July 01, 2020
Until recently most pistols that were equipped with red dot reflex sights belonged to serious competitive shooters or big game hunters. That was due partly to the fact that mounting an optic on a pistol was often a chore, sometimes even requiring the slide to be specifically machined for the individual sight. However, as red dots have become more popular more and more firearm companies are adding red dot ready pistols to their catalog.
There are several compelling reasons to own a red dot-equipped pistol. For starters, they allow you to acquire sight picture rapidly in any lighting conditions, and that should be appealing to anyone who owns a firearm for self-defense. Additionally, red dots are an easy solution for a number of shooting issues related to vision, either poor vision due to health conditions or cross-dominance problems (ie, right-handed shooters who are left-eye dominant and vice versa).
Reflex sights are also the easiest and fastest way for new shooters to get on target. Aligning iron sights can be a challenge for first time shooters, but the learning curve with red dots is not as pronounced. What’s more, modern red dot sights like the Trijicon SRO, Aimpoint Acro and Leupold Delta Point are extremely durable and easy to use so there’s no fear that the bumps and bangs of daily carry will knock your sight out of zero or out of service.
Here’s a list of eight great optics-ready handguns for just about any application and any budget. As if you needed an excuse to buy another gun.
Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P M2.0 C.O.R.E. Pro
Available in 9mm and .40 S&W, Smith & Wesson’s C.O.R.E. (Competition Optics Ready) pistols make mounting a reflex sight fast and easy. The machined slide comes with a cover that, when removed, offers a secure mounting platform for a variety of red dot optics and the extra tall white dot sights allow you to co-witness your red dot and iron sights—and provide a very important contingency plan should the batteries in your reflex sight ever run out of juice.
These guns feature Performance Center tuned actions, short reset triggers with adjustable trigger stops, Armornite finishes, four interchangeable backstraps (small, medium, medium-large and large), and an extended stainless steel chassis system that reduces flex and torque when firing.
C.O.R.E. pistols are available with 4.25- and five-inch barrels, and their polymer frame/stainless steel slide construction keeps weight to a minimum—just 28 ounces. The 9mm version boasts an impressive capacity of up to 17 rounds. Suggested retail price is $700 to $721. www.smith-wesson.com.
SCCY CPX-1/2 RD
The SCCY 9mm CPX-1/2 RD doesn’t just come red dot ready but rather red dot equipped for under $350, which is less than the cost of many reflex sights alone. SCCY’s RD handguns are a great way to dip your toe in the red-dot-ready pistol market without dropping a lot of cash.
Buyers can opt for either the CPX-1 RD version (manual safety) or the CPX-2 RD (no manual safety), both of which come with a Crimson Trace 3.5 m.o.a. red dot optic pre-installed.
The double-action-only hammer-fired design translates to a lengthy trigger pull. This is not necessarily a bad thing on a carry gun, and the trigger is not particularly heavy. With its stainless slide and aluminum alloy receiver the SCCY weighs just under 18 ounces with the reflex sight yet it boasts an impressive magazine capacity of 10 rounds.
The ergonomics leave something to be desired, but the Zytel polymer grip will accommodate even the largest hands. SCCY’s CPX-1/2 handguns offer the best bang-for-your-buck in entry-level carry pistols, and the new RD version is a superb value. Suggested retail price is $339 to $349. www.sccy.com.
Kimber KHX Custom OI
Kimber certainly knows how to build stylish 1911s, and the optic-equipped KHX Custom OI is no exception. The honeycomb checkering pattern on this pistol’s stainless steel, KimPro II Gray slide matches the laser checkering pattern on the green Hogue G10 Magrips, and the Magrip wraps around to the mainspring housing for maximum comfort and improved styling.
Each of these guns comes equipped with a Trijicon RMR Type 2 3.5 m.o.a. red dot sight as well as tall white dot cowitness iron sights. When you consider that the Trijicon RMR type 2 sight itself costs $699, the KHX Custom OI’s price tag of $1,871 seems far more palatable and even makes this gun something of a bargain considering its superb quality and high resale value.
Available in 9mm Luger, 10mm Auto and .45 ACP, KHX Custom pistols come with five-inch match stainless barrels and match bushings and premium skeletonized aluminum trigger set between four and five pounds, and there’s also an RL version that comes with an accessory rail. If you’re in the market for a premium 1911 with a quality red dot sight then the Kimber KHX Custom OI is an excellent option, a gun that looks great and shoots great. Suggested retail price is $1,871 to $1,946. www.kimberamerica.com.
Springfield Hellcat OSP
The Springfield Hellcat is a micro-compact, optics-ready 9mm centerfire carry pistol that features a three-inch barrel and weighs in at just 17.9 ounces. Despite its small footprint—this gun measures just 6 inches long and 4 inches tall with a flush fit magazine—the Hellcat holds up to 13 rounds of 9mm ammunition. Add to that the OSP’s machined optic rail which makes it easy to mount a red dot and you might have found the very best micro compact 9mm in the crowded carry gun market.
Build quality on these guns is top-of-the-line and the ergonomics are superb. Gone are the industrial-looking grips found on the early XD-S pistols in favor of a more modern design with micro-texturing that Springfield refers to as Adaptive Grip Texture.
