Red Dot Optics And MOA

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Red Dot Optic 3
A 2-MOA red-dot works for the guys who put bad guys in the ground. That should tell you something about what will work for you.

It isn't arbitrary, there's a very good reason why manufacturers make 2 MOA red dots and not smaller.

What You Need To Know About Red Dot Dots:

  • 2-MOA is the standard size given that's what shooters ask for.
  • Most shooters run their dot on too high an illumination setting to their detriment.
  • Ideally, it should be set low enough so it's still visible, but not a distraction from the target.

Back in the prehistoric era of red-dots, they were large, fragile and expensive — and they gobbled batteries like salesmen at a conference chews breath mints. In the very early 1990s, I’d just had one custom-rebuilt for my USPSA Open pistol. Soon after, the mask inside of the tube, the one that blocked the emitter, fell off. Just like that, I went from a 4-MOA dot (which was tiny for the time) to a 20-MOA dot.

Let me tell you: For a short while, I was a monster on the stages. With a dot that big, I was warp-speed fast on close- to medium-range targets. But when the distances got much past 35 yards, the dot covered the entire target. And overlapping hostage targets? Well, that was real conundrum, even at close range.

Since then I’ve paid close attention to the size of the dot in our optics, as well as the brightness. When the dot is 20 MOA, you don’t need a lot of power to see it. What I found, over time, was that almost everyone who starts shooting with a red-dot optic runs it too bright. When the dot is so bright it pulls your attention away from the target and surroundings, and it insists, “Focus on me!” If it “blooms” or shows a star-like pattern when you aim, you have the power turned up too much. Unless you’re in the Southwest, or in a sandy range on a bright day, you don’t need to dial your power up to max.

Invariably, we find that during the law enforcement patrol rifle classes, when it comes time to shoot past the 50-yard square range and engage the knock-downs out to 300 meters, officers have their dot cranked up too bright. When they click the power back a couple of settings, they can actually see the targets through the tube and get down to aiming — even on a clear summer’s day.

Red Dot Optic 2
If this is what you see when you look through your red-dot sight, then you have the power too high — way too high.

For those asking, the difference between a reflex red-dot and a non-reflex is not germane to this discussion. With all due respect to the various designs and the engineers involved, the end-users don’t know, don’t care and can shoot well with either. We can also crank either up too bright. We’ll go into the differences at a later date.

Sized To Perfection

So, how big of a dot should your red-dot sight have? Well, if you run it at “mid-day sun” setting, it doesn’t matter if you have a tiny ½-MOA dot: It’s going to flare so much that it will be this red atomic blob in your line of sight.


Scope Out More Optics Info:

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At the recent SHOT Show, I had a chance to talk to the makers, builders and designers of red-dot sights. I asked them what size was best — and why — as well as why everything seemed to be a 2-MOA dot at the smallest size. No 1-MOA dots? The answer was interesting, and consistent.

“We make the dots the size the guys asking want them to be,” reported one manufacturer. Meaning, the bearded gents in the various hot and dusty places in the world want 2-MOA dots. “It isn’t that much more difficult to make a 1-MOA dot, but our end-users don’t ask. So we make them that way for everyone.”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

The red-dot sight makers could make 1-MOA dots. They have no-doubt offered them to the military groups who shoot a lot of people on a regular basis. (Hey, let’s not beat around the bush, OK?) The gents who do the trigger-pulling apparently find that a 2-MOA dot is big enough to be fast, and precise enough to be, well, precise. The manufacturers could make 1-MOA units for us who ask, but why? It would be a different production line or a different production run. It would be one more SKU in inventory. It would be another entry in the catalog and something to be tracked on the web page. Ditto all that for retailers.

Red Dot Optic 1
The camera sees this dot as brighter than it really appears to the eye, but this is about the max brightness you need to shoot well.

On the computer-controlled pop-ups we shoot on the distance ranges in the Patrol Rifle classes, the farthest one is 300 meters away. A 2-MOA dot subtends 6.6 inches at that distance. People are typically 16-18 inches across the shoulders, so that gives you a third-third-third width-aiming ability. And if you have to account for the wind, then by putting the right edge of the circle on the left edge of the bad guy, you have accounted for a full-value 10 mph wind. The 2-MOA dot also gives you a measure for hold-over, as the drop in trajectory of most .223 Rem./5.56 NATO loads out at 300 meters is going to be two dot-widths.

In reality, 300 meters isn’t really that far, and a 10 mph wind is a lot brisker than people think, so my advice to all the students when they first settle in to fire the course is simple: “Do not hold off of the plastic. Keep your dot on the target — all the way out. If you missed and can’t see the bullet strike, you almost undoubtedly missed high. And turn your power down.”
With good eyesight or corrective lenses, you can see and use a 2-MOA dot, but not a 1-MOA dot, for such adjustments.

That said, should you consider a 4-MOA dot? Sure, but the only advantage will be for those using it solely in CQB settings. And even then, the speed advantage of the bigger dot isn’t going to matter much. Will it be enough to win hotly-contested matches? Yes. In the real world? Not so much.

I’m usually the one to point out that competition has a lot to teach us, especially those who are tactically oriented. This is one instance where the opposite is true. The tactical guys have a lot to teach the rest of us. In short: A 2-MOA dot is just fine.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.


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