Last month we talked about the impact astigmatism of a human eye has on the use of red-dot sights. If astigmatism is comparatively mild, there are usually ways to work around it, at least for the comparatively short distances where you often have to engage the target quickly.
There are several approaches to try to make them work for you, but they will clearly not work for everyone. For some people, astigmatism is too severe. For others, it is just an uncomfortable sight picture.
That presents an interesting challenge and, as is usually the case, the market offers several viable alternatives. First, some terminology is in order. Red-dot sights and reflex sights generally mean the same thing and the terms are used interchangeably. They come in different sizes and shapes, but they all work the same way. Some are more susceptible to astigmatism than others, but they all tend to present problems for aging eyes at some point.
Depending on what your exact application is and on the specifics of your astigmatism, here are the options you should consider for your rifles, in no particular order:
- Modern iron sights
- Holographic sights
- Low power (1x to 2x) prismatic scopes
- LPVOs (Low-Power Variable Optics)
When we think of iron sights on rifles, all too often, we imagine some sort of a semi-buckhorn iron sight arrangement that works well for sharp-eyed 18-year olds. Years ago, an old hunter jokingly told me that semi-buckhorn sights on lever guns are “deer safety devices” intended to make sure you never hit what you are aiming at. That is certainly an exaggeration, but if we are looking for speed, we can do a lot better. The best I have seen to date for that are probably the various tactical rifle sights from XS Sights. While their BUIS irons are very good, I have a lot more mileage with the XTI DWT offset sights from them. Several of my rifles are set up that way. They replicate the sight picture of old express sights used on dangerous game rifles except XS does a spectacular job of making the front sight with extremely high visibility. As a side note, there is also something satisfying about not needing batteries. These are also lower profile than most red dot sight arrangements. There is, naturally, a version for AK pattern rifles as well that is a direct replacement of the marginal (to be charitable) stock AK sights. As we get older, iron sights are not ideal either. Still, I am pushing 50 and ultra-high visibility XS Sights work well for me.
Holographic sights are, arguably, the fastest of all sighting systems when it comes to CQB distances. Unfortunately, they might not play all that nicely with your astigmatism either, but for some people who struggle with reflex sights, holographic sights work reasonably well (yours truly included). They do not have the battery life of modern red dot sights, and they are full size sights. However, the view is absolutely undistorted making for very fast target acquisition. Only EOTech and Vortex make holographic sights at the moment. I have a bit more mileage with Vortex’ UH-1, but both work well.
Prims and LPVOs
Next on the list are unity magnification prismatic sights. These are a comparatively new category that has become popular fairly recently. These are conventional prismatic riflescopes of a fixed unity magnification. Leupold was the first to try it, but the product had some flaws and ended up being a little ahead of its time. Since then, other manufacturers have made an inexpensive version that sold well enough to warrant further consideration. That is where we are now and the difference in user experience is quite remarkable compared to the earlier efforts. Primary Arms’ SLx 1x MicroPrism is a good example of such a scope. It is compact, easy to get behind and sports an adjustable eyepiece. Unless you have unusually severe astigmatism, you should be able to find an eyepiece setting that works well for you. Another advantage micro prism sights have is the conventional etched reticle. It is easier on the eyes than electronic reticles are. Illumination definitely helps make them faster on target, but even if the battery fails, there is still regular black etched reticle that is nicely visible in most lighting conditions.
Lastly, we get to LPVOs. Low Power Variable Optics have been a big deal for a while and their 1x performance is not the least of the reasons why. LPVOs are the Swiss Army knives of riflescopes. The tradeoff, of course, comes down to size, weight and price. High quality LPVOs tend to be pretty expensive, but if your application requires engaging at distances from up close and personal to several hundred yards, it is hard to argue against LPVOs. Some of the highest quality LPVOs available sport ultra-bright reticle illumination. The idea with those is to make the sight picture to look as similar as possible to a red dot sight when set on 1x. Since LPVOs have adjustable eyepieces, they play better with astigmatism than reflex sights, but a small -right dot can still cause problems. However, a perfectly conventional etched reticle that is not nuclear bright can still be very fast and easy to use. A good example of such an optics is the Leupold Patrol 6HD, which relies on highly visible etched reticle features for engagement speed rather than illumination brightness.
If your astigmatism is so severe than nothing works, it may be time to visit your eye doctor and see what your corrective eyewear options are. Corrective lenses keep on getting better all the time.