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Big Easy: Vortex Optics’ Defender-XL Reflex Sight



People who say “bigger isn’t always better” haven’t met me … or the Vortex Defender-XL.

The Defender-XL micro red dot is the company’s largest offering yet, an appealing option for competition shooters. In the competition arena, the size of the viewing window can give shooters a speed advantage.

A look at the Defender series as a whole, and where the XL fits in.

  • Defender-CCW: is the smallest of the defender series; really meant for compact CCW pistols like the Glock 42, Sig P365, and Springfield Armory Hellcat.
  • Defender-ST: is the all-purpose red dot that is perfect for more full-sized handguns like the Glock 19, Sig p320, and Springfield Armory Echelon. Vortex also says the ST also makes a great unobtrusive shotgun red dot or Carbine offset sight paired with an LVPO.
  • Defender-XL: optimized for speed with the largest viewing window in the lineup, specifically developed for competition shooters where concealment is a low priority.

Options & Footprints

  • Defender-CCW & Defender-ST are available in 3 MOA and 6 MOA options
  • Defender-XL is available in 5 MOA and 8 MOA options
  • Defender-CCW: uses the Shield RMS/RMSc mounting footprint
  • Defender-ST & Defender-XL Deltapoint Pro mounting footprint

Vortex didn’t reinvent the wheel with the new Defender-XL, and that’s good news. If you have ever used a Defender optic in the past, you will be right at home with the XL, since all of the controls, operation, and usage are the same as other Defender red dots. The XL continues Vortex’s use of a durable 7075 aluminum housing combined with the polymer insert “shock shield” to protect against hard, daily abuse. Even the front face of the housing has a “fast-rack” texture that is meant to be used as a spot to rack the slide.

As with all other Defender red dots, the XL also features adjustable brightness levels with 10 daylight settings. Please note that the XL can be used with night vision devices—the two dimmest settings of the XL are night-vision-compatible. The XL uses a single CR2023 coin-style battery that is changeable without having to take the sight off the firearm. To save on battery life, the XL features a 10-minute auto shutoff that will instantly awaken with its motion sensing technology.

Many shooters who are looking to upgrade their pistol’s optics that will have a hard time deciding between the ST & XL. You might to wonder why Vortex would muddy the waters, since other than wide size, the sights are identical for all intents and purposes. Thing is, other companies have successfully done the same thing. (Just take a look at Trijicon and the RMR & SRO red-dot sights.) Vortex is allowing its customers to customize their preferences in red dots. If you are the type of shooter who prioritizes size and concealment with the ability of a small tack-driving 3-MOA dot, the SL is for you.

I want every advantage when it comes to my CCW rig. I want the larger window, and always prioritize a larger aiming dot. My theory is that the larger the aiming dot, the faster my eye will acquire a sight picture. So for me the XL and 5 MOA is right in the sweet spot, although I am going to have to check out the 8 MOA version. The ST has a window of 23mm W x 20mm H, the XL uses a 25.5mm W x 23.3mm H.

The one thing that I love about my prior experiences with the Defender series is that Vortex sets you up to work. Vortex provides a screw set in the box that will fit most of the optics-ready pistols out there. Now you may have to adjust with some brands of pistols trimming crews or sourcing longer ones, but that’s not Vortex’s fault since some manufactures refuse to stick with established standards. (Speaking of refusing to follow standards, interestingly, Vortex includes the proper Glock MOS plate.)

While Vortex may not have revolutionized anything with this new red dot, what they are doing is establishing a solid lineup of red dots. When customers asked for a larger sight, Vortex provided them with a solid option. The great thing is that even though this is a “competition” sight, the XL is also a fantastic sight for duty and CCW use. Even though the window is larger the sight overall is not so huge that it can’t fit in duty/CCW optics ready holsters.

I truly believe that the XL will quickly become a favorite CCW sight for many. The Defender-XL has an MSRP of $599, so the actual street price should be around a hundred dollars less when on sale. At that price the Defender-XL is truly a no-brainer, especially if you have not upgraded your setup to a red dot. For a quality sight with a lifetime warranty the Vortex-XL should definitely be on your “must-have” list. For more information, check out Vortex’s website.

–James the “XDMAN” Nicholas, Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!

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