Modern AR-15-pattern firearms — rifles, carbines, and pistols — typically have a flat-top receiver and an integral MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny accessory rail. Standardized in 1995, the Picatinny rail, or Pic rail, allows you to attach a wide variety of accessories to your weapon, enhancing its functionality for tactical/defensive and sporting applications.
The primary purpose of the top rail is the mounting of iron and optical sighting systems. Although M-LOK and KeyMod systems have supplanted quad-rail handguards, the integral top rail has yet to be replaced. Some rifles also incorporate a full-length top rail, extending from the receiver through the handguard. This additional rail space allows you to attach magnifiers and clip-on night-vision devices (NVD) for rifle scopes.
However, if you own an AR-15 — i.e., corresponding to the A1 or A2 pattern — your rifle will have an integral carry handle. This is not necessarily an impediment to the mounting of optical sights. By purchasing an adapter mount, you can attach modern optics such as rifle scopes to red dot and holographic sights, to your AR-15.
Best Scopes for AR-15 with Carry Handle
- Trijicon ACOG 4×32 Scope with Illuminated Red Crosshair
- Barska 4×20 Electro Sight Rifle Scope for M-16 Carry Handle Mount
- Vortex SPARC AR II 1x22mm 2 MOA Red Dot Sight
- EOTech 510 Series 512-A65 Holographic CQB Weapon Sight
- Aimpoint ACO Red Dot Sight
Trijicon ACOG 4×32 Scope with Illuminated Red Crosshair
Trijicon is one of the most well-known names in optics manufacturing. The ACOG, or Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight, is a low-power, fixed-magnification rifle scope with an illuminated reticle designed for rapid sight acquisition. Suitable for close- to medium-range shooting, the ACOG can attach directly to the Picatinny rail of a flat-top receiver. However, with the correct adapter, the ACOG can attach to integral or removable carry handles.
The ACOG employs the both eyes open shooting technique, which Trijicon calls the “Bindon Aiming Concept” after the company’s founder. By keeping both eyes open, you can acquire your target and aim precisely without sacrificing situational awareness. In tactical, hunting, and competitive shooting scenarios, awareness of your surroundings is essential to success or survival.
A military-grade sighting system, the ACOG housing is forged 7075-T6 aluminum — the same alloy and manufacturing process used in the AR-15’s upper and lower receivers. This provides a durable, environmentally resistant optic suitable for use under a wide variety of harsh conditions. In addition, the ACOG is waterproof to 50 meters as a result of its being filled with dry nitrogen.
Through the use of fiber optics, which collect ambient light, the ACOG can regulate the brightness and contrast of the reticle during the day. At night, the ACOG uses tritium to illuminate the reticle. This, combined with the battery-free design, eliminates a point of failure.
The ACOG’s broad-band anti-reflective coatings minimize glare and increase light transmission. In conjunction with the 32mm objective lens, the ACOG delivers a high-clarity and bright target image. Weighing 9.9 oz. at 5.8” in length, the ACOG is relatively lightweight and compact.
Barska 4×20 Electro Sight Rifle Scope for M-16 Carry Handle Mount
Barska manufactures affordably priced optics for the budget-conscious shooter. The Barska Electro Sight Rifle Scope resembles the classic Colt fixed-power rifle scope designed for the AR-15/M16 rifle. Using a cylindrical housing, the Electro Sight provides 4x magnification using a 20mm objective lens. The mil-dot reticle is not illuminated — this is a traditional fixed-power rifle scope for close- to medium-range shooting.
The reticle includes an integral bullet-drop compensator, which is calibrated for 500 yards in 100-yard increments. Providing 2.7” of eye relief, you’ll need to place your eye relatively close to the ocular lens for a full field of view. In .223 Remington or 5.56x45mm NATO, where recoil is minimal, short eye relief is less of a concern. If you intend to use this optic with a more powerful caliber, however, such as .458 SOCOM or 12.7x42mm (i.e., .50 Beowulf), you should exercise caution.
You won’t have to buy a special mount for your carry-handle-equipped rifle — Barksa’s Electro Sight has its own. As the integrated mount blocks the existing rear sight assembly, the Electro Sight includes an aperture sight that you can use with the front sight post, allowing you to switch between your iron sights and the rifle scope as needed.
Weighing 13.4 oz. at 6.9” in length, the Electro Sight is heavier than the ACOG; however, it’s also considerably less expensive. If you’re interested in a low-cost but effective rifle scope for your AR-15, the Electro Sight is a good place to start.
Vortex SPARC AR II 1x22mm 2 MOA Red Dot Sight
The best scopes for rifles with carry handles are not limited to magnified rifle scopes. A closed red-dot sight can also qualify as a scope. The Vortex SPARC AR II is a 1x red dot with a 22mm objective lens that provides a 2-MOA aiming point.
Weighing only 7.5 oz., the SPARC AR II is the lightest optic on the list and the most compact at 2.9” in length. As this is a non-magnified reflector sight, the eye relief is unlimited, allowing you to determine the ideal stock weld. On the two lowest intensity settings — out of a possible 12 — the SPARC is compatible with night-vision devices and has a battery life of 50,000 hours.
