If you’ve ever shopped at your local gun store’s pistol section, you’ve probably seen hundreds of pistol laser sights for dozens of pistols. Laser sights for pistols have been a popular accessory choice for years. Where it was once hard to find accessories for your handgun, now it’s hard to pick one over the other.
When shooting your pistol, accuracy is everything. Adding a laser to your pistol is a great way to improve your accuracy. But while installing a laser is no sweat, sighting one in can be a bit of a beast to the uninitiated.
Below, we’ll go in-depth into lasers, how they’re beneficial, and how to sight in a laser on a pistol.
What are laser sights?
A laser sight is a small laser device that mounts to your handgun to improve accuracy. While they aid in sight acquisition, they differ slightly from pistol optics. Where a mini reflex sight projects a sight within an enclosed pistol optic, laser sights enhance your sight picture by beaming directly onto your target.
Laser sight technology has advanced to where laser devices are small and easily attachable to your pistol. Now, we have compact units that give a projection of where your pistol is aimed.
In low-light situations, where iron sights may not be effective, or in situations where you need rapid target acquisition, laser sights are awesome. They can give you an edge in self-defense scenarios, low-light hunting, and target shooting. Also, laser sights can be used with pistol mini reflex sight.
Red or Green Lasers?
When shopping for a laser sight, you’ll see that you have the choice between a red or green laser. Both options are great, but they come with their own pros and cons. It’s important to take the human eye into consideration.
Light projects a color based on the wavelength in which they emit it. Our eyes pick up on certain wavelengths of light differently. In bright light (sunny range day, for example), a green laser will be more visible compared to a red one. This is due to how green light triggers more receptor cells in our eyes. In contrast, red lasers are excellent in low light scenarios. While it is harder to see red in high light situations, red lasers thrive in low light, making them more effective.
Red lasers are more efficient in power. Green lasers project the beam at a much higher intensity compared to red lasers. Because of this, the battery life of green laser sight modules is much shorter than red. Also, in colder temperatures, green lasers don’t perform as well as red, since the wavelength energy requirements are much higher. Extremely cold temperatures affect battery output, so if you live in areas where the weather is significantly colder than average, green may not be the best for you.
Now, it’s a question of what your use for a laser is going to be. Do you plan on using a laser sight during the day, the evening, night, or all of the above? If you don’t plan on using a laser in high light situations, opting for iron sights or a mini reflex sight instead, a red laser is perfect for you. If you want to see your laser sight in all scenarios, regardless of surrounding light, a green laser sight will be more beneficial to you.
Do you need to zero a laser?
A common misconception when purchasing a laser sight is that you just need to install it and you’re done. While we wish it was that simple, it just isn’t the case. Most of the time, lasers aren’t zeroed and ready to use fresh out of the box. Whether it is the mount, the diode alignment, or inconsistencies in the firearm itself, a laser sight needs to be zeroed to ensure it is properly aligned.
Zeroing your laser isn’t impossible to do on your own. All you need are the tools to adjust your laser sight, a stable shooting surface, some ammo, and patience.
Mounting your laser:
While there are many lasers available on the market today, each one is created differently. Depending on the make and model of pistol you have, you’ll need to a laser that is compatible with it.
Rail mounted lasers: Rail mounted lasers are the simplest type to install. Just like a weapon light, it mounts to the frame of your handgun, underneath your slide and barrel. These lasers are like weapon lights and are often integrated into some weapon lights which you can learn more about here. Rail lasers have switches on the body of the unit that turn the sight on and off. To install, loosen, or remove the included screw from the device, mount it to the rail on your pistol, and tighten the screw to secure it to your pistol. (For added security, use Loctite or another thread-locker if none is included with your sight.) If you’re on a budget, a good budget-friendly brand for rail mounted lasers is IProtec.
Trigger guard lasers: Trigger guard lasers are like rail mounted lasers in that they are mounted underneath the slide and barrel. These types of lasers are designed for pistol models that don’t have a light rail, though some can be used that work for both. Instead of mounting directly to a rail, they mount to the front of the trigger guard. Depending on the model laser, the controls are like rail mounted lasers, though some models feature a grip pressure switch. Mounting these are simple, as trigger guard lasers typically split into two halves. After separating the halves, they clamp over the trigger guard and are secured to the frame of the pistol with the included fasteners. Some of the popular trigger guard laser manufacturers are Crimson Trace and LaserMax.
Grip lasers: Grip lasers are laser sights that either mount to the grip of your firearm using an over molded housing or are integrated into the grip scales made for pistols with removable grip scales. These laser sights most often feature a grip switch. This switch is a pressure pad integrated into the laser module that activates the laser. While they allow for quick activation, it’s tricky to use at first since these switches alter the feel of the stock firearm grip. Depending on what type of laser grip you have, the installation can look different. Grip scales with integrated lasers go in place of the stock grip/grip scales. Remove the stock grip of your firearm and replace it with your laser integrated one. For firearms with a fixed grip, the laser sight will snap onto the handle of the firearm and are then secured with included fasteners. Note: for some pistol models, the trigger group pin needs to be removed and reinstalled once the laser module is in place. Glock, for example, has this requirement for grip laser sights.
