With all the interest in red dot sights, I thought I’d share with our readers a little about my journey of learning to use red dot sights on my handguns. There are so many options, and such a wide array of pricing, it can be a bit confusing — especially for an old iron sight guy.
More and more pistols have their slides drilled for mounting a red dot sight. Most of them have adapters to fit a variety of red dots. Picking and mounting the right red dot was the first part of the challenge for me. Then came learning how to quickly get on target.
Red Dot Sights
The dot in red dot optics is measured in minutes of angle or MOA which is a unit for angular measurement of a circle. In a sight, it refers to the size of the dot and how much it covers at a certain distance. The smallest dot currently available is 1 MOA. Most red dot sights are around 4 MOA which means the dot will cover 4 inches at 100 yards, 2 inches at 50 yards, and about an inch at 25 yards.
Larger dot sizes are helpful for fast acquisition while smaller dot sizes are better suited for precision shooting. Red dot sights do not have magnification like a rifle scope, so the size of the dot represents the size of the area in which your shots should impact.
My first experience with a red dot sight was a Bushnell Trophy installed on a Bushmaster Carbon 15 AR that I bought in 2011. I’ve done nothing to the sight but change the battery as part of a yearly, periodic preventive maintenance schedule. The sight was zeroed when the gun was new and hasn’t been adjusted since. It’s still right on target.
The second oldest red dot I own is 20mm Rail 4 Reticle Tactical Red/Green Dot Sight that was very reasonably priced. This sight requires a Picatinny rail which is not practical for most of my carry guns, but I mounted it on my Ruger Mark III Hunter. I’ve used some similar red/green dot sights that became available for a short time with promotional pricing around $50 on some of my .22 rifles.
I can understand the argument that you shouldn’t trust your life to a $50 no-name sight when good optics obviously cost a lot more. However, I have mounted several of these sights on fun guns and found them to work surprisingly well. One of them is on an HK416 .22 AR-style pistol, and everyone who shoots it enjoys it. Even some in our family who aren’t really into guns and don’t shoot much enjoy it.
These rail-mounted sights have multiple reticles which can be displayed in either red or green and in various levels of brightness varying from 3 to 10 MOA. I mounted one of these on a Ruger 10/22 rifle, a Winchester Wildcat rifle, and a S&W Victory handgun. Requiring a Picatinny rail for mounting and not having features such as automatic shutoff, varying brightness controls, and extended battery life meant I was looking for something different for my defensive handguns.
I met a representative from Riton Optics at a writers’ conference and asked him why there was such a difference in prices on red dot products. He explained that most optics sold in the U.S. are built in China using glass made in Japan. The quality and difference in price are based upon the quality of the glass, strength of the housing, and features such as number of reticles, battery life, on/off switching, etc.
The clarity of the dot is not generally a factor as all dots have a bit of fuzziness. The more expensive red or green sights should take more abuse and last longer. However, they don’t really have an advantage in the aiming department.
When this discussion occurred, I was trying to decide upon a sight to mount on a S&W Performance Center M&P C.O.R.E. pistol. The C.O.R.E. has a removable plate on the slide just ahead of the rear sight that is set up for mounting a red dot sight. It was shipped with adapters for many common red dot sights.
A quick search resulted in all the recommended sights in stock with prices ranging from $300 to just over $500. During several visits to the site, I eyeballed the optics but had not yet made a decision on what to buy.
The Riton rep gave me one of its X3 Tactix PRD pistol sights to try. This sight has a 3 MOA dot and mounts on the M&P using the RMR adapter. It features a 5,000-hour battery life, lens coating that allows use with night vision devices, 4-hour auto shutoff, two night vision settings, and 10 brightness settings. Mounting it on the M&P and zeroing it was simple, and I’ve been very pleased with the way the sight complements the pistol.
Zeroing a Red Dot
I use a Firefield Universal Boresight with Red Laser to zero the red dot sight on any of my guns. The magnetic boresight fits over the muzzle end of any gun. I project the laser on a wall approximately 15 yards away and use the adjustments on the red dot to overlay the red dot over the laser’s red dot. The setup works beautifully.
Ideally, the red dot overlays the front sight on your pistol or rifle, but that’s not always the case. When you bring your gun into shooting position, if you don’t see the red dot, it will usually appear at the top of the screen. Just tilt the gun to bring it into view. If the sight has been zeroed, you’re going to hit the target whenever your red dot is covering it.
My next red dot sight adventure was with a Ruger-57. The Ruger-57 has predrilled optics mounting holes. One of the two mounts available fits the Burris and Vortex red dot sights and the other fits the Docter, Meopta, EOTech, and Insight Sights.
I found an ADE Advanced Optics RD3 Micro Mini Reflex Sight that uses the Venom red dot footprint, so it mounts perfectly to my Ruger-57. I used my Firefield Red Laser Universal Boresight to align the red dot at home. After aligning the sight, I took it to the range and enjoyed shooting targets out to 25 yards with amazing accuracy.
I’ve spent enough time shooting with red dot sights that I’m confident in having a red dot sight on my EDC gun. The gun I chose for that purpose was the SAR9 X. The SAR9 X is another gun that has predrilled optics mounting holes on the slide.
Since the Riton X3 TACTIX MPRD worked so well on my M&P C.O.R.E., I decided to get a Riton X2 MPRD to use with the SAR9 X. On February 7, 2022, SAR and Riton issued a joint press release indicating they have partnered to offer a SAR9 X with a Riton X2 MPRD mounted. Based on that partnership, I feel I made a good choice for my red dot carry gun.
To carry the SAR9 X with the red dot sight on it, I had to find a holster that would accommodate the sight. My favorite leather IWB holster was cut too high for the pistol to fit with the sight on it. A Crossbreed SuperTuck designed for a SIG Sauer P226 worked perfectly with some minor trimming of the Kydex.
Conclusion: Red Dot Optics
There’s no question that drawing, aiming, and shooting accurately with a pistol that has a red dot sight mounted on it is different. It requires some adjustments to your technique and a lot of practice. However, with that practice will come better accuracy at distances that may have been a struggle for you with iron sights.