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As the number of first-time gun owners continues to increase, so too does the number of questions surrounding what type of optic to buy. One of the most common questions posed by new modern sporting rifle (MSR) owners is “Should I choose a scope versus a red dot sight?” While there’s no right or wrong answer, the response given is typically centered around the intended use of the rifle. Will you be using this for target practice at the range, competition, hunting, or self defense? Will you be seated or moving? Will your target be moving? What distance do you intend to shoot out to? Based on the answers to these questions, it’s then easier to determine the proper optic for you. So, what’s the difference between a red dot and a scope? Here’s a brief overview of the two to help you make the best decision for your shooting scenario.

Why Buy A Red Dot Sight?
Red dot sights, or reflex optics, such as the ROMEO series of red dot sights, make it easier to be fast and accurate at close distances thanks to their small size and lightweight as well as their knack for making target acquisition quick. When shooting at a range, your goal should be to put each shot on target as accurately as possible. Red dot sights assist with this goal by making it easier to acquire your target. And since most red dots do not have magnification, it is easier to look through them with both eyes open. That makes it advantageous when you are moving or your target is moving. Red dot sights can be adequate on rifles or short-barreled rifles up to 300 yards but most shooters typically prefer using them within 100 yards.

Why Buy A Red Dot Sight?
SIGM400 TREAD Snakebite SE with the ROMEO4 red dot sight.

For those who prefer shooting longer distances but still enjoy the benefits of a red dot sight, magnifiers can be added onto the rail between you and the red dot sight (with the ability to swing the device in and out of place). The ROMEO and JULIET combination of products solves for this scenario, giving you added magnification for longer range. This is a common setup for 3-gun competitions or tactical training scenarios when you engage targets 25 to 30 yards out but then switch quickly to targets at longer distances.

ROMEO4/JULIET4 Combination
SIGM400 TREAD Snakebite SE with the JULIET4 magnifier and the ROMEO4 red dot sight.


Why Buy a Riflescope?
While typically reserved for medium to long-range shooting, riflescopes, or scopes, can also be used when shooting at shorter distances is preferred. If you plan on target shooting from a static position and are aiming out to 100 yards, you may decide that a tactical riflescope, such as the TANGO series of scopes, will help hone precision and accuracy. However, where riflescopes really shine is in their ability to increase your accuracy at greater distances due in large part to their magnification adjustments. Tactical riflescopes tend to have more complex reticles that allow for minute measurement adjustments on both the vertical and horizontal axis. This style of scope is often preferred in military training and operations. In fact, the TANGO6 series of tactical riflescopes was recently awarded multiple contracts with the Unitest States military. The U.S. Army recently announced its selection of the TANGO6 1-6×24 riflescope for their Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDMR) while the Department of Defense recently selected the TANGO6T for Direct View Optic (DVO) as well as for use with Special Operations Forces.

Hunting riflescopes, such as the WHISKEY series of scopes, have more basic reticles that are designed with bullet drop indicators on the vertical axis and limited or no indicators on the horizontal. In addition, magnified scopes allow you to gauge not only how far you’re shooting but also correct for windage and elevation so that you can make a more accurate shot.

TANGO Riflescope
SIGM400 Elite Ti rifle with the TANGO6 1-6X24MM riflescope

With Ballistic Data Xchange (BDX), it’s even easier. SIG SAUER scopes enabled with BDX allow shooters to quickly and easily bond their sights with preset ballistic groups that cover the vast majority of calibers on the market. These preset ballistic groups allow you to use BDX scopes without the use of a smartphone app once the connection has been made. The result is that your SIERRA BDX riflescope then gives you an illuminated holdover dot, allowing you to make a simple, fast, and humane shot on your target.

Red Dot Sight or Scope: What is the Best Optic for Your Rifle?
SIG CROSS bolt-action rifle with the SIERRA6BDX 3-18x44mm riflescope.

Finally, when choosing a scope for hunting, you’ll want to select one with a magnification range based on the places you plan to hunt. For example, in the thick woods of New England, you typically only need to shoot out to 100 or 200 yards. In that scenario, you may decide a scope with a 1-4x, 2-10x or even 3-12x magnification will suffice. In the open plains or high alpine territory of the west, you may need to shoot much longer distances in which case 3-18x, 4-16x, 6-24x, or even 5×30 would make the most sense. Whichever magnification you decide to select, keep in mind that the more you zoom in on your target, the more difficult it is to track, move and aim your gun.


What About a Combination of Both?
Some people find that they want the ability to engage targets at all distances in all scenarios. For these shooters, choosing a riflescope with an offset red dot is the preferred solution. Originally developed in the 3-gun competition world and now common in tactical training scenarios, the addition of an offset red dot sight on a riflescope allows you to engage targets at 50 yards and then immediately at 300 yards simply by tilting the rifles at 45 degrees.

Team SIG Pro Shooter Lena Miculek with the SIG MPX PCC outfitted with a ROMEO1Pro red dot sight offset and a TANGO6T riflescope.

No matter what setup you choose for your rifle, it’s important to remember that every shooter has different needs and requirements and it’s ultimately up to you to make the best decision for your particular situation. No matter what optic you choose, be sure to spend some time at the range familiarizing yourself with your new setup and take formal instruction when you can. Courses are offered regularly at SIG SAUER Academy for rifle owners of all ability levels. Our instructors have years of experience in firearms instruction and defensive tactics gained from military, law enforcement and government agencies in addition to private research entities. Becoming a proficient shooter with your new rifle optics can be an amazingly rewarding experience.

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