Regardless of what laser module you plan on using for a firearm, it is important to clear the firearm by dropping the magazine using the mag release and check the chamber by pulling the slide back. Always check compatibility online to know if your laser will work with your pistol.
Types of Zeroes
Now that your laser is securely mounted to your pistol, you need to sight it in. Zeroing your laser sight can seem like a daunting task, especially to a beginner, but it is completely doable by yourself.
Before you zero your laser, you need to decide what type of zero you want. There are 2 main types: Parallel Zero: the beam is zeroed to run parallel to the bore of the pistol, creating an offset sight reference. With this method, there is no need to compensate for range, instead you will need to remember that there is an offset between your laser and your bore.
Convergent Zero: the beam is zeroed to converge with the bore of the pistol at your zero distance. For example, if you zero your pistol laser sight at 10 yards, your laser will pinpoint where your projectile will go. While this is an excellent method for zeroing, you will need to keep in mind that if you are closer or farther than 10 yards away from your target, your projectile will not impact exactly where the laser point is.
For defensive pistol shooting, you may benefit more from a parallel zero for your laser sight. It is more beginner friendly and takes out some of the guesswork involved determining where your shot is going to land. And in a defensive scenario, the 1–2-inch offset with a parallel zero will provide an adequate projected point of impact when within 15 yards of a target.
Zeroing your laser
You’ll need a few things before you go to the range to sight in your pistol. You will need your laser sighting tool (should come with your laser), a stable shooting position ideally with sandbags or a shooting bench/rest, and a spare battery, just in case.
Having a stable position allows you to have repeatable results when shooting. Start by setting up your shooting position 10 yards away from the target. Set your pistol on the shooting rest of your choice and align your laser with the sights of the pistol for reference. Next, fire a 3 round test group. This test group will give you a reference point for your laser alignment.
Look at where the impacts landed on the target paper and adjust for windage and elevation on your laser. Locate the two screws, or recesses, on your laser unit, and use the included laser adjustment tool to adjust your laser. The adjustment knob on the top, or bottom depending on your laser model, is for elevation; turning the knob toward the left lowers the laser’s height, while turning it towards the right raises it. Conversely, the side knob is for windage. Turning the knob forward adjusts your sight to the left, and turning it backward adjusts it to the right.
Repeat this process until you have achieved the zero of your choice. You may be inclined to overcompensate your windage and elevation changes. Try to adjust your sight one click at a time. This will minimize the risk of over adjusting your sight.
Lasers for Self-Defense and Concealed Carry
As mentioned before, pistol laser sights can enhance the user’s target acquisition ability, but how does this carry over in everyday use? A large contingent of concealed carriers often use either mini reflex sights, weapon lights, laser sights, or a combination of them.
Carrying with a laser sight can be great in self-defense scenarios. Having the laser shine on the target provides the user with a projected point of impact, ensuring your shots are accurate. As mentioned before, lasers work well in low light environments and allow you to quickly get on target at short distances.
Something to note, seeing a laser shined on the body can psychologically affect the attacker, letting them know there is a pistol pointed at them and potentially deterring them from threatening you any further.
Another factor to note is how laser sights will affect your ability to carry. Unless you’re using a grip laser, rail-mounted and trigger guard lasers will alter the form factor of your pistol. This means that you’ll have to find a holster to accommodate it. Luckily, there are a lot of options from holster manufacturers with brands like Tier 1 Concealment, Safariland, and LAS Concealment making holsters for many configurations.
While useful for concealed carry and defense, lasers don’t come without their drawbacks. As mentioned previously, it’s important to check the battery level of your laser. The last thing you want is to draw your pistol in a defense scenario and your laser doesn’t work. Next, your laser isn’t going to make you a deadeye. Though it’s helpful, beneficial accessories do not compensate for lack of training. Go to the range and get comfortable shooting with and without your laser activated. Lastly, practice your draw. Regardless of which type of laser you have, you’ll need to activate it when drawing.
Remove the magazine and clear your pistol’s chamber, then place it in your holster while wearing it. Practice drawing the empty and cleared pistol, being sure to activate your laser sight in one motion. Keep practicing until you’re comfortable and confident with drawing your pistol.
Now that you know how to use a pistol laser sight and have it zeroed, you’re better equipped to be more accurate when shooting your pistol. If you don’t think that a laser is for you and want to know more about weapon lights, check out our Ultimate Guide to Weapon Lights.
Remember to take your pistol, environment, and shooting needs into consideration before purchasing a laser. These are important factors that can help you narrow down a laser sight that’s perfect for your needs. Plus, you can use this knowledge to sight in more lasers or teach others to do so. If you’re interested in purchasing a laser sight for your pistol, check out our selection of Pistol Laser Sights.