Consumer Information

Best Practices for Using Red Dot Sights on Pistols

CZ P-10

Red dot sights are increasingly popular, with many of the major makers offering handguns that are either optics-ready or optics-equipped. SIG, GLOCK, CZ-USA, CANIK, Kimber and other makers offer optics-ready handguns that are widely available.

A drawback is that the many types of red dot sights do not use the same mounting pattern or footprint. Some makers use the same footprint as the widely popular models, but at this point for good coverage, a handgun must have four mounting plates available.

Mounting the sights is simple enough. The covering plate is usually held to the slide by a pair of screws. These screws are an Allen or star type. The screws are removed along with the plate. The user then decides which plate is used with his red dot sight.

The sight is mounted to the plate and the slide by screws. The IWI Masada, as an example, uses polymer plates and is supplied with a wide choice of screws to make mounting a variety of red dot sights simple enough.

Fortunately, I have a great deal of experience with red dot sights on AR-15 carbines. This has served well, as I explore red dot sights and the pistol.

Red Dot Sight
The red dot sight demands plenty of practice. Make certain you go to the range often.

Mounting Red Dot Sights

In the carbine, the red dots most often are set up so that sights are also used. The iron sights co-witness with the red dot. If the red dot malfunctions—this usually means a battery went dead—the iron sights become a backup.

This isn’t always possible with red dot sights mounted on the pistol. Some types, such as the Romeo 1 mounted on the SIG P229 RX, do co-witness from the factory. Most do not unless you have fitted high suppressor-type iron sights.

Most of the older setups were for competition use, not duty or personal defense. With the evolution of red dot sights and modern mounting systems, it is reasonable to trust the type for personal defense. When mounting these sights, it is an advantage that they set as low as possible.

Misalignment is more noticeable in iron sights. With a properly set up red dot, the eye goes directly to the red dot as the pistol is drawn and aimed toward the target. The red dot should be mounted as far to the rear as possible.

Most modern pistols mount the red dot both low and to the rear.

GLOCK Model 34 9 mm
The GLOCK Model 34 9mm is supplied with a range of plates for different red dot sights.

Training and Practice

The bottom line with any sight is repeated training. Once the red dot is mounted, the shooter must sight the handgun in. The red dot will most often be close in alignment on the horizontal scale, but need fine-tuning. The vertical scale demands more attention, in my experience.

Red dot sights have dials that allow adjustment of the red dot. I usually fire at close range, beginning at five yards, to sight the red dot in. I fire a couple of rounds and check the point of impact as it relates to the point of aim.

I adjust only one setting until I have either the windage or elevation properly adjusted. Then I move to the next setting, usually getting windage—horizontal setting—down pat first. I set the adjustment so that the bullet strikes exactly where the red dot lies on the target.

This is in contrast to the usual adjustment with iron sights, in which the sights are set so that the bullet strikes just above the front sight.

Red Dot Sights Pistol
A red dot-equipped pistol is interesting to use and effective for those that practice.

One or Both Eyes Open?

When using a red dot, it is best to fire with both eyes open. This gives the shooter better depth perception, more stability and a wider point of view.

If you have been using iron sights with both eyes open, you have a better chance of quickly grooving into using both eyes effectively with a red dot.

You may close one eye for precision shooting, but in the long run, if speed to an accurate first shot is the goal, firing the red dot with both eyes open is a great advantage. When I first began using the SIG P229 RX, I simply practiced until I was accurate.

There was a learning curve, but once I was over the cusp of the curve, I found a combination that was brilliantly accurate. Bring the gun to eye level and practice often.

With the eyes centered (beginning from a relaxed stance), you will find the two eyes open and firing technique natural, fast and accurate.

Red Dot Sights
The red dot-equipped sight is an advantage when firing from behind cover.

Different Settings for Different Speeds

The primary difference between iron sights and red dots is that the target is placed on top of the front sight with iron sights and the red dot is superimposed over the target. We break the rule of focusing on the front sight and letting the target blur.

The red dot is a different type of sight that demands different techniques. If you close one eye in dim light, you are more likely than not to be able to pick the target out from surrounding fauna or objects. You are focusing on the target, not the sights.

