The optics debate has been raging inside the gun community for quite some time, and the newest battlefield involves red-dot sights on pistols. Some people hate them, and some people think they are the inevitable future for pistol sights. Let’s dive into five great reasons to add a red dot to your handgun.
 

1. Long-Range Engagement


Red dots allow for more accurate shots at longer ranges when compared to iron sights. In my experience teaching new shooters, shots at 25 and 50 yards are challenging with irons sights, but they are relatively easy for most people when they have a red dot on their pistol.
 

If you want to shoot further with more accuracy, red dots can help make that happen. (Photo: Brian Jackson/Guns.com)


But don’t just rely on my experience. In the rifle world, there is no debate anymore – red dots are superior. Red dots have supplanted iron sights on rifles in the military and in the majority of police units that go into harm’s way. One of the primary tactical advantages of red-dot optics is the fact that they are easier to accurately engaged targets at longer ranges. The reasons why this is true for rifles also holds true for handguns. 

While rifle integration is nearly complete, pistol-mounted adoption has been slower due to technological limitations, but the gear has finally caught up. The new SIG pistols that were adopted by four branches of the military had an optic-cut requirement. SOCOM has been running red dots that are top of the line since 2018 for their special operators. These guys can have any gear they want and, by in large, they choose to use red dots.

This adoption also blows the reliability argument out of the water. In the past, it was a technology problem, but it has been solved. Red-dot technology has been tested on the battlefield. They work if they are quality sights that come from reputable manufacturers. Still, some folks just don't like red dots. But maybe they should?
 

2. Improved Hit Percentages
 

Dots aren't just for expensive guns anymore, they are becoming almost a standard feature. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)


In the competitive pistol world, the top-of-the-food-chain guns have had red dots on them since the 1980s. If you are trying to run a gun faster, adding a red dot is a given. This is because targets can be hit faster and more accurately with a red-dot optics system.

One of the best sources of data I have found on this topic is Aaron Cowan’s white paper on handgun optics. In his force-on-force testing, he found iron-sighted shooters made critical hits 28 percent of the time. Red dot shooters made 70 percent of their critical hits. I highly recommend reading Aaron’s paper, it goes into much greater detail about all the points I’m highlighting.
 

3. Target Focus
 

Red Dot Sight
Red dots offer a lot of space to manipulate your sight, but they also allow you to focus on the target and your sights at the same time with less effort. (Photo: Don Summers/Guns.com)


The final and perhaps the most important tactical reason for adopting a red-dot sight is the fact that it allows shooters to stay target focused. It’s a natural human response to stay focused on a threat. If you see something dangerous, it’s normal to stare at it. Why not choose a sighting system that works with your normal tendencies? 

Real-life defensive situations are incredibly stressful. There is so much to take in visually: the threat, the background, bystanders, the context of what is going on, etc. Anything that makes this situation easier is beneficial.

Using a red dot, you can stay focused on the target, and all you need to do is superimpose the dot on top of the threat. With iron sights, your focus must shift back and forth. This leads to the next point.
 

4. Physiological Superiority


Sighting with a red dot is more intuitive for most peoples’ brains and eyes. The human eye can only focus on a single focal plane at a time. Physiologically, you cannot see the target, the front sight, and the rear sight perfectly clear at the same time. With iron sights, you have to look at the target, then pull your focus to your front sight and keep it in focus.

At that point, you still need to line up your front sight to the now blurry target and then alight your rear notch to your front sight. Now, I know all this can happen in a split second, but more tasks will always cause more neural load than fewer tasks. All things being equal, red dots are a more efficient sighting system.
 

5. Aging Eyes

 

In light or dark conditions, there is no denying that a red dot makes it easier to pick up your sights fast. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)


Red dots are also the inevitable sighting system. As our eyes age, our ability to see closer objects starts to diminish. This is why older people use reading glasses and older shooters have to get specialized glasses. It happens to nearly everyone. Focusing on the front sight will get more difficult over time. 

Many people with far-sightedness go to red dots because they simply can’t see the front sight anymore. If you are going to need to switch to the red dot eventually, why not just start with it?
 

Bonus Points

 

Technology has been making some big jumps, and red dots are now both reliable, long lasting, and small. (Photo: Paul Peterson/Guns.com)


Here are some bonus tips for why red-dot sights are the wave of the future:

  • Red dots can be used with pistol-mounted suppressors where standard-height iron sights are usually obscured by a silencer.
  • Red dots work better in low-light conditions because they are illuminated. Iron sights are very difficult to use in dark conditions unless they have tritium or fiber optics. Even then, a red dot shows up better and is easier to align in the dark.
  • One-handed manipulations are easier with red dots because the optic housing acts as a big ledge to hook onto things.  Some iron sights have this feature but not all.
  • Cross-eye-dominant people usually have less difficulty with red dots because they don’t have to line up a front and rear sight on their cross-dominant hand.
     

Conclusion


Of course, as with all things, there must be a cost-benefit analysis. There will be situations when iron sights should be chosen. Cost and gear complications are definitely considerations. People with severe astigmatisms may have trouble with dots. 

The biggest consideration, however, is training. There is a learning curve. Iron-sight shooters often forget they were not born knowing how to shoot with iron sights. It took practice. If you are not willing to put in the time to learn a new set of skills, then I would say, don’t get a red dot. 

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