Chance favors the prepared!

6 things to consider when buying a rifle optic

From time to time I get emails asking about rifle optics. It’s a great question I enjoy discussing. To answer that question, there are several different factors that need to go into the decision-making process. I thought I’d take a look 6 factors that you need to consider when purchasing an optic for your rifle.

1. What type of rifle do you have? What’s the purpose of the rifle?

Because there are so many rifles out there that can serve multiple functions, you need to decide what the primary purpose of your rifle is. Is it for hunting? For self-defense? Truck gun?

Having the right optic on the right rifle for the right mission will be critical. A 1x reflex site won’t be very effective for hunting. Hence you won’t ever see one on a bolt-action rifle. On the flip side, a 3×15 scope is not your best choice for home defense and close quarter combat situations (CQB). Once you decide what your rifle’s primary function will be, then deciding what sort of optic you need becomes easier.

2. What reticle is right for you?

There are a wide range of reticles on the market these days. So when shopping for an optic, you should think about what reticle will best serve your needs.

Optics have grown from simple crosshairs to much more complex designs to meet user demands. Some optics will still have fairly simple patterns. Others offer more complex options to help with windage and elevation. Some of the higher end optics will have reticles that will aid with things such as bullet drop. (See video below)

You’ll need to consider whether you want hash marks for holdover or illumination in your reticle as well. A lot of this comes down to personal preference. So certainly review and test the various reticles on the market. Find the one you like and fits your needs before dropping your hard-earned cash on an optic.

The image at the end of this article will give you some idea of some of the many reticles available.

3. How well does it transmit light?

The ability of your optic to pick up ambient light in low light situations can be critical. Just because you have an external light source on your rifle does not mean that your optic will work well in low light situations.

All optics work well in broad day light. But better quality optics will help gather in light in low light settings, with or without an external light source. And as we all know, potential gun fights don’t just happen at high noon!

4. Is it durable?

Many optics, even some high-end ones, are not designed for rough and rugged use. This is not something you consider when just taking it to the range or out in the early morning on a hunting trip. But in many emergency settings, especially those potential life or death situations, your rifle and optic could take quite a beating.

There are many SHTF scenarios that could cause you to be less than gentle with your optic. And in those situations, will your optic be able to handle it? Is your optic weather and water-resistant? Will it still be able to hold zero after being banged around or dropped?

In addition, if your optic requires batteries, how long do the batteries last? Would dead batteries render your optic useless? Would the type of batteries needed be easy to find in a grid down situation?

5. Does it have temperature stability?

Unfortunately, when your rifle optic is exposed to wide and varied temperature extremes, this could cause issues with it. Extreme heat can play havoc on many optics, especially holographic sights. High temperatures can cause thermal drift, a condition where your optic no longer holds zero and can cause optics to fail. Eotech recently resolved a multi-million dollar lawsuit over this.

For example, a car sitting in 95-degree weather can experience an internal temperature of an estimated 140 degrees after just an hour. So if you have to leave your rifle in your vehicle on a hot day, is it designed to withstand that type of heat? Most of us don’t leave our optics in vehicles obviously, but it is something to consider in an emergency situation. Are you having to bug out? Will you be sleeping in your vehicle? If the grid goes down and temperatures swell, you may not have the luxury of a climate controlled living area.

Extreme cold can cause problems as well. A rifle stored in a warm environment for hours that suddenly gets taken into sub-zero temperatures can cause issues such as fogging up. A life or death situation is NOT when you want your optic to become fogged up. Will your optic be able to handle this?

6. How much do you have to spend?

If you have followed this website for any amount of time, you will know that I always advocate spending as much as you possibly can on tools (firearms are tools) that could someday save your life. Never skimp where safety is concerned.

A lot of gun folks will tell you to spend as much on the optic as you do the rifle. That is not a bad rule of thumb, although I know it is not practical to a lot of folks out there. Most of us have budget constraints, and I am no different.

There will be some folks out there who might disagree with this sentiment. They say they do just fine with iron sights. That’s great, I won’t knock them at all. Being a solid shot with nothing but iron sights is a skill that not many can master. So my hat is off to those who can.

But the truth is, in some ways, money CAN buy accuracy. This of course assumes that you are already an adequate shooter. Money does not replace skill, training, and knowledge. But it does improve the tools that you use to gain that skill and training.

I’ve seen first hand the improved accuracy of a top of the line rifle barrel versus a budget barrel. The same can be said for optics. A bad optic can render a high-end rifle almost useless, while a premium optic can help you get the most out of a budget friendly rifle. So in that regard, spend as much as your budget will allow.

Final Thoughts

With so many types of rifles and optics on the market today, I would be very hard pressed to tell you which optic you need. I have not used every optic on the market today, not even close. Most folks haven’t. So I recommend that you research and review the optics you are considering BEFORE you buy it.

There are many videos out there on the web that not only review all kinds of rifle optics, but also test them. Some even torture test their optics. is an excellent resource for gun videos, and I urge to start your review process there!

Before your buy, consider all these factors to find the best optic for you. Then do your research.

If you have other optic or gun gear tips, please leave them in the comments section below.

For more information on firearms for preppers, check out the links below:

Building an AR on a budget

Premium AR build

Hints and tips on long-term ammo storage

Hints and tips on firearm training

7 rules on carrying your EDC firearm

Some different types of reticles

Click for full image


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