Richard Saunders takes a look at dot sights and asks – what role do they play for the airgun shooter?
So, you’ve just bought your new rifle. What next? Why, a scope of course. But wait just a minute. Are you sure a traditional 3-9 x 44 (or whatever) is really what you need?
Telescopic sights have become the default choice for most of us thanks to the magnification and minute adjustment they provide. But is a good piece of glass necessarily the best option for the type of shooting you do?
Digital infrared products are the way to go if you shoot during the day and want to carry on when the sun goes down. If shooting exclusively in the dark is your thing, then thermal sights offer something else again, as long as you have deep pockets. And of course, some shooters still like to use open or dioptre sights.
But how about a dot sight? Unlike laser sights that project a beam onto a target, allowing you to indulge in police marksman fantasies when lining up that tin can, dot sights project an aim point that only you can see onto a small window within the body of the sight.
Like most other things, they’ve been around far longer than many of us realise, starting life in WWII, when they relied on optics rather than electricity, and were adapted for shotgun use soon after.
Though commonly called ‘red’ dot sights, many will offer blue and green alternatives, and some allow you to change between different colours. A lamp inside the unit illuminates the dot, the size and brightness of which, in most cases, can be controlled with a rheostat.
On the plus side, dot sights can represent good value for money and are intuitive to use – you simply put the dot on the target you want to hit.
They also enable quick target acquisition, though I suspect that’s more of a benefit when shooting wild boar on the move as opposed to bunnies at a standstill.
What’s more, their light and compact form helps preserve the lines of a rifle and won’t compromise its balance.
On the downside, dot sights are not generally held to be as precise as telescopic sights, though they are easy enough to zero via the usual windage and elevation turret system. And there’s no ability to zoom in on a target, unless you plan to invest in a separate magnifier.
As usual, the range of products on offer is bewildering. So, to try to cut through some of the smoke and mirrors, we’re taking a look at five ranging in price from £29 to £269.99.
WALTHER EVOLUTION POINTSIGHT 3
A quality combo
Of the products on test, the Walther Evolution PointSight 3 is the only one that comprises both a dot sight and a separate magnifying unit out of the box.
Both units are made from high-grade aluminium and have a solid feel about them, which is no huge surprise, as like most red dot sights, they are designed to stand the recoil of large calibres and shotguns.
The Picatinny mounts are also sturdy and provide a grip that simply will not shift. The PS 22 red dot unit takes two LR44 batteries, which are supplied, to give the aim point seven different levels of intensity via a knurled plastic dial.
Windage and elevation adjustments are made via small turrets, and perform exactly the same as on a conventional telescopic sight. The turret caps were attached to the battery housing via a rubber lanyard, making them impossible to lose.
Flip-up caps protect the lens. The one at the rear pulls off easily, so you can mount the 3x magnifier unit right up against it.
However, I had to maintain a gap of an inch to accommodate the magazine on the Brocock Commander test gun, which had no impact on performance and meant I could keep the cap in place.
Grabbing the rubber grip on the magnifier helps you pull it backwards, where it pivots to the right and out of the way if you want to use the red dot sight on its own.
Combined, the Walther Evolution PointSight 3’s two units weigh 739g and measure 253mm. They look great on top of a rifle, especially those with a tactical look about them, such as the Commander.
Zeroing took just a few minutes and I was able to achieve respectable groups at 20 and 30 metres.
The ability to snap the magnifier in and out of place is addictive and certainly added some variety to the test session.
SIGHTMARK WOLVERINE 1×28 FSR
About as good as it gets
Spend a few minutes with the Sightmark Wolverine 1×28 FSR and you’re left in no doubt that this is a premier league kind of dot sight. Although at £220, we’re talking Chelsea levels rather than Huddersfield Town.
At 114mm, it’s one of the longest sights on test, and consequently one of the heaviest, though at just 349g you’ll barely notice the addition.
The Wolverine has a 28mm diameter objective lens and uses a red 2 MOA dot reticle, the brightness for which is adjusted using rubberised up and down buttons on the left side of the unit. Below them is the cylindrical casing which houses a single AA battery, which us claimed to be good for up to a million hours.
Almost the entire shell is cosseted in a black rubber bodysuit, protecting against knocks and scrapes, as well as adding to the Wolverine’s aesthetic and tactile appeal. The elevation and windage turrets are contained within the rubber guard, and the positive dials are the most clearly marked of the products on test.
The turret caps are attached to the main body with a plastic lanyard so you won’t lose them. However, rather than flip-up caps, the Wolverine uses a separate lens protector, which seems a little strange given the high quality of all the other components with it.
On the range, and mounted securely to my Brocock Bantam Sniper HR thanks to the integrated Picatinny mount, the Wolverine was a joy to use, and I really appreciated the intuitive, eyes-wide-open benefits of dot sight shooting.
On the highest setting, the dot was easy to see as I lined up knockdown targets and spinners. When it came to putting a group on paper, it was simple enough to dial the brightness down to define the dot a little better, providing greater precision.
HAWKE VANTAGE RED DOT 1×20
Good thing, small package
At only 125g and 74mm long, the Hawke Vantage is by far the dinkiest of our test products and must surely be one of the smallest on the market.
