What is a red dot sight?

A red dot sight is a simple type of optic made to be used at close to moderate ranges. A small, red dot is used as the reticle. Unlike scopes, red dot sights are 1x and therefore don’t feature built-in magnification. Yes, the dot can be green in some cases, but they’re still referred to as red dot sights for the sake of simplicity.

Red dot or reflex? Yes.

All reflex sights are red dot sights, but not all red dot sights are reflex sights. Kinda like how all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. OpticsMag provides a nice overview in their article Red Dot vs Reflex Sights: What’s the Difference?

But for our purposes as lever gun hunters, when we say “red dot” in this article we’re referring to the reflex version of the optic. Specifically, the “exposed” variety (as opposed to the “tube” variety).

How do red dot sights work?

Our friends at Burris Optics break down how a red dot optic works in more technical detail, but the quick-hit overview is this: the optic contains an LED which shines a beam of light onto a specially coated piece of glass. That glass is slightly angled and reflects the light from an LED. This interaction creates the reticle.

Only the shooter can see the reticle. The reticle cannot be seen from the opposite side of the optic.

What is MOA, and what do hunters need to know about it?

The size of a red dot is measured in MOA, or “minutes of angle”, which is controlled by an aperture located in front of the LED. There are multiple MOA sizes, which are important for rifle hunters to know about. For example, a 6 MOA dot is going to be larger than a 2 MOA dot.

Bigger dots are quicker to see and get on-target, while smaller dots are better for shooting at distance. At longer ranges, say 50-100 yards in our case, the smaller dot covers less of the target and makes acquiring and hitting your target much easier.

An illustration of MOA sizes for red dot sights

As you can see, a smaller dot is going to be much better when hunting. We prefer going with 2 or 3 MOA.

Red dot reflex sights are perfect for hunters

Reflex sights are perfect for hunting because they offer a wide field of view. They are parallax-free and offer unlimited eye relief.

Red dot reflex sights allow hunters to get on-target quickly. Accurate shots on moving animals is made significantly easier with a red dot sight.

Why are so many lever-action rifle hunters choosing red dot sights?

So what about lever gun hunters specifically? Why does all this matter particularly to us who prefer filling tags using our trusty Winchesters, Brownings, Marlins and Savages? And what about the open sight purists (again, hand raised), who might be reluctant to mess up the classic lines of their beloved 71, 1886, 94 or other legendary deer woods master?

In a word: practicality.

Red dot sights are a logical, pragmatic choice for lever-action rifle hunters.

It’s a simple fact of life that open sights become more of a challenge for riflemen past their visual prime. Many of us will choose outfitting our classics with peep, receiver, or ghost-ring sights. When the inevitable day comes when those solutions no longer cut it, a conventional scope is often the next step.

But, depending on whether the rifle is a top-ejecting model (say, a pre-1982 Winchester M94) or a side ejector (like a Marlin 336), mounting options have to be considered.

(Related: purchase Red Dot sight mounts by Turnbull Restoration)

Red Dot sight mounts for Winchester lever action rifles made by Turnbull Restoration

Regardless of how a scope is hung, it can interfere with our lever guns’ tactile use and aesthetic lines that we’re so fond of. It’s just easy to grab and carry our favorite carbine by the receiver one-handed. Even with a low-mounted scope, on-receiver mounting just gets in the way.

Sure, a forward-mounted setup makes the handling problem a non-issue. And the long-eye-relief does in fact become a plus. But, so many of us just don’t want that bulk messing up a quick-handling lever gun, no matter how far forward it is.

So, enter the red dot sight for lever-action rifle hunters. Most traditional lever guns and their various cartridges are used at distances and in conditions where bright, quick-to-acquire red dots work perfectly. And for us with aging eyesight who find new-found confidence at longer distances because of the red dot, we can bet on connecting with a 2- or 3-MOA dot size. Forget doing that with a receiver sight, let alone old-timey buckhorn sights.

Adding to its practicality, a red dot sight can be mounted where it doesn’t interfere when grabbing the rifle where we prefer. And for aesthetic reasons, most of us will gravitate toward the reflex type of red dot, as they’re typically the most unobtrusive of the varieties.

Red dot reflex sights are for lever-action hunters

There’s certainly a time and place for tradition, sentiment, and keeping our heirloom lever guns in original condition. But for those of us who hunt with our beloved lever action rifles, getting outfitted with red dot reflex sights is the practical, effective solution.

What’s been your experience with red dot sights on your lever-action rifles? Feel free to comment below.

Related information from the web:

Red Dot vs Reflex Sights: What’s the Difference? | From OpticsMag

Why Different MOA Sizes? | From Aimpoint

Field of View | From Zeiss Hunting

What is Parallax? | From OpticsPlanet.com

This Thing Called Eye Relief | From Buckmasters