Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 1

Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 1

What Works Best?

By Dennis Adler

Nothing new about red dot sights, they just keep getting smaller…but the gun at top is a Walther CP99, bridge mount and Walther Top Point red dot, all almost 20 years old, the vintage Aimpoint MK III is 37 years old and still works, although compared to modern red dot sights is a little less competitive. In its time though, it was groundbreaking.

This is a subject that has many shooters seeing red. Red dots. Painting the target with a laser literally gives youa red dot on the target (and there are green lasers too, that are easier to see in brighter light). The laser indicates where your shot is going to hit when sighted in for POA. With air pistols, like blowback action, smoothbore BB models, this is not always as precise as with a centerfire gun, but even so, a laser is easy to see. However, with red dot scopes, the first developed over a quarter of a century ago, (I still have one of the early models manufactured by Aimpoint, a MK III that I purchased in 1983), sighting becomes more focused because you were no longer looking at a red dot projected downrange on the target, but rather a red dot within the scope that is as stable as the pistol’s own sights. Why the distinction? With a laser any movement of the gun moves the laser on the target and the greater the distance the grater the movement. Trained operators (SWAT, military Special Ops) have little trouble with this, than say the average shooter, but at closer distances a laser is an advantage for anyone. This is still less of an issue with a red dot scope or reflex sight; today military and law enforcement use both. In civilian pistol competition the dominant use of red dot scopes and reflex sights (within specific classes of competition) really makes the case for their use. With air pistols, and primarily blowback action CO2 models, the options are more limited as only certain models are suitable for use with a reflex sight, while any air pistol with a dustcover accessory rail is laser adaptable. read more


Diana’s Nemesis Part 4

Diana’s Nemesis Part 4

Webley chases the Chaser

By Dennis Adler

It is time to regroup. We have a gun that shoots well but not where it is aimed. Great sights but not regulated to the gun, or so it seems. The Nemesis has only been tested using the tandem rotary pellet magazine. So, before I lunge into the optics test, which I had planned to do anyway, let’s step back and test this gun with the single shot pellet tray.

The Nemesis has a problem, great sights that are allowing shots to go high, way high, about 5- to 6-inches over POA. With no way to adjust them, I thought perhaps part of the problem was the tandem rotary magazine, so I shot a new test with the single shot pellet tray, as shown.

As much as I would like to say that’s the problem, this gun shoots just the same, high and slightly left, even with the single shot pellet tray, as it does with the rotary magazine. Without an adjustable rear sight, the Nemesis (this one anyway) needs a 6-inch POA correction to hit the bullseye. The only solution for this gun is going to be optics.

The tray has a deep channel you can set a pellet into allowing the bolt to easily seat the pellet in the chamber. The hope, (a fool’s errand I admit, but you never know) was that the rotary magazine was part of the problem.

BSA to the rescue

A hefty British Webley needs a hefty British optic and the BSA 42mm red dot scope is just what the Nemesis needs. You could also use a reflex sight, which is a much smaller optic, but to tune this gun in on finding the center circle, I’m going large. The BSA has reversible mounting rails to fit 5/8th or 3/8th inch dovetailed rails, so it is a good choice as it can fit a wider variety of pistols and rifles.

So, after finding out the gun shoots exactly the same with the pellet tray as it does with the rotary magazine, which is what I actually expected, (again this may be a problem with this one gun, let me know how you are shooting with yours), the scope option was next. Here the bottom of the BSA red dot shows how the rail mounts can be rotated to sit differently on the mounting rail and change the width from 5/8th to 3/8th (11mm) to fit guns with narrower 11mm dovetail mounts, like the Webley Nemesis.

Optics can make a difference with any target pistol, but with the Nemesis and its fixed sights, optics are everything. The BSA helped the Webley group tight at POA, landing seven rounds of Meisterkugeln inside 0.625 inches with two overlapping in the red. The Nemesis can shoot well, but it needs a little help.

The BSA scope is a good fit for the Webley. It is a big 42mm red dot with 11 brightness settings. On a pistol this size the scope doesn’t seem as large as it is.

For test two, I shot with H&N Sport Match Green 5.25 gr. alloy wadcutters and with the BSA scope the Webley launched seven into 0.93 inches with two overlapping high in the 8 ring (me, not the gun), and the remaining five rounds overlapping in the red and 9 rings in one string measuring 0.5 inches. Nemesis redeemed courtesy of BSA.