Having only recently been launched, this tiny dot sight is proof that good things really do come in small – and, at just £69, inexpensive – packages. But don’t think for a second that its diminutive proportions mean you have to compromise on performance.
The Hawke Vantage does everything the other sights on test do just as well. Like the more expensive products, it’s made from high-grade aluminium, and is nitrogen-purged to guarantee protection against water and fog.
The 3 MOA red dot reticle has 11 stages of brightness, and even on the highest setting it retains good clarity thanks to the 25-layer coated optics. A pair of removable rubberised lens caps are included.
Again, adjustment is via traditional click turrets, the tiny caps for which are not retained by a lanyard when undone – so be careful not to drop them! The rheostat dial on the right of the unit is nice and big though, and houses the supplied CR2032 battery.
The integrated 9-11mm mount ensures the Vantage sits low to the action, and when fitted to my HW 100, I was able to appreciate the wide viewing angle as I pounded tiny spinners at distances up to 25 metres with ease.
And although I didn’t have one to hand, I would expect the Vantage to be a great addition to an air pistol, where its lack of weight and small proportions would truly be appreciated.
GAMO QUICK SHOT BZ 30mm
Rugged and dependable
Gamo has earned a reputation for good quality, affordable ‘what the label says’ products, and the Quick Shot BZ 30mm is no exception. If you want a simple, no-frills dot sight that will do everything you need it to do without any fuss, this could be exactly what you are looking for.
At £29, it’s by far the cheapest product on test, and it certainly lacks some of the intricate design details. That said, it puts an easy-to-see dot over the target and makes the most of whatever accuracy you and your rifle can come up with.
The cylindrical design is 100mm long and sits on an integrated 11mm rail. The lens caps are not flip-ups, they’re not even bound together with a piece of elastic. They may be simple, separate plastic caps, but guess what? They do the job – just don’t lose them.
The same can be said for the screw-on caps for the windage and elevation turrets. There’s no fancy rubber lanyard to prevent them going astray, but they work perfectly fine, even if the windage turret is on the left of the unit for some reason.
Dominating the top of the Quick Shot is a large dial, which not only houses the CR2032 battery that is included, but controls the brightness of the red dot reticle with 11 settings, all of which retain commendable levels of clarity.
Placed on top of my HW 100, the Quick Shot provided a superb wide view through the 30mm objective lens – the biggest on test. Unlike the other products though, the image is a little dark, due no doubt to the coating on the glass.
It didn’t impair the sight’s performance as I clattered spinners and knockdowns with ease, but if your eyesight is less than perfect, you’ll want to make sure it’s right for you.
FIREFIELD IMPULSE 1X22
Simple but effective
Most of the open sight advocates I know often talk about how they love the simplicity of their set-up. Unencumbered by the kind of pressure to hit a perfect shot every time that has become part and parcel of using a scope, they just get on with enjoying their shooting.
Having spent some time with the Firefield Impulse 1×22, as well as the other dot sights, I get what they mean.
Although, just like the other products, it is, of course, a precision instrument, there is a wonderful simplicity with the Firefield Impulse, which, at just 89mm long and 213g, is a tiny thing that you’ll hardly notice being there.
Made from aluminium, the integrated Picatinny mount is of the highest quality, providing rock-solid anchorage. Good quality flip-up covers protect the lens and can be removed if you want to pair the Impulse with a magnifier.
The large rheostat dial on the left also houses the CR2032 battery. Of the products on test, and despite being one of the cheapest, the Firefield Impulse is the only one to provide a choice of red or green for the reticle colour, with five brightness levels for each.
Also unique on test is the dot-within-a-circle reticle style. Without the benefit of any magnification, the circle provides a definite advantage when it comes to locating the dot and framing your target.
Located on top and to the right of the unit, the windage and elevation turrets have nice, positive clicks and meant I was able to zero the Impulse quickly and easily at 25 metres.
With no magnification to help you, you’ll need a set of binoculars to see exactly where you are hitting, but once you’ve found your mark, the Firefield Impulse’s ability to help you hit reactive targets is addictive.
Sign on the red-dotted line
For most of us, shooting is about exploiting every drop of potential from ourselves and our equipment in the form of consistent, pellet-after-pellet accuracy. On that basis, a good quality telescopic sight will be the no-brainer choice for many shooters.
However, the bigger picture is that for all of us, shooting an air rifle is about having fun. Hunting is my passion, but show me a tin can, a knockdown target or a bottle top and I’m in my element.
There’s no denying that dot sights can be used at standard airgunning distances to achieve small groups. And some would argue that dot sights have a place in the field, though personally I’d limit their uses mainly to short distances.
But plinking in the back garden and on the range? I can’t think of a better set-up than a multi-shot PCP and one of the products on test here. Like most things, you get what you pay for. Without doubt, red dots are best suited to fast firing at moving targets – wild boar and the like – when quick target acquisition is vital.
As airgunners, we don’t have to worry about such things. The reality is that the expensive dot sights will have been designed without you in mind, so don’t spend your money buying something that is way more product than you will feasibly need.
The limitations of an air rifle are a great leveller, and mean the more affordable products are likely to deliver everything you need from a dot sight.