Gear, Parts and Accessories

Making the Move to a Red Dot Sight

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.

SAR9X With Riton X2 MPRD Red Dot Sight
The SAR9 X proved capable with a Riton X2 MPRD red dot sight attached. Unfortunately, the author could not see the fighted sights. Many shooter use high profile suppressor sights as a backup.

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.

Rifle Optics

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.

HK415-22 with cheap red dot sight mounted on a Picatinny rail
Small caliber plinkers are not the author’s first choice for self-defense, so he chose to save a few dollars and go with inexpensive red dot.

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.

Bushmaster AR-15 With Bushnell Trophy Red Dot Sight
Hunting rigs can benefit from a red dot sight too. Bushnell’s Trophy 1X28 6 M.O.A Matte is among the author’s favorites.

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.

The author uses a Firefield Red Laser Universal Boresight when calibrating a newly attached red dot optic.

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.

Handgun Optics

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.

SAR9 X pistol in a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster with a red dot sight
The author carries his SAR9 X topped with red dot sight in a Crossbreed SuperTuck Holster. The holster was a wise choice, because its design is a good fit with or without the red dot.

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.

Put the dot on the spot and a proper trigger squeeze is all it takes with a red dot sight. It sounds simple but that does not mean we have all taken the plunge. Do you use a red dot sight for self-defense, target shooting, or hunting? Why or why not? Share your answer in the comment section.

  • Kingwolfe Red/Green Dot Sight with Multiple Reticles
  • Bushmaster AR-15 With Bushnell Trophy Red Dot Sight
  • HK415-22 with cheap red dot sight mounted on a Picatinny rail
  • S&W Performance Center M&P C.O.R.E. topped with a Riton X3 Tactix PRD Red Dot
  • SAR9X With Riton X2 MPRD Red Dot Sight
  • SAR9 X pistol in a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster with a red dot sight

About the Author:

David Freeman

David is an NRA Instructor in pistol, rifle and shotgun, a Chief Range Safety Officer and is certified by the State of Texas to teach the Texas License to Carry Course and the Hunter Education Course. He has also owned and operated a gun store. David's passion is to pass along knowledge and information to help shooters of all ages and experience levels enjoy shooting sports and have the confidence to protect their homes and persons. He flew medevac helicopters in Vietnam and worked for many years as a corporate pilot before becoming actively involved in the firearm industry.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (23)

  1. I’ve been using a Vortex red dot sight for a while, and knowing how these sights work requires a grasp of MOA (Minutes of Angle), a unit of measurement used in red dot optics. The size of the dot and its coverage at particular distances are determined using the angular unit of measurement known as the MOA. Red dot sights frequently offer a variety of MOA options, and the size of the dot has an impact on firing accuracy and velocity. Vortex scopes have been very helpful till now but if you are planning to move to red dot now then understanding a few rifle optics can be helpful. I was missing some points as well and the rifle optics part in the post has given enough clarity to me.

  2. DAVID FREEMAN, the two mounts I have found and tried on a Blackhawk are: Weig-A-Tinny Mini, which is a short Pica-tinny rail (mounting TIP: pinch the pointed end of the rail to the frame, and tighten the SET screw until you feel it make contact, then like a 1/4-1/2 turn more, before tightening the Allen screw, mine required a longer set screw than what it came with). It looks impressive, but the downside is the thickness of the rail, plus the rail mount to the Reflex sight adaptor, makes it sit rather high, more like on an AR sight on top of a Blackhawk. The other is a more simple, much lower, mount by EGW, which is probably about as minimized as a mount like this can be, then the Reflex (usually a Delta Pro footprint), simply bolts to the mount, which makes it about 1/4″ shorter in sight to bore axis height. Both seem to be ridged but keep in mind, both are held on by only a tiny, single, 6-48 screw (my local hardware store actually stocks these), which should NOT be torqued more than about 13 INCH pounds. I went with the Bushnell Reflex, as it is more affordable for my first try, and not sure I would like them, but quality wise has a metal frame, came with the picatinny mount attached, and a side door for the battery. The one point many might consider a downside is it IS manual ON/OFF, but on a Blackhawk, probably used for hunting or paper, I didn’t see an issue for it. Hope this helps, and good luck.

  3. If you have a handgun that is not Red Dot ready here is a tried and true option for mounting a Red Dot to an existing handgun. Full disclosure I am the owner and we have been providing this tried and true option for 10 years. Visit us here.

