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Why Shooters Are Turning to Mini Red Dot Sights for Pistols

by James Tarr   |  April 30th, 2013 15

Mini red dot sights such as the Trijicon RMR are rugged optics that place a sighting dot on the same plane as the target, eliminating the need for aligning front and rear sights with the target.

Thanks to modern technology, I have been able to talk about several weapon lights (such as the Crimson Trace Lightguard) that are small enough that they can fit on concealed-carry handguns. The same thing can be said about red dot sights.

Mini red dot sights have been around for well over a decade, and there are now so many of them out there it’s hard to keep track. Just off the top of my head I can think of the Burris FastFire, the Docter, Bushnell First Strike, JP Rifles’ JPoint, Insight Technologies’ MRDS, Leupold DeltaPoint and the Trijicon RMR.

Competitive shooters have been using red dot sights on handguns for 20 years, and it was in part the competitive abuses of larger red dot sighs such as the Aimpoint and EOTech that resulted in them getting tough enough to get approved for military use. Mini red dot sights are a more recent phenomenon, but they are not delicate little toys anymore.

Mini red dot sights are popular with the current 3-Gun crowd as secondary sighting systems for their AR-15s, faster to use than traditional iron sights—especially in close-range engagements. Trijicon has been selling its popular 4X ACOG riflescope with a mini red dot perched atop it for years for just this sort of situation.

As durable as they were, however, it has only been the past few years that the idea of putting mini red dots on carry guns has taken off. In large part this has to do with the introduction of the Trijicon RMR (Ruggedized Miniature Reflex). Trijicon is not known for making delicate, maintenance-intensive products, and when it not just introduced a mini red dot but recommended mounting them on pistols, many tactical types sat up and finally took notice.

Gabe Suarez, a well-known tactical trainer who has taught at Gunsite, is now advocating (and selling) Glocks, SIGs and Smith & Wesson M&Ps with slide-mounted Trijicon RMRs. I’ve tested a lot of these mini red dots, and while most of them are very well made and durable, I haven’t seen one that can compete with the “pound a nail into wood” durability of the Trijicon RMR.

The fact that Smith & Wesson is introducing a series of pistols that have removable plates on their slides for built-in mounting of mini red dots should tell you these optics are here to stay. The technology will only improve. I predict we’ll see true holographic (screen- and tube-less) red dot sights within 20 years.

There are two advantages to a red dot sight. The first is that they are easier to see if you have less than youthful eyes. I know plenty of shooters who just can’t see the front sight anymore beyond a blur. A red dot is on the same focal plane as the target, and as long as you can see the target, the dot will be in focus as well.

The second advantage is perhaps the least important: They are faster to use. Instead of lining up the front sight with the rear sight with the target, a shooter has only to place the dot on the target and pull the trigger.

How could speed be less important than visibility? Several reasons. First, while red dot sights are inherently quicker to use than iron sights, that speed difference will only really be noticed in the competition world where you’re firing dozens of shots at multiple targets.

An experienced competition shooter will be hundredths of a second faster from shot to shot using a red dot, and that time can add up over the length of a match. In an actual self-defense shooting situation, it really is a non-factor.

Second, if you haven’t practiced enough with your red dot-sighted pistol, it may actually be slower to use than one with traditional iron sights. Grab about any pistol and look down the slide. Sights or not, you’ve got a pretty good idea where it’s pointed.

The body of a red dot sight tends to obscure the slide, and I’ve seen plenty of shooters new to their red-dots wiggling them around in their hands, trying to find the dot in the little window.

When you fire that little dot jumps up and you completely lose it in the window. Finding it again as the pistol comes down out of recoil can take some time if you’re not used to doing it.

The best solution is a red dot-sighted pistol equipped with iron sights tall enough to be used through the window of the red dot. The eye sees the iron sights as you bring the pistol up on target, and as they more or less line up the red dot is right there. They tend to draw the eyes to the dot, giving you the best of both worlds.

That is exactly the reason the iron sights supplied on the FNX-45 Tactical are so tall. These tall sights were originally designed to be used with suppressors, but they work great with mini red dots as well.

If you’re having a hard time seeing the sights, or want to try something completely new, look into a slide-mounted mini  red dot sight for your pistol.

Mini red dot sights such as the Trijicon RMR are rugged optics that place a sighting dot on the same plane as the target, eliminating the need for aligning front and rear sights with the target.

