Best Red Dot Sights for the AR-15 Rifle – Complete Review [2019]

The iconic AR-15 has been a dominant force in the commercial market since the suspension of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. As has often been the case throughout history, a military rifle was converted for civilian use.

Not only has the rifle been adopted, so has the red dot sight, a great tool for close and fast shooting. Honing in on your target is faster and easier because these scopes use a red dot as the aiming reticle. This eliminates the need to keep a front sight aligned with a rear sight.

In this article, we give you valuable information on red dot sights, as well as review some of the best currently on the market. Keep reading to learn more about this vital accessory.

Comparison of the Best AR-15 Red Dot Sights

PRODUCT DETAILS
gm2-table__image

Sightmark SM26008 Ultra Shot Plus Red Dot Sight

  • Unlimited eye relief.
  • Cast aluminum alloy housing.
  • Red and green illuminated multiple reticles.
View Latest Price
gm2-table__image

Dagger Defense DDHB Red Dot Reflex sight

  • Equipped with locking screw.
  • Includes a four-position reticle.
  • Features red and green dot sighting.
View Latest Price
gm2-table__image

Vortex Optics - Sparc Ii Red Dot Sight

  • Includes 10 brightness levels.
  • Machined from aircraft-grade aluminum.
  • Fully multi-coated lenses for clear image quality and light gathering for low-light situations.
View Latest Price
gm2-table__image

Burris - Fastfire III Red Dot Reflex Sight

  • Unlimited eye relief.
  • Three brightness settings.
  • The battery life of up to 10,000 hours.
View Latest Price
gm2-table__image

Rhino Tactical Green & Red Dot Sight

  • Waterproof and fog proof.
  • Includes a red and green got.
  • Body made from high-quality materials.
View Latest Price

How to Choose a Red Dot Sight

Choosing a red dot sight will be based on a few additional features and factors. You’ll also need to know the difference between a great sight and one that is unreliable and below-average in quality. Here is a brief guide on how you can choose a red dot sight for your AR-15:

Price

If you’re on a budget, there’s a good chance you’ll look at the price tag first before moving on. While price is often a factor, it should not be the only reason you settle on a certain a red dot sight. It’s important to find a product with greater quality and performance factors than the price tag alone. As a rule, do not sacrifice quality to save a few dollars (or for any reason at all). Find the best quality you can afford within your budget.

Find One That’s Easy to Install

The good news is that your options are not limited when it comes to finding easy to install red dot sights. You want something that will take only a few minutes to install without any issues. Imagine adding a red dot sight to boost your accuracy in as little as a few minutes. That is what you are looking for.

Choose High-Quality Materials

The best high-quality materials are what makes a sight last a long time. The housing of the sight may even be made from durable materials like aluminum. Some types of high-quality aluminum can take on impact and abuse like nobody’s business. The more durable it is, the longer it will last for you. 

Are Red Dot Sights Really An Upgrade?

The debate over red dot vs. iron sight has probably been settled, with red dots coming out ahead. A 2010 study at Norwich University in Vermont showed that red dot scopes had a substantially higher percentage of hits than iron sights. Granted, the study was done with pistols, not rifles, but it’s reasonable to expect similar numbers. Various close-range distances were tested, as well as moving and stationary targets.

While the name red dot is commonly used, the actual dot produced by the sight is often green. These sights could be holographic or reflex sights, as well. The holographic sight is illuminated from the front of the lens and an LED light is projected onto the viewing window to create a holographic red dot.  Reflex sights are simpler, containing just a concave lens with a metallic coating that only reflects red light. The light is produced by a LED mounted inside the tube of the scope.

red background reticle image

The reflex site is definitely the elder statesman, being 30-plus-year-old technology. Generally, reflex sights are the bare basics and just have an objective window to see through. But since they consume much less energy than holographic options, they are used more commonly by recreational shooters and sportsmen.

While red dot sights provide a much higher accuracy rate when aiming at a moving target, they are typically not used for precision shooting. Their 2 to 4 MOA dot covers a significant portion of the target at a distance. In fact, it might cover a two-to-four-inch spot at 200 yards. However, you do get a broader field of view than tube-style sights. You also have unlimited eye relief that allows for more peripheral vision. These factors make the red dot sight perfect for fast target acquisition in close to mid ranges.

