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  • Post last modified:August 31, 2023

Do you really need an optic on a pistol?

Yes and no. Without proper training nothing matters.

To answer this question, let's break it down with a few scenarios to provide better context.

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Range & Competition Use 

trijicon sro front and back

The biggest selling point of a red dot sight on a pistol is so that the shooter can be target plane focused without aligning iron sights.

For range and competition use, shooting a pistol with a red dot sight is a lot of fun. It's a place where the user can take their time to learn & experiment a red dot optic.

A red dot sight also helps shooters with aging eyes to aim better without using the iron sights. 

Close Range - Personal Defense

swampfox sentinel on hellcat 9mm pistol

In super close personal defensive situations a red dot sight on a pistol is NOT a must have. Most defenders can drive the gun towards the target and engage the center mass area even with iron sights.

Most defensive shootings happen within bad breath distances and there is a lot of stress and rapid movements. The defender in that situation isn't aiming the gun as if he/she is in a stationary position or totally relaxed.

Some argue that most users have difficulties finding the dot when presenting the gun, and it' even more difficult when adding rapid movement. 

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Night Time Use

red dot brightness dialed up too high

One of the biggest problem with a carry optic is dealing with the brightness setting. Sometimes, the day time brightness that works under direct sunlight is too much when entering a dark room. Sometimes, a low brightness reticle setting for night time use is hard to see during the day.

shooting into the sun red dot sight

We recommend manual adjustable red dot sights with locking mode, because the users have full control over the reticle brightness settings regardless of the lighting conditions, and not have to deal with accidently adjusting the brightness inside a holster.

Here are some tips when setting the reticle brightness:

  • Always re-adjust the brightness setting based on the lighting conditions
  • Set reticle brightness to high for daytime setting
  • Always attach a high lumen weapon light to ID targets even if the reticle brightness glare fills up the field of view

Law Enforcement & Military Applications

glock 17 with rmr law enforcement encounter

Law enforcement officers get into many different situations with their guns drawn. Some are close range, and some are further away.

As far as pistol optics go in super close range shooting situations, officers don't need optics on their duty pistols as they would on rifles. 

But having an optic is a capability added to a duty handgun when engaging a target far away than without it. (Hallway, parking lot, streets, mall..etc) An red dot sight also allows the officer to keep both eyes open to maximize situational awareness while engaging a target.

racking trijicon rmrcc on wood

Another use of optics on handguns is to manipulate the pistol slide to fix field malfunctions by freeing up one hand for other tasks.

What Are The Best Pistol Red Dot Sights

trijicon rmr profile

There are many pistol red dot products out there, and some are great and some are not so great. Even the best ones like Trijicon RMR can break depend on how hard the users put them to use.

Here are the 4 tried and true red dot options for pistols :

See other options here