April 2014

Red-Dot Optics for AR Rifles: Trijicon and Bushnell Compete

We look at two red-dot sights for ARs that are on different ends of the spectrum in features and cost. Both get the job done out to 300 yards, but which one did our testers give the thumbs-up?

With the prevalence of AR rifles in common use for hunting, varminting, and self-defense, we wanted to see if we had to spend $600 to get a quality optic like the Trjicon TriPower, or whether an optic at one-quarter the cost, the $125 Bushnell TRS-32 Tactical Red Dot, could do the job we wanted. Things did not start out the way we planned, but that turned out to be good fortune.

At the onset of testing, the fiber-optic and tritium illumination features of the Trijicon clearly bested the Bushnell. Reason: A tester had left the illumination turned on in the TRS-32, and its battery died. It was useless. The TriPower, on the other hand, has three sources of power — hence the name. So, from the beginning the TriPower had an edge that operator error caused. It was not the fault of the TRS-32 per se, but people do make mistakes that affect the performance of gear.

A quick trip to a gas station convenience store fixed the situation with the Bushnell. The battery is quite common. We looked for replacement batteries for the Trijicon at the same place, but they were not carried by the store. The TriPower’s batteries are less common. That made us immediately wonder if the TriPower’s three power sources make it better than the TRS-32, but we are getting ahead of the story.

Before we visited the range (then the convenience store), we drop-tested the two red dots on a wood floor from a height of 4 feet. The impact had no effect on either; their dots remained illuminated and knobs turned, buttons could be pressed. We then sunk the sights in warm water and found no ill effect to either. Next, they were frozen. Again no negative impact — knobs turned, reticles could be turned on and off, buttons worked. We did notice some fogging when the sights were taken out of the freezer and placed in a warm room. They both seemed to recover quickly, and after a few minutes we could see clearly through each sight.

Red dots employ a low-powered laser inside the body of the scope that reflects off a mirrored plate and projects the dot, or chevron, as in the case of the Bushnell and Trijicon, respectively. You will note that a coating on the lens creates a greenish hue when looking through the sight, and we could see a light hue in the TRS-32. Not so with the TriPower.

Many red-dot manufactures claim their sights are parallax free, and that point could be argued, but suffice to say the range these sights can be used out to is 300 yards, but in practice they are used at closer ranges. Parallax is the movement of the reticle in the scope as a shooter moves his head. In magnifying optics such as rifle scopes, parallax can be an issue and is typically resolved with a parallax adjustment on more expensive models. With red dots, the shooting distance is closer because the size of the reticle is usually large, making any parallax problem secondary. We saw the dot and chevron of the two sights tested move within the tube body, but at close range — 50 yards — when we placed the dot on the target, it hit what we were aiming at.

Since red-dot sights are made to be zeroed to a specific range and left alone, we did not shoot the box, but we did readjust the sights and counted clicks to see if the sights would lose zero. Both kept their zero during this exercise. The clicks were precise for each. With the sights zeroed, we tested for accuracy using a rest under a roof and in daylight. Some users needed to adjust the illuminated reticle depending on the outside lighting. With a wide range of adjustments on both sights, testers could view the reticles easily.

The Stag Arms was at ease with both sights. For an action-style test, we used a Do All Impact Seal Dancing Ball and Hot Box, both of which can take more than 1,000 hits from 22 LR through 50-caliber bullets. The game was to keep the box and ball moving, hitting them while they were still moving. Testers who used both eyes open when shooting were able to track the bouncing targets quicker than those testers who closed one eye to aim. The advantage of shooting with both eyes open was obvious, and both sights allowed that.

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