I got into it on X on my opinion on red dot optics on pistols.

I thought I’d take the time to lay out my complete opinion, based on my experience as a shooter, pistol instructor, and engineer in the arms industry.

I am not anti red dot.

I’m not somr boomer Fudd who thinks they are some fad.  Red dots are here and they are only getting more prevalent.

I just have some reservations and qualifications about red dots, especially on defensive pistols.

My reservations and qualifications break down into two categories: equipment failues and user failures.

For equipment failures, it’s pretty simple.

Red dots are more complex pieces of machinery. They are larger, contain electronic components, and experience more stress. They are more delicate.

We experience many more warranty claims on pistol optics than iron sights.

I’m not saying irons sights are indestructible. They too, experience failures.  I’ve seen irons come loose from dovetails, fiber optic and tritium vials fall out or stop working.

But, in my experience, a set of quality iron sights, properly fit into a dovetail, is about the most robust sight possible.

On a defensive pistol, I want robustness.

If you insist on putting a red dot on a defensive pistol, having a set of backup irons that can be co-witnesses is important.  This is true for rifles as well.

For user failures, I’ve seen a few different things.

First and foremost, are the people who treat dots as a magic pill.  They shoot for shit and believe that by adding a dot, they will become better shooters.

It doesn’t work.  Usually, their fundamental problem is that their trigger control sucks, not their sight alignment.

I’ve seen people adjust their red dots to compensate for hitting a foot low-left at some prescribed distance.

We get warrant service requests from people who maxed out the travel on their dot trying to compensate for flinching.

When I was at Thunder Ranch, everyone with dots started by checking dot zero, and we had one guy who did that. Rob Latham zeroed his dot for him and he had to do a lot of trigger discipline drills.

Second, guys who put a dot on their micro compact carry gun, then continue to drill at three, five, and maybe seven yards.

The advantage to a dot it better accuracy at distance, but these guys generally can’t shoot well, so don’t push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

These guys are not taking advantage of the capabilities of a dot. For them it’s a waste of money.

Third, is the toxic aspect of gun culture.

We’ve all experienced it.

“If you don’t have [latest thing], and you need to use your gun in a defensive situation, just just going to fucking die.”

Latest thing being:

  • Newest plastic fantastic
  • Laser sights
  • Kydex holster/carry position
  • Red dot
  • NODs
  • Next industry toy the IG influencers get

You tell someone you carry a snub nose 38 or a 380 in a belly band, and they will launch into a tirade how if your carry gun isn’t their favorite high capacity wonder-nine with an extended mag, ported barrel, red dot, and weapon light, in a $200 appendix carry hybrid holster, you might as well just shoot yourself because you’ll never win a gun fight with the guy mugging you.

Right now, the debate online isn’t, “is the shotgun still a worthwhile self defense weapon compared to the AR,” but, “how obsolete is the shotgun as a home defense gun and how fast will you die with one in your hands when someone kicks in your door.”

These people have latched onto pistol dots, which is how you end up with a guy running a pistol with a dot no further than five yards.

Lastly, and this is the most dangerous, people who learned to shoot on dot who do not practice with their irons.

I’m starting to see this with pistol.

This has been an issue with rifles for a while, to the point where it affected the military.

Soldiers were being trained on optics because it’s easier. But those soldiers would go to non-combat units where they were not issued optics. Then, they had no capability to shoot with iron sights and would fail qualification, or worse, be in a fire fight with a weapon they didn’t know how to use.

Iron sights are not going away anytime soon, but I’m afraid proficiency with irons will.

At the last match I was at, out of thirty shooters, 28 were carry optics.

As Clint Smith says, be a student of weaponscraft. Don’t be limited because you let a valuable skill atrophy in favor of a new toy.

If you want to run optics on your pistol, I wont stop you.

But understand their limitations, maximize their advantages, and make sure you develop and maintain proficiency for when you have to rely on irons.

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By J. Kb

16 thoughts on “On red dots on pistols”
  1. Even more robust than iron sighs in a dovetail are iron sights integral to the gun. I have a Spanish 30 Special revolver like that: a blade at the barrel end, and a notch at the back of the frame. Not adjustable at all, but unless you somehow manage to shear it off, you *will* have a sight that’s adequate for the job.

  2. As a person who works with many people every week and have for the past twelve years, everything you’ve said in this post I have to agree with. About the only thing I would add is that for people with diminishing eyesight, or who already have bad eyesight, or for people who want to be able to shoot without the prescription glasses on, a red dot pistol or rifle optic makes shooting accuracy better.
    Other than those three groups of people, a red dot isn’t really necessary. I do like one on my 12ga shotgun and my ATF compliant 9mm PCC which has a 10.5″ barrel. Both guns work better for me at 50 plus yards using a red dot. And I encourage gun owners who are in the market for red dots to buy the most expensive one they can afford. Trijicon, Leupold, Aimpoint, Holosun for high end quality and Vortex and Sightmark for a cheaper mid-to-upper-level brands.
    I do have red dots on pistols with suppressor height sights, but I am so used to iron sights that I still automatically use them using the red dot as a verification aid to assure my brain that my slowly diminishing eyesight is still reliable. I suppose as my eyes continue to age; the red dot will take over out of necessity.

  3. The other potential issue with red dots is users with astigmatism. It’s well known that red dots look blurry if you have astigmatism. I have mixed results with red dots because I have astigmatism in my non-dominant eye so I plan to test my son’s red dots next time we meet.
    I currently have iron sights on everything so I focus on fundamentals and not electronics. I also carry a “You’re gonna die on the streets” setup of formerly fashionable gear.

  4. ^^^ This. I probably have a mild astigmatism (really need to get that confirmed one of these days) and red dots usually look blurry or smeared to me. One “work around” I have found is red dots that feature “circle-dot” reticles like Holosuns. Something about that reticle “tricks” the eye or brain into seeing a crisp dot in the circle rather than a starburst or smear. Green dots also typically look better to me than red dots.

  5. It is the difference between learning how it works, versus learning how to use it.
    If you learn how it works, your education can be applied across the board on a wide range of tools. If you only know how to use it, you are restricted to that one tool.
    Consider the lowly calipers as an example.
    You could purchase a mechanical set and learn how to read the lines. Or you could go whiz bang, with a top of the line brand new digital caliper that bluetooths to your phone, and speaks the measurement. (OK,. I am assuming that exists…) But… what if the digital one dies… If you have zero idea how to read the caliper markings you are screwed.
    I have a garage full of tools that fall into the same category. Know how to use the hand tool first, then go power.
    Red dots are a tool. Same as having any other power tool. It is great if you know how to use, why to use it, and when to use it. It is even better if you know what to do when you cannot use it.

  6. “If you don’t have [latest thing], and you need to use your gun in a defensive situation, just just going to fucking die.” The “latest thing” being pistol red-dots.
    To respond, I point to the attempted mass shooting attack at West Freeway Church of Christ, outside Fort Worth, TX, in 2019.
    “Attempted” because the guy only shot two people before being put down…
    … by a single head shot …
    … from ~15 yards, on a moving target …
    … by a reserve deputy sheriff, who’s also a competitive shooter and trains his fellow church security volunteers …
    using iron sights.
    It’s not the gun, or the latest doo-dad attached to it. It’s the willingness to put in the practice to become competent using whatever you have.

      1. I have a 70 series Colt 1911, bone stock. pulled it out of the cabinet to go range day and discovered the rear site was GONE.. I still shot it.. biggest problem I have with dot sites is sometimes finding the dot is hard… yeah, “gun culture “ is very disappointing.. way too many internet “commandos”. my advice to young n old- try it, if it works for you great. is a shotgun viable as a defense tool?? If its all ya got yes, if it works for you, yes… if you wanta be “tacticool” then spend spend spend and pray that all that shiite you bought you never have to use.. biggest bitch I have in the firearms world is all the selling of the latest and greatest “if you don’t have THIS” you a loser… and the look at me aint I great crowd..Practice with what works for YOU..

