The Goods & Bads of Pistol Red Dots

Do you run a red dot? Should you? Let’s look at the goods and bads to pistol red dots.


Like it or not, there has been a trend in the gun industry for a few years now to add red dots to pistols. It started by some creative pistol owners strapping a small rifle scope to the top of their full-size handguns, which looked ridiculous but might have actually been a little awesome. Soon, optic makers saw the opportunity and began making red dots designed specifically for handguns. And handgun manufacturers started carving out the tops of their slides for mounting plates. Next thing we knew, everyone and their uncle was putting a red dot on their pistols.

But what’s the attraction? Is it a good idea? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a red dot over normal sights?

The Bad

Let’s start with what could possibly go wrong. After all, no technology is perfect.

  1. Runs on a battery, which can run out. Just like a flashlight that won’t turn on when you need it the most, a red dot’s battery can fail at the one time you face a real threat. Is it likely? No. But you know Murphy’s Law works.
  2. Can mechanically fail. Nothing is built to last forever, red dots included. Your gun can fail and so can its accessories. But then again, iron sights can come loose, fall off the slide, or get busted during use, so is this really a reason not to get a red dot? Only you can make that determination.
  3. Lens can break. In case you haven’t noticed, glass is typically fragile. Even the tempered glass used in many rough and tumble applications is not indestructible. If you drop your gun, the red dot glass might crack or shatter, leaving the LED no place to project, and leaving you nothing no dot to see.
  4. Lose zero. Most of us don’t treat our guns gently. They’re tools that get bumped around. Plus, there’s recoil. All that jostling can cause the precision instruments inside the red dot housing to get out of whack (by being whacked), moving the red dot you so carefully zeroed.
  5. Can be fouled by weather. We don’t always shoot in sunny and dry conditions. If you’re like so many others who train and shoot in all sorts of weather, a red dot can have its drawbacks. Water landing on the laser projector or glass or fog from humidity can mess it up.
  6. Can be difficult to pick up the dot on initial presentation. If you’re not used to looking for the dot, it can take some practice. It can be practiced, but may not be intuitive right away.
  7. Requires a lot of time behind the gun. If you’re not used to a red dot, it can take some serious trigger time to get used to it.

Springfield Hellcat Rapid Defense Package (RDP) - compact handguns

The Good

While there are some drawbacks to red dots, they also have a lot to offer.

  1. Batteries have improved. While it’s true all batteries will eventually wear out, most red dot power packs today last for up to 4 years on the lowest setting. If you change the battery annually, you should be fine.
  2. Easier to shoot at a variety of distances. Faraway targets can be hard to see. While red dots don’t magnify anything downrange, they do help with long-distance shot accuracy.
  3. Shooting on the move is easier. The single red dot is easier to pick up than three front and rear sight dots, making for quicker transitions between targets because the dot appears faster than realigning front and rear sights.
  4. Low light is easier. You’ll always see the dot because it’s a light source, but be careful how bright the dot is so it doesn’t obscure your target.
  5. Better threat focus. Look through the red dot and aim without losing track of your target or needing to transition from “see target” to “see front sight,” which is unlikely to happen in a real shootout anyway.

While no sighting system is infallible, a red dot can be a great addition to your handgun. Just be sure to train with it and know what you’re doing before relying on it in the real world.


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David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. As an NRA-certified instructor, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as possible. “Real-life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”




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1 thought on “The Goods & Bads of Pistol Red Dots”

  1. One other advantage to “dots” is if you wear glasses all the time and for whatever reason they get knocked off and this is an adverse encounter that needs to be solved ballistically you should be still able to see the dot. It might be fuzzy but you can still see it whereas a front sight focus just isn’t going to happen. No this isn’t a large segment of the population, but it is something to think about when choosing.

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