Concealed Carry & Home Defense

CCW Weekend: Red Dot Sights

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By Sam Hoober, Alien Gear Holsters

Red dot sights, which would more accurately be called “holographic reflector sights,” are definitely the way of the future. It is likely that they will become the dominant sighting system for handguns and long guns, when not equipped with a telescopic optic.

However, just like some other devices, not everybody understands how to get the most out of them.

It’s a lot like lasers; how most people use a laser sight is incredibly stupid. Every now and again, you’ll find someone who actually knows what they’re doing but they are the exception rather than the rule. The typical yokel with a laser sight just puts the dot on a target and shoots.

In reality, a laser sight is a fantastic tool if zeroed correctly. The dot should be aligned so that it appears over the pistol sights and therefore has something to do with point of aim/point of impact.

In other words, a red dot sight – just like a laser sight – can be misused by boorish, tacticool mouthbreathers that think some newfangled bit of gear is going to somehow enable their lazy habits.

Let us instead endeavor to understand the tool, and consider its best use.

A modern red dot sight projects an image in the optic window of a dot, triangle or other image. Since the image is projected to infinity in parallel with the slide and thus the barrel, the dot is where the gun is aiming. Thus, it can be a tool for fast sight picture acquisition.

Here’s where things get more complicated.

What many people don’t consider is the dot itself, which is actually very important. In fact, the dot is one of the most critical parts of the optic, unbeknownst to many.

The dot in a red dot sight is sized in minutes of angle, or MOA. One minute of angle is 1/60th of 1 degree in relation to a fixed point, which in the case of shooting is the target. Therefore, 1 MOA is 1/60th of 1 degree above or below the target.

In terms of distance, that works out to about 1 inch at 100 yards, 2 inches at 200 yards, or at closer ranges, 0.5 inches at 50 yards and 0.25 inches at 25 yards.

Now, since the dot is sized in minutes of angle, which means that your bullet will land within an area the size of the dot. The smaller the dot, the smaller the area, but also the harder to see it in the optic.

A 3 MOA dot – which is quite common – will put shots in a 1.5-inch circle at 50 yards and within a 3-inch circle at 100 yards if aimed precisely at the same point. By contrast, a 6 MOA dot – not uncommon either – will put bullets into a 3-inch area at 25 yards.

So, what we can therefore infer is that a larger dot is better suited for close-range applications, but a smaller MOA dot is better-suited for long-range applications. Precision matters at all distances, but matters more the farther away the target gets.

This is why these sights are so popular with people that shoot steel silhouettes. Get dot on target, target goes “ding.”

Steel targets are a bit strange in this regard. On the one hand, it isn’t as if they encourage poor marksmanship. In fact, small steel silhouettes are a very practical training tool; you’re learning to hit the target area on a person if needs be. In that regard, they actually teach you to be combat-effective. Scored bullseye targets, of course, aren’t as realistic, but the numbers don’t lie. You either hit the 10 ring or you didn’t.

At last, we arrive at the point:

You don’t make a pistol more accurate nor you a better shooter if you put a red dot optic on your pistol. However, if you select the right optic for the application you have in mind, you’re going to get much better results.

Know, therefore, the range at which you are likely to use the gun. If you anticipate that you’ll never use it past, say, 25 yards, a larger reticle dot is the best choice. A 12 MOA dot (such as those on Trijicon optics) works out to a 1.2-inch spread at 10 yards and about 3 inches at 25 yards. That’s more than good enough for self-defense applications. Heck, you’ll probably never shoot a group that tight.

On the other hand, if you anticipate much longer shots, such as out to 50 or 100 yards – red dot optics are used in handgun hunting, not just making pews at the range – then a smaller reticle is called for. Some are as small as 1 MOA, but a 3 MOA dot is most common and – again – 3 MOA at 100 yards is a 3-inch spread. That’s good enough for punching white tails or hogs in the brush.

There are no optics that make things simple. Adding more bits of technology is not going to make up for your lazy shooting habits if you have them. However, if you understand how it works, and make the proper selection of a tool for the use that you intend for it, then you can get quite a bit out of it.

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Sam Hoober is a Contributing Editor to, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit