AR Pistol Optic Buying Guide: Reviews, How to Choose?

My involvement with the AR platform goes back for many years.  I had tinkered with them for a long time and when I opened my gun store, I began to build AR’s in earnest.  Over time I built almost every conceivable legal variation of an AR platform but never really got into the AR pistol. AT that time, the ATF was not too sure what the classification of these hybrid platforms was going to be, so I stayed away.

Best AR Pistol Optics

After I closed my store and retired, I had more time, the ATF had finally issued what seemed to be some solid and final rules about AR pistols and I thought it might be time to explore this unique gun.  I had a lot of extra parts laying around my workbench that eventually became several short-barreled and properly registered rifles and several AR pistols.

What’s the best AR pistol optic? Let’s find out…

Here is What I Found as the Best AR Pistol Optics

I found several optics that I thought met my criteria well enough to consider.  Let’s look at each of these, in turn, consider the pros and cons, the features, and my feelings about these optics.

Best Duty Optical Sight – Trijicon MRO

Trijicon MRO-C-2200019 1x25mm Patrol Riflescope with Miniature Rifle Optic...

When I consider what to mount on an AR pistol that is going to be used by a law enforcement officer as a patrol duty rifle, some of my priorities change.  This is a working gun that needs to perform flawlessly anytime.  The same is true for the optics.  I consider any gun I build or modify for a law enforcement officer to be a weapon that is going into a combat situation and must perform to those standards. 

My recommendation for an optical sight to mount on a patrol duty AR pistol is the Trijicon MRO.  There are several reasons not the least of which is Trijicon reputation for building some of the highest quality reflex and red dot optics on the market. 

MRO stands for Miniature Rifle Optic and it is certainly descriptive. The MRO line of Trijicon optics comes in several variations.   After much consideration, I chose the Trijicon MRO-C variant.  There are three main reasons for this choice.

  • Lens covers at both ends of the scope to protect the optics in the harsh environment of a patrol vehicle
  • The ARD kill flash system already installed on the lens to kill glare and prevent reflected flash that can give away an officer’s position.
  • An included factory full co-witness quick-release mount system to make removing the optic and restoring it without losing the point of aim.

Those, of course, are not the only features that make the Trijicon MRO a standout optic choice for a patrol rifle or AR pistol.

  • Large viewing area that makes target acquisition with an AR pistol quick and easy
  • Top-mounted ambidextrous brightness control
  • 7075 forged housing featuring sealed construction
  • Dry nitrogen-purged
  • Cap less turrets with sub-flush adjusters for a sleek snag-free design and prevents accidental adjustments or loos of zero
  • Multi-coated lenses for the greatest possible light gathering ability
  • Crips red dot reticle
  • Up to five years of battery life on the red dot model
  • Available with a red, green, or complex reticle.

Pros

A survey of users of the Trijicon MRO Patrol optic consistently scores this optic among the best.  Among the comments most seen were

  • Outstanding battery life
  • Great quality glass
  • AN optic I will easily stake my life on
  • Well worth the extra cost

Cons

It is hard to find a bad review of comments about the Trijicon MRO Patrol.  There were a few, and after investigating the reasons, it became apparent it wasn’t the Trijicon MRO that was to blame. It was a counterfeit optic that had been purchased online. 

This is becoming a bigger problem, and as a buyer, you should beware.  Make sure you are dealing with a reputable dealer and know the telltale signs of forged, counterfeit products.

My Take

For a patrol rifle, the Trijicon MRO Patrol is my recommendation.  The downside is the cost.  Currently of relatively cheap high-quality AR pistols, you can easily spend more on the optic than you do on the rifle if you choose the Trijicon.  However, if you are betting your life on the performance of the optics, it is probably not that much of a problem.

Trijicon MRO-C-2200019 1x25mm Patrol Riflescope with Miniature Rifle Optic...
  • LARGE VIEWING AREA: Allows faster target acquisition and engagement with reduced “tube effect”
  • ADJUSTABLE BRIGHTNESS SETTINGS: Eight brightness settings with a mid-position “Off” feature

Last update on 2020-07-05 at 16:58 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best Overall Sight for an AR Pistol – Bushnell TRS-25

Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1x25mm, Black

If you are building or buying an AR pistol to have around as a home defense weapon or just to take to the range for a bit of fun plinking and you want a good all-around optic, I have to recommend the Bushnell TRS-25.  This little gem of a res dos sight from Bushnell’s is one of the best low-profile red dot sights on the market for the price.

Bushnell has a long history of producing optical sights that are exceptional values when you consider price and features.   Bushnell never scrimps on features, so it is no surprise that the feature list on the Bushnell TRS-25 is rich.

  • 1 x 25 red dot sight
  • Red 3 MOA red dot reticle
  • Waterproof construction.  O-ring seals
  • Shockproof and designed to take the bumps, dings, and drops that come with normal range and field handling
  • Nitrogen purged fog-proofing
  • Comes complete with a high-rise mount
  • 11 brightness settings
  • Large single-knob control for easy manipulation even when wearing gloves
  • Unlimited eye relief
  • Multi-coated lenses

Pros

This little scope is a darling among its many users.  It gets high marks for the mounting system, the brightness of the lenses, and its accuracy.  Among the most common sorts of comment are

  • The finish on the lenses transmits an amazing amount of light and reduces glare
  • The red dot is bright, clear, and sharp unlike most of the other scopes in this price range
  • The first sight in this price range to last past 500 rounds on my AR
  • Stays zeroed once you zero it in

Cons

Once you get past the fact that this is not an $800 ACOG, there just don’t seem to be too many complaints, and the once that we did find were very rarely concerned with any real issue with the Bushnell TRS-25.  Most of them were caused by either over-expectation about a $100 scope or a failure to follow directions.

  • At the highest power setting, the dot is not as bright as it was at the midpoint settings on my old scope.
  • The scope didn’t seem to work at all until I realized the end of the battery had a protective plastic cover that had to be removed

As with most of the other scopes we have reviewed, it is especially important to be on the watch for counterfeits.  The Bushnell TRS-25 is no exception.

How We stack up the Bushnell TRS-25

For the average shooter who wants a scoped AR pistol for home defense or general shooting, we can’t think of a better choice of red dot scopes than the Bushnell.  The glass is high enough quality to provide excellent shooting capabilities and the construction is rugged enough to stand up to lots of range handling and traveling.  For the price, the Bushnell TRS-25 is our choice as the best overall red dot sight.

Sale
Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight Riflescope, 1x25mm, Black
  • Matte black featuring a 3 MOA Dot reticle with 11 brightness settings; Mounts easily on most...
  • Waterproof construction: O ring sealed optics stay dry inside, even when totally immersed in water....

Last update on 2020-07-05 at 17:08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Ultimate Red Dot Sight for an AR Pistol – Aimpoint Micro T-2 Red Dot Reflex Sign

Aimpoint Micro T-2 Red Dot Reflex Sight with Standard Rail Mount - 2 MOA -...

If money is no object and you absolutely must have the Ferrari of the red dot reflex sight world, the answer to your quest is the Aimpoint Micro T-2 sight.  This is the standard by which all other sights of this type are measured when it comes to performance, durability, and craftsmanship.  It’s no wonder that this micro sight is fast becoming a choice for law enforcement and among military operators.

Aimpoint reputation as the go-to sight for combat operations has spilled over into the civilian world where many hunters and other shooters expose their sights to the same sorts of conditions that soldiers see in combat.  If you want the best possible scope for an AR pistol, the Aimpoint is your stop to shop.

  • Advanced lens coating technology for the highest possible light transmission
  • Included front flip-up sight cover
  • Transparent rear flip-up sight cover
  • Turrets reinforced for added protection and ruggedness
  • Weighs only 3.7 ounces including the mount
  • 1x non-magnifying parallax-free sighting
  • Night vision compatible
  • 12 position brightness settings including one off position, four-night vision settings and eight daytime settings
  • Picatinny style base
  • ACET technology gets up to 50,000 hours of battery life
  • 2 MOA dot size
  • Anodized non-reflective finish
  • Submersible to 80 feet

Pros

User expectations of an optic in this category are high among users and Aimpoint tends to deliver consistently.  A survey of user comments returns many which reflect these feelings.

  • The peace of mind of having an Aimpoint on a duty rifle more than outweighs the cost
  • The clarity of the optics and the small sharp dot beat everything else I have ever used
  • Dropped my rifle and it hit smack on the Aimpoint.  Picked it up and it worked and at the range proved it was still dead on target.
  • This is a true professional quality optic that has yet to fail to deliver on the promises

Cons

As with most of the other sights we have reviewed, the biggest complaint is the pervasive number of counterfeits on the market.  We could not find a single complaint or criticism of the quality of the Aimpoint sights, but over and over were the tales of purchasing a sight only to find it to be a counterfeit.  Shop wisely and carefully.

The Bottom Line

The most expensive sight in my list is the Aimpoint Micro T-2.  Many of the features that are standard on this high-quality sight are things that will not ever be a need in my world.  I certainly don’t expect to need a sight capable of being submerged to 80 feet and then come up fighting.  Just not my style.  On the other hand, if I could afford it and I carried a patrol rifle every day knowing I might be in a position to depend on it, I would certainly have to consider the Aimpoint Micro T-2.

Aimpoint Micro T-2 Red Dot Reflex Sight with Standard Rail Mount - 2 MOA -...
  • Advanced objective lens system for better light transmission and unmatched optical clarity
  • 2 MOA dot with 4 Night vision compatible settings and 8 Daylight brightness settings

Last update on 2020-06-25 at 21:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Vortex Venom

Vortex Optics Viper Red Dot Sight - 6 MOA Dot

See Price on Amazon

This is my personal choice of a Reflex Sight for my AR Pistol. I originally bought my Vortex Venom to mount on a Glock 19.  However, the Glock project didn’t happen, and I was left with this little holographic reflex sight sitting in the box in a drawer.  After I built my latest AR pistol incarnation, I was thinking that the AR is a pistol, and the Vortex Venom is a pistol sight, let’s give it a whirl and see how it rocks.

I was pleasantly surprised at the result.  The Vortex Venom is a very low-profile holographic reflex sight.  The controls and adjustments are set up to be sleek and offer no problems with snags or inadvertent adjustments.  Since my intention was to build an AR pistol that was as small, lightweight, and, dare I say it, concealable, this sight turned out to be the perfect addition.

Vortex build goods stuff.  I am a big fan of Vortex optics and several of my rifles sport other Vortex scopes.   The features and reputation of Vortex make the Venom sight a no brainer for me.

  • Fully multi-coated lenses for high-quality light transmission
  • Exception edge to edge resolution
  • Ten levels of brightness
  • All most infinite eye relief
  • Parallax free sighting
  • 2 MOA reticles
  • 1 x magnification
  • 1 MOA sight adjustments
  •  Maximum elevation adjustment – 130 MOA
  • Maximum windage adjustment – 100 MOA
  • 1.9 inches in length
  • Weighs only 1.1 ounces
  • Includes a dust cover
  • Up to 30,000 hours of battery run time on the lowest brightness setting
  • 150 hours of battery run time on the highest brightness setting

Pros

  • Biggest pro I can think of is that this is the scope that rides on my AR pistol
  • Easy adjustment to zero and holds adjustment without worry
  • The dustcover is handy especially if the gun rides in a vehicle
  • Low profile and sleek design don’t add bulk or much height overall to the gun

Cons

  • Since the Venom was originally meant to be mounted on a Glock, it is a little low when mounted on an AR top rail.  The sight really needs a riser block to get it high enough to maintain a good sight picture.
Vortex Optics Viper Red Dot Sight - 6 MOA Dot
  • The Viper Red Dot Sight has a super low-profile making it perfect for handguns with cut-out slides.
  • The Viper's low height allows it to co-witness with iron sights and the 6 MOA dot is easy to pick up...

Last update on 2020-07-05 at 17:08 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Examining the Options for AR Pistol Optics

An AR pistol is a true hybrid.  Not really a rifle and not really a pistol.  It is a beast that resides somewhere between the two.  It was obvious to me that the solution for an optical sight had to fill the same sort of hybridized criteria.  After months of research and range testing, I came up with what I think is a set of things that anyone who wants to mount an optical scope on an AR pistol should consider

  • Rugged and Durable – My AR pistol is my truck gun.  It rides in a locking mount behind the fold-down backseat in my Chevrolet truck.  The mount is secure and doesn’t rattle.  However, the gun is still subject to the normal bumps, jolts, and forces anything bolted to a vehicle will endure.  This is especially true of a truck that is used off road as well as for hard surface road travel.  The sight I wanted had to withstand those same sorts of forces and remain operational and hold the point of aim.
  • Small and Lightweight – An AR pistol is meant to be lightweight and maneuverable.  Adding a big scope with a long tube sticking up inches above the receiver just didn’t seem to make sense.  I was looking for an optic that maintained that low profile while meeting my other criteria.
  • Magnification – An AR pistol is not ever going to be a sniper rifle and trying to add enough optical capability to it is absurd.  No one should ever need more than 2 or 3 X magnification on an AR pistol if you opt for any at all.
  • Wide Window – Shooting an AR pistol as it is intended with the arm brace, puts the optics at the end of your extended arm for all practical purposes.  Any optic with a narrow viewing window or a short eye relief is practically worthless in this position.
  • Reasonable Cost – Let’s face it right up front.   There was no way I was going to mount an optic on my AR pistol that cost three times as much as the pistol cost.  Price had to be a factor for a gun that was meant to ride in my truck.  I was looking for the most bang for my buck.

Why My Choice? Vortex Venom…

I figured if this sight could stand the ride on top of a Glock slide, it could certainly withstand the forces imparted by the recoil of an AR pistol.  So far, this has held up.  Currently, there have been several thousand rounds go through my AR pistol in various training scenarios, and the Vortex Venom just keeps on working

This gun’s home is in a nice lockable rack behind the back seat in my pickup truck.  I wanted a sight that didn’t add any more height or weight to the rifle than was needed, and the Vortex Venom certainly fit that bill.  I have increased the height just a bit by adding a three-slot riser rail under the sight to give me a little more leeway in getting a sight picture.

This is certainly not a budget red dot.  It is also no ultimate red dot.  It is affordable enough for most shooters to work into their budget and it certainly delivers on the operation and features.  It was a fortuitous accident that I had one in a drawer, but I like to think I would have ultimately chosen this sight for my AR pistol.


The Objective

The objective is always to find the right tool for the job, which is the right size, and matched the job needs.  Picking an optic for any gun is the same.  There are certain criteria that must be met, but, in the end, the way it fits your shooting style and your wants is a huge part of the decision process.  I hope my information and my observations about reflex sights for AR pistols help you in your decision process.

If you have any ideas, observations, or experiences with red dot reflex sights and AR pistols, please share them in the comments below.  We love to hear from readers and often learn as much from our followers as they learn from us.



Dennis Howard
Written by Dennis Howard

A life long hunter, fisherman, and outdoorsman, after surviving a devastating tornado in his home town, he saw the effects on people's lives as they struggled to cope. He built his first bugout bag a few weeks later and has been a dedicated prepper/survivalist since that time. After a career as a fireman, Dennis opened a retail store catering to the military, law enforcement, and like-minded individuals in the preparedness community. Read his full interview here. Read more of Dennis's articles.

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