Since the majority of reflex sights are not magnified (zero power/1x), they are small, lightweight, and priced well. The military has recognized the value in this. The lack of magnification allows the operator to keep both eyes open (the natural way), maximizing their performance in tactical simulations and situations.

Red dot sights also enjoy the collective benefit of a lower price compared to other optic types, making it a very tempting opportunity for the private consumer. Simplicity and compactness make red dot sights versatile so they can be sported on any weapon platform from rifles and shotguns to handguns, and even compound bows. The red dot sight can be utilized for hunting or target practice. It can also be mounted on shotguns and used for target games like trap, skeet, and sporting clays. Of course, it is also useful for home defense scenarios.

There’s no doubt that a red dot is faster than a set of stock metal sights. It’s easier to use than a traditional magnified optic, too. But like every electronic device, it’s dependent on batteries.  Nowadays, the higher quality red dot sights come with long-lasting batteries that promise up to five years of continuous use, as long as you use the power-saving features such as auto-brightness and auto-power-off when not in use. Still, a lot of people still prefer to keep both a red dot sight and their iron sight in case of sight damage or battery drainage.

The patterns of red dot sights vary in range from a single dot to crosshairs, or even bullseye patterns, but these can degrade target acquisition. As we already mentioned, they aren’t even necessarily red. Green is a common alternative.

What many people may not know is that red dot sights are also affected by parallax. Since it’s used mainly in close-quarter situations, this doesn’t matter most of the time but your aim could be affected at longer distances. Some major manufacturers try to overcome parallax “error” by using a concave reflecting lens.

The following is a list of the five best red dot sights for an AR-15. While going through each one, you should take notes on some of the features and characteristics that stand out to you. If you have a good idea of what your ideal red dot sight looks like, you may find one that will match it. Once you do, you’ll know it’s a surefire winner. 

Quick Take - Best Red Dot Sights for the AR-15 Rifle

Review of the Best AR-15 Red Dot Sights

When looking for a good red dot sight, we take into account both quality and price. A good red dot sight is going to be cheaper than almost any scope. With so many options available at various price points, you have to choose between a reputable name with a higher price tag and an inexpensive or budget red dot sight. But even these are perfect for plinking guns. There isn’t always a correlation between price and quality in this case.

Sightmark Ultra Shot Multi Red & Green Plus Reflex Sight

Pros

  • Super-durable housing
  • Optics are clean and clear
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Reticle holds zero even after 1000 rounds
  • Super-accurate when hitting targets at 100 yards away

Cons

  • Some glaring may occur at times
  • The green light may feel dim to some users
  • Quick-release lever should be a bit tighter than it is

What Recent Buyers Report

A lot of new buyers were happy with the red dot optic. They were especially impressed with the illuminated reticle, which allowed them better image quality in low-light conditions. They said that in either lighting condition, they were able to consistently hit targets from as far as 100 yards out. One user said he relies on this sight for varmint hunting.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This red dot sight acts like a scope that can work in not just daytime conditions, but also in nighttime conditions, as well. Sure enough, it does make its money in a low-light setting with the use of the illumination. On top of that, you have multiple reticles to use at your disposal. No matter which one you use, you’ll still crank out some pretty accurate and precise shots from a decent distance.

The Sightmark Ultra Shot is ideal for someone looking for a cost-effective sight that’s versatile enough to mount on shotguns, handguns, or rifles. The selling point of this model is four reticle patterns in a combination of 3 MOA dot with a 50 MOA circle in red or green.

The sight features simple commands in the form of two soft tactile buttons on the left side with the addition of a rotary switch for changing the reticle patterns.

The Sightmark Ultra Shot has five brightness settings. When using the automatic shut-off feature, you can get 2,000 hours out of the battery. This is a very durable sight built with an aluminum frame and metal shield. Its double-panel lens helps eliminate parallax, making it an alternative to overly expensive mil-spec models.

