The Trouble with the Dot | Red Dot Sights For Pistols

Red Dot Sights for Pistol - it can be hard to find the actual dot if you're not used to shooting a reflex optic, prism sight or other "red dot sight" on your pistol.
| April 21, 2016
Categories: Guns
Tags: DFM, Red Dots

Are you having difficulty acquiring the dot on a handgun equipped with red dot sights or other type of pistol optic? Read on, we’re going to help you with that.

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Red dot sights (RDS) on a handgun are increasingly common. Though the idea of a reflex sight atop a pistol isn’t new, the advent of smaller and more durable optics has helped it steamroll along. These advances have brought us to the point that they’re no longer considered exotic or unusual.

Though some remain more unusual than others.

Target acquisition with a red dot sight on a handgun - a red dot optic is just one of several significant features that help make this ATEi Glock a Roland Special.

A niche weapon to be sure, but the ATEi “Roland Special” has makes use of several features to create an outstanding fighting pistol . Among those attributes, a Trijicon RMR red dot sight. More people will try a handgun with an RDS this year than the last, and that trend will no doubt continue at least through the near future. They have already begun appearing on military handguns in the SOF (Special Operations Forces) community, and it’s a sure bet they’ll be increasingly common in law enforcement agencies too.

Red Dot Sights for Pistols | Picking Up the Dot

A common complaint I hear from people first trying out a pistol equipped with an RDS is not being able to acquire the dot, or not being able to acquire it fast enough. Over the years there have been several different methodologies touted by various competitive shooters and instructors, with some being better than others. In this post, I’ll outline some of these methods, and let you know which variations I find to work best.

The pro series red dot equipped pistol.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that all these methods will require at least some work on your part. A red dot sight is going to have a taller height over bore (HOB) than your traditional sighting method and thus will take some trigger time to get used to. Some mounts and optics are taller than others, but that may not be as big of a deal as you think.

Red Dot Sights on a Handgun | Target Acquisition

Red Dot Sights for Pistol- although it is a simple, "training wheel" type method, finding your red dot by using the pistol's iron sights will absolutely work.


Iron Sights [AKA: ‘Training Wheels’]: This one of the most common methods people bring forth. If you’re running an RDS that co-witnesses with your irons, simply finding your traditional sight picture means that you also find the dot. It also tends to be slower, because you’re first aligning the front and rear sights, then finding the dot and then finding the target. While target tracking with a red dot sight is faster than with irons, you’re limiting the speed in which you can pick up the dot. Furthermore, your iron sights can obscure the dot itself.


Red Dot Sights for Pistol - using "center down" to acquire the dot (or "pick up the sights").

Center-Down: With this method, you first look at the top of the optic at the center point, then bring your gaze down to acquire the dot. This will be faster than aligning your irons first and works with pistols not equipped with usable iron sights.


Though slow, one way to pick up the dot on a red dot equipped pistol is to pick it up before extension, then push the weapon out.

Before Extension [AKA ‘During Press Out’]: With this method, you pick up the dot while it’s much closer to your eyeballs, then track and keep it during the press out. The idea is that the dot is faster to pick up while it’s closer. You may have to modify your drawstroke significantly to accomplish this, and you’ll probably look like you’re doing some weird Center-Axis-Relock type of shooting. I’ve never had much luck with this one.


Pistol mounted red dot sights - one way to pick up the dot is to use the muzzle up method.


Muzzle Up: For this method, as you draw down on the target you start with a slightly elevated muzzle and acquire the dot as you level onto the target. This one is usually very quick to learn, especially if you already present the handgun in this manner.


Red Dot Sights on a pistol - we like the red dot fairy.


Magical Red Dot Fairy: This is my preferred method. You look at the target, present the pistol, and the dot just appears. Magic. Well okay, not magic, just trigger time. Think about how many thousands and thousands of times you’ve indexed a handgun; you’re just doing the same thing, but you don’t need to look for your sights. The dot just shows up.

Of course, it’s not just about Picking it Up…

Not all mounts, manufacturers, or slide modifications have the same reputation, and not all red dots are as durable as others. However, while quality red dots are tougher now than they’ve ever been in the past, if you actually use it, at some point, you’ll break that shit. And even if you don’t make the glass or electronics go tits up, there are other ways for the dot to become unusable.

Batteries die. Rain or water droplets can make the dot bloom. The glass can fog up, especially when moving from an air-conditioned automobile to a hot and humid environment. Dots that adjust automatically may not be bright enough to see if you’re in a dark area sighting in on a bright area. You can get the whole thing coated in mud.

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Red Dot Optics For the Handgun | Practice If You Want Proficiency

The same way wearing a condom can prevent yet another trip to the STD clinic or making even more child support payments, an ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure. Swapping your batteries at regular intervals means you’re less likely to pick up a dead dot. Applying Rain-X or another form of water repellent mitigates many of your aqua issues. Having a holster that protects the dot from the environment will aid in keeping it clear of debris while crawling around–I think you see what I’m getting at.

But even with a great RDS, installed by the most reputable manufacturer, and with all of the preventative steps taken, you can still find yourself with a dead or obstructed dot. So what do you do? You have a lot of options actually, though some setups will have more options than others.

Red Dot Sights for Pistol - using iron sights to find the dot.

Use your Irons: That is, assuming you have them. Kinda goes without saying. However, if the window is obstructed, this isn’t always an option.


Alternative aiming techniques for a red dot pistol - the guillotine method.

Guillotine Method: Use the top of your RDS to chop off the head of your target. This method will not allow for great precision but should be more than adequate at defensive ranges.


Red Dot Sights for Pistol - acquiring the dot by using "shoulder framing."


Shoulder Framing: Square the edges of your RDS with the target. Very similar to the Guillotine method. Also not incredibly accurate, and best if you’re square to what you’re shooting.


Alternative sighting methods for a red dot equipped pistol - the "Mama June Ghost Ring."


Mama June Ghost Ring: As in, a big fat ugly hole. This method works far better when an RDS is built with a longer tube, like a gun set up for the Bianchi Cup, as opposed to short, square[ish], and relatively flat bodied red dot sights like the RMR.


Red Dot Sights for Pistol - using the corner as an alternative sighting method.

Using the Corner: Works best with an RMR or similar RDS with pronounced edges. Rotate the pistol inboard and the corner acts as a rudimentary reference point for lining up a shot. Such a method works particularly well for someone shooting one handed. Many people forced to shoot single-handed, whether strong- or support-side, will have the weapon canted inboard already.

Red Dot Sights for Pistol - one alternative sighting method, or way of learning to find the dot on a red dot sight , s called the "paint reference."

Painted Reference Point: You may find it distracting during normal shooting, but some like using a paint pen or whiteout marker to make their own emergency reference point on an optic.


Red Dot Sights for Pistol - laser sights are different, but available.

Fricken’ Laser Beams: Self-Explanatory, and a lot of options available.

Are you red dot curious? It’s cool – we don’t judge, we’re long past the 90s. Have you had trouble picking up the dot in the past, give some of these methods a go. If you currently use a dot and haven’t trained with multiple alternative sighting techniques, I suggest you do so. Properly conducted dry fire exercises will always hone a shooter’s handgun skills. Natural Point of Aim (NPOA) training iterations will also help a shooter become better. NPOA exercises will help with more than your red dot, too.

About the Author: David “DFM” Merrill is a former contributor and editor emeritus of Breach-Bang-Clear. 

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1 Comment

  1. DZ

    The author of this article doesn’t actually suck. Based on a random sampling on this subject, this less than a one in twenty occurrence.

    Thank you.



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