Review: Aimpoint Reflex Sights
We call them “red dot sights,” but the proper term is “reflex sights” because the illuminated dot is reflected onto a lens. For sure, not everyone uses them, but reflex sights are adaptable to sporting and competition rifles, handguns, and shotguns, as well to a wide array of military, sporting and defensive firearms.
Most optics manufacturers now offer a form of reflex sight. The original, and the grand-daddy of this popular class of sight, is the Aimpoint Electronic. Developed in 1974, introduced a year later, subsequent variants are still manufactured in Malmö, Sweden.
The reflex sight is an optical sight that allows the shooter to focus on the target. Assuming a proper zero, all you have to do is superimpose the dot on the target. Target acquisition is fast — much faster than with any iron sights and, at shorter ranges, at least as fast as any magnifying riflescope. The important fact is that this type of sight drives the shooter to keep both eyes open, thus maintaining peripheral vision and having an virtually unlimited field of view. These qualities apply to all reflex sights.
Aimpoint’s reflex, however, is different from most. It is effectively a nonmagnifying scope, with coated ocular and objective lenses, so it transmits light with fewer restrictions. The Aimpoint design is also virtually parallax free. The sight doesn’t care if you don’t settle into a position just right, so long as you can put the dot where you want your shot to go. This is not to say that sloppy shooting positions are acceptable, but there are times when we don’t get everything just right. The Aimpoint is always forgiving.
The reflected dot is of fixed diameter, subtending 2 or 4 minutes of angle (MOA) for handgun and rifle models, and 6 MOA for shotgun sights. While the diameter doesn’t change, intensity of the light can be adjusted up to a dozen settings.
The units feature battery-powered LEDs. Power source varies with the model, but battery life is extreme. Batteries generally last 50,000 hours or about five years of continuous use at medium-intensity settings. (No kidding! I recently experienced this power longevity first hand.)
As a gunwriter, I don’t get to use my own rifles too often, and some sit idle for extended periods. I had a Hunter H34L sight on a Shaw Custom .35 Whelen that I hadn’t shot for three years. I took it out of the safe and discovered that I had left the sight in an “on” position. That was definitely dumb, but the Aimpoint worked just fine and still is.
On the Micro models (H-1, H-2, S-1, T-1 and T-2), the intensity adjustment is co-located with the battery compartment on the right side. For the Hunter models (H34L and H34S), the push-button controls are on top. Windage and elevation turrets are on the right side and top, and offer 36 inches of adjustment at 100 yards. Each click moves the strike about 7⁄16 inch at 100 yards. The turret caps double as adjustment tools, as each has two small nipples that fit into matching holes on the adjustment knobs. Just unscrew the cap, turn it over, and use it to make your adjustments. I’ve found the adjustments accurate and consistent and have never had any issues getting an Aimpoint zeroed.
I have also found Aimpoints to be consistently rugged and seemingly recoil proof. A primary use I’ve had for them is on large-caliber rifles, and I’ve never had an Aimpoint shift zero. I have used a H-2 on a Smith & Wesson X-frame revolver in .460 S&W Magnum, which has some really snappy recoil.
With any sight or accessory, the weakest link is often the mount. But Aimpoint offers lots of options. The scope-like Hunter sights are mounted conventionally with 30mm or 34mm rings depending on the model. The Micro series has a mount that fits into the bottom of the sight. A recoil lug mates into a recess on the bottom of the sight, assuring no shifting between sight and base. The most common mount is for Weaver bases or Picatinny rails, but there are numerous options including AR-15-specific mounts, Leupold quick detachable (QD) mounts, Blaser saddle mounts, Tikka T3 mounts and mounts for Glock and Ruger pistols, for example. If you can mount a sight, Aimpoint has an option — to include John Browning’s .50-caliber M2!
Reflections on Reflex
The reflex sight is all about fast target acquisition, not precision. It’s a sight that can save your life in a gunfight. For decades, Aimpoint has had contracts with various militaries and law enforcement (LE) agencies around the world. They reckon about 1.5 million units are in the hands of professionals.
In handgunning, there are plenty of situations from personal defense to ringing steel where speed counts. Likewise, in the hunting world. In Europe, for instance, Aimpoints are extremely popular in driven hunts. These hunts are a traditional European technique where ranges are short, the shooting is fast and the targets are usually moving.
I’ve used reflex sights on various rifles for hunting wild hogs and on several .375s for hunting buffalo. I have also used a Micro H-2 on a Mossberg in .375 Ruger when I went north for polar bear. I will never forget how bright that red dot was on the bear’s white fur, and since it was coming my way, I was really happy with that clear, fast sight picture.
I was also using an Aimpoint when I had a buffalo running my way that I had just shot on the shoulder, broadside. It’s unusual for a buffalo to immediately charge upon receiving a bullet, so I hesitate to say it was a genuine charge.