Who Will Use This Most

This might be best-used for target shooting and hunting. It will serve as a really good red dot for your AR-15 if you’re simply just shooting at targets that are not more than 100+ yards out. If you want something for all kinds of applications, this red dot sight will last you a long time and delivers accurate and precise shooting each time.

Bottom Line

The SightMark Ultra Shot Multi Red & Green Plus Reflex Sight stands out as the sight you can use in both daylight or low-light settings. Don’t be surprised if you can still hold zero after so many rounds. This is the red dot that will make your AR-15 rifle accurate and precise each time you fire a shot.

Dagger Defense DDHB Red Dot Reflex Sight, Reflex Sight Optic and Substitute for Holographic red dot Sights

Pros

  • Affordable for most budgets
  • Easy to zero in, takes about a few minutes
  • Effective at hitting targets from 50 to 100+ yards out
  • Super durable and can withstand a good amount of shock
  • The red dot is quite visible in both low-light and broad daylight conditions

Cons

  • Battery life is questionable upon initial use
  • Dot sights may look distorted for those with poor eyesight

What Recent Buyers Report

As expected, this red dot sight was a hit with most new buyers. This allowed them to easily hit their targets from various distances ranging from 50 to 100 yards. Even one user said he was able to get the rounds on the bullseye or near it on paper targets at the range. Also, new users reported that this sight takes a short amount of time to sight-in.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This sight, once again, has both red and green dots that will be effective depending on the environment you’re in. Both dots are visible and small enough to ensure that your shots are always dead-on precise and accurate. The dot size, of course, is not large enough to obscure the targets from various distances, so you'll know where to shoot and make sure your shot lands there almost every time.

The Dagger Defense DDHB Reflex Sight is another inexpensive AR-15 red dot. But it’s highly-rated by users for its sleek styling and more importantly, its rugged functionality. This is a reflex sight optic made with aircraft-grade aluminum. It offers a choice of four illuminated reticle configurations including a simple dot and a crosshair.

The product is easy to zero-in. Even better, it still holds zero after a couple hundred rounds thanks to its locking screws.

As one of the most budget-friendly reflex sights, it can co-exist with standard AR iron sights. This top contender for the best low-range, red dot sight features a wide 291-degree field of view. This will be great for three-gun competitions.

Additionally, this entry-level small sight is water-resistant, but not submersible

Who Will Use This Most

This will likely be used in a casual target shooting or even a competitive target shooting situation. Either way, it will be a sight if you intend to give your accuracy a serious boost. It can cover some ground at short ranges but make no mistake, it’s an effective sight regardless of which colored dot you choose.

Bottom Line

The Dagger Defense Red Dot Sight will likely be your kind of sight if you want something for target practice or for when the competition is heating up. All you have to do is attach this bad boy to your rifle, spend a few minutes sighting it in, and be able to put the shots on the paper consistently at close-range. You’ll have so much fun using a sight like this at the range.

Vortex Optics Sparc II Red Dot Sight - 2 MOA Dot

Pros

  • Glass and image quality are very clear
  • Compact, doesn’t take up a lot of space
  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes to install
  • Holds zero easily after a few hundred rounds
  • LED for illumination is quite bright and helps in low-light situations

Cons

  • The reticle may be a bit misshapen
  • Some of the power settings may be a little weak
  • Red dot may not appear to be visible during the daytime

What Recent Buyers Report

New users were quickly able to install this sight on their AR-15 rifles. Once said and done, they were able to boost their accuracy considerably. Most users, on average, were able to hit their targets from about 100 to 125 yards out. They were also satisfied with most of the illuminated settings that allowed them to see better, especially in low-light settings.

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Vortex Optics product stands out as a durable unit and you would expect nothing less from this brand. Their scopes are hands-down some of the most durable on the market. So, the sight itself is durable enough to handle shock that originates from recoil. That means you won’t need to reset your zero settings at all, even after many rounds.

Another red dot from the top of the budget, price-range sights comes from Vortex. This model gets the impressive name “Speed Point Aiming for Rapid Combat”, or SPARC, for short.

