Are Laser Sights Still a Thing?

There was a time when laser sights were considered the “new hotness”. Not only did you want lasers for hunting, but you also wanted them for self-defense and home defense. They mostly came in red but also in green and came with all sorts of extras. Of course, laser sights still exist, they just aren’t the focus of many debates anymore. So, are laser sights still a thing, or have they gone the way of bayonets and pistol braces?

handgun laser sight
Laser sights can be fantastic aiming tools. [Photo: Surefire]

What is a laser sight?

Let’s take a brief look at what laser sights are.  To some, the name makes them sound as though they’re something from a Terminator movie. In the gun world, a laser sight is a small device that’s mounted either in front of the trigger guard on a handgun or to the handguard of a rifle (usually at the muzzle end). We’re going to use Crimson Trace as an example because they’re one of the leading manufacturers of laser sights and have been for quite a while.

Crimson Trace offers laser sights, laser grips, laser saddles (for shotguns), and handguard-mounted lasers. Some lasers are the laser by itself, while others are part of a combo setup with a weapon-mounted light. Colors are red or green with features beyond on/off, depending on the model. While you might think a laser sight is rail-mounted only, some options attach to the trigger guard or bolt or clamp onto long guns.

Laser sights are designed to give the user a visual cue for shot placement. Like optics, the laser must be adjusted to zero. You can’t just take a laser out of the box and expect all your shots to be dead-on because it doesn’t work that way.

What do you use laser sights for?

What you’re going to use a laser sight for depends on who you ask. In some circles, they’re for hunting, and in others, they’re strictly defensive tools. And while they certainly function at their brightest in low light/no light scenarios, that doesn’t mean they can’t be seen during the day. That’s one of the arguments for green lasers; they’re much easier to see in daylight.

For handgun hunters especially—but for hunters in general—laser sights can be a good way to get a more precise hit on their prey. They’re great for night hunting, although they do have a limited range. They can make the difference between dropping and missing that running feral hog.

On the self-defense side, it’s a bit more common for laser sights to be used on home defense guns. That’s partly because it’s harder to find holsters to fit laser sights and partly because lasers aren’t seen as something as necessary as a weapon-mounted light. That doesn’t mean laser sights aren’t useful because they definitely can be.

crimson trace laser
Trigger guard-mounted lasers are available. This one is made by Crimson Trace. [Photo: Crimson Trace]

Are laser sights a crutch?

Something you hear a lot of is that tools like laser sights are nothing but a crutch. Having a laser on your gun means you don’t have to worry about or train for accuracy as much. That means lasers are a direct path to bad gun skills, missed shots, and the zombie apocalypse.

Can lasers be a crutch? Absolutely. If someone gets their laser zeroed and proceeds to rely only on that laser for aiming, it’s a crutch. However, if the laser is considered a backup or addition to the existing iron sights, it’s a lot less likely to be a crutch. The laser isn’t likely to be used for every single shot, and that means the shooter is still working on their accuracy. In the end, whether or not something like a laser sight becomes a crutch depends on the shooter. Generally speaking, it isn’t a crutch. It’s simply an extra tool in the aiming toolbox for times when it’s needed.

crimson trace
Lasers aren’t only for semi-autos. Laser grips like these from Crimson Trace mean they can be used on just about anything. [Photo: Crimson Trace]

Are laser sights still relevant?

Companies like Crimson Trace, Streamlight, and SureFire continue to design and manufacture all sorts of laser sights. It’s gotten more standard to see them as a combo option with a weapon-mounted light. For some time now, weapon-mounted lights have hung onto center stage. Lately, though, they’ve started being questioned by some regarding just how much of a must-have item they are. That might mean laser sights get into the conversation more frequently again, or it could translate to gun owners walking away from light-up style accessories altogether.

When it comes right down to it, the gear and guns that remain relevant entirely depend on you, the gun owner. Is it useful to you? Do you have applications that require it, or at least go more smoothly if you have it? Then it’s still relevant. One of the best things you can do is take criticism of gear with a grain of salt and carefully consider the source.

Streamlight laser light combo
Laser and light combos for long guns often have an additional switch to make them easier to operate with the greater length of the gun. [Photo: Streamlight]

Should you get a laser sight?

If you have a specific use for a laser sight, it’s reasonable to get one. Getting a laser sight that’s also a weapon-mounted light is a good way to ensure the usefulness and versatility of the product. Pay attention to the run time of the model’s battery and the brightness of both the light and the laser. Also, remember that you might want green over red, or vice versa. Additional features such as strobe or brightness adjustment are also important when choosing a combo setup.

When it comes to zeroing, laser sights are relatively straightforward. They’re usually simpler than optics, but that isn’t always the case. On many models, the adjustment per click is extremely small, and those clicks aren’t very tactile or clear, making them harder to zero with precision. Check out reviews on lasers and lights before making your choice to try to ensure you get the best possible model for your purpose.

Laser sights aren’t going anywhere and they can be great tools. Personally, I prefer them for handguns, but they can also be useful on a variety of long guns. Mossberg’s Shockwave is a good example of a firearm that benefits greatly from a laser saddle like those made by Crimson Trace. Shockwaves can be a challenge to aim well, and adding a laser simplifies things enormously.

Not only are laser sights still relevant, but you should have at least one. They’re useful, fun to use, and a great way to increase accuracy under stress.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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