Red Dots

When my online gun store first went online, I had to test the credit card gateway to make sure it worked. There was no better opportunity to test the gateway than to purchase a gun off my own site. So, I ordered a Ruger Max9, TALO edition. That means it came with a factory installed Crimson Trace red dot.

I never really used a red dot before, so I did not know what to expect. But many of my distributor catalogs had gun models with them on, so I figured I would learn more about red dots.

Typical Handgun Red Dot Cross-Sectional view. The light (bottom left) is displayed onto a tiny mirror which reflects onto the angled optic. The angled optic then shines the red light beam into the shooter’s eye. In this photo, the gun muzzle is to the left and the shooter is to the right.

Here is what I learned, both from reading about them, then actually shooting my new Ruger with it. But first, I had to understand how they work. The part that everyone sees when they look at your gun is a glass element sticking up from the slide, the optic if you will, encased in a metal frame. Directly beneath the optic, there is a battery-operated red light which is projected onto a tiny mirror. The mirror reflects the red light onto the glass element. This glass element is curved, so the projected red dot is refracted or presented to the shooter’s eye. The red dot itself, does not actually show onto the target, like a laser does. Some models come with a brightness setting so the red dot can be changed to be brighter or darker, depending on the ambient light surrounding the shooter. In areas with direct sunlight, such as an outdoor range, the brightness setting will be turned up, so the red dot’s brightness compensates the overpowering sunlight. In areas with low lighting, such as an indoor range, the brightness setting will be turned down, so the red dot’s brightness will not overpower the shooter’s sight picture.

So here is my analysis.

First, the pros.

Pro #1 – Target acquisition is much quicker, once the shooter becomes familiar with acquiring targets with the red dot sight.

Once trained, target acquisition is much quicker with a red dot. The optimal dot placement within the optic is just over the front sight post, as shown here.

Pro #2 – With stock iron sights, the shooter has three points to line up; the rear sight, the front sight and the target. With red dots, the shooter only has two points to line up; the red dot and the target.

Pro #3 – And the biggest pro has to do with handling the stress of an attack. Under stressful situations, such as being confronted by an attacker, the body undergoes tremendous physiological changes as the it prepares to ward off the attack. One of the changes the body undergoes in a lot of people faced with an attack is tunnel vision. This is a phenomenon in which the shooter’s eyes focus on the threat, such as the muzzle of the attacker’s gun and not elsewhere. With tunnel vision, many shooters have claimed that they did not even see their own front and rear sights. So, by countering the threat with both eyes open, simply looking at the red dot is often a quicker way of putting the gun on target of an attacker.

Now the cons.

Con #1 – There is a longer relearning curve. It takes more practice to become proficient with using a red dot. And I heard this from many shooters who have used them way before I started to use one. This is not a showstopper. It simply means you need to practice more with an unloaded firearm in your home. Simply pick an arbitrary target in your home, draw and aim your handgun until the red dot aligns easily over the target.

There are many different types of “dots”, with differing sizes and patterns.

Con #2 – The “Arc Of Movement” is exaggerated. If you took Dakota Firearms Basic Pistol class, you learned that the Arc Of Movement is the natural shaking your body undergoes when trying to hold the gun steady while aiming it. With a red dot, this shaking is more pronounced, which can be overcome through training.

Con #3 – The transitioning between brightly lit and dimly lit environments. You may have to adjust the brightness setting to compensate between the two lighting environments. To me, this is not that big of a con, as when I go to the range, I am either indoors the whole time or outdoors the whole time. And the brightness setting can be adjusted to a middle ground setting.

There are many types and sizes of red dots. The smaller ones on the left are for handguns and are generally the “open” style, while the larger ones on the right are for long guns, and are generally the “closed” style.

Con #4 – The red dot can become obstructed particularly with those for handguns. There are two styles of red dots. The first is the “closed” style which is usually mounted on larger firearms, such as AR-15s. The second is the “open” style which is usually mounted on handguns, because of size considerations. The closed style has additional lenses in front and rear it to prevent dust and dirt from laying on the optic lens. The open style does not have those additional front and rear protection lenses. Therefore, the optics window can easily become dirty, dusty, wet, or even fogged because the optics window is exposed to the elements. So, if you decide to use a red dot, cleaning the optic lens must be part of your normal regimen.

Con #5 – More stuff requiring maintenance. Red dots require a tiny battery to work. So you will need to either charge the internal battery or replace it when it loses power.

If your purpose for desiring a red dot is quicker target acquisition to counter an attack, a red dot might not be for you. As most attacks happen within 10 feet, a well-placed shot to the attacker’s “critical mass”, aka the chest, will probably do. Or if you want to know where your shot will be placed in low light conditions at that distance, consider a gun-mounted laser.