In this article, I will address some concerns and considerations about red dot optics for your everyday carry pistol. If at the end of this article you think that a red dot might be advantageous, you’ll be able to make a better-informed decision about the myriad of available options. This article is mainly for those new to EDC pistol optics, giving them something to think about and a starting point. However, if you already have a red dot on your carry pistol, I hope this article can add value to what you already know.
“Red dot” will be the term I use for any pistol-mounted optic, and red is the color I will use to describe the dot, but other colors are available, too, along with dot and ring configurations.
First, firearms and their components are only as fast and accurate as the shooter behind them. Cost being relative, an expensive pistol with an expensive optic is only guaranteed to make the person carrying it a liability with expensive tastes unless they are adequately trained and continue to train; mindset and training are the gold standards. Tools are useless unless the other two components are there.
LOAD & MAKE READY
A little about me before we go range hot. Pistol-mounted optics is a relatively new tool for me in the 30-plus years of learning my craft, and I have a ways to go. I own and have worked with carbine holographic and red dots, but pistol-mounted red dots and I are still in our dating phase. I have a plethora of carry pistols, and the one I used for this article is an FN 509 9mm pistol, and the red dot I have on it is a Trijicon RMR Type 2 Adjustable LED with a 3.25 MOA (minute of angle) dot.
BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PISTOL-MOUNTED RED DOT
The folks in competitive-type shooting sports were the first to recognize the potential of a red dot optic that was initially made and marketed to be put on rifles. These shooters have been winning tournaments using them since the early 1990s. Under the auspices of the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA), Jerry Barnhart won the 1990 USPSA Nationals, and Doug Koenig won the 1990 World Shoot, both with red dots.
Though these initial red dot pistols won many competitions on a range, they were in no way ready for the austere conditions of ‘the world.’ The technology hadn’t made them small enough yet; imagine trying to carry concealed / low profile with any of the pistols in the pictures above. Adding as much as 16 ounces, they indeed were not light enough. The recoil would sometimes harm electronic components, making things prohibitive too. The only way to reliably mount a red dot to a pistol at the time, to mitigate the numerous issues, was to fabricate a large custom frame mount that would not reciprocate with the slide.
Today’s red dots are immensely technologically advanced, ruggedized, and a fraction of the size and weight of the ones competitive shooters had to work with twenty-plus years ago.
OLD SCHOOL OR NEW SCHOOL?
Whether you are old school or new school, what matters is whether you can put rounds on target. Before the introduction of a pistol-mounted optic, the quintessential “iron sights” hadn’t changed much since 1450 when they were put on firearms. As we all know to be employed effectively, i.e., hit the target, the shooter had to align three things – the rear sight, the front sight, and the target. It’s a relatively easy concept to grasp and, with practice, be proficient in. Because the human eye can only effectively focus on one of the three things (rear sight, front sight, or target), the focus should be on the front sight.
Simplistic as they are, what’s required to use them effectively is lining up the rear and front sights on the desired point of aim (POA), and if done correctly, the POA will be the point of impact (POI). What if you are a relatively good shooter with irons and don’t see the need for a red dot optic right now? Fast forward five, ten, or twenty years and now your eyesight is deteriorating, and if you didn’t wear them before, you’re wearing corrective lenses. If you want to shoot better than “good enough” and wear corrective lenses, a red dot may be right up your alley.
RED DOT ROI
Whether you already have it or you’re thinking of getting one, a red dot optic will neither make you a safer nor better shooter. A new kit does not compensate for being a safe shooter or training. As I stated at the beginning of the article, don’t be a liability with expensive tastes.
Having a red dot optic can make a considerable difference regarding speed with target acquisition and accuracy, particularly in low-light situations. Because you’re superimposing a dot on the target, you’ll be much more threat-focused. There is no more lining up the rear and front sight and focusing on the front sight while maintaining attention on the threat.
In a dynamic situation with two or more possible bad guys, the good guy has to rapidly perform a threat triage to determine what threat needs to be addressed first – the order of priority is based on the most significant threat, not the closest.
The good guy needs to have the presence of mind to make the assessment, but a red dot will help to expedite target acquisition.
THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE PURCHASING A RED DOT
So you want to get a red dot for your EDC? There are close to a dozen companies that make red dots. Below are some concerns and considerations I look for in making my red dot purchases. You can go further down the rabbit hole in your research to decide what optic is best for you, if at all, but these first four may help. Not in any particular order of importance:
Water Rating – Remember, we’re talking about your everyday carry, not a safe queen. Reputable manufacturers will either have an IP (Ingress Protection) rating or an actual “waterproof to…” statement, e.g. “Designed to be waterproof to 20 meters (66 ft.)”.
If a particular red dot you’re looking at has the IP rating, make sure it’s “waterproof” and not “weatherproof,” e.g., an optic with IP67 is rated for 30 minutes at 1 meter underwater, and IPX8 means it’s rated for 30 minutes at 3 meters under water.