Put a scope on the Nemesis and you have a totally different pistol. With the red dot dialed in, it took one seven round mag to do it, I was able to nail seven rounds into under an inch with three rounds overlapping. This was with 7.0 gr. Meisterkugeln, which had been the most controllable and accurate of the three wadcutters tested with the open sights. The lighter weight alloy wadcutters were hitting even higher with the fiber optics.

This also proved to be the case with the scope which had to be adjusted down about six clicks elevation to start center punching the 10-meter targets. Best group was five smiling H&N Sport Match Green in an overlapping group and a pair I sent a little high but almost overlapping. BSA to the rescue.

I would like to know how everyone else who has this pistol is doing with it, either shooting off hand or from a bench rest, and also if you are using optics. The Nemesis really hasn’t lived up to my expectations as an open sight target pistol, but since I have optics for other air pistols, it was easy to make it into a very good shooter. As for the Nemesis chasing the Chaser, that’s one race this Webley can’t win on its own.


Red Dot Scopes vs. Reflex Sights

Red Dot Scopes vs. Reflex Sights

The eyes have it

By Dennis Adler

The Tanfoglio Gold Custom CO2 model and the 9mm centerfire model are competition guns designed for mounting optics. The optics of choice is red dot sights, either scope designs, or HUD reflex style. While scope-style red dot sights are more than 40 years old, as evidenced by this c.1983 Aimpoint Mark III mounted on the Tanfoglio’s rail, the concept has changed very little since Aimpoint developed the first red dot sights.

Why doesn’t a newer design make an older one so outmoded that it simply ceases to be relevant as a consumer product? I think the answer lies not only in the product but the longevity of its role in the consumer marketplace. This applies to just about everything including firearms and airguns. In fact, about the only place that this theory fails to prove itself is in communications and technology. I mean who would want to walk around today with a Motorola Dyna TAC? Same for early portable computers, sometimes new technology makes old technology into an anachronism. Not so with older airguns, which, even in the face of newer designs, still maintain their allure like many older centerfire and rimfire pistols and semi-autos.

Original Aimpoint red dot scopes were large, heavy and had small front and rear objective lenses. The Mark III was the first to offer adjustable illumination. The right-side barrel is the battery compartment (rear cap) and rheostat switch (front). The size and weight of red dot sights has come way down over the years, as has the retail price. I used this sight on an AMT Longslide .45 Auto more than 30 years ago for competition target shooting and it still works perfectly today.

This also holds true for red dot optical sights, which while having advanced in leaps and bounds over the past 40 odd years, have never lost sight (pun intended) of their market or become outmoded, particularly for target and competition pistols, and within the military and law enforcement community.

Practical shooting

In USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association) Open Class competition, as well as IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation), and Bianchi Cup Open Class matches, you will find competitors using pistols fitted with two basic types of red dot optics; reflex sight scopes and “heads-up” reflex sights, the latter being the more modern. As I have mentioned in past articles, red dot scopes (that look like rifle scopes) are old school, designed decades ago and while it might seem logical that smaller, more modern reflex sights, that have no resemblance to a scope, should have totally eclipsed bulkier red dot designs, both remain competitive. Pistol shooters will gravitate to one or the other and this is the same whether shooting semi-autos or revolvers. And that in itself speaks volumes; revolvers are still used in modern day competitive shooting.

In the late 1990s when Umarex raised the bar for CO2 powered pellet-firing air pistols with models like the Walther CP99, based on the then groundbreaking polymer framed 9mm P99, the pellet-firing model was offered as a training gun for German law enforcement using the P99. For the airgun market it was also available with an optional optics bridge and a Top Point red dot scope. The basic design of the Top Point is still used today for a number of red dot designs for BB and pellet firing pistols and rifles. Like Aimpoint models of the period, the Top Point had a multi-level illumination dial which is standard on all modern red dot scopes today.

Aimpoint (in Sweden) invented the red dot scope in 1974. I purchased my first Aimpoint red dot sight, a Mark III, in 1983, to mount on an AMT Longslide Model 1911 for use in competitive target shooting. I still have it, and it is still in perfect operating condition 35 years later, in fact, that is the sight you see in the opening photograph mounted on a new Tanfoglio Gold Custom CO2 target pistol. It may look a little oversized for the CZ-75 based semi-auto, but that’s how big red dot scopes were.

