By Jeff Johnston, Field Ethos Hunting & Shooting Editor
There was a time back in the mid-2000s when just about every M4 held by a Special Forces operator wore an EOTECH holographic sight. (My intel tells me an EOTECH was on the HK-416 used to kill Osama Bin Laden during the raid, although the IR laser would have been used in total darkness when OBL was dropped.) Pretty soon EOTECH’s pedigree vaulted it into the civilian market, with wanna-be warriors like me thinking, “If the SEALs use ‘em, they’ve gotta be good.” And they were. Hell, most boys in America knew what an “EOTECH” was, because it was featured in nearly every first-person shooter video game. The company took a huge hit in 2015, however, when it was sued by the DOD for its sight not living up to its touted temperature range specs, and evidently this was a real issue.
The Michigan company settled, took its licks, fixed its product, and now it’s back stronger than ever with an entire line of traditional riflescopes, new models of holographic sights, mini-reflex (red dot) sights, thermal optics and magnifiers. But how do I know the HWS product has been fixed? Two ways. No. 1, in 2019 it won a $26 million USSOCOM contract that was only awarded after intense testing against rival competition. No. 2. I tested one of the new units by sticking it in a freezer for 10 hours. It performed just fine when I took it out.
The truth is, however, that I’ve owned eight EOTECH products over the years, beginning with the Holosight it made for Bushnell—the first holographic sight for firearms of its kind—back in 1998, two years after it was launched. Right now in 2023, it still works. I own a couple of the old HWS sights, a couple of the new ones, and even a 512 Crossbow model. Not only do all of them still work, but I’ve never had a problem with any of them.
So what’s the difference between a red dot sight (actually called a reflex, or reflective sight) and a holographic? Primarily, a red dot sight bounces a LED off a single mirror to project a dot onto a small pane of glass. A holographic sight uses a laser that’s programmed to project an actual reticle containing hold over points, circle within circles, or whatever the company wants. This laser is bounced off several mirrors, but not the front pane of glass, so light cannot be seen by an enemy. Both sights have unlimited eye relief and are not sensitive about where the eye is held to remain on target. The panes of a holographic sight are made to be bigger, allowing better heads-up peripheral vision (i.e., enhanced situational awareness); and unlike red dots, the reticle always remains sharp and focused even if the frontal pane is broken or the shooter has astigmatism. For these reasons, holographic sights are superior (in all but size) but are more costly to make.
EOTECH’s HWS models are once again the standard for holographic sights; I also like them because they are tall enough that they don’t need a riser block when used on an AR-15: Just mount one directly on the rail and go. I’ve found they are great for hunting in nighttime applications, and if you want to use them at distance because your old eyes aren’t any good past 100 yards, just add a magnifier by clipping it on behind the sight. It pivots in and out of the line of sight as it’s needed. As such, this hybrid setup offers the best of both worlds.
I, for one, am glad this wholly American optical company is once again kicking ass. Its products are so good, in fact, that plenty of lowlife Chinese counterfeits have flooded the market, so if you notice an EOTECH with a price tag that seems too good to be true, it probably is. $650
Pros: perfect short range heads-up rifle and shotgun sight for home defense, targets and hunting; great battery life, durable, holdover reticles available.
Cons: too large for handguns