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  • Matthew Maltby

    Awesome, but unfortunately the RMR prices in about as much as the Glock it’s mounted on! While i agree that Trijicon is an excellent manufacturer of optics, their popularity is reflected in their MSRPs. This, in turn, leads other manufacturers to play the “stay a few dollars below msrp, whether our optics are worth it or not” game. While some gun advocates are able to throw around 1-2k a month on optics and accessories, the majority of red-blooded american citizens who exercise our 2A rights are middle class people with kids, a mortgage and modest savings in case of emergencies. $500 for a new optic are one-time-a-year purchases, if that! Manufacturers need to understand that a majority of their target market is saving for the better part of a year to buy just one of their products. This is why NCStar and low end optics are so prevalent in the market.

    • TheWisdomJournal

      Precisely Matthew … and it’s why I use iron sights …

    • manonatallhorse

      The first scope I ever bought for my AR was an NCStar 3x with a mini red dot on top….still working well.

  • BJC

    I agree with Mathew, at roughly $600 the Trijicon RMR is way over priced. But the government doesn’t seem to mind burning our tax dollars to buy them. And like TWJ my iron sights work quite well for me.

  • tonyH110

    I modified the back sight on my Springfield XDM and fitted a Burris FastFire – WOW, as I heard once on a gun show its like cheating LOL. See I have to use reader glasses to focus iron sights – then the target fuzzes. Now, using the Binden technique I acquire faster and hit my target dead on with that little red dot. Worth EVERY penny!!

  • Greg Metty

    Trijicon, EOTech, Insight and a couple other manufacturerer’s sights are made to withstand an environment far more hostile than what this shooter lives in. They are military grade, and built to tolerances far exceeding what I would need, hence the increased cost. If I ever need to submerge my gunsights in 50 ft of seawater, things have gone horribly, horribly wrong! I have a Sightmark I got on Amazon a couple of years ago for $35.00 (I think) mounted on my S&W 22a that I shoot steel matches and plink with. It holds zero just fine, and every now and then, I can take Smoke and Hope in under 3. As my eyes get older, I want to get a couple of the new Burris Fastfire sights for my Mossberg 930 and my AR. The only disadvantage I have seen with them as a primary gunsight is they are battery powered, and as a general rule of thumb, batteries always fail when you need them the most.

  • TX Piggy Pounder

    Every time I read a article about these top of the line optics there’s these comments “its to expensive”, “my gun didn’t cost that much”. Enough already. If you don’t want to have every advantage possible at your disposal when the SHTF to defend your family or yourself then so be it. But don’t act like those cheap scopes and guns make the cut. There is plenty of ways you can save money in this hyper consuming market most of us live in. But a tool that you might have to turn to in order to deal with a threat to you household is not one of them! Every responsible gun owner should have at least one firearm they splurged on as there go to weapon. Using the same manufacturer’s that the police & military use only makes sense to me.

    • ChrisP

      I carry a gun for a living. I’m not sold on the “added value” of all the high dollar “tacticool” gadgetry. I think too many people use things like RDS as a crutch rather than learning proper shooting fundamentals. I think most gun owners would benefit far more from “splurging” on practice ammo and training than from buying the latest, greatest high dollar “tacticool” toy… Just my $.02

      • Johnny Ringo

        Then I suggest that YOU stick with what YOU like and if someone else wants a mini red dot and they can afford it, then what it wrong with that. You have to add “tacticool” to your comments to somehow degrade the product. Some may have more money than sense and buy them to be “tacticool”, but others might value the lives of their sons, daughters, wives and husbands and want to take advantage of a product that just might make a difference in saving one of their lives. Sorry that this is too “tacticool” for you. Just my .02.

      • cdavis211

        I was unconvinced for a long time also but finally came around to going the RDS route. If it gives you and edge then it’s worth doing and it does give you an edge at pretty much any range over open sights. And if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing right which means having a slide milled and suppressor sights put on for a cowitness with a high-quality optic. Just my $.02.

    • ChrisP

      Maybe if more people bought ammo and sought training there wouldn’t be so many tacticool guns listed on all the classified sites with less than 200 rounds through them…

  • Bob Harris

    Kelly McCann started the MRDS on defense pistols

  • jim

    I’m sorry, I’ve been shooting for 35 years some of that time spent in the Army and despite the fact that side arms have sights on them, eventually, you come to actually NOT need them. So, all this talk of new fan-dangled gear on top of pistols is really just bunk to sell product, the fact is, if YOU ARE trained or training correctly, you don’t need sights on pistols for tactical/defense use and, while I’m not a competitive shooter, I’d dare say it’s the same… or at least it used to be!

  • Mark Bartholomew

    Still $600 for a 5 year electronics warranty…

  • johnb33

    Dear Lord, it is the same price as my weapon! I would love this, but I just can’t spend that type of cash. Looks like its iron sights for me!

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