Dot or Ring – Whether you prefer a dot or ring, the size will be noted as minute of angle (MOA). Dots can be from 1 to 6 MOA – In a defensive shooting situation, close and fast-moving targets where the good guy might only get a fraction of a second to acquire and fire a shot, a larger dot would be the ideal choice. The dot is big, bright, and easy to find, lending itself to faster target acquisition every time. An MOA equates to 1 inch at 100 yards or ¼ at 25 yards which would be very accurate and precision shooting. In a defensive shooting situation, your shooting, as I call it, is minute of body (MOB), not MOA, so get an optic with a larger dot.
Battery Life – Most red dots offer about 50,000 hours (5 years) of battery life. Some run off of battery power and solar power that offer 150,000 hours. Also, there are ones that have both batteries along with solar. Models with a “Shake awake” feature will automatically turn on when the optic senses movement.
Sealed (Encapsulated) or Unsealed (Exposed) Emitter – It’s likely the barrel of your EDC will be pointed down and vertical in the holster configuration you and most people have when not being used which would have the back of the optic facing up. If the optic has an exposed emitter, likely, debris could get caught in that area. My optic has an exposed emitter, but it’s an issue I can work through. Sealed emitter optics are less likely to trap debris but have a boxier appearance.
Unsealed / Exposed Sealed / Closed
Again, the optic I chose for my EDC met all the requirements I wanted, except it has an exposed emitter which wasn’t a show stopper for me.
Holsters you can get, like mine pictured below, have a hinged “hood” feature to mitigate debris accumulating on the back of the optic while it sits in the holster. The hood automatically opens as the optic pushes it open and out of the way on the draw.
A gunfight is a dynamic situation of angles, inches, and seconds and unlike a two-dimensional paper target, the actual bad guy gets a vote in the outcome; Mr. Murphy will also probably be there to weigh in. If you want dead nuts reliability, take a knife to a gunfight – it won’t run out of ammo, there’s no battery to run out of power, and there won’t be any stoppages or malfunctions. The max effective range of said knife may be an issue, but at least you’ll have something that won’t fail you; deal with it!
Train ‘to’ failure and train ‘for’ failure – Firearms fail, function and rust. Preventive maintenance mitigates rust and corrosion and ensures all moving parts are lubricated and maintained. Training ensures that when a stoppage or malfunction happens, you can work through it to get rounds back on target. The same deliberate thought process is needed if you want to employ a red dot on your EDC now. Train to the level your equipment is capable of and have a contingency when your equipment fails. Not in any particular order:
Weak / Dead Battery – If you live in a northern state that experiences winter weather, you know that anything that needs a battery to work doesn’t do particularly well in cold weather, and through time if you’re not paying attention to when the battery was put in or temperature the dot on your optic will pick the least convenient time to die. “Two is one, and one is none,” so I recommend having backup iron sights; few people just run an optic with no backup sights. If you buy a pistol with an optic already mounted, it’s likely the optic/suppressor height iron sights are already on it. If you’re purchasing an optic for a pistol, make sure the front and rear iron sights are visible through the optic window.
Total/Partial Obscuration of Sight Window – This would be any situation where you could not use your iron sights because of damage, debris, fogging, etc. Maybe you made an informed decision and didn’t have backup sights. Remember, we’re talking about an optic on your defensive carry pistol, so the threat you need to stop is likely within 3 to 10 yards.
At 10 yards and closer, a complete presentation with pistol extended, the left and right corners of the top of your optic should fill in between and bisect the shoulders of the threat.
Indexing your trigger finger is not only one of the basic safety rules we all should know, “Keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to fire,” but it is also an intuitive method of aiming in a defensive shooting situation.
The immediate action steps above can be practiced/trained at home or at the range. If at home, ensure your pistol is cleared, then cover/obscure the optic window; a cotton ball or painter’s tape works great. Do presentation drills at different distances with a B-27 target or similar scale man-size silhouette target. If you have a laser training tool, you can quickly validate what method combinations work for you at home. If you have the opportunity to try these drills live fire at your local range, make sure you have a conversation with the range master or RSO first.
If you cannot see through your optic window, bisecting the shoulders using the top of your red dot optic or using your indexed trigger finger are just two of several ways you can still stay in the fight. Do some research and see what works for you.
Everything Else – A combination of one or more artificial or natural conditions can create issues that must be worked through. Rain, mist, and condensation from temperature extremes will be an issue. In low light, there may be lights in the background, or the threat has a flashlight/pistol-mounted light pointed at you, and your red dot has water spots or condensation, creating a starburst type of sight. Using your backup iron sights or training using the obscuration of sight window drills will keep you in the fight.
Below are pictures I took with conditions I named above that I could replicate. The target was a man-size B-27 at 3 yards. Lighting from the target was a 100-lumen Streamlight Stylus Pro.
THE RANGE IS COLD
So did I give you answers or generate more questions? Unfortunately, there isn’t enough space on the website and time to write a paper that would answer all the what-ifs.
My goal wasn’t so much to convince you to have a red dot optic on your EDC or not but to make you at least consider it.