Of Pistols and Red Dots - A Concealed Carry Option?
by Travis Pike
In the last 5 or so years, we have seen a radical change in the development of red dot optics on pistols. Red dots on handguns aren’t exactly new, but the concept of using them for duty and self-defense is. Before the recent red dot explosion, the use of red dots on handguns was limited to high-end race guns with custom mounts. Since then red dots have shrunk in size and increased in robustness. At this point, they weigh less than an ounce and add very little bulk to a carry gun. Today we are going to look at the benefits I've found with using red dot handguns as Defensive weapons as well as the disadvantages you may find.
Longer Range Engagement The presence of a red dot on a handgun makes reaching out and touching a target a rather easy endeavor. This is especially true with small targets. The dot reticle covers less of the target, which makes it easy to see the target and the dot. This small dot makes it easier to find a center point of aim and let the lead fly. The red dot also tends to exaggerate your small movements. What happens is you learn to shoot with minimal movement, which will make you a better shooter all around. These slight corrections are critical for those longer range shots. Backing off to 50 yards I can go 17 for 17 with my red dot equipped Glock 17 on a small steel popper. I can hit the target with iron sights, but not at this pace and I wouldn't go 17 for 17 either.
Faster Overall Engagement Once you have some time behind a gun with a red dot, you’ll grow to appreciate just how fast you get on target and stay on target. It’s simple. Put the red dot on the target, pull the trigger, and you’ll likely hit the target. There is no need to take time to align sights or get that hard front sight focus. Just push the gun forward and pull the trigger. Red dots also make transitions between targets or threats much faster.
The fastest competition shooters are running red dot handguns for a reason. They win by fractions of a second and a red dot makes you faster, much faster. Combined with my Bravo Concealment Torsion IWB holster I can draw from concealment and hit my small popper at 30 yards in about 1.75 seconds. Let’s be clear, I’m not a pro, in fact, compared to the pros that time is slow. Compared to my iron sight speed though, that’s blazing fast.
Higher Situational Awareness With iron sights, you are continually changing focus between your front sight and the world around you. As your focus changes, you are cutting off your situational awareness slightly. With a red dot optic on a pistol won't need to change focus. The dot is always there and there is no need to shift focus from the dot to the target. They can occupy the same plane of focus.
Night Sights Not Needed It's a glowing red dot so guess what? You have a sighting option that is equally effective during the day and night. The red dot is a fantastic night or low light sight that's just as easy to use during the day as it is at night.
Handgun Choice FN, Glock, S&W, Canik, Springfield, SIG, and Walther all offer optics ready guns from the factory. There is also the option to have your weapon milled, but this can be difficult for certain firearms. You aren’t going to see J frame revolvers, pocket pistols, or many less than duty sized guns that are red dot ready. The only true subcompact I know that’s factory ready is the Walther PPS M2 with Shield RMS. You may find yourself limited by what handgun you can carry equipped with a red dot sight.
Holster Choice Good news and bad news here. The good news is there is a high-quality holster option for both IWB and OWB carry, made from modern materials and available widely for popular firearms. That comes from Bravo Concealment. Their holsters are already cut just low enough to accommodate a wide variety of red dot sights. A lot of holsters out there may not fit your gun and red dot sight combo, so I’d suggest doing a serious inquiry or trying it in person.
Price The entire set-up gets pricey very quickly. With duty grade optics running around the same amount as most modern duty pistols you double your price automatically. Plus, the potential cost of milling the slide, and you’re adding another 150 bucks on top. That’s a lot of ammo and even training that could be had for the price of mounting a red dot. The good news is we have an affordable holster option.
Retraining Retraining could be considered an add-on to cost because you’ll have to retrain yourself to find the dot. It takes time to get fast and precise with a red dot optic. This means money spent on ammo and range time on top of training at home.
Light Washout Using one of these red dots with a flashlight can be tricky. A bright flashlight or a weapon light can cause wash out of the dot. This washout will make the dot invisible in some circumstances. If the dot has an automatic adjustment function, you'll have better luck when used with a flashlight. However, it needs to be acknowledged, and the wielder should train for it.
Seeing Red A red dot on a pistol can be an invaluable tool. It increases what the gun can do, and how far the weapon can do it. It does take time, and lots of training, but ultimately, I feel it’s worth it. The advantages it offers me for home defense and concealed carry are numerous, and it helps address some of the inherent problems that handguns have. Let us know below what you think about the red dots on pistols.
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.