Whether you own a pistol for concealed carry, home defense, or for recreation, one of the best upgrades you should invest in is a good optic. While you can opt for upgraded iron sights, a common decision made by many enthusiasts is to add a red dot sight. Most commonly, they come as a mini-reflex sight to their pistols.
However, some assume that adding a sight is all that’s required. This is not the case; just like with red dot sights on rifles, it’s crucial to ensure proper zeroing for your new sight.
If you’re familiar with running red dots on firearms, you know that there are a few ways you can go about zeroing your optic. For the uninitiated, there is a key factor you need to take into consideration, that being your zero distance.
Your zero distance is incredibly important and will affect your overall performance when shooting at various distances. Though it’s a crucial aspect of running a pistol dot sight, zeroing one at the right distance isn’t as hard as it sounds. We’re going to cover all you’ll need to know when sighting in your pistol’s dot sight.
Understanding Pistol Red Dot Zeroing
Pistol red dot sights and mini-reflex sights offer great advantages in target acquisition. One of the facets of red dot sights is that you can’t receive any of their benefits unless they have been properly zeroed in.
Zeroing your sight is the process of aligning the reticle with where the shot will land on target. For instance, if you have a 15 yard zero on your sight, your shot will impact the point of aim at 15 yards. Before or beyond that, your point of aim and point of impact will differ.
Like we mentioned before, zeroing your pistol red dot can be pretty confusing, especially if you’re relatively new to using one. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources at your disposal, one of which being red dot zero charts.
Zeroing charts are used to show how a given zero distance will affect your shots varying distances, highlighting factors such as bullet drop. There are multiple charts available on manufacturer websites that will give you a better idea of what to expect from specific zero distances. Being able to visually see how your zero will affect your shooting experience goes a long way in helping you determine which distance will work best for you. Additionally, you can also find ballistic data charts for specific reticles, such as Holosun’s Circle Dot or the ACSS® Vulcan® reticle.
One of the most common questions asked by new mini-reflex sight owners is, “how far should I zero my pistol sight?” There are a few different zero distances you can choose, with some of the most common being 10-, 15-, and 20-yard zeroes. Ultimately, the best pistol zero distance is the one that makes the most sense for you to use.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Zero Distance
Since your zero is the point where your optic will be most accurate, it’s important to make sure that you’re picking the right zero distance. Depending on your purpose, your needs for a zero distance will vary. For instance, if you’re zeroing a sight for use during shooting competitions, it’s generally better to opt for a farther zero distance instead of a shorter one. Regardless of your purpose, there are three main zero distances that are often used by most enthusiasts.
Common Zero Distances
10-Yard Zero – This zero distance is great for personal/home defense. Most self-defense scenarios occur within distances of 10 yards or closer. At this zero distance, you can ensure that your shots will be on target, though if your target is any farther, you’ll have to adjust your aim for the distance. While great for close range engagements, you’ll have to compensate greatly when at distances past 10 yards.
For instance, when zeroed for 10 yards, your shots will impact in the center of the A-zone on a target at 10 yards. That said, at distances like 40 yards for example, it’s still possible to hit the A-zone but your impacts will be far from the center of your reticle.
With such a short zero distance, you also need to think about windage error. At close distances, it’s harder to detect if your zero is truly centered because, within 10 yards, tiny deviations may not be detectable—or you may write them off as poor aim. As you shoot further, though, those tiny deviations become significantly more pronounced, causing you to hit to the left or right of your target.
Whenever you zero at close distance, it’s important to refine that zero to perfection, paying close attention to windage especially.
15-Yard Zero – The 15-Yard zero distance is probably the best all-around for your pistol’s red dot sight. Zeroing your red dot sight at this distance is great for shooting at varying distance and offers more in terms of overall performance. With any zero distance, you’ll have to adjust your aim when shooting at different distances, but you won’t have to adjust as much compared to the other zero distances in this list. The max ord. of your trajectory at 15 yards is .2-inches, and it doesn’t drop from the 2-inch window until roughly 70 yards, making your overall adjustments for distance minimal.
Like with the 10 yard zero, your wind error will increase the farther your target is. However, it isn’t as drastic. For example, a 1-inch wind error on a 15-yard zero only becomes a 2.6-inch error at 40 yards, much less than the 5.6-inch error from a 7-yard zero. This gives you a better chance of making accurate impacts on targets at varying distances.
