How To Use Pistol Red Dot Sight | Fundamental 101

Miniature red dot sights are popular on combat rifles and shotguns; now handguns have found the reasons to use them too.

Many optic companies are leveraging this opportunity to dump more affordable miniature red dot sights into the handgun market every year.

Learning how to use pistol red dot sight helps you speed up target acquisition and shoot accurately.

In this article you will learn why we use them, existing problems, product recommendations and other tips

Trex Arm with GLOCK 19 MOS with Trijicon RMR

Image Referenced TREX ARMS

Check Out: Best Handgun Red Dot Sights


Why You Need Red Dot Sight On Pistol?

Here is the bold statement: Red dot is better than traditional three dot iron sights.

It allows faster target acquisition and follow-up shot. Also, it increase hit probability when shooting long distance with a red dot sight.

When I first got my milled Glock 17 slide back with the Trijicon RMR on it, I was so excited to go try it out.

It was a day and night difference when it comes to the follow-up shot.

It’s almost like shooting with a laser sight.

You notice every slight movement of the dot, and that forces you to perfect your handgun shooting fundamentals.

At this time, I was already good with my fundamental, and I was hitting the 4 inches group at 15 yards over and over. I was amazed by it.

Red Dot Magically Cuts Target Acquisition Time By Half

USPSA handgun shooting

Image Referenced pewpewtactical

The red dot sight is on the same focal plane as the target. When you look at the target, you don’t need to shift your focus the same way you do with iron sights.

That’s what makes target acquisition fast! The gun world changed when red dot sight optics were introduced to shoulder-fired rifles.

Sight alignment and sight picture was very easy. The shooter just needs to places the dot on the target and squeezes the trigger, wherever the dot is, is where the bullet is going.

Follow up shot is also faster compared to using iron sights.

Learn more about how to shoot with combat red dot sight here.

Gripes About Red Dot Optics

Despite the popularity of using red dot sights for handguns, some people hate it, and that’s a valid point. Some people are trained very well with iron sights, and they can shoot just as good as someone trained well with a red dot sight.

My take on this is that, if you don’t train perfectly to present your handgun, then red dot sight is pointless, and please go back to the iron sights. This also opens up tons of conversions on grip angle, high tang and low tang grip, and how it will affect the red dot sight.

Advantages

  1. Faster target acquisition
  2. Extremely fast follow-up shot with accuracy, able to track the dot as the recoil cycles
  3. Co-witness with suppressor sight
  4. Shooting long distance easier instead of iron sight
  5. Shoot on the move easier
  6. Low light environment (right brightness setting)
  7. Red dot allows threat focus, thus eliminate conscious effort to focus on the front sight
  8. Open sight picture and increased situational awareness

One hand manipulation. Rack the slide with it.

Handgun manipulations with Trijicon RMR make it easier and creative than ever. In the past, people will use the square edged rear sight and press against the belt or a hard surface to charge the slide.

Now you can do it with the red dot sight, and the only thing you want is to make sure the housing unit must be strong to handle the abuse, and the lens does not make any physical contact with anything while doing so either.

The Trijicon RMR is the best on the market, and you can use it to rack the slide or use it as a hammer any way you like without losing zero or fall off the gun.

The best part is that the objective lens is seated deep inside, and protected by the housing frame.

Disadvantages

  1. Requires brightness adjustment
  2. Handgun mounted weapon light can wash out the dot if the brightness setting is not right
  3. If the battery dies, then you can’t use it, and can’t swap battery without taking the whole thing off
  4. With lack of handgun draw fundamental, people have trouble finding the dot fast.
  5. Glass can break, then you will lose the whole thing.
  6. Water, the fog mess things up for you operationally.
  7. Takes a lot of training
  8. Requires perfect alignment to see the red dot, otherwise “fast target acquisition” is nothing

Where does the optic sit on the pistol?

Slide Optic Cutouts

Slide cut for RMR

There are tons of companies out there that offer slide cut for mounting red dot sights. The most popular ones are Glock and M&P.