While the objective lens on the old Mark III is small by today’s standards, and the housing large, the principal operating design remains the same; the aiming reticle (a dot or other design, such as crosshairs), is projected forward from a point behind the objective lens, and then reflected off the back of the objective lens assembly so that it appears to the shooter’s eye to be on the target. This could be likened to a laser beam marking the target, only without the actual beam, just the image of it from the shooter’s perspective. To achieve this, the objective lens in the reflex sight is a partial mirror that has been coated to reflect only the wavelength of light emitted by the reticle illumination system; commonly a light emitting diode. It is this reflective surface on the front lens that accounts for the colors you see looking at red dot scopes from the opposite end.

Seeing red technology

Although more than 30 years old, the Aimpoint Mark III allowed you to adjust the reticle brightness (it was the first Aimpoint to offer this feature) by dialing it up or down, but it was not incrementally adjustable like today’s Aimpoint (and other) red dot sight designs. The more contemporary heads up display sights (HUD), which are more commonly referred to today as reflex sights, (though scope designs are also reflex sights), use the same principal but do away with the entire housing and rear lens. This makes them lighter, smaller, and in most cases much faster to acquire than a scope design which brings me back to my original question about why scope-style units are still in use for handguns and rifles. It depends upon the application. Law enforcement and military still prefer the older design for the majority of applications. Competitive shooters are looking for speed and the open reflex sight is undeniably faster to acquire (with practice). Scope designs are more familiar, and once on target easier to maintain with the same advantages of an optical rifle or pistol scope, only without any magnification factor. (There are also red dot sights with magnification factors).

Not as new as some red dot scopes, nor as compact, the BSA RD42 (and slightly smaller RD38) are among the best and most popular scope-style red dot sights for air pistols and air rifles. They are also built well enough to be used on small caliber rimfire and centerfire arms. The BSA offers 11 illumination levels for the dot.

Where red dot sights come into play for air pistols, especially for use in target shooting, goes all the way back to the earliest semi-auto style pellet-firing models like the Umarex Walther CP99 which, when it came out in 2001, was offered with an auxiliary optics bridge that attached to the dustcover rail, and a Walther Top Point red dot sight. The Top Point (no longer available but the CenterPoint 1x25mm Multi-TAC Quick Aim Sight is similar), was equivalent to the then latest Aimpoint design. I still have my 2001 CP99 equipped with the original optics bridge and Top Point sight and it remains one of the most accurate and easiest to shoot semi-auto style pellet-firing air pistols I have.

One of the best options today for a semi-auto air pistol with an optics bridge or top rail is another affordable and very accurate red dot design, the BSA RD42, also an older design that has staying power. And there are many variations of this style for airguns sold by UTG, Swiss Arms, ASG, Hawke Sport Optics, and Bushnell. They all have the same pistol scope design with a short, round barrel, large objective lens and top- or side-mounted master control with multiple brightness settings. Suitable for single action/double action revolvers, semi-auto pistols, and tactical-style air rifles, I have favored the BSA RD42, old and new version, for years with pellet and BB firing CO2 models. Not to play favorites but it is one of the more ruggedly constructed red dot scopes and I have run my old RD42 on a number of centerfire and rimfire arms over the years without any issues. So you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars to get a good red dot sight, especially if you are only using it on airguns.

The evolution of red dot sights in the 21st century has given us some extraordinary designs. One of the most practical and affordable HUD sights for air pistols is the Walther MRS, which is also sold in a similar version by CenterPoint, and offers multiple reticle designs and well as illumination levels. For semi-auto target shooting with CO2 pistols, it is hard to surpass the HUD design. Professional competition models like the C-More, Burris Fast Fire III, Vortex Venom, Meprolight Tru-Dot, and Leupold Delta Point cost hundreds of dollars more, and while designed for centerfire pistols also work as well with airguns.