  4. I own two red dot optics, The cheap one an ADE 6moa RD3-009D I mounted on my Smith & Wesson M&P22 which also has momentary contact pad activated by my thumb laser mounted to the under side of the muzzle. This is my bedside close range night time self defense and small game hunting pistol.
    The other one I found on sale (a returned sight reduced for quick sale) 3MOA GlassEagle Red Dot Sight by Creative XP mounted on my Gen4 Glock 23 40cal Intended as a self defense sidearm but can be concealed carry, also good for medium game.
    The thing I did not see discussed here and did not learn about my sights until after I received them is the difference in how they power on, Some like the ADE require a 3 second press of the single control button to power on but if you don’t press it long enough you have to start over and do it again, short presses increment through the brightness levels (if you want a dimmer dot you have to cycle through all the levels till you come to the one you want) and 3 second press of the button to power off while others like the GlassEagle power on instantly with a single short press of the up arrow which also increases the brightness of the dot and a long press of the down arrow to power off while short presses decrease brightness.
    The draw back of having to long press to power on in a self defense situation is you might be dead before you get your sight turned on, whereas having more then one button may require some practice to get in the habit of pressing the right button the first time.

    Some research may be required in advance of making a purchase to read instructions on how to operate the sight as well as the other functions of the device.

  5. For those who mistakenly buy an inexpensive and probably poorly manufactured “red dot” regardless of the dot color choices, don’t forget that you get what you pay for. A quality sight from a well known and trusted manufacturer may cost as much as the pistol or rifle you intend to use. I personally find a green reticle is easier to see during the day light hours, but if the day is overcast, red is easier to use. But that’s just me.

  6. At fifty nine and needing glasses even to eat my food(so I don’t have to eat by color), I have taken the plunge into red dot sights. The article was good primer for those of us just getting into them for the first time. Particularly about using a laser bore sight to sight in. Uh duh! That will save time, money and ammo! Thanks for the article!

  7. As an over 50 guy, I really have found new appreciation for red dot/reflex optics, because for many of us, it’s more challenging to maintain clear focus on your front sight post. The other advantage is you can keep both eyes fully open and focus on the target first, vice the front sight post on a somewhat blurry target, since the mind doesn’t easily allow you to have 3 simultaneous focus points. That said, it does take a lot of dry fire practice to present the firearm correctly so you don’t waste time trying to “find the dot”. Because they do improve accuracy at greater distance, I personally use red dot optics on my 10mm and .357 Mag hunting pistols, on my 9mm and .22lr competition guns, and my home defense AK 12 GA shotgun (mostly because it allows me to keep both eyes wide open-not that you need much precision with 12ga 00 buck). However, for my EDC guns, I choose to use iron sights. IMO most defensive shooting ranges are inside 21’, and most likely to be a “flash sight” scenario where there is little time to achieve a proper sight picture with either sight type. That means it all comes down to training and muscle memory so your draw to present movement consistently ends with the pistol presented at a POA center of mass within 21’. In that defensive pistol scenario, I don’t really need the extra bulk of the red dot on my concealed carry, or to ever be concerned about a battery being drained or the dot being too bright, or too dim for light conditions when my life depends on it. But again, that’s my opinion based on my experience as a CPL/CCW instructor…at the end of the day, if you have trained sufficiently and feel comfortable with draw to present at a center mass POA, with a reflex sight on your EDC, then I’d recommend using a higher quality product with long battery life and options like auto dimming and/or auto on/off, because your life may literally depend on that optic.

  8. ROCKIT thanks for the info on red dot sights for the Ruger Blackhawk. I have a couple of these and I’m going to try it.

    As for the question about the difference between laser dot on target versus Red Dot it mostly has to do with sunlight which washes out the laser. I’ve not experienced what COLONEL K did with the coyote as I’ve found the red dot generally shows up well regardless of light on my pistols and rifles.

    Red or Green in the R/G Dot sight is simply a matter of preference where as in a laser green usually shows up better than red in daylight operations.

  9. I used a Bushnell sight on my AR. I was a team leader on our SOT. It was an exact copy of the EOTech but cheaper when I got it at a gun show. That was the greatest thing since sliced bread! I had taken it off to do iron sight drills and some jackass broke into my place and stole it and my body armor. Just an aside but after goin thru the door and the structure was cleared, that shit come off. It was damn heavy. I have never seen a Bushnell brand since. If you find one and are looking for a rifle red dot, get it. The only drawback, mine used the little expensive CR 123 batteries. You cannot use this on sidearms.

  10. I’ve had lasers and lights on my pistols, including a laser\light combo that’s very intuitive. I don’t see a need to change to red dot sights. I’ve handled a few at a gun store. I think they’re good for long guns, not so much for EDC especially in a situation where you need to immediately defend yourself with a gun. I believe a laser is faster than a red dot in an emergency situation where time is of the essence and where point shooting is all you have time for.

