Do You Need a Red Dot Sight on your Carry Pistol?

There is no denying that red dots on pistols are now the norm.  Even a few years ago it was a fringe thing with practitioners praising the benefits, but most shooters were still using irons.  Among training junkies now, I think we are at about 50% using dots, at least.  The trend is certainly being embraced by the cool kids right now; full-size or compact striker-fired gun, all stippled out with cool looking cuts on the slide, with a dot optic, worn in the appendix position.  Of course, the entire package is much cooler still if the shooter has sleeve tats.  Well, I am certainly not criticizing this (obviously, I am a devotee of AIWB carry), but just because things seem ultra-modern again does not mean that you must adopt it.  A reminder that the Caribbean pirates carried pistols in the appendix position in the 17th Century.  Also, competition shooters were using red dots on pistols in the early 1990s. 

Anyway, do you need to put a dot on your pistol?  Well, like most things in the field of firearms and self-defense, the answer is, “it depends.”  It depends on a few things.  First of all, if you have vision issues that reduce your ability to clearly see iron sights, then the dot is the answer.  If you can see the sights well there still may be a significant advantage to the dot.  In short, almost all shooters will shoot better at distances beyond 15 yards with a dot than with irons.  Shots can be made more accurately and more quickly at further distances with a red dot.  Some argue that the dot is slower in close, but I have not found that to be the case.  Once you get the presentation solid enough your dot will get on target as fast as your irons. 

After spending quite a bit of time working with a red dot over this past year I can tell you that, for myself, the choice between red dot or irons comes down to this: do I want the enhanced capability at distance, or do I want the simplicity of irons?  That’s it.  The argument that using a dot lets you be “threat focused” or lets you “shoot on the move better” and the like all apply to inexperienced shooters.  I have used target focus with iron sights for years now for anything at closer ranges, it is not an issue if you know how to do it.  Don’t take my word for it, look at the top tier competition shooters and see what the difference for them at closer ranges is between dots and sights.  Essentially, there is no difference.  At greater distances, yes, the dot provides better accuracy.  So, do you want more accuracy at distance or the simplicity of irons?  If you are a competent shooter who can see the iron sights clearly, this is the choice. 

A while back I fired 10 rounds, cold, slow fire, at 25 yards from my Walther Q5 Match gun with a red dot at a B16 target (they had no B8s available, the B16 has a slightly smaller black area than the B8, but they are similar).  They were all in the black of the 5.31 inch circle of the B16.  Then, I followed that with 10 rounds from my Glock 26 carry gun, which has Trijicon Night Sights on it.  I find these night sights notoriously lousy for distance accuracy, but I do like them on my carry gun.  Well, 8 of the 10 rounds were in the black, and 2 were just outside of it.  So, yes, I did better with the dot gun, which also has a 5” barrel and a tuned competition trigger that is scary light.  My Glock 26 has a stock Glock Gen3 trigger and a 3.4 inch barrel.  Is there any wonder that the match gun with a dot did a little better?  But, how much better?

There is no denying that the dot will enhance distance performance, but for me, that increase does not offset the added complication of the dot on a carry gun.  I like the simplicity of irons, the reliability of them, and the smaller footprint in a carry package.  For those who embrace the dot on a carry gun, I am all for it, but I also think that, despite the contemporary trend towards the dot, a competent shooter can do everything necessary for concealed carry with iron sights.  I like using the dot and it makes a shooter better as there are certain things that the dot actually highlights in your technique.  You tend to perfect your presentation once using a dot, and you better understand the aiming process as the dot shows movement that irons don’t.  For myself, using the dot extensively this year has been very beneficial.  For a carry gun, however, I remain a dinosaur and will rock on with my iron sights. 

2 thoughts on “Do You Need a Red Dot Sight on your Carry Pistol?

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    1. I agree. I think the technology is certainly good enough to be reliable for carry, I just prefer the simplicity over the advantage at distance, which I readily admit there is.

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