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.
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.
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 Amazon.com. 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.
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.
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 ShopRuger.com. 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.
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.
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.
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.