By Jeff Johnston, FE Firearm & Hunting Editor
Inside of 50 yards or so depending on your vision, magnification doesn’t offer a huge advantage for hunters. But field of view does. So if you’re a crossbow hunter, a red dot is a solid choice for a sight.
First off, the Chinese scopes that come as package deals with most crossbows are absolute garbage and should be treated as such. I recommend tossing them at the neighbor’s cat and either buying a low-magnification variable scope with a ballistic reticle or a quality red dot that has multiple dots for aiming—and that’s the catch. Not many do. Trijicon’s ACOG Crossbow scope is a top-notch choice with its 3x magnification and illuminated reticle that doesn’t depend on batteries. It’s downside—and it’s a big one—is that it costs nearly $1,400. Another quality but less expensive option is EOTECH’s HWS 512 XBOW sight. I have one and I love it.
To be clear, holographic sights are different from most red dot sights (mini-reflex sights) in that they tend to be clearer, brighter, more precise and offer more reticle patterns. They also offer great eye relief and are parallax free. They have larger viewing panes than mini-red dots. They are more costly to make, and so they are often more expensive than mini reflex sights.
EOTECH’s 512 XBOW features a reticle with four dots in the middle of the field of view and a manual rangefinder to the side. The rangefinder is intended to be used by placing the lowest stadia line on the bottom of a deer’s belly then note where the top of the deer’s back intersects the scale to judge the distance. With practice a shooter can look through the sight, estimate the animal’s range then choose the correct crosshair without ever having to lower the bow from the shoulder to use a rangefinder. (Note that the 512’s holdover dots are not tunable to your specific crossbow, but rather are averages.) So, for example, perhaps the second dot down is on at 31 yards and the third is on at 42. It works just fine as long as you dope it all out and remember the corresponding ranges for each dot. I place a piece of athletic tape on my xbow’s stock with the subtensions written on it for a quick reference.
The main advantage that I’ve found with the EOTECH vs. a mini reflex red dot (now that a few reflex style sights do offer multiple aiming dots) is the EOTECH’s battery life. Rather than using a pathetic 2023 (flat, watch-style battery) that doesn’t last long, the EO uses 2 AA batteries that lasts a long time even on the brightest setting. When it eventually dies, it’s simple to replace without taking the entire sight off or altering your adjustments.
If you desire some magnification for longer ranges, you can always combine the EOTECH with a magnifier, and this is what I ultimately recommend. This setup, just as on carbines, offers the best of both worlds: quick sight acquisition and huge field of view for close targets while having the option of a flip down magnifier for longer shots. EOTECH’s G33 offers 3x magnification and clips on any pic rail in an instant without tools. Its downside is that it’s $520, but a counter to this is that after bow season you can use it on your rifle.
The last compelling reason to choose an EOTECH holographic crossbow sight is because EOTECH is discontinuing the sight because for whatever reason many crossbow hunters have proven to be cheapskates and prefer to go with the Chinese-made trash their bow came with. So EOTECH is selling this sight right now (December, 2023) for $299, down from $490. It’s the same technology as its other sights, except it has multiple holdover dots calibrated for arrow trajectories. But here’s the thing: You can use it on guns. Sure, the dots will not be calibrated exactly to your .223 round in 100-yard increments, but after the center dot is zeroed, simply shoot your rifle to see where the various holdover marks correspond to your rifle of choice. $299 while supplies last.
Pros: quick, accurate, long battery life, large field of view, can be combined with a magnifier
Cons: discontinued so supplies are limited