This is an exceptionally sturdy, tube-style red dot sight. It has a fully multi-coated lens and a simple adjustment of the color, shape, and illumination of the reticle. The device has ten levels of 2 MOA red dot brightness intensity. It also features a practical built-in brightness intensity memory function. With a six-hour auto shutdown feature, the battery can last an incredible 5,000 hours.

Who Will Use This Most

This will make a great general purpose sight that will fit a lot of AR-15s. So any shooter across a lot of applications will use this to their advantage. Don’t be surprised if this sight excels in such applications like varmint hunting or casual target shooting. You’ll be able to hit your targets from a pretty sizable distance. This may be your best friend out in the field or on the range. If you want consistent accuracy, you’ll want nothing less than this sight.

Bottom Line

The Vortex Optics Sparc II Red Dot Sight might just be exactly what you’re looking for to knock down those moving (or not so moving) targets at roughly 100 yards. You’d be surprised by how quickly this can happen once you install this on your AR-15 rifle of choice.

Pros

  • Easy to install, takes a few minutes
  • Battery life is surprisingly long-lasting
  • Excellent for a wide variety of applications
  • Co-witnesses perfectly with most iron sights
  • Small and compact design doesn’t take up too much room

Cons

  • It does not fit Weaver rails
  • Adjustments might be a little stiff at times
  • Red dot might be distorted for some users with poor eyesight

What Recent Buyers Report

Most users were quite impressed with this sight. Not only was it small enough to fit on most AR-15 rifles, but it also was not bulky and did not take up too much room. One user said it took him a few minutes to fit it on his Picatinny rail. Once installed, he sighted it in and perfectly aligned it with his front sight. As a result, he experienced accurate and precise shooting consistently from 100 yards.

Why it Stands Out to Us 

The sight is perhaps one of the most compact red dot sights on the market. So, it won’t make the rifle look clunky or stick out like a sore thumb. Not only that, it’s one of the best red dot sights that will co-witness with a lot of AR-15 iron sights. This means you’ll have a better chance of quickly locking in your target and accurately hitting your shots exactly where you want them to go.

The FastFire III is the flagship product of an extensive selection of Burris red dot sights. This third generation of the Burris FastFire family features an upgraded and complete shock and waterproof housing. It has a top-mounted battery (CR1632) for more natural battery replacement.

The Burris has a power button with three levels of brightness. It offers 1x magnification for both-eyes-open shooting, allowing perfect eye balance. The windage and elevation can be adjusted with clicks, just like a traditional variable-magnification scope.

Since the Burris FastFire III is even smaller than the Bushnell TRS-25, this micro red dot can be used as a secondary optic on an AR-15 rifle. This little jewel is priced just above what would be ordinarily considered a budget sight.

Who Will Use This Most 

This will be used across many AR-15 users and will work just fine if you’re using it for target shooting or hunting small game targets. Either way, it’s a red dot sight that has its uses, no matter what.

Bottom Line

The Burris FastFire III is built to last and handle all your AR-15 applications. Add this bad boy on in minutes and you’ll have a sight that is so compact, many of your fellow shooters at the range won’t know the difference.

Ozark Armament Rhino Red Dot Sight - Green Dot Sight - Includes Picatinny Mount - Co-Witness - Reflex Rifle Sight

Pros

  • Easy to mount and sight-in
  • Affordable for most budgets
  • Effectively accurate at 100 yards
  • Holds zero even after 400 rounds
  • The red dot is visible, even for those with bad eyesight

Cons

  • Some complain that the dot looks more like a comma
  • Some of the brightness levels may be a little weaker than expected
  • May be slightly tilted to the left, so some adjustments may be needed

What Recent Buyers Report

This sight, as expected, was impressive according to many new users. They were satisfied with illuminated settings that helped them see better in the lowest of light settings. They also were able to install this sight on their rifles in less than five minutes. They reported that the accuracy and precision of each shot was spot-on with the help of this sight and the front sight co-witnessing.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This sight might be mistaken for a really small riflescope. But rest assured, it is a red dot sight with some of the same characteristics of an illuminated reticle and has easy to adjust elevation and windage settings. So, you can make adjustments on the fly if the shots are looking a little off. The body is quite durable to the point where it can resist a lot of shock. So, in essence, it will easily hold zero after hundreds or even thousands of shots.