  11. I shoot a lot of steel plates, I’m 64 and the red dot is an immense help for the older eyes. Had a Vortex Viper – 3 MOA mounted to my Springfield Armory Range Officer and my speed was cut in half in no time at all with the red dot. Love it !!! Great article, very insightful.

  12. Tom, the biggest difference I know of between a Red Dot vs a Laser, is two things. First: at the range, to me the laser print on a target, broadcast ones fault in aiming one by the way it jumps all over on the target, but no one sees that if you are using a Red Dot, even if the fault is still there. Second: A laser may give away your position, in a fight, whereas the Red Dot is a lot less likely. In my case on a Ruger Blackhawk, I guess a Laser could be mounted using the Weig-A-Tinny Mini rail. No matter what system you use, frequent practice is mandatory, for good results.

  13. Red dot sights are the best thing since apple pie! IF you are able to co-witness with your iron sights. I would never trust a red dot sight alone because you never know when the battery is going to die. Imagine yourself having to defend yourself, you pull your gun and low and behold your red dot isn’t working it’s curtains for certain. Other people might feel differently about mounting a red dot with the use of irons but I wouldn’t want to take that chance. The good thing about red dot sights is as long as you have the correct zero, you have a good pistol grip and you can control your recoil you will most definitely hit what your shooting at.

  14. I like some of them on shouldered firearms.
    Prefer one with a tube as opposed to screen.
    Most seem to have a fuzzy, “starred”,and/or teardrop shaped “dot”.
    Takes me a while to find the dot on a handgun. Using a couple of different one in regular practice , but it will be a while before I would trust it for a carry gun.
    Meanwhile , I am quite confidant using a laser. No problems “chasing” the dot. I hit much better than with open sights . Just need the target to be out of the sun.

  15. The inexpensive red/green multi-reticle is marketed under different names and they are all the same. That said, I’ve also mounted mine on a Ruger 22/45 with excellent results.

  16. This is a very helpful article! Red Dot optics are a boon for those over 50 who have issues with fixed iron sights on pistols. They do require more practice than iron sights when the sight is being acquired for the shot, however. But, other than that one aspect and needing the occasional battery, I personally see little advantage of iron sights over red dots. I really like them, but to each their own, of course.

    Sig Sauer Academy offers excellent Pistol Mounted Optics classes in Epping NH. If one is in the New England area, highly recommended.

    BTW, this “captcha’ thing works quite poorly on this page.

  17. What (and why) are most of you using…green or red? Dot or circle? 2 or 5/6 moa? Going to take the plunge any day now on the red (or green) DOT.

  18. Being an old iron sights guy, I have been upgrading sights on my stuff, mostly with fiber optic and or nights sights. The most accurate handgun, out of the box, I have ever fired is a Ruger Blackhawk in .357 mag, but unfortunately the Blackhawk is VERY limited in what can be done with the front sight. THEN I wondered about a red dot, and not knowing much about them, purchased an inexpensive one with the DeltaPro foot print. Then found a couple companies who offer an adaptor plate for mounting, which ingeniously are a NO-drill design using the existing rear sight heigh adjustment screw hole, which allows the return to the classic sights, without ruining the firearm, if the Red Dot does not work out. While it kind of destroys the CLASIC look of the single action, the accuracy it produces is nothing short of AMAZING! Patterns of 5-hole, all connecting is the norm. Then again, the Blackhawk, with a Reflex sight, and the Hogue grips, yields an intimidating look of its own. What a great way to resurrect an old deer hunter hand gun.

  19. Thank you very much for the lucid, informative article on red dot optics. Quite helpful for those transitioning from iron sights. Have you had much experience with laser streaming, where the dot is on the target, not the optic? If so, how does it compare? And with the red dot optic, is it valid to use that system in formal bullseye matches, competing against others with iron sights?
    Thanks, again, for your insights. RR

  20. I am fairly new using optics. I find that, like was said in the article, put the dot on target and squeeze the trigger…hit. My issue with EDC is quick target acquisition. I am getting better with practice, but have a way to go.

  21. I own a couple of red dots, but almost never use them. I started a few years back with a $35 version I mounted on a Kel-Tec SU-16. Despite the low price, it offered several reticles, colors, and brightness levels. The first time I had a chance to test it in the field was against a coyote. He was uphill and the sun was behind him. It washed out the dot, making a clear shot impossible. In other words, I missed. A normal scope would have worked better under these conditions. Other than this and their overall bulk when attached to a discreet carry pistol, my only real complaint is that I think the current crop of red dots are way overpriced.

  22. I’m also an “old iron sight” guy but I have 2 guns with Crimson Trace laser sights. I don’t see how these red dot sights are better than or even equal to the laser for rapid target aquisition and/or accuracy. Someone please enlighten me.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Discover more from The Shooter's Log

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading