Red Dot Sights on Pistols: Crazy or Not?

Love him or hate him, Gabe Suarez is a pioneer in the use, promotion, and sale of red dot sights on pistols. I had a chance to see the slides and slide/sight packages Suarez International sells when I spent a couple of hours at Suarez International before my visit to Gunsite in June.

So one of the things I was looking forward to most when I returned to Prescott last week to observe a Suarez International Pistol Gunfighting School was shooting a pistol with a red dot sight.

I am just an average marksman and not a gun hardware guy, so take these as the initial thoughts of a normal shooter.

(If you want more rigorous thinking on the topic, Karl Rehn has undertaken a systematic study of red dots on pistols in comparison to other sighting systems, and Aaron Cowan of Sage Dynamics released a white paper earlier this year.)

My first time shooting with the red dot was when the class was shooting torso size targets at 60 yards. I was just observing but one of the students, Tom, handed me his Glock 19 with Suarez slide and Trijicon RMR and said, “Try it.” So I did.

Tom shooting torso sized steel targets at 60 yards. Photo by David Yamane

Right away I was able to hit the target more than I missed. And when I settled down and used the fundamentals of marksmanship (good stance, sight acquisition, breathing, smooth trigger press, and follow through), I could hit the target most of the time.

Of course, so could the guy next to me, the best shooter in the class, using a Glock 17 with stock sights and trigger.

The good shooters with iron sights were good shooters; the average shooters with red dots were average shooters.

The importance of basic marksmanship skills was again brought home to me again later when I borrowed one of Suarez International’s Glock 19s with their slide and barrel and a Trijicon RMR. I shot it at various size, shape, and distance steel targets on the second range.

Although I could hit a torso sized target from 60 yards on Friday, on Sunday I was unable to hit a 10″ target at 60 yards. It is still a pistol after all.

White dot at back of range is a 10″ steel target at 60 yards. Photo by David Yamane

No doubt some practice with the red dot would make certain challenges easier to deal with. I was able to acquire my sights and make hits from 10 yards as fast with my Glock 43 as with the red dot Glock 19. But I could transition from target to target a bit more quickly with the red dot.

Also, it takes a while to get used to the red dot jumping around on the target due to natural body movement. That was distracting at first and led me to make some bad trigger presses because I wanted to send the rounds while I had the dot steady even if I was not ready.

So, crazy or not? Based on my initial experience, I don’t think it is crazy at all. Especially within the system Suarez teaches — point shooting in reactive situations at close range and more precise shooting in proactive situations and at longer distances — the red dot makes sense.

What is crazy is thinking that someone with poor marksmanship skills will instantly become a better shooter due to this technology. And even if a red dot can cover some aspects of poor marksmanship, as an electronic device its chance of failing is greater than zero. So it behooves shooters to be proficient with their iron sights.

To be sure, at first blush it is easy to say that a red dot is crazy EXPENSIVE, but in thinking about the value of your life, it’s hard to say what is crazy expensive. If a red dot on a pistol + training + practice makes you better shooter, that could be a great bargain if you need to be a good shooter some day.


  1. I very much agree with your assessment. Too many people want to use technology as a way around poor fundamentals. While I do not agree with a red dot on a defensive pistol, mostly because of the possibility of failure at a critical moment. You can get into back up irons and all of that, but in the end, for an EDC, the benefit doesn’t offset the added weight, and bulk. Advances in technology and equipment may change my mind later (or getting older eyes) but for now, I don’t bemoan dots, but I don’t recommend them either, especially to new shooters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. InRange and Forgotten Weapons both use red dots on pistols and rifles in 2- and 3-gun competition and both report that it helps with accuracy.


  3. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I am not a fan of those or most other gimmicks. Decades ago, I used to cover front ramp and rear sight, with masking tape to obstruct the outline, and practice firing instinctively. New ages, new things. I feel backwards, now.


  4. So glad you had this experience, David! Red Dot Sights are the future. I have no doubt they’ll be standard issue for police departments within 10 years.
    They aren’t quite cop-proof.
    Trijicon is the hardiest but even theirs has some kinks to be improved upon.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. David, as you recall – the red dot doesn’t eliminate the need for the various fundamentals (grip, position, point, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, trigger press, follow through). The red dot does however make the sight alignment-picture easier and gives better feedback to the shooter on everything else.

    In the red dot class the previous month, where we focused specifically on teaching the use of the red dot, students as a group got first round hist on heads at 25 yards and bodies at 100 yards. And did quite well meeting standards at closer distances. Most tests done with red dots do not take into consideration the time to learn a new technology and that is unfortunate.

    Back in 1990, a rifle class would be attended with iron sights and the lone Aimpoint users would be looked at as strange. Today you cannot find a police rifle without a red dot. I expect the same situation will describe the world of the pistol in a few years.

    Other than cost, once learned, a red dot shooter has gained quite a bit and lost nothing. There are those who will disagree, but that is the case with any new thing I suppose.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Cost is the only thing that keeps me putting one on my 92FS. I consistently keep all my hits inside the 8 ring at 25 yards on a standard test target, either hand or both. So I figure a red dot would pull that in a ring or 2.


    • Keith,

      We tired to do a 92F but there are so many things going on in the rear part of the slide that we cannot make it work. We were considering a redesign of the slide, but I wonder if there are that many 92F shooters wanting this to make it worthwhile.


  7. Concealment? Holsters? That looks like a big chunk of stuff on a pistol.

    I shot my 9mm M2011 Rock Island Tactical at 75 yards this morning as I was at the range anyway checking out some new ammo in my accurized Mini-14 (I put an Accu-Strut on it to cut down the barrel vibrations and tacked a tactical red/green dot sight on top in honor of my lousy eyes). First five rounds out of the hand cannon were on target and high. Then everything was off to the right. I wondered if it was something I was doing or the barrel warming up. Anyway, I rarely shoot pistol at 75 yds but it was fun anyway.


  8. I may have to try a red dot at some point, only if for no other reason than aging eyes have a hard time getting a clear focus on the front sight. The red dots are also a bit blurry but are still easier to see than iron sights. My initial attempts at using them on a borrowed gun were, let’s just say a bit weird feeling. But I see their appeal.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Regarding the challenge of hitting 10″ plates, yes, it is a pistol, so no shame in missing. But could part of the problem be that a 9mm drops roughly 5″ at 60 yards? Did you aim high?

    I am optimistic about the future of red dots. I have only used a red dot on a rifle, but I am much more consistently accurate, and it takes me less time to get on target. Red dots mean fewer variables one has to control. Using iron sights, one needs to align three points: the rear sight, the front site, and the target. With a red dot, there is one less point to align: put the dot on the target and shoot.

    As Tom noted, ease of focus is another, especially for those of us using old eyes. The red dot and the target are at the same optical distance, so no near vision correction needed to see the “sight”.

    Reliability worries me, of course. On my rifle, I use a reputable brand with 50,000 hour battery life. I proactively change the battery every two years. I do not think long battery life is yet an option with pistol-sized red dots.

    Cost is a challenge, but hopefully that will continue to fall.


  10. At 56, It was time to admit that my eyes just were not coping with my standard iron sight. I have to agree in saying that the price of red dot sight is still a bit of a sore point BUT and that is a big but, the added benefit has personally been priceless. My accuracy has increased 10 fold. The red dot is a bit blurry which is understandable but as a whole it has really helped.


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