20-Yard Zero – Great for competitive use and other long-distance applications, 20-yard zeroes give you a lot of versatility for shots at greater distances. At closer distances though, you’ll have to hold your reticle considerably more than compared to the other distances mentioned. That said, this distance provides many benefits for competitors and long-range enthusiasts.
Taking a 1-inch wind error into consideration, it would become a 2-inch error at 40 yards. For long distance applications, this is great. However, for closer engagements or around 10 yards and closer, you’ll have to hold high over to adjust for the bullet’s trajectory.
Primary Arms Mini-Reflex Sights
Choosing the right optic is vital. There are a lot of optics available for handguns, making it difficult to choose one when there are so many available. Fortunately, our mini reflex sights are a great place for newcomers and seasoned enthusiasts.
Our Classic Series red dots are a perfect option for the budget conscious and the new shooter. Starting with the Classic Series 21mm Micro Reflex Sight, it’s an open emitter mini reflex sight with a 3 MOA dot reticle. It is compatible with the RMSc footprint, making it compatible with most sub-compact pistols. Additionally, it’s incredibly lightweight and has a battery life of up to 50,000 hours.
If you have a larger frame pistol, our Classic Series 24mm Mini Reflex Sight utilizes the same 3 MOA dot reticle but is larger. It boasts the same battery life and utilizes an RMR footprint, making it compatible with most compact, mid-size and full-size handguns.
Additionally, our SLx RS-10 1x23mm Mini Reflex Sight offers exceptional reliability while remaining a budget friendly option. Weighing in at 1.07 ounces, it’s constructed from durable 7075 aluminum, and has a battery life of up 50,000 hours. It utilizes the Docter/Noblex footprint and has night vision compatible brightness levels as well.
Each of the mentioned sights are a great place to start if you’re new to mini-reflex sights. They offer a great amount of functionality for their respective prices and are compatible with most of the popular 9mm pistols on the market, while adapters can be used on other models. Regardless of which you choose, once it’s zeroed in properly, they provide a lot of benefits to you.
Benefits of Choosing the Best Pistol Red Dot Zero Distance
Just like we said before, your zero distance plays a crucial part in how accurate you can be with your pistol. It’s impossible to give a definitive answer as to which of these distances is better since it’s entirely subjective. With that in mind, and depending on your pistol’s purpose, some distances will be better than others for different preferences and applications.
We recommend that you use a 15-yard zero, at least to start out with. It’s more versatile for shooting at varying distances, making it well rounded for a myriad of applications like defense, duty, and competition. For dedicated long-range use, a 20-yard zero is slightly better, since it’s tailored for making shots at longer distances.
Your zero distance is a key part in your pistol’s performance with an optic. Having the proper zero distance will greatly improve your accuracy, target acquisition, and overall shooting performance. One of the main issues with using iron sights is that most of the sight picture is taken up by the iron sights, and it generally takes longer to aim with them since they have to be lined up to use properly. With a mini-reflex or pistol red dot sight, this isn’t the case. Simply put, they are a much quicker alternative to your pistol’s stock iron sights.
Zeroing Your Optic: The Process
Zeroing your pistol’s mini-reflex sight may seem like a difficult task, but it really isn’t. All you need is a stable shooting position, like sandbags or a shooting bench/rest, and the included adjustment tool that came with your optic.
Once you’re set up at the distance of your choice, take aim and fire at the target. Take note of where your bullets impact on the target and adjust for windage and elevation accordingly. Keep repeating this process until you have achieved the zero of your choice.
One quick note: you might try to over-adjust when sighting in your optic. We recommend adjusting your sight with only a few clicks at a time to start off. Doing his will minimize the risk of over adjusting your reticle and will be less of a headache to manage when zeroing your red dot.
Knowing how to properly zero your optic is crucial to your success when using one. For a more in-depth look at zeroing mini-reflex and pistol red dot sights, check out our Pistol Red Dots series.
Adding a mini reflex or a pistol red dot sight to your pistol is one of the best upgrades you can make to your handgun, upgrading your accuracy, versatility, and target acquisition abilities tremendously. Though many don’t initially take zero distance into consideration at first, it plays an incredibly crucial role by affecting the way in which you can use your red dot sight.
By choosing the right zero distance, you can reap all of the benefits your optic provides. Still, there is a lot to consider before purchasing a new sight for your pistol. Check out our article on what to consider with a pistol red dot and our red dot buyer’s guide to learn more about mini-reflex sights and pistol red dots.