Adding Muscle to Red-Dot Sights

Magnifiers add versatility to red-dot and reflex sights by extending their effective range when dealing with paranoid predators that hang up at 100 yards or slightly more.

Adding Muscle to Red-Dot Sights

Not all hunting is a distant affair. Some encounters are up close and unexpected, where the challenge quickly becomes finding the target in a magnified optic before a savvy prey catches a scent and escapes.    

In the home- and self-defense world, which faces similar situations with two-legged predators, one solution is using a red-dot or reflex sight that provides fast and accurate target acquisition. The optics also enhance a shooter’s ability to keep both eyes open, an added advantage that maximizes peripheral vision and situational awareness. They are also hard to beat in some competitive arenas, but there they lose luster the moment distance stretches. It’s iron-sight workable, but it sacrifices the detail provided by magnified optics and jeopardizes precision. 

Magnifiers are a popular solution when a sadistic match director stages targets at wildly mixed distances — from point blank out to 100 yards or a smidgen beyond. The mounts allow them to swing into operation with roughly the same motion required to zoom a magnified scope, and they lock out of the way when not in use. If that rifle does double-duty protecting the homestead when the hunt’s over, removal is effortless with today’s quick-detach mounts. 

It can be a versatile system for predator hunting, although not necessarily ideal for every situation or style. There are mechanical constraints, starting with the addition of weight and bulk, although nominal compared to most of the gear we haul around. Too often overlooked is the fact that exterior glass is roughly doubled, though.


Dust, Shift and Space

You need enough Picatinny rail real estate to properly mount the magnifier. It’s usually not a problem, although if you have a backup iron sight to the rear things can get crowded. Most, if not all, occupy three slots, but check before buying. Quick-detach mounts remedy the problem but can mandate re-zeroing with each reconfiguration. 

Adding a magnifier is also not plug and play. There’s a chance point-of-aim/point-of-impact — when compared to that of the unmagnified red dot — will drift slightly apart. In practice it usually translates to less than one MOA and is often the byproduct of the shooter slightly adjusting eye position when behind the additional optic. 

To remedy the relatively rare problem, first check that the mount is proper and solid. Then — after ensuring you’ve adjusted windage and elevation on the magnifier until the dot is centered in the field of view — fine tune that position to as close to co-witness as possible. Field-expedient speed maximizes when cheek weld is identical with and without the optic in use. One inch at 100 yards offhand is negligible, but if you always shoot from a solid rest, it’s worth addressing before heading afield. 

We hunt in dust, mud, dirt and grime, come rain or shine. Odds are good you won’t perceive the effect of a thin film when looking through a reflex or red-dot sight, but unless it’s squeaky clean it reduces light transmission and compromises contrast. You’re looking through more glass when that magnifier swings into operating position. Good models come with covers to protect the surfaces and hydrophobic coatings to minimize moisture buildup. Predator hunting is never sterile, and time to remove protective outwear from an optic is a rare luxury when things get rigorous. So, expect to add a few minutes to your maintenance chores if you add one to your setup. And avoid scratches on those lenses by only using a soft cloth for the chore.


Light Transmission

Dirt isn’t the main light-reducing culprit. Glass itself rejects some light, although we commonly refer to it as glare or reflection, often imperceptible, in casual conversation. Quality companies work hard to maximize the number of photons that pass unimpeded through their optics, including magnifiers, and coatings perform a large part of that chore. 

Most are invisible to the eye, although some add a slight tint. Companies that produce top-of-the-line magnifiers with well-documented performance use multiple layers. They also have a history of not releasing the secret sauce involved, or even thickness. The best bet is to find a friend with a model you’re considering and to get behind it on the range. All work perfectly with a bright background, but the difference is discernable on dark targets with fine lines. 

Harnessing the advantages of magnifiers is possible on a budget, and this look at the Leapers UTG 3X magnifier provides a glimpse of what to expect. MSRP is only $84.97. For comparison I included the Holosun HM3X. This higher-performance model comes in at $235.28 and offers a great solution for a variety of hunting situations if you’re ready to pull the trigger on a magnifier. 

The Holosun HM3X has a sleek profile, measures 4.03 inches in length and tips the scales at 10.8 ounces.
The Holosun HM3X has a sleek profile, measures 4.03 inches in length and tips the scales at 10.8 ounces.

Common Features

Both magnifiers have integral quick-release mounts for attaching to a Picatinny rail. The Leapers version went on a little loose as it came from the factory, likely to accommodate rifles that don’t quite live up to their mil-spec billing. An included Allen wrench adjusted tension perfectly and held the sweet spot through several range sessions and removals. 

The HM3X attached solidly out of the box and, like the Leapers, uses the QD lever common to most setups — drawing the clamp tightly on the other side as it closes. It, however, has an additional locking mechanism that requires a button to be depressed before removal. That’s a nice touch for field use. The Leapers mount could release if grabbed by a tree limb or other obstacle with sufficient pressure — such as that applied by a hunter trying to yank it free. 

As for anchoring, both mounts are integral with a single bar that runs horizontally through a Picatinny groove. The Holosun has an additional pair of lugs, fore and aft of its bar, for additional anchoring. That construction reflects an emphasis on stability and lends itself to heavier recoiling rifles. The optics swing out of the way into a solid locking position for an unobstructed view through the 1X primary sight. To do so with the Leapers, the user pulls the optic straight back, then rotates clockwise. The Holosun moves the same direction but does not require any other manipulation than the turn. It always anchored firmly in both positions during testing, despite that fact.   

Diopters allow owners to adjust for their eyesight on both. The range available is generous enough to ditch the glasses during use, although the Holosun covers a wider range. The units provide 3X magnification and feature windage and elevation adjustments to center that red dot in their field of view. As mentioned before, they can also help synchronize point of impact with and without magnification. Multiple coatings are on the exterior lenses of both magnifiers, and both models appear to be crystal clear, with no tint.

The Leapers UTG 3X Magnifier is 4.06 inches long and weighs 11 ounces. It’s chunkier and angular in looks and to the touch than the Holosun.
The Leapers UTG 3X Magnifier is 4.06 inches long and weighs 11 ounces. It’s chunkier and angular in looks and to the touch than the Holosun.

Leapers UTG 3X Magnifier

The Leapers model has an anodized and businesslike look with a generous amount of texturing for solid grip with gloves or sweaty palms. It weighs 11 ounces. The main body tube measures 4.06 inches long (with the diopter fully extended) and 1.75 inches in diameter. Length of its footprint on the Picatinny is 1.625 inches, covering three grooves. Once elevation and windage are set, tightening a separate pair of Allen screws anchors them firmly in place. The optic also features a beefy coil erector return spring system to minimize the migration under recoil. 

Center height is 1.65 inches. That was slightly high for the Crimson Trace CTS-1000 mounted for testing but adjusting centered the dot and shots were delivered accurately. The unit is sealed and nitrogen purged to minimize fogging and invasion of humidity or fogging. Waterproof claims are not made.  


Holosun HM3X Magnifier

The HM3X is not quite as long, coming in at 4.03 inches, again with the diopter extended. Tube diameter, however, is a more slender 1.32 inches. Weight is 10.8 ounces. Its aluminum body is flat black and certified at IP67 water resistance. It lacks the angled “bumps” of the Leapers, but the finish provides plenty of grip. Horizontal ribs ensure gloved use is never a concern. 

It, unlike the other magnifier, ships with a spacer to provide better alignment behind different height red-dot optics. Out of the box it mounted perfectly behind the Crimson Trace, though. It occupies roughly the same amount of Picatinny space.

Both magnifiers swing out of the way when the 1X optic is in use and lock solidly to the side.
Both magnifiers swing out of the way when the 1X optic is in use and lock solidly to the side.

Put to the Test

Both units worked flawlessly in testing, but clarity and contrast were far from equal. The Holosun light transmission and clarity outperformed the Leapers model by a noticeable margin. The latter’s mounted height difference obscured a lot more peripheral vision, as well, and proved a little distracting.

There was no difference, however, in ability to maintain point-of-aim/point-of-impact. With some patience they converged with the 1X optic, and both stayed solid throughout testing. Accuracy wasn’t sub-MOA, which isn’t unexpected from a carbine-length 5.56 NATO-chambered AR-15 in the field. 

Both magnifiers are a solid choice, with a huge difference. The Leapers is an ideal entry-level option that delivers on its promise. It comes with a lifetime warrantee, so if you upgrade it’ll still do yeoman’s work on another gun. The Holosun is a thoroughbred by comparison, though. The sight picture is clearer, slightly brighter and mating it to a red dot or reflex is less of a headache. The reduced effort when it comes time to swing it out of the way is a bonus, as well as the lifetime warrantee. 

You can’t go wrong with either choice. It just depends on checking account health and hunting preference. That said, there’s another consideration to weigh. The CTS-1000 has a dimmable 3-MOA dot and that’s not ideal for precision. It works and dialed down is translucent enough to engage targets effectively at 100 yards — but at 3X magnification it covers 9 inches downrange. Consider something with a finer reticle, like a chevron, if precision is a big part of your game.


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