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How to Aim with a Pistol Red Dot Sight

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As red dot sight technology has advanced, it has become increasingly common for enthusiasts to equip their handguns with red dots and mini-reflex sights. These optics are widely popular due to their solid performance and wide availability.  

Like mastering iron sights, proficiency with red dot sights is largely dependent on technique. It’s important to make sure you’re using the proper techniques when aiming your pistol. With practice, you’ll find that pistol red dots are a solid optic choice, coming with many benefits that can take your shooting experience to the next level. 

Below, we’re going in-depth on pistol dot sights, focusing on how to use one when aiming your pistol, as well as all the benefits they provide. 


How to Aim using a Pistol Red Dot Sight 

If you’re using a mini reflex sight or a pistol red dot sight, you’re going to find that it is MUCH easier to properly aim your pistol compared to iron sights. Like we stated before, optics like these make it so that all you need to do is align the reticle with your target.  

Simply put, it’s way more intuitive to aim with a dot sight. To aim, you simply have to position the reticle on your target. This approach allows you to concentrate on the target rather than the alignment of the sights. By using a pistol red dot, you can shoot with both eyes open. This opens up your peripheral vision and gives you a much wider field of view when aiming.  

Each of your eyes sees a different image but marries them together whenever you look at something. So, when you’re using a dot sight, your dominant eye picks up the reticle/dot, while your non-dominant eye sees everything else. The two sight pictures are brought together, allowing you to see the reticle of your optic and the target, without focusing solely on either, making it easier to make quickly and accurately make follow-up shots.  

Both mini-reflex and pistol red dot sights can make your pistol incredibly versatile for a plethora of different scenarios and applications. They provide key benefits that you just don’t get with iron sights alone.  

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Benefits of Using a Pistol Red Dot Sight 

Enhanced Target Acquisition and Quicker Sight Alignment 

Instead of needing to align your iron sights on a target, pistol red dots make it so that all you need to do is place your reticle on target. With a dot sight, it takes much less time to put your sight on a target. One of the reasons rifle red dots are so popular is that they allow you to shoot with both eyes open. Pistol red dots allow you to do the same thing, opening access to more of your peripheral vision and allowing you to see more of your target and what’s around it.  

Plus, a dot sight is much easier to pick up after drawing your handgun. Lining up your iron sights can take some time, especially when you’re new to shooting. Like anything though, you can get better at aligning your sights quickly with training. Still, even when trained, a dot sight will still provide you with the best means necessary to quickly align your sights on a target.  

One of the biggest challenges newcomers have when using pistol red dot sights is finding the dot. Like with full size red dot sights, the dot is collimated at a specific point on the optic’s lens, so you’ll need to practice your draw to make it as easy as possible. If you aren’t used to using one, it can be difficult at first to find the reticle projected by your sight, but one specialized reticle can make this a non-issue. That reticle is our ACSS® Vulcan®.  

It makes aiming with a pistol red dot much easier. It’s the only reticle of its kind, projecting either a center chevron or dot surrounded by an outer ring that sits outside of the lens. If you’re off center, you’ll see the outer ring, letting you know how to adjust your sight to see the center dot or chevron. If you haven’t already read it, our guide on Holosun optics with the ACSS Vulcan reticle breaks down everything you’ll need to know about that reticle system.  

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Increased Accuracy and Precision 

Properly zeroed red dot sights offer incredible precision, enhancing the accuracy and consistency of shot placement for pistols. These sights can project a variety of reticle patterns, from simple dots to complex designs, catering to diverse shooting needs.  

Take, for instance, the Primary Arms Optics GLx® RS-15 mini-reflex sight which features the innovative ACSS Vulcan reticle. Depending on the optic make and model, it’s possible to get one that comes with single chevron reticles or circle dot reticles, which are available for both pistol red dots and mini-reflex sights. 

Such reticles are often larger than traditional dots, offering enhanced options for distance targeting which proves advantageous in various applications like competitions and duty use. Depending on your pistol’s purpose, the added versatility provided by different reticles is a definite bonus.  

However, the effectiveness of these features hinge on your sight being zeroed properly. For optimal performance, we recommend checking out our guides on the best zero distances for pistols and our guide on how to sight in pistol red dot sights.  

Improved Low/High-Light Performance 

Red dot sights significantly improve target acquisition in low-light conditions, where traditional handgun sights may struggle for visibility. While night sights can be a solid option, the better illuminated reticles red dots provide make it easier to spot targets in the dark while also enhancing peripheral vision.  

This advantage isn’t limited to low-light situations; in bright conditions, the vivid red or green reticle of a pistol red dot sight stands out clearly against targets. This makes it way easier to find your reticle, facilitating quick and accurate sight alignment. 

While red dot and mini-reflex sights offer numerous advantages over traditional iron sights, it’s crucial to acknowledge that iron sights can be a valuable backup. When it’s a question of iron sights vs. red dots, red dot sights will almost always win. Still, while they don’t have the same benefits as dot sights, iron sights are still effective, making it important to know how to use them if your optic ever goes down when in use.  

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Being Proficient with Your Iron Sights 

Traditional iron sights work by lining up the rear and front sights on your target. While there are a lot of different iron sight variants available, most pistols are going to come with a basic 3-dot style iron sight package. All this means is that your rear sight is comprised of two dots, while the front sight has only one. When the front sight falls in between the two dots of the rear sight, your sights are lined up and you have a proper reference for where your impacts will land.  

When using iron sights, you may be inclined to focus more on the sights than on the target. Ideally, you want to focus more on the front sight. Your pistol’s front sight provides the most precise reference point for where your handgun is aimed. Concentrating on the front sight rather than the target or rear sight significantly improves accuracy. Although initially challenging, focusing on the front sight becomes more natural with practice and muscle memory development. 

Depending on the style of iron sights your pistol has, your sights may have a different hold. Combat hold and center hold sights are among the most popular. On combat hold sights, the front sight projects exactly where the bullet will land, but on center hold sights, the front side sits just under where the bullet is projected to impact. Both options are effective, but they have their pros and cons.  

Combat hold sights cover up the target when used properly, and center hold sights, in most cases, take longer to properly align. Ultimately, it’s up to personal preference as to which is best, but, generally, center hold sights provide a better sight picture even though they require the enthusiast to practice more to become proficient. For reference, SIG Sauer pistols have combat hold sights, while GLOCK pistols have center hold sights. 

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Pistols remain a top choice for both recreational shooting and personal defense, yet stock iron sights can sometimes fall short in providing an optimal sight picture.  

This is the dilemma that mini-reflex and pistol red dot sights aim to fix. These sight options make your pistols much more versatile for different scenarios by making it easier to acquire targets, see more of your target’s surroundings, and quicker to pick up your sight/point of aim.  

Whether you’re looking to enhance your pistol for defense or recreational purposes, a dot sight is one of the best upgrades you can invest in. Keep in mind that a new sight doesn’t make up for improper shooting techniques. Check out our guide on pistol shooting stances to give you a better idea of how to work on your footwork and fundamentals.