When you set the red dot for brightness—and most quality sights have a wide range of settings—you will sometimes set the brightness high for use in daylight.

If you do this and you have to fire in dim light to darkness, the red dot will be so bright it will overwhelm the target and you will not see the target, only the red dot. The setting should be changed depending on the amount of ambient light.

As an example, a setting of four at night could be an eight or nine during the day. But you must answer that yourself after much practice.

Burris Fast Fire 3
The Burris FastFire 3 offers a wide range of adjustment.

A Few Words on Tactical Use

I think the word “tactical” is well worn in personal defense and doesn’t often apply to a self-defense situation. There is a lot of training going on that isn’t relevant to most of us unless your jacket reads SWAT or HRT.

The very specific application of certain skills is important, but how relevant many of these training scenarios are should be questioned. We are not engaging offensively, but rather defensively, as a reaction to a threat.

My alert goes up when I feel threatened, but I certainly will not use force unless I AM threatened. There is a big difference. We must learn to create distance between us and the threat and take cover, if possible.

If you are faced with a threat in the home, then you will be “repelling boarders,” we might say. But you do not have to go into high gear and clear the home. Take your time all the time, keeping cover and considering your movement and actions.

If no one else is in the home (save the intruder) and there are no family members to be concerned with, then perhaps no movement at all is a desirable action. When you fire, you fire to stop a threat.

The need to stop the threat must be so compelling it does not matter morally or legally if the threat dies as a result of being stopped—that the threat is stopped is the primary goal.

The things that would force me into a situation in which I fire at another human being is a very short list.

Red Dot Sights Home Defense
Red dot sights such as the FastFire 3 make the handgun much more formidable for those that practice.

That said, in many situations, the red dot sights give the user an advantage in fast shooting and getting hits. The red dot will give the user many advantages when the target is in light, but the user of the red dot isn’t, which is a problem with iron sights.

If you are willing to invest the time and effort into learning the red dot, you may find a formidable tool.

What are your thoughts on red dot sights? Any tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Wilburn Roberts

When Wilburn Roberts was a young peace officer, he adopted his present pen name at the suggestion of his chief, as some of the brass was leery of what he might write. This was also adopted out of respect for families of both victims and criminals. The pen name is the same and the man remains an outspoken proponent of using enough gun for the job.

He has been on the hit list of a well-known hate group, traveled in a dozen countries and written on many subjects, including investigating hate crimes and adopting the patrol carbine. He graduated second in his class with a degree in Police Science. It took him 20 years to work himself from Lieutenant to Sergeant and he calls it as he sees it.
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 (13)

  1. I am older with eyesight issues that make red dot sights a real plus on any rifle, shotgun or handgun, at least for self / home defense purposes. I often see articles and comments from trainers who run into this with many of their middle aged to older students as well, so I know I am far from alone. I figure that, even if you are rudely awakened in the middle of the night and have no time to put your eyeglasses on and such, you can still grab that house gun you keep handy and put the blurry red dot over the blurry intruder and tell them to get the hell out before putting rounds accurately wherever you need to, if that is what is ultimately required, even without your glasses on! Those who wear medium to strong prescription eyeglasses will appreciate this logic quite a bit. 🙂 Hopefully problem solved in that regard, at least until the DA tries to make you into a criminal for having the audacity to go successfully defending yourself inside your own darn house.

    One of the more ridiculous things I have seen while watching all the familiar gun related shows on the various outdoor / hunting channels, was an older woman in a shooting class, awkwardly tilting her head way back so she could see that front sight more clearly thru her thick heavy bifocals. If the front sight is going to be that blurry to your eyes anyway, you might as well learn to keep your eyes on the target and only focus on that sight alignment in your peripheral vision. Hitting paper plate sized targets at inside your house defensive distances is easy with enough practice this way. You just relentlessly practice until you can present that firearm such that the sights are already perfectly aligned on the target before you even pay attention to them. Well practiced muscle memory will get you there eventually, but you really have to want this bad enough to continually work for it until you finally get there, and then keep working at it as a matter of habit to retain it, forever after. At least in my case, nothing less would do.