Whatever was going on, the solution was simple. I was still on sticks from the first shot, so I let him come a little way with that red dot just under his chin, then I stopped him with a second shot and dropped him with a third to the neck.
As far as range and precision, a 2 MOA dot subtends 4 inches at 200 yards. On large game, this isn’t much. Hunters have taken sheep and goats using Aimpoints, and European hunters use them for small roebuck as well as big boars. Personally, I probably wouldn’t put one on a mountain rifle. That said, with practice, you’ll be surprised how comfortable you become with a reflex sight and your range envelope will expand. On the range, groups with Aimpoints are often considerably smaller than the amount of target actually covered by the dot.
Most of us are children of the riflescope generation. It’s one thing with handguns but with rifles, well, we’re spoiled by magnification. I suspect many younger shooters have never hunted with iron sights and, absent military training or a target discipline, some have never used them at all. If you have experience with iron sights, you’ll find the reflex sight a blessing. If you lack that experience, you’ll find it initially daunting when all that lovely magnification is taken away.
Trust me, you’ll get used to it. That big, bold, visible dot makes up for it, and the bright, clear Aimpoint optics also help. At first, you’ll probably think of it as a 100-yard sight. This is plenty enough for a lot of situations but give it time. With practice you will shoot farther with confidence. Obviously, I wouldn’t first choose an Aimpoint for shooting prairie dogs at 200 yards plus, but on big-game animals, I’m comfortable with a red dot out to 200 yards. I have even stretched one farther when needed with no problem.
It’s fair to say, you can have your cake and eat it, too, with Aimpoint. The company also offers a 3X magnifying unit compatible with all their sights; and a 6X magnifying unit for the Micros. So, if you simply must have magnification, it’s available!
Your Time Will Come
Nothing comes without practice, but I’m absolutely convinced that the reflex sight is superior to iron sights, and for everyone. The only exception might be in driving rain or snow, where any sight with glass can have problems. However, there comes a time in life when iron sights become difficult to use. I have reached that time. As we get older our eyes become less flexible.
Open sights require the eye to focus in three planes: rear sight, front sight and target. The aperture or peep sight reduces that to two planes. The aperture itself can “fuzz out,” but you still must resolve the front sight and the target. Reflex sights and scopes require focusing in just one plane; we focus on the target and superimpose the reticle or dot on the aiming point.
Whether traditional or not, a sturdy, clear reflex sight like the Aimpoint has always been a better choice than open express sights. They are faster, offer better visibility and are more precise. On handguns, rifles, slug guns and bird guns for short to medium ranges, a red dot is always a valid choice especially when there comes a time when you have to do something to keep shooting.
Which Aimpoint is right for you?
Well, you must weigh your options against what you’ll be using a sight for. Aimpoint offers specialized units ranging from sights for crew-served machine guns to the new Micro S-1 that’s optimized for wing shooting and clays. Super light at 31/2 ounces, it attaches to any point along a shotgun’s ventilated rib. With any sight choice, there are nuances to consider.
Most of us will fall in the group of shooters who are going to decide between using the longer “scope-like” Hunters or the Micro models. The Hunter H34L and H34S are available for short- and long-action rifles, including magnums, and are mounted conventionally just like any scope. The optics are superior in terms of light-transmission, but are obviously bulkier and heavier than the Micros. I like and have used both types, but the slick little Micros are hardly noticeable on top, flirting with me to use them more.
If you’re looking for something a bit smaller than the Hunters with a bit more flexibility, then consider the Aimpoint 9000SC. Part of the 9000 series that was launched in 2005 and is a line of mid-length sights with either a 2 or 4 MOA dot. Taking 30mm rings for mounting, the 9000SC is a dandy addition for a short-action bolt gun, semiautomatic rifle and for shotgunning. But don’t let it sit at home when you go handgun hunting, for it’s just as at home atop a big magnum.
Besides the 9000SC, the 9000 series also features the 9000-NV, that’s campatible with night vision devices (NVD). When in night-vision mode, the red dot becomes invisible to the naked eye, but through the a NVD, the dot will appear white and can be used just like any other dot sight.
If bigger game such as deer, moose or bear is more to your liking, the full-length 9000L is a good fit on rifles with standard- or magnum-length actions. Besides providing good light transmission, the sights can handle the most extreme hunting conditions and recoil.
While for handguns, I would choose the Micros, hands down, but I also prefer them on rifles that I consider having limited range. For example, I recently used a Micro H-2 on a tricked-up Marlin lever action chambered in .45-70.
I also considered it a no-brainer to put the same sight on my double rifle. Some may not think a Micro is appropriate for a shotgun. Just try it and you’ll be hooked.
The choices might not be easy, but there aren’t any bad decisions, either. The Swedish solution continues to work.
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