Competitive Shooting

The Advantages of Optic-Mounted Pistols

TRUGLO Red Dot Sight on Ruger .22 Pistol

For many years, I considered handgun-mounted red dots a gimmick for fun shooting or competition and little else.

With steady improvement in handgun optics and the ability to co-witness sights, their viability for personal defense has improved a great deal. 

I cannot recall a single student coming through my class with a red-dot sight, although several used lasers. (This didn’t work out for most.)

I now train on an individual basis and the subject has come up.

I decided about three years ago to get into an extensive program and evaluate red-dot handgun optics.

The results have been very interesting and I find the sights are viable, but not for the casually interested.

Handgun Optics Training

Man shooting pistol with handgun optics
Learning to line the sights up quickly is vital in personal defense.

I was primarily interested to see if the red dot had a positive or negative effect on the application of the fundamentals of marksmanship.

The primary goal in personal defense is presenting the firearm from concealed carry and getting a hit.

It is easy enough to draw the pistol and not find the red dot. Training with iron sights makes this possible.

I hold the pistol steady, and the sights as well. As long as the sights are steady as you fire, you have a hit.

You must learn to draw and immediately pick up the red dot. This takes time. Dry fire is fine with a triple-checked unloaded firearm.

In time, chances are you will speed up, but when you begin with the red dot you will be slower than using iron sights. Speed comes with practice.

The grip must be consistent. No wavering.

Once mastered, you will be fast — but the consistent grip pays big dividends in every type of handgun shooting.

Moving the gun around in order to find the red dot is counter-productive to accuracy.

The weak-side hand supporting the gun becomes critical in aligning the pistol and getting on target.

Considerable time and energy is spent developing the proper technique and coming into it smoothly.

You may look at the rear of the slide or the hammer and use these reference points to quickly align the pistol.

The first part of the skill-building exercise is simply getting the red dot aligned properly.

Get a Grip

pistol with red dot and ammo
The author put this IWI 9mm through the paces with both Winchester ammunition and the Burris FastFire. Results were excellent!

I have used several grip styles over the years, including applying most of the pressure with the support hand.

The red-dot sight demands that you grip the pistol firmly.

Also use the strong-side thumb to help align the pistol by pointing the thumb straight forward.

The closer you are aligned to the bore, the faster sight acquisition will be.

I have used the CZ, GLOCK, SIG, Ruger, IWI and other types of pistols with the red dot, and especially the Kimber 1911.

This handgun has all of the muscle memory I needed, as I usually carry a 1911-type handgun.

Firing with both hands and thumbs forward in a strong grip is among the first lessons I learned.

Don’t allow a hollow or gap to occur in the grip at any part of the juncture of the hand and the grip.

Controlling recoil is perhaps even more important with the red-dot sight.

I have stressed that the cadence of fire is never set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger, but by how quickly you are able to retain the sight picture after recoil.

With the red-dot sight, you may lose sight of the red dot after the pistol recoils. The proper grip gets you back on target quickly.

(Most folks have the red dot set too bright for daylight shooting.) Crush that grip! Maintain a tight grip during the firing string.

The important shot is the one you are taking right now and that must be a hit. The firing string is a series of single shots and each should be a hit.

Sight Acquisition

Red dot sight on pistol sight picture
Be certain the handgun offers a co-witness or backup option with iron sights.

The red dot isn’t a front sight. Look through the red dot to the target.

The sights and the target are on the same plane like a rifle scope, not like a set of iron sights.

Focus on the target — which is counter-intuitive to our iron-sight training — and place the red dot on the target.

If the light is too bright, your eye is drawn to the dot not the target. It doesn’t need to be that bright.

The key to all of this is beginning the presentation slowly and keeping the grip perfect as you bring the pistol to the eye.

The grip cannot be misaligned. Use some part of the pistol to commit to memory as you bring the red dot up and on target.

Don’t look at the red-dot sight itself, the body of the sight. This slows you down. Practice acquiring only the red dot projected on the glass itself.

Draw with your eyes closed. Bring the gun up and on target. Open your eyes. The red dot should be visible.

You must get this initial work down pat before moving to multiple targets, speed loads, and addressing targets at long range.

You have been trained in conventional marksmanship and will realize that there is some movement in the front sight as you focus.

This movement is OK as long as the sight is steady as the trigger breaks and the pistol fires.

The red dot also has movement, it is your body and hand that is wiggling. But with the red dot we have a tendency to overcorrect.

There is very little correction needed in most cases. The movement is there, but should be controlled as the pistol fires.

With practice, you will find that the pistol is fast on target and brilliantly accurate at longer pistol ranges.

What do you think of handgun optics? Let us know in the comments below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
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 (5)

  1. John Lenz,
    You do realize that a red dot and a laser are not one in the same, right?
    Using a red dot will not give away you position like a laser or tracer round.
    Maybe if someone is sneaking up behind me, the red dot is brighter than normal tritium sights, but that’s it.

  2. After a 34 year career in law enforcement and armed with a Glock 21, I had the slide cut to accept a Holosun 507 grn dot.
    I agree grip is important and practice. I switched to both eyes open and found it to give me more field of view. Allowing for better response to multiple targets.

  3. Again I do admit the gravity toward technology as it becomes available. Young and inexperienced shooters will find red dot sights and associated devices fun and rewarding. I am pretty much old school when it comes to target acquisition and accuracy both on the range and in application. Repeated training and serious practice will win the day or night every time.
    Know your gun and know it well and when you think you do.. you don’t. Mark Twain once said “familiarity breeds contempt and children” Be MORE than “familiar’ with your intimate partner (your gun) under ANY and ALL circumstances. When you think you are ready…. turn out the lights! Woah! Shit happens fast!
    Instinctively KNOW where your gun IS pointed and just where you intend the bullet to reside. Make your gun become PART of you but BE it’s MASTER and IT will save your life! Rely on your SELF and be certain! Once you pull the trigger you cannot get it back…on the same hand… you may ONLY have that ONE shot remaining!
    Having the ability to make a snap decision against a dangerous adversary without having the time to conventionally aim may just be the edge in a bad situation. Looking for the red dot and placing the dot properly coud be just the fatal flaw. Be safe!

  4. Having just mounted a Holosun 507K-X2 on my Gen 4 G40, I agree it takes some getting use to. But I also found that if you have the proper grip ingrained, regardless of what kind of sights you use, you will be surprised at just how quickly you will get on target with the red dot. Haven’t had a chance to get to the range and try it, ensuring the sight is on target. The I’ll practice the draw, dot on target, trigger squeeze, and getting the dot back on target for follow-up shots.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with the author here. I have a long time experience with handguns both in military service, on the range and as a gunsmith. Magnified optics are interesting for hunting and some range use. You really have to have a steady hand with a scoped handgun. I and few people I know can have that kind of control when stress is in play. I do not have a scoped handgun in my collection. Red dot sights are fine if you are not good at practical iron sights. My biggest concern with red dots and even holographic sight systems is simple, they are battery powered. I will not bet my life on a battery power in serious conditions. Remember that red dots just like tracer ammo IS visible both ways. Take time and PRACTICE PRACTICE, PRACTICE … know YOUR handgun just like an extension of your own hand!
    Take Care, Be Safe… and BE Smart.

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