Just in the past couple of years, the companies offer cuts for 1911, HK pistols, FN and many more. The only limitation exists if the slide has internals that doesn’t allow any milling on the slide such as the M9.

Frame Supported Optic Mount

Giessele Glock Optic Mount

There are a lot of competition shooters with their fancy race guns that have optic mount install on the gun, and the red dot sight does not travel with the slide as it recoils, which helps stabilize the optic for maintaining sight pictures and alignment.

Rear sight dovetail mount

Handgun Slide Dovetail Mount

If you don’t want to spend the money to mill the slide, you can also purchase dovetail optic mount. You remove your rear sight and replace it with your red dot.

This configuration makes the optic sit higher, and it’s not completely fitted secure compared to a slide mount or the frame mount.

I don’t recommend it because you’re only securing the red dot using the dovetail by tension only without screws.

How does the miniature sight differ from a full-size red dot sight?

Miniature red dot sights like the Trijicon RMR, Leupold Delta Point, works just like a reflex sight, the light emission project the dot on the objective lens, and reflect to the shooter’s eye.

Read the article here to learn more about it from the fundamental of combat optics.

Common issues and quick fixes

If you’re a beginner with handgun optics, you probably wonder how reliable is this thing, or you might feel skeptical about the sight not holding zero.

I have only encountered three problems with on the red dot sight that’s the battery, brightness setting and brass bouncing off the object lens during ejection.

Ejecting Brass Hitting the Objective Lens Causing damage?

Glock 19 gen 5 recoiling with deltapoint pro

Image Referenced TREX ARMS

Have you ever wonder if the brass ejecting bounce off the lens of the red dot causing damage? I have personally seen it happen, but not often.

The only fix to that is to make sure the red dot sight is not installed too close to the ejection port.

If you do notice brass consistently hitting the lens, then its time to take it off, because damaged lens will prevent you from seeing the red dot. You will be better off with the iron sight.

Battery & brightness settings

All red dot sights are battery powered, they have naturally long battery life, and many shooters leave their red dot sight on without turning it off.

When picking an optic sight, you must pick the ones that have an extremely long battery, so you can just pick it up and shoot in stressful situations without fumbling with the on/off switch.

This is where red dot sight for a handgun can either help you or hurt you.

If you only rely on the red dot sight whenever you shoot, and if the battery dies, then you’re forced to use the iron sight.

All red dot sights are battery powered, they have naturally long battery life, and many shooters leave their red dot sight on without turning it off.

When picking an optic sight, you must pick the ones that have an extremely long battery, so you can just pick it up and shoot in stressful situations without fumbling with the on/off switch.

This is where red dot sight for a handgun can either help you or hurt you.

If you only rely on the red dot sight whenever you shoot, and if the battery dies, then you’re forced to use the iron sight.

3 tips to keep your red dot working flawlessly

  1. Make sure the battery is seated tight when mounting the optic
  2. Change the battery once a year regardless of the 4-5 year battery life.
  3. Adjust the brightness settings before putting it back into the holster.

4 questions to ask before buying a handgun red dot sight

  1. Is my handgun slide ready to accept any red dot sight?
  2. The red dot sight has to be recoil proof, and it must have high-quality mounting screws and plates?
  3. Is the battery life long?
  4. Is the glass exposed to potential physical contact damage?

Lens qualities & window sizes Do Matter

Pistol optic sight requires a lot of training. The biggest training you need is to perfectly present your gun so you can see the red dot without wasting time finding it through the small optic window.

This forces you to perfect your draw fundamental and grip.

RMR window size

The bigger the lens window, the easier it is to see the dot fast.

There are red dot sights with bigger windows such as Leupold Delta Point. I do like a bigger window, so I can see the dot easier even if my draw isn’t perfect.

This all depends on your training and what your preference is.


Reticle Size Matters – Use Larger Dot For CQB & Smaller Dot For Long Range

Pistol optic sight requires a lot of training. The biggest training you need is to perfectly present your gun so you can see the red dot without wasting time finding it through the small optic window.

This forces you to perfect your draw fundamental and grip.

