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Optics: Scope, Peep, or Red Dot?

Updated: Sep 27

After over a year of fielding questions on social media and at our shows about the optic that is seen on many of my hunting rifles, I felt it necessary to discuss what I utilize in further detail. Before I “ruffle any feathers” and generate a debate of “what’s better”, a scope, red dot, or peep sight, let’s address a few noteworthy points on this topic. First and foremost, I am not affiliated with any red dot optic company. The weapon system setup I utilize in the woods is based on my experience with it in specific environmental hunting conditions, not on a static range shooting at paper or from a tree stand. Is there anything wrong with hunting from a tree stand?

Absolutely not! In fact, I acknowledge that for some, it’s what you have to do based on the area where you hunt, your hunting preference, or due to your own personal physical limitations. In addition, I also acknowledge it is a highly effective way of harvesting deer. I just don’t hunt from stands because it’s not the way I enjoy hunting. My objective in this article is to aid other hunters out there who are currently unsure of what optic to use in the big woods, or, who are just curious of the other available options out there. Finally, my intention is not to sway you in one direction or the other, nor is it to categorize one optic as inferior to the other. Instead, my goal is to provide you, the reader and fellow hunter, my reasoning for choosing a specific optic while tracking whitetail bucks in the vast public lands of the Northeast.

So…let’s start in the beginning of this journey. In the infancy of my hunting career, probably 13-14 years old, I carried a beautiful Remington 700 chambered in .308 while riding the coat tails of my father through the big woods. Back then, my father (WMBT Bill “Slip” Willey) had his trusty Remington 742 Woodmaster .308, then later a Remington 7400, also chambered in .308. Both our rifles were equipped with 3-9x40mm scopes, most likely some model of Tasco or Bushnell. Back then, it was just the norm or trend in our group of hunters to have a scope and price was somewhat of a concern for blue-collar folks such as ourselves.

After a long day of hunting with my father, I recall meeting back at the pick-up truck with he and his friends discussing the day’s events. During these “tailgate stories”, I recall listening to what seemed to be a reoccurring theme on days of inclement weather, “my damn scope fogged up” or “I pulled up on him and my friggin’ scope was full of snow”. Or, someone, somehow, had “bumped” their scope during a hard hunt and for the rest of the day, their confidence was shaken with their compromised scope. Even worse, they missed a buck at close range because they in fact did knock their scope out of alignment. In fairness, I also recall several deer being harvested by their scoped rifles and with that, I just remember the take back to having a scope was, “that’s just the way it is I guess”, and you better protect that scope as if it was an egg.

As years of youth hunting went by, I graduated high school, did a “brief stint” in college, and joined the US Army in 2001. As a young airborne infantryman, I was issued the Colt M-4 Carbine. This, despite my young “whippa-snappa” days plinking cans (and whatever) with the old Red Ryder bee-bee gun, is where I learned to shoot irons sights. Upon my arrival to the 82nd Airborne Division, I was introduced to the red dot, specifically the M-68, also known as the COMPM2 Aimpoint. It was a great optic, but large in comparison to most present-day red dot optics. After my military service, I began my law enforcement career in which I utilized various types of handguns (agency dependent) with iron sights. In addition to a handgun, I was issued a Colt M-4 Carbine while serving on the tactical team for years. As my law enforcement career continued, red dot sights became more prevalent, smaller, and more sophisticated. During these years, I became quite familiar with red dots, and used them frequently in training. I trained with red dots from various positions and under different conditions. I just had not used them while hunting, mainly because it wasn’t really prevalent at that time and their price alone was a disincentive.

Throughout these years (early 2000’s), I continued using an old Bushnell scope on my Remington 7600 (.30-06). It was nothing special, but for a scope I was fond of the “Circle-X” reticle for quicker target acquisition (it was also cheap). I shot a few nice bucks with my Bushnell scope (3-9x40mm), but again, continued to stubbornly suffer the consequences of inclement weather affecting my optic, subsequently affecting my hunt. I became frustrated with jumping bucks and trying acquire a good sight picture (cross hairs) as he was moving like greased-lightning through thick cover. After a few more years, and missing a giant local buck known as “Thumbs Up” (for his unique brow tines), I finally had enough of snow and fog covered scopes and chose to make the switch to a peep sight.

