How do we aim rifles? The most obvious way is by pointing. No sights at all are needed at a very close range. Iron sights come next. They are rugged and do not require batteries. They do require front sight focus, which is no problem on a square range with high-contrast bullseye targets. It can be a problem when trying to keep track of a camouflaged enemy at 200 yards with an eye focused on a post three feet in front of you. Fortunately, iron sights are light and don’t take up much room, let’s leave them on the gun.
Scope is the next option, this one ranges from an unmagnified view to 6x. Unlike the iron sights, it brings the target into the same focus plane as the reticle. Magnified view helps wring maximum accuracy out of the rifle, while unmagnified setting provides fast response up close. For most unsupported firing, 1.5-2x setting is a reasonable compromise. Down sides, the eye position is critical, especially at higher magnifications. While illuminated reticle and 1x setting allow use with both eyes open, it’s not quite as rapid a sight as the next option, the red dot.
Red dot sights win the speed competition, at the expense of usually lacking magnification. With the exception of a few Trijicon fiber optic models, they are battery dependent. On the plus side, they are light and compact. Higher end models have excellent battery life. They also allow a great deal of leeway in the eye placement, so it’s possible to get a sight picture from awkward shooting positions. Placed at an angle to the scope, a red dot is a quick tilt of a rifle away from the line of sight. When used to supplement high-magnification scopes, red dots are also used to quickly center the field of view of the larger optic on target. We are not adding much bulk or weight with it either, so let’s keep it.
The trouble with all of these devices is the need to bring the rifle up to the line of sight. Easy to do when stationary, not so easy when bounding over rough ground or trying to keep balance on a pitching deck. Being able to just look at the target and shoot would be rather nice — and so we are back to point shooting but with a twist. Press a tape switch and a laser dot verifies the accuracy of the pointing. Battery dependent like the red dot, but extremely effective in dynamic environments. The beam becomes visible in humid or smoky environments, which is both a boon for quick aiming and a problem of making you more obvious to the opposition. Sometimes you can shoot before the target can react to the laser, other times it’s worth using less obvious options. Another couple of ounces added and a couple of inches taken up on the rails.
So the weight of the additional, mutually reinforcing and partially redundant sighting options isn’t too great, and the bulk isn’t excessive either. Why do so many people try to avoid having all of these on one weapon? The reason is that additional options increase the decision-making time. Learning to deal with the additional options is a matter of training, which takes time, effort and money. The end result is an automatic preference for one of the options for emergencies, and a more conscious selection of other options when time and state of mind allow. The other down side is the incremental cost of the accessories which can often equal the rifle itself. Both costs are negligible compared to the cost of the time, courses and ammunition required for effective training, so skimping on equipping the first-line defensive weapon is a false economy.