The Rhino Tactical is a tube-style sight that comes with a 4 MOA dot in either green or red. It’s a sturdy model among the lower-priced AR-15 red dot scopes.

As you would expect, this sight has no magnification. It features a 35 mm-wide objective that provides fast target acquisition in most shooting conditions.

Using the Picatinny cantilever mount included in the package, this site is great to use alongside standard-height A2 front sights.

While it has five brightness levels to choose from, the Rhino often seems foggy or pixelated in low-light conditions.

Who Will Use This Most

This will likely be used by those in common applications like target shooting and hunting. But where this sight excels the most will be among competitive shooters. If you’re looking for something that will give you fast target acquisition and precise shooting in the heat of competition, this could be the sight that will give you the edge over your opponents, especially when accuracy is key.

Bottom Line

The Ozark Armament Rhino Red Dot Sight might just be right up your alley if you want a scope that is tough, easy to sight-in, and makes hitting your targets at close range an effortless possibility. It’s a nice hybrid of a rifle scope and a red dot sight that will definitely give your AR-15 the accuracy boost it needs. 

Where Should a Red Dot Sight Be Installed?

When a gun owner has selected a red dot sight to fit his AR-15 and his specific need, the next step is to mount the new sight onto the rifle.

The prevailing thought is the optimal position for a red dot sight is the forward portion of the upper receiver. This offers a better field of vision, as well as being the most secure part of the gun.

If the red dot is placed at the rear end of the rifle, too close to the shooter, it leads to diminished peripheral vision when looking for a target or prey. On the other hand, placing it at the other end of the rail is no better.

For mounting, common advice is to get the sight as close to the bore as possible. The mounting rings should not be placed directly over the lenses - they can compress the tube and cause lenses to crack under recoil. To take the strain of the recoil off the tubes, you should position the forward ring as close to the center of the sight body as possible.

Adjusting the sight is easy to learn. There are two screws installed opposite the coil springs for windage and elevation. Good old-fashioned experience is going to have to substitute for hash marks and holdover positions for compensating for bullet drop, though.

Red Dots For Beginners

The number of people equipping their AR platform with reflex or holographic sights has increased substantially in the last few years. As you would expect, most manufacturers have climbed onto the AR bandwagon, offering a plethora of sturdy and functional AR-specific optics that are interchangeable on different AR-15 weapons.

There’s a debate about whether a novice shooter should learn to shoot with a red dot sight. We’re not going to take sides because we don’t want to upset anyone. But let’s just look at the two schools of thought.

Those who favor red dots for beginners focus on the ease of use and the likelihood of keeping the newcomer interested. Since it’s easier to learn and the likelihood of hitting the target is higher, they say, using a red dot is a much less frustrating experience.

On the other hand, many people say it’s important to learn “the right way”  by using iron sights. Knowing the basics will make them a better all-around shooter and they’ll always be able to fall back on this skill if the optics fail.

Red Dots For Competition

The use of electronic red dot reflex scopes is also on the rise with competition shooters.

AR-15s are ubiquitous at 3-Gun competitions. Of course, different divisions have their own rules for the use of red dots, but when it’s permitted, the competitor should use a sight with the proper dot diameter. Smaller diameters are best for hitting a bullseye and a larger dot size is more suited for events that require moving from target to target.

Conclusion

We hope we’ve shown you some of the highlights of red dot sights, as well as the drawbacks. By now you probably know that if you want to reach out and touch something, you'll need optics with plenty of magnification and real reticles. If you are a recreational shooter doing some target practice or are simply interested in close-range uses of the gun, a red dot sight should be a great sighting tool for you.

Red dot scopes are definitely a trending accessory. The technology in a modern red dot is robust and straightforward, making them cheap to manufacture. No wonder these simple devices are gaining so much traction in the gun world! If you are interested in reading more about other AR-15 scopes, read our buyers guide here.

Leave a Comment

Want Weekly Gun Deals in Your Inbox?