Air Guns as Training Tools

Air guns can be used in many instances as training tools to develop skills for real guns.

Posted 12/30/2020

I have used air guns for several years as training aids for new hunters and shooters as well as for ongoing training in an urban environment. In times when ammo is short or range availability is an issue air guns can be very handy training tools.

The Daisy Red Ryder has been in production since 1940. David recently bought this one at a Walmart for under $30.

My first contact with any kind of BB or pellet gun was 66 years ago when I discovered a Daisy Red Ryder, badly abused by the weather, in the fork of an orange tree in Leesburg, Florida. I was four, so naturally my dad didn’t let me keep the Daisy. Three years later, after we had moved to a farm in Mississippi, Dad gave me a .410 shotgun and began teaching me to hunt. He was a biologist and a conservationist, and he hated BB guns. To him, the only justification for killing an animal was to eat it, or to protect crops or domestic animals. He had seen enough innocent songbirds killed with BB guns to rule them out in our family. I only occasionally dabbled in the world of BB or pellet guns because my cousins had them.

Many years later, the need to solve a couple of training problems opened my eyes to a world of pneumatic firearm usefulness I didn’t know existed. If I were to earn a regular column in this fine magazine, I might suggest it be called something like “Guns in the City.” Many of our writers live in the wide open spaces where they have the freedom to explore the function and features of various firearms without leaving home. Being a firearm owner and shooter in the city definitely has its challenges compared to living in a rural environment and air guns have their role in meeting those challenges.

Hunter Education Training.

Since I grew up country and it was something of a shock to me upon moving to Fort Worth to discover you have to PAY TO SHOOT around here! City dwellers even pay to hunt, and they think that’s normal! I don’t mind paying every now and then, but living here and shooting on my own place wasn’t an option until I discovered air guns that were more than toys.

Hunter Education classes are designed to teach students safety, ethics and marksmanship.

Hunting was such a part of my early life, when I grew older and wasn’t hunting regularly, I figured it was time to give back. One of the best ways to do that is as a volunteer Texas Hunter Education Instructor. I’ve had opportunities to teach Hunter Education classes at a range where shotguns or rifles were available for basic gun handling exposure. Other times I’ve taught in a facility that had no gun range. Since the curriculum allows for using air guns, I tried a couple of AR air soft guns, but wasn’t satisfied with the experience they provided for students as education rather than entertainment. What does work well are simple-to-operate air rifles such as the Gamo Shadow Whisper. It’s a spring action model that shoots a single .177 pellet with each shot. Because it doesn’t use CO2, performance doesn’t deteriorate after firing 25 or 30 shots. The Shadow Whisper and its cousins in the Whisper family have excellent sights and at distances up to 20 to 25 feet are extremely accurate. For the Hunter Education classes, I set up an indoor range with a couple of Champion 22 bullet traps using Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets to give students a chance to learn the basics of sight alignment, sight picture and trigger press. Each student gets to take home their own target to show their friends and family.

The Gamo Whisper is so easy to use, new shooters can concentrate on the shooting essentials needed to hit their target.The Gamo Whisper is so easy to use, new shooters can concentrate on the shooting essentials needed to hit their target.

Some air rifles are suitable for serious hunting with larger caliber air rifles costing as much or more than some of our favorite standards that shoot cartridges loaded with gun powder. or are great sources for information and shopping for air guns for hunting or for our next topic—Handgun Training.

Handgun 101.

When Texas dropped the training requirements for a Concealed Handgun License from 10–12 hours to 4–6 hours a few years ago, many instructors were in a dilemma. This change meant the classes were geared more toward experienced shooters because there just wasn’t enough time to for basic handgun instruction on top of all the laws and other subjects that are part of the required training. Almost universally those of us actively teaching came up with some type of introductory class to get people with no handgun experience ready to take the course for their carry license. Because so many potential students were looking for evening classes, my solution was a two-hour Handgun 101 class taught in a classroom. The first part of the class was spent on gun safety; handgun operation; and the basics of stance, grip, sight alignment, breathing, trigger control and follow through. The training needed practice to seal the concepts in the minds of the new shooters.

Having a variety of Air Guns that are similar in size, weight and operation as their real counterparts helps new shooters learn the basics without a lot of noise and recoil.