While not magnified, the SPARC AR II allows you to acquire a sight picture more rapidly and with less training than traditional iron sights. Furthermore, the brightly illuminated aiming point is highly visible under a variety of lighting conditions, contrasting sharply against neutral and dark colors.
The lens multi-coatings reduce glare and reflections, transmitting more light for a crystal-clear target image. The shockproof aluminum housing is hard-coat anodized, and nitrogen purging ensures that the system remains waterproof and fogproof.
EOTech 510 Series 512-A65 Holographic CQB Weapon Sight
On the more expensive side of the spectrum is the EOTech 510 Series 512-A65. EOTech pioneered holographic weapon sights in the 1990s, providing an alternative to reflector sighting systems, such as those offered by Aimpoint.
The 512 is not a magnified optic — like the Vortex SPARC, this is a 1x optic with unlimited eye relief. At 10.9 oz., the 512 is one of the heavier optical sights on the list. However, the 512 is also one of the most durable, as the lens is housed in a protective steel sheath, increasing its impact resistance.
The 512 uses a 2-MOA red dot enclosed in a 65-MOA ring. This provides reference points for close- and medium-range shooting. For example, at 100 yards, the 2-MOA dot corresponds to a 2” target area — ideal when increased precision is required. The 65-MOA ring is perfect for closer ranges, corresponding to a target area of 16.25” at 25 yards and 32.5” at 50 yards.
The EOTech 512 has a battery life of 1,000 hours on intensity setting 12 at room temperature using AA lithium batteries. When using alkaline batteries, this battery life declines to 600.
Aimpoint ACO Red Dot Sight
The ACO, or Aimpoint Carbine Optic, is a red-dot sighting system from one of the earliest companies to commercialize reflector-sight technology. A closed or tube red dot, the ACO is designed specifically for semi-automatic modern sporting and tactical rifles. Providing a 2-MOA aiming point, the ACO Although intended for flat-top rifles, the ACO can be attached to carry handles using an adapter.
The ACO housing exemplifies Aimpoint’s reputation for durability, consisting of an aluminum extrusion that’s been anodized a dark graphite grey. The housing is also water-resistant, allowing the system to be safely submerged to a depth of 5 meters.
The red dot has 10 settings — 1 “off” and 9 for daylight. One of the daylight settings is extra bright for increased contrast and visibility. On brightness setting 7, at room temperature, the ACO has a battery life of approx. one year (10,000 hours).
Weight alone is 6.7 oz., which is relatively light. When you include the integrated mount, the weight is 10.6 oz. — comparable with the EOTech.
AR-15 Carry Handle
The AR-15 design originally incorporated a carry handle integral to the upper receiver forging. The purpose of the carry handle is twofold:
● Elevate the rear sight
The first AR-15 prototype had a vertical trigger-shaped charging handle that reciprocated in a slot in the top of the upper receiver. As a result, the charging handle obstructed the sighting plane, necessitating rear sight elevation. The carry handle also served to protect this handle from accidental activation or damage.
Although ArmaLite substituted the familiar T-shaped charging handle located behind the rear sight, the carry handle fulfilled another role. In the AR-15’s straight-line stock design, the comb is in line with the axis of the bore. The primary advantage of the straight-line construction is that it delivers the recoil impulse linearly to the shoulder, reducing muzzle climb during fully automatic fire.
As the stock has no drop at the comb, the front and rear sights must be elevated to allow proper sight alignment. The carry handle both elevates the rear sight and protects it, acting as a housing.
The carry handle is removable in the M4 carbine and derivations, attaching to a Picatinny top rail via two thumb nuts. As most modern AR-15-pattern firearms have a flat-top receiver with a Picatinny rail, you have to buy the carry handle separately.
● Carrying the weapon
The carry handle does allow you to carry the weapon; however, the rifle sling is generally preferable for this purpose. Carry handles are more commonly associated with comparatively heavy weapons, such as light and general-purpose machine guns (e.g., the M60), 7.62mm battle rifles (e.g., the FN FAL), and anti-materiel rifles (e.g, the Barrett M82A1).
Disadvantages of a Carry Handle
Although the carry handle elevates and houses the rear sight assembly, which is necessary when using a standard iron sighting system, it poses a few challenges when using a rifle scope.
For the best results when shooting, you should achieve a proper stock weld — placing your cheek on the comb of the stock in the same position every time. By significantly elevating the rifle scope relative to the comb, a carry handle often requires that you place your jaw on the comb to align your dominant eye with the exit pupil. This is sometimes referred to as a “chin weld” and is less stable and consistent. One way to remedy this is to install a stock that uses a height-adjustable comb or cheek piece.
The carry handle also increases the height over bore. Height over bore is the distance between two parallel axes — the axis of the bore and the line of sight through the scope. The greater the height over bore, the more deviation there is between the point of aim and the point of impact, especially at relatively close distances.
If you own an AR-15 with an integral carry handle, you can mount a rifle scope for increased precision and shooting accuracy. You may need to use a mount adapter, but this depends on the rifle scope you choose.
There are a variety of suitable optics, most of which are fixed-power reflector and holographic sights. However, magnified rifle scopes allow you to more clearly see and identify targets at greater ranges. When selecting a carry-handle-compatible optic, always ensure you account for the effect of height over bore on your shooting results. Furthermore, consistent eye relief is essential for optimal performance.