Red dots on handguns have reached mainstream status in the last few years. When even the lower budget tiers companies like SCCY are selling optics-equipped handguns, you know we’ve reached mainstream status. Heck, Taurus is even getting compact revolvers into the red dot market. While a good portion of shooters have embraced the dot, many have not.
Some are simply unsure of red dots on handguns. Others are drastically opposed to it. Much like any firearm advancement, there are plenty of people who will automatically resist. It happened with carbine optics, and it’s happening with handgun optics. However, progress occurs regardless of the gnashing of teeth. Hopefully, we can reach a few of those who haven’t embraced the dot and maybe convince them of the gospel of the dot.
I can sum it up pretty easily. Red dots on handguns allow you to shoot faster, further, and straighter with your handgun. Luckily, I have plenty of space to explain the how behind those three claims.
How Red Dots Are Faster
Iron sights require you to align the sights to make accurate hits properly. Regardless of how fast you are, getting the front sight between the rear sight just right takes some time. If you switch to a red dot, you no longer need to worry about aligning sights. You look at the target, put the dot on the target, and boom.
If you’re fast with iron sights, you will be faster with a red dot. There is no need to shift focus between the threat and your front sight and no need to ensure anything is properly aligned. Dots also catch the eye and are much easier to see, especially in varied light conditions. Where you might slow down is with proper presentation.
There is a lot of practice that goes into ensuring you can reliably find the dot. If you are not finding the dot as soon as you push the weapon toward the target, your presentation is off. A proper presentation takes practice, but if you are off with a red dot sight, then you were off with your iron sights anyway.
Go out to 50 yards and align your iron sights on a target. Make it a big target, say an ISPC target. How much of your front sight is covering that target? It’s likely a fair bit, right? Hell, maybe most of the target is covered. If you are using fiber optic sights, then you might see a little more of the target.
Shooting pistols at distances beyond 25 yards is tough enough, but when your sights are covering most of the target, then it’s even harder. With a red dot, less of the target is obscured by the reticle. Being able to effectively see the target makes it easy to effectively engage the target. In my practice, I do pretty well at 50 yards on an IPSC target with guns like the FN 509 LS Edge.
This match-ready pistol has great iron sights, a super small front sight, a great trigger, and excellent ergonomics. It’s an easy gun to shoot. While I do well at 50 yards, I do even better with my red dot-equipped P365. The P365 is much smaller and harder to shoot, but the red dot makes a substantial difference in long-range engagements.
Red dots make it easier to shoot accurately for three reasons. First, aligning sights properly ensures it’s directly in the middle of the rear sight and even across the top. You don’t have much slack, and improper alignment can cause some inconsistency. How much inconsistency depends on the margin of error. With a red dot, you just put the dot where you want to hit the target.
Second, red dots are adjustable, almost endlessly adjustable. You can refine your sight picture to a crazy degree. This goes well beyond what you can do with iron sights. Even purpose-built adjustable sights tend to be restrictive compared to the adjustability of a red dot.
Finally, boy, oh boy, will you be able to see every little flinch and flaw in your sight picture. You can better diagnose trigger and sight picture issues because the dot doesn’t lie. Every little movement pops up on a red dot way more than on iron sights.
The Target Focus Factor
“Front sight focus!” is something any of us who learned about iron sights will have likely heard over and over. When you shoot with iron sights, you focus on the front sight, and your target appears blurry. That’s not the case with red dots. We focus on the target rather than the dot. A target focus is massively beneficial, especially from a defensive shooting standpoint.
With iron sights and defensive shooting, you have to move between planes of focus. You first focus on the target, get the gun oriented, then switch to the front sight to take your shots. That takes time and can be tough to do under stress. With a red dot, we simply put our focus on the target.
We draw our handguns with a target focus, orient and aim the weapon at the target with a proper presentation the dot appears on the target. It’s that simple. You can keep your dot on the target and focus on the threat as is.
A target focus is a much more natural way to engage a threat. Historically most weapons have a target focus concept. You don’t focus on the tip of a spear as you drive it into your enemy. A target focus is easier and faster and allows you to maintain a high level of situational awareness.
Downsides of a Red Dot-Equipped Handgun
To give a completely honest assessment, we have to focus on the downsides of a red dot. There are obviously a few worth mentioning.
A good handgun red dot can easily cost nearly as much as the handgun. They are available at various price points, but optics like the Aimpoint Acro often cost more than your standard Glock. This drives the cost of ownership up significantly. However, the prices are dropping, and companies like Holosun are putting out solid optics at reasonable prices.
When it comes to concealed carry, you typically want smaller to ensure it’s easier to conceal. A red dot will add bulk to your gun, and there isn’t much you can do to deal with it, either.
Electronic sights require a higher level of maintenance than iron sights. You have to ensure they remain zeroed and do not become loose from your mounting method. Batteries have to be changed on occasion.
What about fragility?
Electronic, optical sights are quite tough these days, especially enclosed emitter optics. I wouldn’t say they are fragile. Sure, the Wish special you order is going to fall apart, but even budget optics are fairly durable these days. In fact, in my time as a shooter, I’ve broken three sets of pistol iron sights, but I’ve never broken a pistol red dot.
Ultimately, red dots on handguns are the future. Every major company seems to be making optics ready the standard. Sig, Glock, S&W, and many more are embracing the dot. Maybe you should give it a spin.