Age before objectives

Eyesight is paramount to accuracy, we can all agree on that. With open sights on a handgun or a rifle, the limitations of eyesight quickly become evident. The human eye cannot focus on the rear sight, the front sight and the target at the same time. Three is one too many. With age, depending upon the individual and their eyesight, two can become difficult. Experienced shooters in the military, law enforcement and in competition shooting (often the very same people) learn how to work with the sights and target based on distance, circumstances, lighting, hand-eye coordination, and practiced skills. None of it is easy. With air pistols you experience the same limitations and learn the same skills (and thus the reason so many are used for training exercises), and one of the things you learn along the way are your own limitations. My earliest understanding of this was coming to the realization that I am right handed and left eye dominant. I can shoot with my right eye but not as accurately as with my left, nor as fast. With pistols this is not much of an issue, with longarms and shotguns the left right combo is a bear. In my case, no mater how much I have practiced over the years I’ve never managed to train myself to shoot as effectively with my right eye, at least not without a prolonged pause, and at my age I have given in to tilting my head just enough to get a left eye sight picture without being too obvious. The thing that levels the playing field for me and many others is not using the gun’s sights, but rather an optical sight. It is quite advantageous for those of us who are wired a little backwards, or for those whose eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Glasses can only correct for so much, a good red dot sight overcomes almost anything. I now need glasses to shoot (not just shooting glasses, but glasses to correct for what used to be 20/20 vision), but I don’t wear prescription eye glasses shooting with a red dot sight. That fact and being able to shoot with both eyes open are the biggest advantages.

Old school still hangs in with scope designs like the latest BSA RD42. While it is only a variable illumination red dot, I find the large 42mm objective lenses easier to work with. Older eyes need all the advantages. Law enforcement and military also still rely on scope designs or advanced holographic weapons sights, like those from EO-Tech. It is all a matter of choice, but the same choices made in the world of centerfire arms are also available for airguns.

For my personal shooting choice I favor the larger objective lens size of a scope-style reflex sight, but I find the Walther MRS/ CenterPoint 1x25mm Multi-TAC Quick Aim, very easy to pick up, and with the crosshair circle reticle selected (of the three reticle options that can be dialed up), the easiest to keep on target. Again, that is my airgun experience and it may differ from yours.

The Walther MRS (Multi-Reticle Sight) and CenterPoint offer different reticle shapes, including what I find to be the best overall, the crosshair circle, which is ideal for target shooting with CO2 pistols and tactical-style rifles, BB or pellet firing. The HUD style sight is ideal for competitive pistol shooting, but has also found an audience with law enforcement and the military in recent years.

Most of you who target shoot with optics already know everything I am writing here, but for beginning target shooters, sport shooters, or those deciding on adding optics to their CO2 pistol or rifle, the variety of red dot sights offered today will meet all of your expectations without costing more than the air pistol or air rifle you are mounting it on. As for me, I’m going to go shoot my old Aimpoint Mark III just for old time’s sake!


Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open and BSA RD 42

Big Optics for Competition Practice

Train like a pro with the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open and BSA RD 42

By Dennis Adler

The BSA RD 42 adds a little more weight to counter the slide’s recoil and the much larger 42mm ocular lens is considerably faster to pick up for each successive shot. It makes the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five CO2 model a more accurate target pistol at 21 feet.

Most competitive shooters in Bianchi Cup, IPSC, USPSA, IDPA, and ISSF, (which includes 10 meter air pistol competition), will use optics on revolvers and semi-autos (depending upon the Division). The choices of optics vary from Mini Reflex sights, (which are mounted to the top of the slide on a recessed mount, or on an optics bridge), to larger red dot scopes. Mini Reflex sights have become the most popular, but many competitors still like the larger objective lens of a round red dot scope. Outside of competition shooting, Mini Reflex sights have also found their place in law enforcement, military and even civilian CCW use because of their small unobtrusive size. A growing number of semi-autos are also coming from manufacturers with modular optics systems (MOS) built in. The MOS design uses an interchangeable mounting platform that fits into a section of the slide that has been machined out. Competition gun builders call this a “melt.” It is intended to keep the optics mounting plate flush with the top of the slide, and thus lower the optics height to be more in line with the bore. While this is now the most often seen pistol design in Open Class Division shooting, many competitors, including some world champions, still defer to larger red dot scopes. In the last test of the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open, the gun was equipped with the Walther MRS, which is a reflex sight, though not as small as the C-More Systems STS used on the Tanfoglio Gold Custom in Airgun Experience No. 77. This time the combination will be the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open and BSA RD 42 red dot scope.

By comparison the C-More STS mounted on the Tanfoglio Gold Custom is tiny.

