Red Dot: All The Things

There are two reactions I typically encounter when it comes to red dot optics on pistols. The first is a question: "is it worth it/should I do it?" And the second, "you're cheating." Let me cut to the chase on the first one and answer that question for you: maybe. And as far as the second observation goes, not really, but you can think that if it will make you feel better.

Let's discuss the "is it worth it/should I do it" question. To get into the pistol optic game, you have options. You can purchase the Sig P320RX that already has the dot installed on it from the factory. I've seen those sell for around $850 at the time of this writing. You can purchase an optic ready gun such as the Glock 19 MOS and buy the optic and put them together. That's likely to cost you at least $1000, depending on the optic you choose. Lastly, you can get your current pistol milled and install an optic on it. The cheapest decent shop that I'm aware of will charge you $125 to get that milling done, and then you'll still need to get the optic.

Once you have a pistol with that optic on it, you're not done. You'll have to zero it at least initially, and occasionally confirm that zero to make sure it hasn't shifted. That will require using whatever ammunition you choose to use in that gun. For instance, my pistol is zeroed with Federal HST 147gr ammo. Verifying zero requires another handful of that ammo, so it's more expensive than just using some random bulk FMJ.

Every time I pick up that pistol I check to make sure that the dot is present and at the brightness level I want. Trijicon RMR06 type 2s seem to have the tendency to self adjust downward after 24 hours, and so I have to crank that dot up a few clicks to get it where I want it on any given day. Given the shape of the RMR06, I also end up cleaning the glass fairly regularly and occasionally applying some anti-fog to it. At some point you'll also have to replace the battery. Most current pistol optics require you to dismount the optic to swap that battery, and so once a new battery is installed you'll have to check and verify zero yet again.

And lastly, just putting the optic on your pistol isn't sufficient. You'll need to practice with it so that you become accustomed to it. Long range shooting with no time limit is actually fairly easy with a red dot pistol, provided your marksmanship fundamentals are sound. What is more difficult is speed at close proximity. The dot on a pistol doesn't seem to behave exactly like that on a long gun. Our pistols are always moving, but with iron sights we don't typically notice that movement unless we have major tremors. The dot, however, seems to magnify your perception of that movement. If you are going to present the pistol and wait for the perfect dot that isn't moving, your draw to first shot will be glacially slow. You have to learn to find the correct index and accept dot wobble while you shoot through it. I can't tell you how long that will take you, but it took me a lot of dry fire and live fire practice to have the same level of speed with the optic as I had with irons.

You should also train yourself to use the pistol optic in less than perfect conditions. Take blue painter's tape and tape over the front of your lens as if it got clouded, then go shoot. Take a spray bottle full of water and spray water into the rear of your lens and shoot with it. Cover the whole thing and learn how to use the frame of your optic as a coarse aiming sight. And of course turn off the dot and learn to use the irons as backup.

If you are willing to put the money into your pistol and the time into your practice, then I say it probably is worth it. A pistol mounted red dot gives better accuracy for most shooters, and with practice gives you that accuracy with speed. It lets you be target focused and may be of some help for shooters with eye dominance or aging issues. If you have a pistol that you rarely shoot and you don't want to engage in any regular upkeep/maintenance, a pistol optic is probably not for you.

In terms of the accusations of cheating, if you consider doing a lot of practice and training to be cheating, then obviously this is cheating. Simply putting an optic on a pistol won't make you any better, and in some metrics will likely make you worse without doing some preparatory work.