Over the past few years, red dot sights have gotten small enough so that they can be mounted on handguns. Nowadays, it is becoming a more common practice among not only competition shooters and special operations folks, but also ordinary folks to mount a red dot sight to their handguns.
In this piece, I’m going to take a look at why that might be. There are several good reasons to consider mounting a red dot sight to your pistol: they help the shooter get on target faster, can aid with accuracy, and, especially for folks using a pistol for self-defense, can make it easier to shoot in adverse conditions.
Faster Target Acquisition In the format that most people are used to with dots (rifles), these optics are designed for, and excel at, close-quarters engagements. First and foremost, red dot sights present an extremely simple sight picture: put the dot on the target and press the trigger when ready. They also allow the shooter, with a little bit of practice, to shoot with both eyes open, giving the shooter a further chance to see what’s going on and aim the gun in a way that feels natural.
Additionally, newer models of red dot sights have increasingly smaller bodies around the sight, meaning that, as the technology progresses, the shooter sees less and less metal or plastic clogging up their field of view.
These exact same properties of red dot sights on rifles make them a good choice for a pistol optic as well. Most handguns have sights that rage from somewhat usable to downright frustrating to try to place accurate shots with. At the very least, most pistol sights have both a front and a rear to worry about, meaning that, for every shot, the shooter must try to get a somewhat precise alignment. With a red dot, if the sight is itself zeroed to the pistol, all the shooter really must do, again, is put the dot where they want the bullet and press the trigger. That is a much shorter process to think through and practice.
Longer Range In rifles, red dots are known for their close-range performance and are not known for being precision, long-range optics. And that’s far when there is enough rail space on most modern rifles to mount a scope that can give the shooter excellent magnification and a reticle that takes much of the guesswork out of long-range shooting. Pistols, however, are a whole different world. From the fact that most pistol sights are on the crude side of things to begin with, to the extremely short sight radius (the distance between the front and rear sight), pistols are not, generally, a good choice of firearm to shoot at extended ranges.
A red dot, on the other hand, presents a small red dot and nothing else for a sight picture, so the shooter has a lot more of a chance to put that dot on the target, or some estimated distance above it, focus on getting a consistent trigger press, and then, there might be a chance to make hits at a lot further than you think possible. For some comparison, shooting a Sig P238, even with the night sights that are great, hitting a standard silhouette target is a challenge and takes a lot of time to think about the sights and trigger a press. A P365 with a red dot, firing the same caliber, on the other hand, means placing the red dot a little high and pressing the trigger. The sheer simplicity of the sight picture, when compared to pistol sights, might well mean that, with a red dot, pistols can have their effective range extended a fair bit.
Easier Shooting in Adverse Conditions For most folks, practicing pistol marksmanship means going to a range, either indoors or somewhere with some shade, standing still, and getting the fundamentals right. And there’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever in terms of getting the basics down. But, since a lot of folks carry pistols for self-defense, it’s important to recognize that, more than likely, if you need to use your pistol to defend yourself, it will be in conditions that are a lot less than favorable. Pistol sights leave a lot to be desired anyway, and that’s in the context of shooting under controlled conditions at the range. Add in some darkness, a little rain, perhaps an injury from an attacker or a quickly evolving situation, and, suddenly, those black steel sights do not look like such a wonderful tool for the job at hand. Red dot sights have always, whether on a rifle, pistol, or shotgun, been designed for use in close- quarters combat, which means that, generally speaking, there is a complex and evolving situation. When compared to standard black pistol sights, the benefits of a red dot here are massive. An illuminated reticle makes it easier to shoot in the dark, for example. From there, the simple sight picture means that even if the shooter is under the massive stress of a self- defense situation, there’s a much larger chance that they’ll be able to shoot effectively enough to stop the threat.
Should You Mount a Red Dot to Your Pistol? Generally, red dots can be a great addition to a pistol, for the reasons outlined above. They’re fast on target, might help with long-range shooting, and are certainly helpful when engaging targets in adverse conditions.
But like with anything else, there are tradeoffs. Red dots add bulk and weight, and you’ll likely need a new holster if you add an optic to your pistol. If you’re looking for the most concealable sub-compact setup, then an additional optic will likely be out of the question.
With that in mind, for a lot of situations, from home defense to the concealed carrying of a compact or larger handgun, the addition of a red dot sight is more than worth the additional bulk and weight, and I think it’s certainly something worth considering.