By Mark Hampton
Handgun hunting optics has come a long way since I first used a 1.3X Bushnell Phantom scope many years ago. Thankfully we have several fine choices for a variety of applications. There are a couple of different types of optics today’s handgun hunters use in the field. Many are topping their favorite sixgun with red dot sights while others prefer the more traditional scope with a crosshair reticle. Which is best? It may depend on several factors, including gun choice and specific purpose.
Lately I’ve been squirrel hunting with a Volquartsen customized Mark III topped with a MatchDot II red dot system from UltraDot. This is a prime example of a quality red dot sight used for small and big game hunting alike. I also have one of these optics on a Ruger Super Blackhawk Hunter .44 Magnum, embellished by Mag-na-port International. There are other companies offering red dot units but I’m more familiar with UltraDot.
The red dot is user-friendly and provides a wonderful asset to aging eyes. The MatchDot II comes in four dot sizes: 2-, 4-, 6- and 8-MOA. Most of the time I prefer the smallest, 2-MOA setting which will cover 2″ at 100 yards. This unit also incorporates two different reticle patterns. Elevation adjustments can be made “on the fly” with their new bullet drop compensator. Making adjustments during sight-in was painless.
Another helpful feature for hunting is 11 settings for brightness adjustment. This comes in handy when you are hunting in various lighting conditions. You simply adjust the intensity of the dot for the circumstance. This red dot sight is parallax-free at 50 meters. With an unlimited field of view, target acquisition is quick. I’m able to get on-target much faster with the dot than trying to line-up iron sights. Most shooters will more than likely acquire their target faster with a red dot than a crosshair. I was pleasantly surprised to see the accessories included — mounting rings, lens cover, tube extension, hex wrench, polarizing filter, and even the 3v Lithium battery. All this for under 200 bucks!
Red dot sights provide a viable option for woods hunting. This whitetail
was taken with a custom Ruger .44 Mag. using an UltraDot optic.
Rugged And Light
After taking several squirrels and a few deer using this red dot, I can tell you it works. The unit can withstand punishing recoil from hard-kicking, big bore revolvers. I know several handgun hunters who use this optic on their .454 Casull and other bone-jarring rounds and have never experienced a mishap. Plus, the 30mm tube weighs a mere 5 ounces. I really appreciate the fact it remains very effective during low light conditions. If you can see your target in the scope, you’re in business. The red dot can be adjusted not to distort the sight picture and really stands out on targets. For hunting small game, I like the red dot more than a crosshair. When close range shots are anticipated, such as deer hunting in the woods with a revolver, a red dot sight is a great option. I’m not sure how long the battery lasts because I’ve never had to change one.
This dandy antelope was taken at 305 yards with the help of a Leupold scope and crosshairs.
For long range hunting or precision shooting, the crosshair is the logical choice.
There is a downside to red dot sights. They are not the best choice for precision or long range shooting. Remember, a 2-MOA setting covers 2″ at 100 yards and the 6-MOA covers 6″. With zero magnification, long range shooting beyond 100 yards becomes a challenge. I limit myself around 100 yards when I’m hunting whitetail with the red dot. If you happen to own a red dot unit without adjustable light settings, you’ll eventually encounter conditions where you either cannot see the dot or it’s too bright.
When testing loads for accuracy I always prefer the advantages of a crosshair reticle. When shooting prairie dogs or other small targets, crosshairs provide an added level of accuracy. In any situation where long range hunting opportunities are the norm, like antelope or mule deer in our western states, the crosshair becomes the logical choice. Handgun scopes from Bushnell, Burris, Leupold, Nikon and Weaver to name a few, provide hunters a variety of optics. From fixed to variable power scopes, hunters can choose according to their particular pursuit. Reticles usually come in some form of a duplex design.
Illuminated reticles are another choice. For long range shooting, the ballistic plex reticle on the Burris 3-12X is beneficial. I have Leupold rifle scopes with their B&C reticle mounted on several single-shot pistols. The hash marks below the center crosshair provide necessary hold-over for extended ranges. It works well if you spend time on the range and actually shoot your particular load at different yardages. Once you know the exact distance of your target, apply the appropriate hash mark and most guesswork is eliminated.
Both red dot and crosshair have their rightful place. A lot depends on the particular handgun and intended purpose. If you’re like me, you’ll probably enjoy both.
For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index