STS2-Dots

This is the most ignored spec when people buy a combat optic sight. Earlier we discuss zeroing and combat effective zone, now think about the dot size that is big enough to cover the effective combat zone at long distance.

Most miniature red dot sights for pistol have 3 – 6 MOA, which means the dot covers 3-6 inches at 100 yards. Aka, it represents a 3-6-inch group at 100 yards. This is why shooting long distance with a pistol red dot sight is advantageous.

Example 1: Trijicon RMR RM06 has 6.5 MOA dot, that means at 100 yards, the dot can cover a group up to 6.5 inches. 6.5 MOA = 6.5 inches at 100 yard.

Example 2: If you place the 6.5 MOA dot on a target at 30 yards, the dot can cover a group up to 1.95 inches.

Parallax Free Reticle Lets You Shoot Accurately Without Even Aligning The Sights Completely

Glock Deltapoint Pro down range

Image Referenced TREX ARMS

This is the most ignored spec when people buy a combat optic sight. Earlier we discuss zeroing and combat effective zone, now think about the dot size that is big enough to cover the effective combat zone at long distance.

Most miniature red dot sights for pistol have 3 – 6 MOA, which means the dot covers 3-6 inches at 100 yards. Aka, it represents a 3-6-inch group at 100 yards. This is why shooting long distance with a pistol red dot sight is advantageous.

Example 1: Trijicon RMR RM06 has 6.5 MOA dot, that means at 100 yards, the dot can cover a group up to 6.5 inches. 6.5 MOA = 6.5 inches at 100 yard.

Example 2: If you place the 6.5 MOA dot on a target at 30 yards, the dot can cover a group up to 1.95 inches.

Durability And Ruggedness

Cock the slide with trijicon rmr

All the things we have mentioned in this article is nothing if the quality of the optic is not up to the standard. Majority of the red dot sights are decent for range use; they range from $220 – $800. But if you want your handgun optic to operate and survive where you have to depend your life on it, then you need the best optic with a top notch mount. Trijicon is the only thing I recommend for its forged housing unit.

There are cheap ones out there and trust me guys; you don’t want to waste your money on the cheap ones. They will break and not hold zero especially if you mount that on the slide where it will experience a lot of recoil shot after shot. Trijicon RMR has the strongest construction on the market today, and it can stand a lot of abuse and recoil beyond just 50AE and 12GA. So I would get that.

Use Suppressor Height Sights For Co-Witness 

One thing to remember: Suppressor sight assist you to acquire the red dot faster.

glock RMR

In the rifle community, the shooter uses backup Iron sights for learning the fundamentals of marksmanship.

The disadvantages are slow target acquisition compared to any optic because the shooter has to align three objects ( target, front sight, and rear sight) at different focal lengths.

During low light situation, iron sights are hard to see even for night sights. This is why the handgun community wants to move to the red dot optics.

This is true for a handgun as well, but a little different. For a rifle, it’s very easy to shoulder it and see the red dot sight fast; however, for a pistol is difficult without proper training.

I have spent hours perfecting my red dot sight picture alignment with the Glock 17. I have the Trijicon suppressor night sight on my Glock; it’s tall enough for co-witness with my red dot.

Iron sight does provide you the backup you need if your optic fails. Also, iron sights also allow the shooter to co-witness the red dot. If I can pick up the red dot upon presenting my gun, then I will at least align my iron sight first to find the dot. Therefore suppressor sights with visible markings that stand out to the shooter’s eye are extremely important for fast sight picture acquisition.

Use Optic Compatible Handgun Holster

RMR ready holster

If you decide to conceal carry a gun with a red dot installed on the slide, be sure also to purchase a holster that has the red dot sight cut out, so everything will fit. You can also buy a holster and then just custom cut it yourself. Most holster companies out there let you choose whether if you want a red dot sight cut out or not.

Practice Is The Key To Effectively Use A Handgun Optic

Practice practice practice. There is no way around it. Draw your gun inside your home safely and see how well you can present your gun fast and align the sight picture. If you still don’t like it, then go back to just use the iron sight.