        1. When I first started using a red dot out of curiosity for the first time, I brought my gun out of the holster, up to the high ready, and then to the line of sight and discovered that I completely forgot about even trying to find a red dot, instead my eyes when straight to the front sight as it always had for forty years, being completely influenced by muscle memory.
          After two or three more draw sequences, I noticed I was perfectly doting the eye of the front post with the red dot. The shots were tight at slow speed and when I increased the speed, I noticed the visual of the ‘rocking dot’ which for some reason influenced my grip pressure to decrease the dot rocking motion. It wasn’t a deliberate conscience adjustment but occurred in the subconscious.
          The red dot for me is nothing more than a tool which visually demonstrates the amount of control I have when under duress at high speeds and especially serves to improve groupings when engaging random unpredictable moving targets. The dot is a secondary visual and the suppressor iron sights are the primary visual. It’s been five years using the dot, and today it barely rocks due to its subliminal influence on my grip control. And when I shoot my iron sight pistols that retrained muscle memory transfers over even though no dot is present.
          My conclusion is the red dot can in fact provide visual confirmation of your level of proficiency when running the gun in full battle mode. Every time the rocking dot is minimized the grouping follows suit. I used to have trouble keeping my head from bouncing too much moving between point of cover while keeping the gun at line of sight, engaging targets, that too has greatly improved because of the red dot confirmation while in progress. And during night sessions it really works incredibly well.
          My advice is to not concentrate on the red dot but instead the iron sights and trust that you’ll use the red dot anyway even if you’re not trying to. It will enhance your ability to use the iron sights automatically. Trust your subconscious mind.

  7. I carry a Shield Plus. Got a hell of a gunshow deal on one with tritium sights, 5 extended mags, a nice range bag with booboo kit and…optics cut. I don’t have nor intend to put optics on it for one reason: I work in a very dirty and nasty environment and I would straight up destroy a red dot. I do have one on both my carbines and will be putting one on my AR, but they’ll either have cowitnessing irons, or 45 back up irons on them because two is one and one is none.

  8. I am 64 years old with a severe astigmatism. I have been working with a dot for about a year. I wasn’t real impressed until I found out I had an A1C of 12. In the process of getting that under control my eyesight went nuts. Dropping my blood sugar that much changed the thickness of my lenses and I literally could not focus on the front sight, but I could still the dot. That is what sold me. New eyeglasses and I can shoot target irons about as well as the dot, but I still remember the days when I couldn’t see the irons at all.

  9. Rule 1 of a gunfight: have a gun. Rule 2: know how to use your gun.
    The rest is details. Important details … but details.

  10. Mild astigmatism here too. The ‘dot’ is blurry. And I was a ‘victim’ of a bunch of ‘experts’ over asking a question in one of the groups. Interestingly, not a single ‘expert’ asked why I’d asked the question… And yes, I’m an old man, I like leather holsters, carry at 4 o’clock, just like I have for almost 40 years, and that’s where the muscle memory goes for the draw stroke. When I took a Givens course a number of years ago, he actually laughed at how ‘automatic’ I was.

  11. Re astigmatism and red dot blurriness: I have astigmatism, but glasses correct for that. Yes, if your eyesight changes you need a new prescription. I also have “computer glasses” — optimized for arm’s length reading — that double as ideal shooting glasses.
    Meanwhile, does anyone make “green dot” sights? That would seem like a natural option, given that the eye is optimized around that wavelength.

  12. Most of my shooting club has gone to red dots also. We do an “outlaw action pistol”. I’m still on irons, but honestly only due to money and time. I’m still competitive (with those that I was competitive with before they switched). We have a couple of REALLY good shooters. I’m average. In our group of 12-15 I tend to place around 6th.

    But, I take great pride in being average among that group.

  13. I think robustness is generally solved for the red dot with a good brand to the point there is probably no real differerence other than “in the numbers” between the robustness of good irons and good dots. There is plenty of data out there for torture testing and plenty of video of people besting the shit out of dots and they don’t lose zero and still function.
    Im not currently a dot on my pistol guy, but km dot curious having recebtly tried one. My biggest concern with the dot is batteries on a dot on a carry gun that might not have backup irons or might not have usable backup irons. I’d want a no battery dot.
    My biggest training issue was going from irons to dot, dot was always shooting exactly where it was pointed. Sounds good right? Well instead with irons I might take a good enough shot without thinking that maybe puts the bullet out in the 9 ring or high or low compared to where I was aiming but still in a lethal zone, I would no do the same with the dot. My mind knew aim was perfect and waited for the perfect shot since I knew exactly where the bullet would land when the trigger was pulled based on where the dot was. That slowed shots down and I was waiting for perfect alignment on the X.

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