Glass for Kat: picking an AK optic

As is so often the case, choice of optic dictates other firearms setup questions, and, since Kat did not come with an optic, I had some choices to make right off the bat.

Choice one: skip optics altogether, shoot irons like real man, da? This is not a particularly compelling choice, although it is made very slightly more compelling by my colleague’s admittedly effective sight mods (painting the front sight white, and filing the rear notch a little bigger). In Standard Two-Gun Rules, I’m allowed one (1) rifle optic in the Practical Division in which I plan to compete, so I don’t want to handicap myself unnecessarily.

Choice two: bog-standard Americanski-style micro red dot on a railed gas tube. This is one of those indisputable choices: I can’t really fault someone for going this direction. You get a nice, easy-to-acquire sight low to the bore, you get cowitnessing for free, and you get all the benefits of red dots: good-enough precision for battle rifles, durability, and all that tasty, tasty red-dot ease of use. Nor will they break the bank.

That said, I don’t think it’s quite for me. A micro dot far forward on a rifle has a very, very small apparent size, and that makes rapid transitions and fast acquisition harder, robbing the red dot of its main advantage over a magnified optic. It’s also impossible to magnify: even if you could find a magnifier with a foot and a half of eye relief, you’d be hard-pressed to fit it on the rail, and even if you could fit it on the rail, you’d be wrecking the balance of a rifle which is already a little nose heavy.

Choice three: red dot or holo sight on one of those AK side-rail Picatinny mounts. This is the first one I seriously considered. For one, your top-of-the-line red dots and holo sights (your Aimpoint Micros and EOTechs) come to about $500 or $600, which is much cheaper than high-end glass1. The mounting position solves some of the issues I have with the forward red dot: it’s right there, next to your eye, so picking up the sight is easy. You lose cowitnessing, but I don’t care about that much anyway. Without having to worry about putting weight way up by your front hand, you can also go a little bigger on the sight, moving up to full-size red dots or holo sights, and on the larger side-rail mounts, you could even fit a magnifier. Perfect, right?

Well, not quite. A red dot and magnifier are two parts to fail, and neither is useful without the other2. Nor are you gaining anything in weight, really: you’re up at a pound or so with a 3x magnifier and micro dot, and that’s getting up toward the weight of our eventual winner.

Choice four: ACOG-style compact, low-eye-relief scope
This is the one I ended up going with. It isn’t an ACOG, but it fits the pattern: we’ll call it a nayCOG. First: limited eye relief doesn’t bother me. If it’s whacking you in the face, you’re doing it wrong3. Second: I like magnification, especially with a reticle smaller than the target I’m likely shooting at (which may or may not be the case with a magnified red dot). Magnification buys you better precision straight up, and also better target discrimination at range. Third: a nayCOG is only a few ounces heaver than alternative options at most4, and all of that weight is at the back of the rail, owing to the scope’s small size.

Why not a simple, variable-power 1-4x tactical scope, say? Because at 4x, the field of view for such a scope is a little more than half the field of view of a fixed-power 4x nayCOG. Field of view at range helps maintain situational awareness and eases target acquisition; at close range, a good field of view helps with rapid acquisition of a target and both-eyes-open aiming, though on both fronts it obviously loses to a proper reflex sight.

Finally, you may object that I just said difficult acquisition pushed me to drop the forward micro dot; that, though, is a fundamentally different sighting system. I don’t mind the extra work if it means I have access to magnification.

So, having decided all these things, I was at a gun show a few weeks ago, and came across what is turning out to be just about the perfect optic. Tune in next time to find out exactly what I bought, and how it’s turned out so far.

1. I was just talking to parvusimperator about his next rifle build, and he could end up spending four times as much for a high-end 1-6x variable-power scope.
2. This is not ordinarily an issue, if you’re buying things of moderate quality, but I am nothing if not a cheapskate!
3. Next time, you’ll see that this is an ironic tack for me to take here.
4. The one I got weighs 16 ounces with an integral mount. A 1-4x tactical scope is probably a little lighter, but a red dot, magnifier, and flip-aside magnifier mount are just as weighty.

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