Many (perhaps most) OSP owners will equip their pistol with a reflex sight, but the standard iron sights on these guns—a U-notch rear with flat front ledge and a tritium front dot—are as good as anything in this class. Currently the best mates for this pistol are the RMSc from Shield and JPoint from JP Enterprises. The Handguns crew installed the former on a sample Hellcat, and they made a great pair.
The refined Hellcat is a good gun made better by the addition of an optics-ready model, and the OSP might just be the best micro-compact carry gun available at any price. Suggested retail price is $599. www.springfield-armory.com.
Walther Q4 Steel Frame OR
Walther’s Q5 Match Steel Frame has been a huge hit, garnering praise from most every reviewer for its smoothness, balance and best-in-class trigger. On the heels of that success Walther launched the steel-framed, four-inch Q4—including the optics-ready OR version.
The pistol comes with a flat serrated LPA rear sight installed on a plate, and three additional plates are included that accommodate Trijicon RMR, Leupold DeltaPoint and Docter red dot sights. The nice thing about this system is you can zero your iron sights, remove the irons and install a red dot. If you ever want to go back to iron sights, you simply to the rear-sight plate and you’re ready to roll.
While most companies would be satisfied to simply chop down the barrel to turn a five-inch gun into a five-inch model that simply wouldn’t do for the engineers at Walther. Instead, they redesigned the grip so that the Q4, like the Q5, balances beautifully in the hand. In a world where gun companies are scrambling to make the lightest carry guns possible Walther move to opt for billet-machined steel instead of polymer may seem counterintuitive. However, that added weight—it weighs just under 40 ounces—makes this a smooth-shooting pistol with very little recoil.
Combine this with Walther’s smooth, short reset Quick Defense Trigger and you’ve got the smoothest, fastest-shooting four-inch 9mm around. Durable and refined, the Q4 makes a great target, competition or personal defense pistol. Suggested retail price is $1,499. www.waltherarms.com.
Ruger American Pistol Competition
Ruger’s successful line of striker-fired American semiautos is finally getting a competition-ready variant. The aptly-named Ruger American Pistol Competition guns feature a slide that is drilled and tapped for mounting optics from companies like Sightmark, Vortex, Burris and others, and the gun also comes with a fully-adjustable competition rear sight and fiber optic front sight.
The grip design is modular and can be adjusted to fit the individual shooter’s hand, and the ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release make this pistol well-suited for both right- and left-handed shooters. The steel slide is ported and black nitride treated, and so is the five-inch stainless steel barrel. The barrel features a slow (1:16) twist rate that’s optimized for shooter lighter competition loads, and the Picatinny rail under the barrel makes adding accessories like lights fast and simple.
The 9mm American Pistol Competition also boasts a 17+1 capacity and weighs in at 34 ounces. That means it’s lighter than a steel frame 1911 and yet heavy enough that you can deliver fast follow-ups and mitigates recoil well. The ergonomics on this gun are excellent, and it’s priced under $600 to compete (literally and figuratively) with similar guns from Glock and S&W. Well built and fairly priced, the Ruger is a great option for anyone who wants to get in the red dot pistol game. And, in case you hadn’t guessed, it’s made in the U.S.A. Suggested retail price is $579. www.ruger.com.
CZ-P10 Optics Ready
The P-10 is CZ’s take on a striker-fired pistol, and there are three optics-ready versions: P-10F (full-size), P-10C (compact) and P-10S (subcompact) with respective barrel lengths of 4.5 inches, four inches and 3.5 inches. That means no matter if you’re looking for a target pistol, match gun, concealed-carry pistol or target gun you’ll find one of the P-10s that suits your needs.
These guns come with filler plates on the top of the slide, and customers can order either Trijicon RMR or Leupold DeltaPoint Pro plates depending upon which of these optics they prefer.
I tested the P-10 early on and was impressed with these guns from the start. They offer a low bore axis, good trigger and interchangeable backstraps for a custom fit for any shooter. Accuracy is good, and the magazine release can be swapped from the left to the right side of the gun for southpaws.
These guns are smooth-shooting, and my single complaint about the design—overly aggressive grip texturing—can be remedied in about two minutes with a piece of sandpaper if you so choose. Mechanically, these guns are rock solid, and they’re built to high standards. Suggested retail price is $577-$590. www.cz-usa.com.
Nighthawk Custom IOS System
Nighthawk offers a full line of customizable 1911 pistols that can be equipped with its Interchangeable Optics System, or IOS. What sets the IOS system apart from other optic systems is the tapered dovetail deign that allows the sight (either iron sights or a mounting plate for your red dot) return to zero each time it is installed. The plate slides onto the dovetail from the rear and is held in place with a retaining screw and pin, so you can swap your iron sights for a red dot in less than one minute.
It’s a clever and convenient system, but the added surface area also makes this one of the strongest optics systems available. What’s more, the precision machining makes an almost seamless fit when your iron sights are in place: you’ll have to look closely to identify the slide cut, and that improves the aesthetic of these already beautiful guns. There’s no need to change out the front sight on your Nighthawk pistol since it works with both the iron sights and the red dot.
Adding the IOS system is a $350 option on a custom Nighthawk gun, and it’s $595 to machine a customer-supplied slide that includes a cover plate with Novak sight cut, refinish of slide (black nitride, Cerakote, or bead-blast stainless), and test firing. Plates are sold separately. The IOS system is shown here on a Nighthawk Custom Agent 2 (bottom, suggested retail price $4,499) and Fire Hawk (top, $4,199).