Should you get a red dot pistol sight?
A slowly increasing number of shooters are installing red dot, also called reflex, sights on their pistols. Some optic companies are newly jumping into the reflex sight game, while a couple of the early producers are now offering second-generation red dots that have improvements over the first run of these sights on the market. If you’re thinking about making the leap and installing one of these high-tech optics on your handgun, here are some things to consider.
- Long-distance accuracy. There’s no denying that a shooter whose technique is solid will find that accurate hits come easier with a red dot at distances of 25 yards and more. Not having to deal with rear-front sight alignment is a real asset.
- Speed of target acquisition. The red dot reigns supreme, especially at longer distances, in confirming sight picture. There’s also no need to override the natural urge to focus on the target rather than the front sight—a red dot removes the three-planes-of-focus dilemma.
- Great for imperfect eyes. Using a red dot is intuitive. As eyes age or prescription glasses are lacking in some way, a red dot eases the challenges normally associated with sight alignment combined with imperfect vision.
- Batteries die. Unlike rifle optics, most pistol red dots are motion-activated, which conserves battery life. Even when used for daily carry, a battery should last a year. But when it’s dead, it’s dead. Some systems allow co-witnessing with the original sights, which I believe is the best option. Replacing the battery on certain optics entails the tedium of removing the sight from its mount. At least one company, Holosun, has a red dot with back-up solar power.
- Great gun holsters like those made by Bravo Concealment will accommodate a red dot, but not all will. And the sight does increase under-garment printing concerns when carrying concealed.
- Adding a reflex sight adds significant expense to the base price of any handgun that will accept it. Manufacturers are responding to demand to offer sights that fit in the existing rear sight indentation on the slide, saving the expense of sending the slide to a competent provider of milling services, but sacrificing the option of a rear back-up sight. Plan on spending several hundred dollars for the perfect slide/sight combination for your handgun.
- Dot or reticle size/style. With most models, the dot or reticle comes in one size and style. What’s large enough to be intuitive at five yards might obliterate the target from view at 25. Consider the type of shooting you do most, and anticipated distance of typical engagement—an armed robber at three yards is a different aiming concern than a feral hog at 40. At least one brand offers a choice of reticles on the same optic; several offer the same optic with your choices of one dot or delta point.
- Adjusting the racking procedure. If you habitually rack the slide by grabbing it behind the ejection port, you still can, but it’s going to take some adjusting. Some shooters I know use the meaty outside edge of the palm in contact with the reflex sight. Some use a pinch motion—a technique that requires good finger strength. Racking in front of the ejection port is an option, but only safe if your muzzle awareness is excellent.Adding a reflex sight to your handgun brings with it the need for concerted practice on a new racking method, and willingness to take some bruising on the way.
- Establish and maintain zero. A red dot is not unlike any riflescope in that you’ll need to choose a zero distance and make adjustments accordingly for closer or longer shots. It’s also, of course, wise to re-check zero after re-mounting for battery replacement. For some people, the testing and dial-adjusting required will be a satisfying experience. Others can’t be bothered. Know which camp you’re in and if it’s the latter, traditional sights are probably your best bet.
Reflex handgun sights offer great advantages for distance shooting and, with practice, speed of target acquisition. Like any accessory, they also come with some drawbacks, especially for concealment. Where do you stand on the traditional-versus-reflex sight dilemma?