There’s not a whole lot of risk other than having to rebuy it when it breaks.

I’m going to assume our “best” optics need to be suitable for home defense and/or competition. Both of those scenarios offer penalties if the optic won’t hold zero or won’t run when you need it to. After these criteria, things get subjective pretty fast, and that’s OK. I’m going to offer up my picks, then you can tell me whether you agree or disagree, and why.

Cover Image: Shutterstock/Straight 8 Photography

1. Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic (PRO)

The Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic is purpose-built for the AR platform. Available with the QRP2 rail-grabber mount, it will return to the same zero every time. Mounting couldn’t be easier. Turn the large gnarled knob until it clicks. It’s got torque limiting built in so you’ll get perfect mount tension every time. The height of the mounting base positions it perfectly for flattop ARs, and it will co-witness with fixed or flip-up front sights. The 30mm tube provides plenty of field of view.

The best features, however, are construction and the “always on” capability. Aimpoints are built like tanks. Drop it, bash it, or dive to 25 fathoms (150 feet) and it will keep going. While you can adjust the 2-MOA dot intensity from off to very bright, you never need to turn this device off. It will run on a single battery for years. Yes, years. That’s why the Aimpoint PRO lives on my home-defense AR rifle. No switches to remember or fumble with in the dark. The rear flip-up lens cap is also clear. You’ll find that with both eyes open and the front cap closed, you’ll still see the red dot on the target. It’s some kind of optics voodoo.

Pros/Easy mounting and durable
Cons/None
Bottom Line/One of the most durable and easiest to use AR Optics

2. Aimpoint Micro

The Aimpoint Micro series currently comes in four options. The “H” series and “T” series only differ in that the “T” models have brightness settings compatible with night vision. The “2” models are new on the market and feature incremental improvements like dramatically improved glass over the “1” series. I mention both as you’ll see all four combinations available for sale.

Like the PRO models, these are built tough and you can leave them on for most of forever before changing batteries. Unlike the PROs, they’re small, hence the name “Micro.” Depending on what mount you choose, these serve equally well on rifles, carbines, or bows. You can even get pistol mounts. I’ve put one on a Glock 17 with great success. The tube is also small enough to serve as a crude aiming device for short range shots. If you see your target through the tube, you’re good to go. I keep an Aimpoint Micro T-2 on my Beretta 1301 Tactical shotgun always, you guessed it, turned on and ready to go.

Pros/Small and compact but very dependable AR Optics
Cons/Popular, so they sell out fast
Bottom Line/Perfect tiny-sized optic for multiple platforms

3. Trijicon ACOG

Yeah, I know. Trijicons are expensive. But at least it’s for good reason. Our military buys them by the Humvee-load, but they’re loaded with our tax dollars. If you’re serious about guns, shooting, competition, and/or home defense, you need to start thinking about quality optics as more than an afterthought. When you mentally budget, don’t be shy about spending half again as much as the cost of the rifle on a good optic. Rant over.

Now, why Trijicon? I know this is a “short range” list, but most Trijicons are short range red/amber/green dots with an attitude. For example, I’m currently using a Trijicon 3×30 model with a 300 Blackout ballistic drop compensation reticle. While slightly more svelte than the standard ACOG, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite short range optics. Like most ACOGs, it has dual illumination—a fiber-optic tube that makes the reticle glow in daylight and a tritium power source that makes it shine at night. While it’s a different approach, it provides that “always on” concept that I like so much about the Aimpoints.

I can’t pick a specific model for this list as there are infinity plus seven permutations of magnification, reticle color, reticle shape, and ballistic drop features, but I can pick some attributes. I prefer the 1.5x to 3x models for short-range application. The low level of magnification gives you great clarity and precise aim points without impacting the field of view. All of the ACOG models use the Bindon aiming concept and are intended to be used with both eyes open. Small, fixed magnification is simple, fast, and effective.

Prices are all over the map but plan on spending north of $1,000. After you use it a while, you’ll be glad you did.

Pros/Multiple options to fit your exact needs
Cons/Price, price and price
Bottom Line/There's a reason the military uses these things - they work!

4. EOTech EXPS2-0 Holographic Weapon Sight

Of course, we’d have to have an EOTech sight on this list. These holographic sights are great because the “dot” never changes. Unlike a red dot, the holographic sight doesn’t roam with your eye, meaning you can look through it with a slight angle and the dot is still on target. Being holographic, it appears to float in front of the barrel. This is one of the things I really like about the EOTechs, too. If you have to make a quick shot at something and you are a bit hasty when you pull the gun up to shoot, as long as the “dot” is on target, you’re good. I have one of these sights with a 3X magnifier mounted to a 450 Bushmaster. It makes for a great deer hunting rifle. You also had better hope that should you break into my home to do me harm, that it isn’t the rifle I get to first.

EOTechs are known for durability and excellent battery life. The only downfall is the price, really. But hey, you do get what you pay for. these things are awesome.

Pros/Always on target
Cons/Price again is a factor
Bottom Line/Better than a red dot

5. Leupold DeltaPoint

Like some of the others on this list, the “gold ring” folks are known for making a quality, rock-solid set of optics. When they moved to red dots, they kept the same attention to detail applied to their classic scopes. With a a nice big viewing window, it works well on a carbine. It also is arguably the best choice for many optics ready pistols as the height lends itself to perfect co-witnessing with iron sights.

Oh, it’s got motion-sensor technology too, so it turns on and off when you pick up your gun or let it sit for a while. By now, you know how much I like the “always on” feature, right?

It’s gonna run you about $400 depending on mount options and if you can find one.

Pros/Great for carbines or pistols
Cons/Little pricey
Bottom Line/A great optic from a great company

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