Serious competition shooters have been mounting red dot sights to handguns for a long time. In many cases, one can look to competition shooters for future trends in pistol design and employment as competition shooters are often quick to try out and vet concepts to see if it aids in getting times down. It sometimes can take a while for these concepts to trickle down to serious wide usage in Law Enforcement, Conceal Carry and the Military for a variety of reasons. Often that reason is durability.

That seems to have been the case with optics on pistols. Though red dots undoubtedly offer several advantages in many ways similar to the advantages offered when mounted on carbines they also had several downfalls. While many optic mounts for handguns attached in such a way that the optic was not mounted to the slide (ALG 6 Second Mount as one noteworthy example), the trend began to move in favor of mounting the Optic directly to the slide. This presented some serious concerns as the slide accelerates and decelerates extremely fast. Many optics have been known to regularly fail due to these factors. And while we don’t have an optic that will never fail we do have several that proven themselves reliable; Trijicon RMR, Aimpoint T-1, and the Leupold Deltapoint Pro.

Each of the optics above has advantages and disadvantages and it is up to the individual shooter to determine what will work best with his mission set. For many battery life is a huge concern. Imagine using an optic mounted weapon for conceal carry, that dot needs to be on when carried and you don’t want to worry about it dying on you when you need it most. It’s only fairly recently that smaller optics have had battery lives passing the 1000 hour mark. With the introduction of excellent miniaturized optics such as the Aimpoint T-1 and the Trijicon RMR, serious pistol shooters found themselves faced with optics that measured battery life in years.

With the technology catching up with the concept there has been a sort of renaissance of combat pistol design. There is a large proliferation of companies who now offer custom slide milling services to fit optics to your chosen handgun. The practice of mounting optics has become so popular that the never-changing Glock released the Modular Optic System for several of their more popular models. So what is the fuss about? What makes an optic worth it?

Red Dot Sights on Pistols
Glock 19 MOS with Trijicon RMR (RM06)

With the right amount of training I believe that you’ll find that when you have two shooters at the same level, the shooter with an optic will outshoot his optic-less counterpart. An optic allows for precise aiming, an open sight picture, and rapid follow-up shots. What really sets the optic equipped pistol apart is the ability to track moving targets during engagements. The red dot is far easier to aim and make precise, accountable shots in a dynamic non-permissive environment compared to normal iron sights on a pistol.

Mounting an optic to a handgun isn’t quite the night and day difference you had when mounting a red dot to a carbine. The pistol needs to be held at the correct orientation to your eye and without co-witnessed iron sights, it is incredibly difficult to do and you can sometimes “lose the dot”. The co-witnessed iron sights provide a quick reference to get the dot into your sight picture. This is in contrast to a rifle where simply getting a cheek weld is enough to get the dot on the target. I’ve found that the learning curve with optic equipped pistols is steep, but the reward is great.

I’ll be writing more on this subject in the following months as I interview and talk with influential companies and individuals who helped push the innovations talked about earlier through to the general public. Stay tuned for more.