Side angle of a man shooting a firearm with an optic attached

Exploring Different Types of Firearm Optics and Scopes

Firearms optics for your custom gun have come a long way from when it was either add telescopic gun scopes or get really good with your iron sights. Modern optics help you improve accuracy with better resolution, technology that helps you acquire targets faster, and even improve shooting in low-light situations. As the firearms industry has developed this technology, complete with specialized features to meet the needs of shooters, it’s created a market where there is more variety than ever when it comes to adding an accessory that helps you aim better. We’re going to take a look at some of the top options out there, what they do best at, and how they can help you on the range or when called on to use your weapon in a real-life tactical situation where every shot counts.

Easy Customization

Modern firearms optics have become so ubiquitous that manufacturers plan for their use. Early optics were often custom-built, or a gunsmith was required to install them on the weapon. The firearm was modified to accept gun scopes with drilled holes, specially installed brackets, and more. Now, weapons are constructed with popular mounting patterns that are ready for attachment or with rail systems that allow you to attach firearms optics, lights, and other accessories. While the stock iron sights are perfectly functional, manufacturers increasingly expect that you will want to make use of modern optics to get more from your weapon.

Types of Firearms Optics

Firearms optics fall into two primary categories: telescopic and reflex sights. While there are some that blur these lines, almost every modern optic aiming system falls into these categories.

  • Telescopic Sights – The successors of traditional gun scopes, these optics are based on filtering light through two curved lenses that bend and enlarge the original image to bring you closer to the action for more precise shooting.
  • Reflex Sights – A shortened corruption of “reflector” rather than referring to the speed targets are acquired at, these sights rely on reflecting a beam of focused lights so that a target reticle or dot is displayed, overlaying your sight picture, to give you a better aiming point for your weapon.

Firearms Optics Benefits

View through an optic at a shooting range

While the overall purpose of both types of gun optics is to improve your accuracy, they are designed to thrive under very different conditions. Each comes with its own benefits as well as drawbacks that make it suited for particular firearms use cases. Understanding the benefits and limitations of gun scopes versus reflex sights is key to making sure you’re putting your money into the right sight system to help you shoot better.

Telescopic Sights

In many ways, these still resemble the gun scopes common on hunting rifles when you were a kid. They feature a tube with a flared end containing a lens facing the target and a smaller flared end with an eye-piece facing the shooter. You look through the eyepiece toward the target, which is enlarged by the curved lenses, and a reticle or aiming tree helps you adjust your shot for precise placement based on wind, elevation, and distance from the target.

Taking a small sight picture and making it larger is perfect for long-range shooting. Hunters can more easily place a round into a kill zone on the animal they’re hunting, tactical snipers can place a round that immediately neutralizes a threat, and precision shooters can push their skills to the limit over hundreds of yards. Because these are precision scopes, care should be taken not only sighting the weapon initially but also after transport as even the slightest drift, such as movement in the case as your truck heads toward your deer lease, can translate into a shot that’s tens of feet off target at maximum range.

This susceptibility to movement can be one of the main drawbacks of the weapon if you’re the sort of shooter who likes to just grab your gun and go. In addition, the enlarged sight picture means that you have a larger blind spot around the sight picture itself, requiring more care to make sure you know both your target and what else may be entering your sight picture, like other game animals or hunters. Finally, with precision aiming firearms optics, it can be hard to establish a proper sight picture for follow-up shots quickly as the recoil tends to carry the barrel of the weapon and the gun scope on it up and away from your target.

Reflex Sights

Reflex sights, on the other hand, are best for shorter ranges. Closed reflex sights look like a small rectangular box that sits atop the gun with a lens at both ends. Open reflex sights, commonly called “red dot” sights, use a single lens. Both function similarly, with a reticle or aiming point projected onto one of the lenses, where it reflects, joining the original image on its way back to the shooter’s eye. The dot can only be viewed at the proper angle, meaning that aiming becomes as simple as lining the dot up with your target.

Side angle of a man shooting a firearm with an optic attached

Reflex sights can provide lightning-fast target acquisition, giving rise to the popular misconception that the “reflex” in the name is in reference to its speedy, point-and-shoot nature. The lighted aiming point makes it easy to use, even in low-light settings, and while some may be labeled red dot sights, green and yellow reticles are increasingly popular. Different reticle styles are available, providing either a simple aiming point or a level of adjustment for range, wind, etc. Because these are close-range sights with long eye relief and no magnification, there is less blockage of the area surrounding the sight picture, often with no more than the frame of the lens being the area out of sight.

While they may be great for short range, reflex sights are less effective at longer ranges, with the reticle making precision aiming almost impossible far enough out. Your reflex sights also rely on electrical power to operate. While modern batteries have a longer service life than previous generations, a failure can still leave you without functioning firearms optics. While some sights do have solar back-ups, co-witnessing capabilities, and energy-saving features, these often come at a premium that drives up the price.

Hybrid Options

Most hybrid options focus on taking a few key features from one type of gun sight and adding them to the other. Examples are gun scopes with a projected reticle or reflex sights built with a minimal amount of telescopic enlargement. Another unique option is a combination package featuring a reflex sight and a flip-up magnifying scope, allowing you to use the reflex sight like normal and engage the magnification for longer shots. While viable on a rifle or most carbines, however, the larger size of this package makes it impractical on handguns and some smaller carbines.

Picking the Right Firearms Optics for Your Gun

When choosing your firearms optics, start by understanding your needs as a shooter. Will you be using the weapon for hunting or close-range self-defense? Is faster target acquisition or magnification more important? Finally, what size firearms optics will comfortably fit your weapon? Even among reflex sights, the size can vary, and not all firearms optics will fit every weapons platform based on not only the raw dimensions of the optics but also the mount patterns they’re meant to fit.

High-Performance Optics at Great Prices

We’re proud to offer the gun parts and accessories you need to shoot better at affordable prices. These leading brands have built a reputation for supporting your Second Amendment rights with gear that works. Subscribe to our email newsletter to get the top deals delivered to your inbox. Order your precision firearms optics and gun scopes from JSD Supply today.