Initially, I used SIRT laser training pistols. This was actually fun for the students, but it had some negatives. The triggers on those early SIRT guns were not very realistic and when a student finished shooting, their shots were erased. Except for the triggers, those guns had no moving parts. To help new shooters get a better feel for a gun that moves, makes noise and puts holes in a target you can take home with you, I started using a pellet pistol that had real blowback operation—an accurate replica of the Beretta PX4 Storm, made by Umarex, licensed by Beretta. The air gun had the same dimensions, weight and feel of the real PX4. It is accurate at distances up to 10–12 feet and the blowback action is very realistic. Students loved shooting it and being able to take home their own Shoot-N-C targets to show off their new shooting skills to friends and family.

That Beretta was soon joined by other realistic air guns such as the Smith & Wesson M&P, Sig Sauer P226 and recently a Sig P320. I’ve even thrown in a Luger P08 at times. Each student gets to fire 10 to 20 rounds with an instructor right beside them helping them to adjust stance, grip or sight picture as needed. Seeing how these tools helped new shooters overcome the fear of shooting and begin to develop basic skills before taking them to the range encouraged me to get some for home use. Now, even as a city dweller, I can shoot for fun or practice whenever the urge hits me.

Tips to help you get the most from your air gun experience.

Many air pistols and some of the rifles will shoot pellets or BBs. Outside, it generally doesn’t matter, but inside I prefer pellets because they react to backstops and bullet traps like you would expect them to. BBs are both round and hard and bounce off almost any hard surface. One new discovery has helped change that. Dust Devil BBs, available from Pyramid Air, are frangible, so they shatter upon hitting a solid surface. With either pellets or BBs, eye protection should always be worn.

For both Hunter Education and Handgun 101 classes this Do All Outdoors bullet box target trap works great for stopping pellets. Participants can take home their Shoot-N-C target after class.

 Don’t expect the CO2 cartridges to go the distance as advertised on the carton. After 25–30 shots, they start slowing down, and then they’re not accurate. If you’re shooting for accuracy, listen for the slowdown and change the cartridges when the sound begins to diminish. You’ll need some tools to change cartridges. Some require an Allen wrench; with others, it’s a wing nut. I keep a small vice grip pliers on hand for dealing with the wing nuts.

Pellets come in a variety of styles for hunting, competition, or just target practice. For target practice at home or in class, try the ones with the flat nose.

You’ll be disappointed if you expect every pellet to fire. Most pellets are made of lead and their shape can be easily altered with handling. Sometimes they just refuse to budge, other times they’ll leave the magazine, but not quite make it into the barrel. Just shake it off and keep shooting. You may have to clear the magazine and shake out the occasional BB or pellet that didn’t leave the barrel under air pressure.

Sometimes when you can’t afford a real one an Air Gun is a great substitute. This Umarex Legends P08 Luger has the same blowback operation as its real brother.

Air guns have come a long way. Daisy, Crosman, and Beeman are brands I’ve known forever. They have been joined by several other companies, including Umarex whose specialty is making branded guns for companies like Colt, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson and others. They make very realistic replicas of many of your favorite handguns. Some of the revolvers load cartridges with pellets or BBs inserted where the primers would be. Many of the semi-automatic designs use CO2 to emulate the blowback operation of their real brothers enough to make an excellent training platform. Chances are you can find some excellent shooting replicas for prices you can justify for personal or family entertainment. You’ll see handguns and long guns for home use, plus a whole world of hunting air rifles and pistols in serious calibers. When my income won’t allow adding “real” firearms to my collection, I can sometimes slip in a nice air gun for the price of taking my family to dinner.

How I Became a Gun Nerd

Dr. Will Dabbs wrote an article for one of the FMG Publications about being a Gun Nerd. When I read that article, I realized I was indeed a Gun Nerd according to Will’s definition. I found myself wondering how that came about. My early life was punctuated with guns, but there was no big emphasis on them. If you were a kid in Mississippi, especially one with rural roots, guns were just part of your life. My first was a single-shot, hammer-fired, el cheapo .410 shotgun. It had been my father’s when he was a boy. He gave it to me the summer between my first and second grade school years and taught me to hunt squirrels with it. That was gun number one and I still have it.

Crescent .410 Gauge
David’s First Gun — a Crescent Mfg .410 That Had Been His Father’s.

Gun number two was acquired when I was eleven and in the fifth grade. Dad gave me his 16-gauge Winchester Model 12 because he rarely hunted and I hunted every chance I got, which was often since my uncles and cousins had bird dogs and hunted throughout the fall to put meat on the table. That gun had actually belonged to my Dad’s Dad. It was given to him as a gift from the men who worked for him when he retired from being the Director of the Mississippi Game & Fish Commission (now the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks).

Guns number three and four were acquired at the end of the summer of my 12th year. The Boy Scout camp where I had worked that year was selling some rifles off to make room for some new donated guns. I bought a Remington 514 .22 rifle for $4 and a Marlin 80 .22 rifle for $2. I still have all those guns, but I never thought of it as building a collection.

Remington 514, Hi Standard Double Nine
David’s Remington 514 and Hi Standard Double Nine From When He Was a Kid

Gun five was a High Standard Double-Nine .22 revolver I bought from a Western Auto store when I was 15. I had a lot of fun with that gun but traded it for a stereo set. Later in life when I really was a collector, a friend helped me find a replacement, still in its box with a $54.95 price tag on it, though I paid something like $300 that time.

When my grandfather died I was given his Lefever double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. That became my quail gun. My high school and college job involved training show horses and bird dogs, so I used the Lefever a lot.

Lefever 12 Gauge, Winchester Model 12
David’s Grandson Josh With the Shotguns David Inherited From His Grandfathers.

I joined the Army and shot their guns and flew their helicopters for a few years. Got married, raised a family, worked a number of jobs and never thought of guns until my sons reached their teenage years and wanted to hunt ducks and doves with their friends. We had two shotguns and two hunting age boys so it worked out.

My career had moved from being a corporate pilot to being a computer guy. As a computer guy I built websites. One of the websites I built was for a sporting goods mail order company whose owner realized the Internet would soon replace mail order. In addition to having a warehouse full of sporting goods, the company had a gun store. You had to go through the gun store to get to the bathrooms and snack bar. On my way through the store one day, a gun in the used gun display caught my eye. It looked like a buntline special but was a Ruger single-action revolver with a price tag of $300. I didn’t know much about gun prices and values, but that gun looked to me like it was worth way more than $300, so I bought it. Pure impulse buy. The salesman asked me if I knew the gun was a .357 Maximum. I didn’t know at the time what a .357 Maximum was, and I didn’t care. He told me I could shoot .357 Magnums or .38 Special in it and that was fine with me. After getting the gun home and doing a little research on it I discovered the gun was the subject of a recall by Ruger because of reported top strap burning. There was no burning on my gun’s top strap. As I researched further, I came to understand the .357 Maximum was developed for long-range steel plate shooting. The backstrap burning came from a few individuals  shooting very hot handloads in order to get more performance. I decided then I would mostly shoot .357 Magnums in the gun, which had a 10.5″ barrel. Somewhere down the road a friend helped me cut the barrel down to a more manageable 6″ which was fine with me because I wasn’t going to be shooting steep plates at 1,000 yards.

Ruger .357 Maximum
The Real Start of Building a Collection — A Ruger New Model Blackhawk .357 Maximum

The next gun was a Winchester Model 1300 shotgun because son number three was ready to hunt with his brothers.  So far, I’m just a dad with three sons and with enough shotguns to hunt, two rifles that were never used and a revolver to protect the house.

Things sure changed after that. We were attending a rapidly growing church. The bigger it got, the more I started thinking about the crazy people around who like to shoot up schools and churches. My whole life I’ve known I was a protector, what we now call a sheep dog, though I was not to learn that term until later. I felt I should be armed when in church, or anywhere for that matter, because of all the crazies in the world. My wife and I talked it over and we decided to get our Concealed Handgun Licenses. Number three son decided he wanted to do it with us. After the class we were eating at a Mexican fast food joint when my son said, “Dad, you could teach that CHL class.” We had noticed earlier that the instructor for the class, who taught it in his home, had lots of toys in his garage — toys like a Corvette, a Harley, a big boat, Wave Runners, etc. I did a little math, estimating how many people were going to his class each week and paying him the $100 fee and decided, yes, I could teach that course.

Becoming a certified instructor in Texas involves first being a certified pistol instructor, either from the NRA or from the law enforcement route. With that in your pocket, there was a week long course presented by the Texas Department of Safety instructors which you must complete before becoming certified. I learned a lot in that course and the NRA course. I had to have a gun, so I bought one that was inexpensive, but reported to be good, a Taurus 24/7 DS Pro.

David’s First Carry Gun — Taurus 24/7 D/S Pro

A buddy I knew from work, who was “into guns,” got his instructor rating and the two of us started teaching what was at that time the Texas Concealed Carry Course. We also taught the Texas Hunter Education Course. Business was good, so we rented a facility, hung up a sign and taught classes every weekend. Class attendees asked our opinions about guns so much I decided to get an FFL license. We converted the breakroom in our classroom facility into a small gun store. Before long, revenue from gun sales exceeded revenue from classes. We became a gun store with classes offered as a service.

As a gun store, we had five wholesale suppliers. I kept my regular job but taught classes in the evenings and weekends while my son managed the store. He hired people to help with the store and with instruction. Because I had a salary at my regular job and we had a good source of guns, I started paying myself for the time I spent instructing in guns. That’s when I really became a gun collecting Nerd.

My son and I each built up a good collection of guns, then came the Trump slump. Sales at our place went from a lot, to a little, to nothing. As sales and our ability to purchase inventory dwindled my son and I each put some of our guns into inventory in order to have money to pay our employees. When it became obvious the slump was going to continue for a while and we were out of resources we had to close the store.

One of David’s More Recent Acquisitions — SAR9X by Sarsilmaz

Meanwhile, I was hooked on discovering and shooting new guns. The opportunity to continue that habit came about when I pitched an article to Roy Huntington, then editor of American Handgunner magazine, and he bought it. I submitted some more articles and before I knew it, I was a contributor to both American Handgunner and GUNS magazines, along with their special editions. Not only were checks coming in from writing, but many of the guns I was writing about were offered to the writers at a special writer’s price. Some of them a real special price, like free. I still make some money teaching what is now called the Texas License to Carry course since Texas went to an open carry state a few years back. I have sent some of the Test and Evaluation guns back, but not many. I love learning about new guns, shooting and sometimes carrying new guns and building an inheritance for my wife, my three sons and their wives and seven grandchildren. When I’m gone, they may sell them off to provide for mama and if they have to do that, I’m all right with it, but I really hope they can sit around the safes and choose, one for you, one for you, one for you and after they’ve gone around the first time they should be able to do it at least ten more times and if I am able to continue to write and teach for a few years, maybe a lot more than ten times. Being a Gun Nerd is fun. Thanks, Will, for defining it and thanks, Roy, for helping me become a gunwriter Gun Nerd.                       

SAR9X — A New 9mm Turkish Delight

SAR’s 9X all dressed up and ready for action.

In the latter part of 2012, European American Armory (EAA) began importing SAR pistols into the US. I was running a gun store and training academy focused mainly on the Texas Concealed Carry License course. Many of our attendees had never shot a gun and were undecided about what handgun to buy. We provided loaner guns for these people for the shooting proficiency section of the course. Our loaner bag contained a Sig SP2022, an S&W M&P, a Glock 19 and several SAR B6s. The B6s were attractive to us because wholesalers were offering them at discounted prices designed to introduce them to the US market. We had some confidence in the B6 because it was like EAA’s Witness, an Italian gun made by Tanfoglio, with which we had previous experience. Both guns are CZ-75 knockoffs.

We sold a ton of B6s, including one sale of six to an attendee of our class who liked the SAR (and its price) so much, she bought one for herself, one for her husband and one for each of her college-age kids. Colors were available then and there was at least one pink and one purple gun in that mix. Although I added both a B6 and SAR’s second US offering, a K2, to my own collection back then, I didn’t manage to hold onto them. The K2 is internally the same as the B6, but it’s more squared off on the outside. I recently asked my son, who was active with me in the gun store business, what happened to our loaner B6s when we closed our business and he reminded me we gave the loaner bag of guns to one of our instructors who was starting a training business of his own to replace the one we were closing down.

As a bit of background, Sarsilmaz Firearms Corp. is a privately owned small arms manufacturer based in Düzce, Turkey. The company was founded in 1880 and is the largest small arms manufacturer in Turkey. Sarsilmaz produces handguns for the Turkish National Police and the Turkish Armed Forces and exports firearms to over 75 countries. In 2018, Sarsilmaz founded SAR USA to import and distribute Sarsilmaz firearms in the United States. They are headquartered near Auburn, Alabama.

The B6 and K2 are hammer-fired guns. I first saw the striker-fired SAR9 at an NRA Convention in Dallas in May 2016. I found it interesting but didn’t follow up as I was no longer selling guns or doing live training. Now that I’m back in the business as a gunwriter and online instructor, I pay attention to new guns and when the SAR9X was announced, I reached out to SAR’s marketing representative to ask for a test and evaluation sample. I see and handle a lot of guns. Very few create the Red-Ryder-BB-Gun-under-a-nine-year-old’s-Christmas-tree reaction I had to this gun. My example gun has a platinum Cerakote finish with accenting controls and grip panels in black. It looks amazingly like the H&K VP9. In fact, I’ve read some references calling it the “Turkish VP9.” The SAR9X is pre-packaged as a duty gun for a police officer or civilian looking for a carry gun. It arrived in a red plastic case containing a paddle retention holster and matching magazine carrier, both a 17-round and a 19-round magazine, a light to mount on the picatinny rail, extra back straps and grip panels, a magazine loader, a punch for changing out the backstrap, a cleaning brush and rod, a manual, and of course, a gunlock. The packaging was part of my initial reaction at receiving the gun, but the attractiveness of the gun amplified it. Even if we carry concealed, most of us like to have an eye-catching gun when it comes time to show it off to our gun-loving friends.

SAR9X packaging
The SAR9X comes packaged with everything you need to put the gun to work.

There are lightening cuts above the cocking serrations at the front of the slide. Bold, three-dot sights grace the top of the slide as do pre-drilled holes for optics mounting. The frame features textured, replaceable grip side panels and backstrap, a pebbled front strap with mild finger grooves — just deep enough to ease your hand into the proper grip. Further enhancing the grip is a high undercut on the trigger guard which is plenty big for gloved operation and also features serrations on the front to aid the grip for users who like to place the forefinger of their support hand on the front of the trigger guard, something I’ve begun to do lately after years of shooting. It helps steady my grip. The magazine release is just beneath a thumb groove on the grip and is reversible.

The SAR9X closely resemblers H&K’s VP9

There’s an ambidextrous thumb safety, a blade trigger safety and an internal striker block safety that doesn’t release until the trigger is pulled fully to the rear. The striker-cocked indicator is a small red triangle at the base of the trigger. If you see that red indicator, the gun is cocked. If the gun is not cocked, the trigger remains to the rear and the red triangle is not visible. The trigger was a little rough when I first started handling the gun, but after dry-firing it 20–30 times at home and firing a couple of boxes of ammo at the range, it smoothed out. The trigger pull is now consistently a little over 4 lbs. and all the initial grunge is gone.

The SAR9X weighs just 27.5 oz. It’s 7.6″ long, 5.5″ high and 1.4″ wide. That puts it in the size category of the Glock G19 and many other defensive handguns, including ones I carry regularly. I wasn’t sure the paddle holster in the kit would work for me, so I slipped the gun into the leather IWB holster I wear every day and it fit fine. That holster was created for a Sig P226, but I have successfully used it for a variety of guns. Even before shooting the SAR9X I had the feeling it was going to become my regular carry gun.

I’ve already mentioned the trigger was a little grungy when I first started shooting the SAR9X, but it cleared up and when it did, I found it predictable and easy to tune my finger to. I had some issues early on with the gun not cycling and ejecting rounds. My bad. I took it to the range initially dry as a bone. After putting a little oil in all the recommended places, the pistol began to run like you’d expect a VP9 to, only it’s not a VP9. It’s a $500 Turkish-made Sarsilmaz, and those folks know how to make good firearms and are able to do it without having to charge exorbitant prices.

I’ve been fortunate in having ammo to shoot during this time of shortages thanks to Norma entering the handgun ammo market, Hornady offering a new Handgun Hunter round that I figure if it’s good for four-legged animals I would be safe in carrying it for possible use against two-legged mammals that might become a threat, and a new company in Florida — Pilgrim Ammunition. The SARX9 is a delight to shoot. After the early issues with feeding, a result of me not lubricating the gun before shooting it, it just chugged along regardless of the ammo I was using. I only had one box of practice rounds, so it was pretty much all defensive ammo going down the pipe, and to my delight, whenever I did my job with the sight alignment and trigger press, the gun did its part in tightly grouping the rounds on target.

Sarsilmaz apparently has a mounting plate for the SAR9X available from their Turkey operation, but you don’t need a mounting plate for a red dot sight with mounting holes that line up with those cut on the top of the SARX9’s slide. Among those are the Swamp Fox Sentinel, the Shield SMS 2, the Shield RMS C and the Sig Romeo 0. I reached out to the folks at Riton and they sent me one of their mini red dot sights, an X3 TACTIX MPRD. The holes aligned perfectly, the threads on the screws they provided with the sight were correct for the holes in the frame so the sight installation was a breeze.

The slide is predrilled for mounting optics.

Zeroing it in was also a breeze as it was already aligned at 15 yards. I dug through my holster drawer for an IWB holster that would fit the SAR with the red dot sight installed. The one I chose is a Crossbreed SuperTuck Holster that fits the SAR9X perfectly with the red dot installed. So now I’ve entered the brave new world of carrying concealed with a red dot sight installed. The Ridon has a 50,000 hour battery life and no off switch. You turn it on in the morning and it will automatically go off after 12 hours. If you’re still out close to 12 hours, just turn it on again.

SAR9X with Ridon X3 Red Dot
The SAR9X with Ridon X3 Red Dot Sight
David carries his SAR9X in a Crossbreed SuperTuck holster.

Making the Move to Red Dots

With all the interest in red dot sights these days, I thought I’d share with our readers my journey to learning about and using red dot sights on my handguns. It’s easy enough to get a red dot equipped handgun if money is no object. You can select a pistol with a slide drilled for mounting a red dot and spend $400–$500 to buy one of the recommended brands the pistol is set up for. But for those of us on a limited budget the process can be bit challenging. Even taking the first route, the available choices may leave you wondering which of the recommended brands is the best.

My first experience with a red dot sight was a Bushnell Trophy installed on a Bushmaster Carbon 15 AR I bought in 2011. I’ve done nothing to the sight but change the battery as part of a yearly periodic preventive maintenance schedule. The sight was zeroed in when the gun was new and hasn’t been adjusted since. It’s still right on target.

David’s Bushmaster AR-15 With Bushnell Trophy Red Dot Sight

The second oldest red dot I own is a Pursuit TX30 R/G Dot installed on my Ruger Mark III Hunter. That sight is big for the pistol and I’ve considered replacing it with a much smaller sight such as the Kingwolfox 20mm Rail 4 Reticle Tactical Red/Green Dot Sight I found on Amazon for $32.

Ruger Mark III Hunter With Pursuit TX30 R/G Sight
Kingwolfe Red/Green Dot Sight
Kingwolfe Red/Green Dot Sight With Multiple Reticles

That $32 price for a multiple reticle red/green sight is not unusual for a red/green dot sight that mounts on a picatinny rail. In fact, I have a couple of sights that I purchased for $49 each from a company called My Crisis Gear in Allen, Texas. I don’t find a place to order them. They were apparently an email promotion for a time. But I have found similar products at similar pricing on If you’ve been shopping for sights like Sig Sauer’s Romeo Zero, Trijicon’s RMR, Leupold’s Delta Point, JP Enterprises’ JPoint, C-More Systems STS’ and  EOTech/Insight Technology’s MRDS, you’re probably used to prices in the $200–$500 range and you’re wondering if an under $50 sight could be useful.

While I can understand the argument that you shouldn’t trust your life to a $50 sight when good optics obviously cost a lot more, these sights are mounted on fun guns and they are fun. One of them is on an HK416 .22 AR style pistol and everyone who shoots it enjoys it. Even some in our family who aren’t really into guns and don’t shoot much enjoy it. These $50 sights have multiple reticles — crosshairs, a dot inside a ring, and a ring with crosshairs — which can be displayed in either red or green and in various levels of brightness varying from 3 MOA to 10 MOA. I mounted another of these to an S&W Victory .22 which we use for plinking and target practice. If they didn’t require a picatinny rail for mounting, I’d probably use them everywhere I wanted a red dot sight.

HK416 .22 With My Crisis Gear R/G Dot Sight

The dot in red dot optics is measured in MOA, or “minutes of angle” which is a unit for angular measurement of a circle. In a sight it refers to the size of the dot and how much it covers at a certain distance. The smallest dot currently available is 1 MOA. Most red dot sights are around 4 MOA which means the dot will cover 4 inches at 100 yards, 2 inches at 50 yards, and about an inch at 25 yards. Larger dot sizes are helpful for fast acquisition while smaller dot sizes are better suited for precision shooting. Red dot sights do not have magnification like a rifle scope, so the size of the dot represents the size of the area in which your shots should impact.

I recently visited with personnel from an optics company based in the community where I live. I asked personnel there why there was such a difference in prices on red dot products and was told most optics sold in the US are built in China using glass made in Japan. The quality and difference in price are based upon the quality of the glass, strength of the housing and features such as number of reticles, battery life, on/off switching, etc. The clarity of the dot is not generally a factor as all dots have a bit of fuzziness. The more expensive red or green sights should take more abuse and last longer, but don’t really have an advantage in the aiming department.

This visit occurred while I was trying to decide upon a sight to mount on a S&W Performance Center M&P C.O.R.E. pistol. This gun has a removable plate on the slide just ahead of the rear sight that is set up for mounting a red dot sight. The gun came with adapters for many common red dot sights. My local gun store had all the recommended sights in stock with prices ranging from $300 to just over $500. During several visits to the store, I eyeballed those optics but having experienced how well the $49 mail order optics were working and being on a rather tight firearms budget, I just couldn’t see springing that kind of money. One of the $49 sights wasn’t an option because it is designed to mount on a picatinny rail and that wasn’t one of the options for the M&P.

Riton X3
Performance Center M&P C.O.R.E. With Riton X3 Tactix PRD Red Dot Sight

The company, Riton, gave me one of their X3 Tactix PRD pistol sights to try. This sight has a 3 MOA dot and mounts on the M&P using the RMR adapter.  This sight features a 5000-hour battery Life, a lens coating that allows use with night vision devices, 4-hour auto shut off, 2 night vision settings and 10 brightness settings all at a price of $199. Mounting it on the M&P and zeroing it in was simple and I’ve been very pleased with the way the sight complements the pistol.

My next red dot sight adventure was with a Ruger-57. The Ruger-57 has predrilled optics mounting holes with mounts available at One of the two mounts available fits the Burris® and Vortex® red dot sights and the other fits the Docter®, Meopta, EOTech® and Insight® Sights. Ruger offers the Viper® and Venom® red dot sights each at a price of $349. Money being no object it would have been a simple matter to have purchased one of these sights and the appropriate mount from Ruger. Money was an object, so I went to Amazon and found an Ade Advanced Optics RD3 Micro Mini Reflex Sight for $62. This sight uses the Venom® red dot footprint so it mounted perfectly to my Ruger-57. My grandson and I used my Firefield Red Laser Universal Boresight to align the red dot at home then took it to the range and enjoyed shooting targets out to 25 yards with amazing accuracy.

Ruger 57 With ADE Optics Red Dot SightTarget is From 25 Yards

I’ve now shot enough with red dot sights that I’m confident in having a red dot sight on my EDC gun. The gun I chose for that purpose is the Sarsilmaz SAR9X, a very capable H&K VP9 knockoff. The SAR9X has predrilled optics mounting holes on the slide. Just as I was beginning my search for a red dot sight to use those holes without an adapter, a Riton X3 TACTIX MPRD arrived in my mailbox. I had requested one of these from Riton’s director of marketing almost two months prior when I met him at a writer’s event. I had almost forgotten about the request, but the timing was perfect. This sight bolted right to the SAR9X and according to my laser boresighter was aligned perfectly. One of the things I really like about the Riton is its auto-off feature. You can turn the sight on when you holster the pistol in the morning and leave it on. It will automatically turn off after 12 hours. The sight promises a 50,000-hour battery life.

SAR9X With Riton X3 MPRD Red Dot Sight

In order to carry the SAR9X with the red dot sight on it I had to find a holster that would accommodate the sight. My favorite leather IWB holster was cut too high for the pistol to fit with the sight on it. A Crossbreed SuperTuck designed for a Sig Sauer P226 worked perfectly with just some minor trimming of the kydex.

SAR9X With Red Dot Sight in Crossbreed SuperTuck Holster

There’s no question that drawing, aiming and shooting accurately with a pistol that has a red dot sight mounted on it is different. It requires some adjustments to your technique and a lot of practice. But with that practice will come better accuracy at distances that may have been a struggle for you with iron sights.