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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.