The C-More Mini Reflex can be mounted on an optics bridge as it was on the Gold Custom, or to a modular mount on semi-autos so equipped (none of which are yet in the stable of current blowback action air pistol designs). You can mount a red dot scope on an optics bridge (and here again red dot scopes run the gamut from affordable models like the well established BSA RD 42, priced at less than $50, to high-priced tactical and competition models costing upwards of $500).

Adding a modest 7 ounces to the Sig’s weight, the BSA measures 3.80 inches in overall length. The 42mm objective and ocular lenses and housing measure 6.25 inches in circumference at the rear and 6.5 inches at the front with the hood.

To run the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open through one more evaluation of its potential, I have mounted the latest BSA RD 42 red dot on the Sig’s optics bridge. As I have noted in previous reviews, the BSA is suitable for both CO2 pistols (revolvers and semi-autos) as well as rifles and it is even used on .22LR pistols and rifles. It is one of the best and most affordable all-around red dot scopes for CO2 and small caliber use.

BSA RD 42 features

The latest version of the BSA RD 42 is a bit more stylish than the original and has a hooded front lens (the older version was flush at both ends), and while large for a red dot scope, it is not bulky, weighing just 7 ounces and measuring 3.80 inches in length. The RD 42 is waterproof, shockproof, and fog proof, offers an impressive 42mm objective lens, 11 brightness settings, an integral, adjustable rail mount that locks down with two large knurled slotted screws, a big on/off and brightness setting dial on top that runs from 0 to 11, and windage and elevation screws with slotted dials. Mounted on top of the Sig Sauer’s optics bridge, it looks pretty big compared to the Walther MRS reflex sight, but the BSA’s 42mm ocular rear lens is fast to get on target, and that 5 MOA red dot glowing dead center is hard to miss.

The BSA RD 42 has specific windage and elevation covers (the elevation cover is still on) and easily adjusted slotted dials.

The BSA has 11 brightness settings controlled by the single rheostat that goes from 0 to 11. Also note the rail mount slot allowing the RD 42 to be adjusted to the desired position before locking it down.

Better downrange?

The Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open hasn’t done as well as I had expected in the past two tests, so now it is a standalone test against itself with the addition of the BSA RD 42 optics. My estimation is that it will be more accurate with this sight. Why? The slide on the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open has a lot more recoil than many blowback action CO2 models (which is a very good thing for authenticity, plus cartridge guns have a lot more recoil so this is a good learning experience), but it is easier to reacquire a larger rear objective lens than a small reflex sight. Now I have done well with reflex sights, but I learned on red dot scopes long before reflex sights were even dreamed of, and sometimes it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, even when the proof of their value is staring him right in the face! So, to satisfy my own curiosity, and I hope some of yours, the Sig gets this last Hail Mary downrange.

With old eyes (or even younger ones) a 42mm ocular lens with a bright red dot dead center makes target shooting a lot easier. Not entirely more accurate at 21 feet than open target sights, but rather more consistent.

This test is the same as the previous one; a distance of 21 feet, fired offhand at an IPSC target, total of 10 rounds and best group of five using Hornady Black Diamond black anodized steel BBs. After a quick sighting in of the BSA RD 42, I fired 10 successive shots at 1 second intervals hitting the IPSC target in the A-Zone with a total spread of 1.5 inches (would have been tighter except for one flyer) with a best 5 shots grouped at 0.5 inches. That is 0.25 inches better than the previous test with the Walther MRS.

Just a tad more accurate with the BSA RD 42 red dot scope than with the Walther MRS reflex sight, the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open had a best 5 rounds at 0.5 inches. If I could put five 9mm rounds from a Sig P226 into 0.5 inches offhand from 21 feet, I wouldn’t exactly be unhappy.

Bottom line here is that the BSA red dot scope vs. the smaller, lighter red dot reflex sight seems to push the Sig a little harder and make it a little better gun to shoot. It’s not a bad looking combination, either.

A Word About Safety

Blowback action models like the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Open provide the look, feel and operation of their cartridge-firing counterparts. All arguns, in general, look like guns, but those based on real cartridge-firing models even more so. It is important to remember that the vast majority of people can’t tell an airgun from a cartridge gun. Never brandish an airgun in public. Always, and I can never stress this enough, always treat an airgun as you would a cartridge gun. The same manual of operation and safety should always apply. read more