    If you can get to that point first with a few months of relentless daily home dry fire practice, going to a red dot sight will be much much easier. Having to “search” to “find” that red dot when you present the firearm is common the first time you try to use one. Tilting the gun up down / left left right looking for for that damn little red dot can seem quite awkward at first, so the same relentless home dry fire practice I just described with iron sights applies as well. You simply walk around and look at various “targets” around your home (clock on the wall, book on a shelf, base of a lamp, whatever handy objects high and low, all around the house), and relentlessly practice presenting that firearm over and over, such that you are placing that red dot right into your line of sight, perfectly aligned over the target, each and every time, until you no longer have to think about it or make any adjustments to get it there. Once you get to that point you will _never_ want to go back to iron sights again, I can almost guarantee it. I certainly know that this works for me. (In my case I was forced to adapt from a lifetime of being right handed / right eye dominant, to right handed / LEFT eye dominant, due to eyesight issues with my formerly dominant right eye. So in all seriousness, believe me when I tell you, if I can do this in addition to adapting to using my formerly non-dominant eye, you can do this too!

    All that leaves in one final detail while you are still shopping for a handgun / red dot sight solution – What I WANT but do not have, YET, is a handgun red dot sight with an auto on / auto off feature. I.E. – A quality red dot sight with a motion sensor so it turns itself off after some period of no activity to save the battery, and which turns itself on again as soon as you move the gun. Thus, it will turn itself on and be ready to go by the time you can grab the gun and raise it up to aim with it. One less detail to risk screwing up in a high tension home defense situation, where you may have just been rudely awakened from a deep sleep and such. Having to THINK and REMEMBER to turn a knob or push a button to activate a red dot sight is less than ideal in a near high stress situation. I love my Vortex Viper but it requires me to turn the thing on and off as required – a great competition / shooting tool, but I want it to turn itself on automatically when I grab that gun. _That_ is what I think would be perfect for a kept-close-to-hand house gun.

    So that is my next purchase – a handgun red dot sight with an auto off / auto on movement sensing feature. More $$$ of course, but I do believe it could be worth it.

  2. I find that bore sighting at 20 feet or so is a good red dot point of impact starting point. Follow on adjustments are quite minimal to none on low mount pistol applications.

  3. I recently added a red dot to my Beretta Px4 40 compact, and had been looking for a holster for concealed carry. I came across the Vedder holster website. When selecting you have the option of if you use a red dot. I ordered my OWB holster and it is a perfect fit.

  4. I have been shooting red dot sights for several years now – Leupold Delta Point Pro and Trijicon RMRs as well as the new model SRO. With the marginal condition of my eyesight, the red dot sight is mandatory.

    One thing that was not emphasized in this article is the effect of the mounting configuration on the projectile’s point of impact. If you adjust the red dot point of aim at 25 feet, for example, shooting at targets closer than 25 feet will result in a low hit. Shooting at targets more distant than 25 feet will strike low. That is why the red dot should be mount as low to the bore axis as is possible. That may require a custom slide cut.

  5. I have been using the Vortex Red dot sights for almost a year now. I introduce all my students to many different types of add-on sights. Crimson Trace, TruGlo, Trijicon, and many others are all available for them to “play with” in the classroom. Previously, the lasers had been the most selected. But now, with the rmr, some are beginning to see an advantage. Most often it is my “older” students that have some eye problems that gravitate to the rmr. It is an excellent tool that can make shooting a much more enjoyable experience. We know that means that they will practice more often and achieve greater results. The end product is having another safety oriented, well trained and confident carrier on the streets. That is good for them and their family, but more importantly it is good for us. My only concern is that not enough quality holsters are availabke for weapons with this kind of mount. To have a really dependable holster I often have to go to a custom shop and have one specially made. That gets expensive. Add a light to your gun and the problem just gets worse. I hope that changes soon.

  6. Great article, very informative! I’ve also read about red dots lately that have auto brightness built in. Is that true, and if so, is it any good? Does it work?

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