The transition from a scope optic to a peep sight just seemed natural. The peep sight I first utilized was the Williams WGRS-7400. Along with the Williams WGRS-7400 rear peep sight, I first coupled it with the Remington factory iron front sight. I used fluorescent orange fingernail polish on the front bead for a contrasting color when hunting on snow covered ground. I used red fingernail polish initially, but the color did not contrast enough with fallen leaves in bare ground conditions. I then swapped the factory front sight for the Williams Fire Sight, a bright fiber optic. The advantages with this specific peep sight setup were immediate. The particular rifle I used, the Remington 7600 Carbine, carried so much better with a peep sight than it did previously with a scope (it was also lighter). The peep sight was far less susceptible to being compromised by inclement weather. While hunting, I would remove the rear aperture in order for a faster target acquisition. If snow or debris got into the rear sight, you could just simply blow it out and you were back in action. I would mark the tick marks of the rear sight adjustments with nail polish so in case of it being bumped, I would know immediately if it was compromised.

I was fortunate to harvest some quality bucks with the peep sight, both on my rifle and my muzzleloader. Always striving for improvement, there were a couple of issues with his particular brand of peep sight which bothered me though. One, was the front sight. The finger nail polished factory front bead just wasn’t cutting it for me. I then swapped the factory front iron sight out for a Williams Fire Sight. Initially, I appreciated the brightness of the fiber optic as it was highly visible in seemingly every weather condition. The problem with this specific fiber optic product was going through thick cover with it. It would also become brittle in below freezing temperatures. I went through two Williams Fire Sights after breaking each of them traversing through the proverbial big woods “sh-t holes”. Being a perfectionist, I was always searching for the perfect optic. I would not rest until I had the perfect setup that provided speed, accuracy, and durability. The biggest issue though I was having was speed and accuracy.

At that time, Bill and my youngest son Alden had swapped from a scope to a Bushnell TRS-25 red dot sight. Alden, a 13 year old kid, was able to acquire moving targets quickly and efficiently. Bill fell in love with the attributes of the red dot. Interestingly enough, I was actually the one that put him onto the sight initially. Why didn’t I swap over too? Well, at the time, I loved the sleek feel and look of having a peep sight on my rifle. I guess I valued nostalgia over performance. I was also hesitant to make the swap over due to concerns about weather affecting the red dot (though I had no evidence of this). After all, how was it different from a scope besides its inability to magnify targets. I mean, it still had two pieces of glass that were exposed to the ever-changing bipolar climate of the Northeast.

After several days of reflecting on missing another stud buck and Bill’s ever so subtle hints that I make the change, I finally made the decision to swap over to “the dark side” with the other two WMBT boys and put a red dot on my 7600. Today, I can say with confidence, for me and my style of hunting, it has been the most advantageous change to my hunting gear I have ever made. Now, before I explain the “why”, I first must reiterate that my experience is based on one particular red dot, the Bushnell TRS-25. The key feature of this red dot in comparison to other much more expensive and popular red dot optics is the position of the two pieces of glass. The rear glass is positioned in such a manner that it fits flush to the housing which doesn’t allow precipitation to collect as it would on other red dots (much more expensive too) that have more of a “lip” - if you will. It goes without saying, this is one major issue in my experience with scopes as well and leads to a very frustrating day of constantly wiping your optic lenses as you’re trying to seal the deal on a buck. In addition to the flush rear glass, the front glass is positioned in such a manner that it cants downward and stops flush to the rim of the optic’s housing. The greatest advantage by far since switching to the Bushnell TRS-25 has been the field of view. The field of view is far superior to anything else I have ever used. I recommend mounting the red dot as far as possible on the receiver. When the red dot is mounted further down the rifle (towards the bore), it creates a superior field of view. It actually resembles a scout rifle. My Bushnell optic is positioned slightly forward of the ejection port on my carbine where the barrel meets the receiver. This creates an unbelievably fast and accurate target acquisition. The optic positioned in this manner also creates an added benefit of a more comfortable and balanced carry.

Now, let’s discuss some common apprehensions one might have with utilizing a red dot on their hunting rifle, particularly during the winter months of the Northeast. First concern would be the battery life, I know it was for me initially. Now, here’s my additional disclaimer. I can only speak for the optic I use, which as previously mentioned, is the Bushnell TRS-25. My conclusion regarding battery life is this. After having hunted nearly every day of rifle season in New Hampshire, and also after hunting Maine and Vermont, the original battery NEVER died and the red dot NEVER went dim. Now, let’s be smart about this too. I keep a spare CR2032 battery in the breast pocket (where it stays warm) of my undershirt just in case. After all, its battery powered. I mean, if you have a GPS, you should still have a compass right? Also, I remember to turn the optic off after a day of hunting. If you can remember to turn your GPS off and charge it, you can do remember to turn your optic off. I also swap batteries out at the beginning of the deer season, whether it’s dead or not. In regards to issues with weather, snow and rain slide off the lenses due to its unique design as previously mentioned and I have yet to experience any issues with it being fogged up. Bushnell boasts a nitrogen-purged fog-proof housing and so far… so good.

Next test, the bone chilling cold temperatures of the Northeast. I hunt regardless of the weather conditions, because I’ve yet to get one from the couch. I can attest that having hunted in below freezing temps with this optic, I did not experience any sort of deficiency. My 7600 launches 200 grains of 35 Whelen copper pills and there are no issues with shock affecting the optic’s zero. Something also to keep in mind is cheek weld. With scopes and peep sights, you need to have a maintain the same cheek weld for consistent accuracy. Not the case with a red dot. This particular red dot is considered a "parallax-free" optic. So, in theory (and in my experience), where you see the red dot is where the round hits (trigger squeeze and recoil anticipation is on you, not any optic). This also means you can shoot left or right handed accurately. In 2019, if I had a red dot on my muzzleloader, I would have had a much easier time getting a shot off at my buck by switching to my left hand.

As previously mentioned, there is no "perfect" optic for all weather conditions. That being said, when the precipitation is heavy, I rely on my rifles and muzzleloaders which are fixed with a peep sight. When snow and water enters the rear peep sight, I can just simply just blow the precipitation out of it. Since, 2022, I have opted to use Andy Larsson's Skinner Big Woods Bucks Peep Sight. In my opinion, it is the best peep sight on the market today. This solid steel sight has a larger ghost ring for hunting the dense forests of the Northeast and Upper Midwest (but can be used anywhere a ghost ring is preferred). It is a perfect sight for the pump action Remington’s so famous in the mountains across the US. Bottom line, it is rugged, dependable, and accurate! I have this specific sight mounted on one of my other Remington 7600s and my 45-70 lever.

Oh yah, this may get some of you excited, I know it did for me as I consider myself a “blue collar” hunter. The Bushnell TRS-25 is a sub $100 optic! Yah, I was skeptical at first just based solely on the price. But, listening to Bill’s experience in the woods with it and after comparing its performance with other high-end red dot optics I’ve used professionally, I was very impressed! In fact, in 2022, I installed a Bushnell TRS-25 on my Woodman Arms Patriot muzzleloader!

Well, that’s it! I hope I was able to shed some light on why I use the red dot, specifically the Bushnell TRS-25. Maybe you’ll try one out or maybe you’ll stay with what you have if it’s working for you. At the end of the day, you need to have confidence in your weapon system. Whatever your method, make your weapon an extension of yourself and practice…practice…practice! Get after it and have fun chasing those big bucks!

Brad Willey

Big Woods Bucks / Team Member

White Mountain Buck Trackers / Founder

“Never Quit!”

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