Red Dot Guide - for New and Not So New Shooters


PULL QUOTE #1 – “The red dot electro optical reflex sights sights have all but replaced open sights on CQB rifles and carbines, and now pistols, making accuracy easier, more consistent, and actually faster to train.


PULL QUOTE#2 – “Basically, with open sights, the shooter has to essentially align three specific points, rear sight, front sight and target, while with electro-optical red dot sights, there is only one reticle to place on the desired point of impact.”

Modern day shooters are enjoying the convergence of the best developed firearms, ammunition, and sighting systems ever available. For a thousand years the technology of sights lagged far behind the development of ammunition and firearms. Shooters had to be satisfied with basic open sights that limited the usefulness of firearms. The improvements in optics with the advances in electronics and light emitting diodes (LED) combined with space-age materials, technology, and engineering with the 120-year-old concept of the “Collimating-telescope Gunsight” now offers modern shooters the ultimate in sighting technology. The Collimating/Red dot sights are made so that the shooter uses both eyes. That provides an unlimited “field of view” for electro-optical sights so that the shooter maintains total binocular vision and maximum situational awareness. The red dot electro optical sights have all but replaced open sights on CQB rifles and carbines. Pistols are coming micro red dot ready from the factory. The onset of red dot sights make accuracy easier, more consistent, and actually faster to train on almost any gun other than long range rifles. What does a new or even experienced shooter need to know about electro-optical sights? This Red Dot Guide will tell you.

What exactly is a Red Dot Sight?

 Mepro microRDS

“Red dot sights” describes a collective group of sights that a shooter can superimpose a red, green or even yellow colored, lit reticle or “dot” on a target to achieve excellent accuracy. The sight uses an LED emitter to project a reticle onto glass which is then reflected to your eye, hence the other common name “reflex sight”. The LED’s are small and lightweight, allowing for very simple and compact sight designs and are robust enough that installation on reciprocating pistol slides has become standard. An example of the latest pistol red dot sight is the MEPRO micro-RDS. It has a 3.0 MOA red dot and is made for full-size and compact pistols utilizing a patented quick-detach (QD) adaptor kit so it easily mounts using the pistol’s existing rear sight dovetail slot and a backup self-illuminated night sight set. Works perfectly fine for concealed carry. With technology being what it is, you will see more pistol red dot sights on the guns coming from the factory.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of Red Dot sights?

A red dot optic has two great advantages over iron sights or open sights as they are sometimes called. First, they present the shooter with just one sighting reference point instead of aligning a front and rear sight on a target, making for a faster acquisition and targeting solution. Secondly, they provide accurate target solutions day or night, light or dark. The disadvantages are that they are larger and slightly bulkier than iron sights, and like any mechanical device, can fail to operate. However, failure of modern red dots is rare unless damaged by the user. Compared to lensed optics, red dots provide a similar target solution but without shooter-induced parallax. Only optics with a true 1X non-magnification setting can be used with both eyes open as a red dot can with its unlimited field of view.

What can I put a Red Dot on?

 Mepro microRDS on Masada

Red dot reflex sights are excellent on pistols, shotguns and carbines with more and more firearms being made OEM optic ready. Red Dots currently come with both Picatinny rail bases for long guns and standard bases for pistol slides, with OEM and aftermarket plates provided to match your red dot with your pistol. Red dots mounted on Picatinny rails can be improved by a co-located optic magnifier. A magnifier is an optic monocular (half of a binocular) mounted between the red dot sight and the shooter’s eye. It allows the shooter a magnified view downrange through the red dot sight so that the target is magnified with the lit reticle superimposed. It’s better than using only a telescopic sight as a shooter using a red dot/magnifier combo has the ability for medium and longer-range shots when the magnifier is flipped into the line of sight, and short-range work when tilted away.

Will using a Red Dot sight negate my previous training using iron or “open” sights?

Here’s the beauty of Red Dot sights, they are easy to transition to. Although the information is still being collated, organizations like law enforcement agencies are finding that quality red dot equipped pistols improve their experienced AND rookie officers’ qualification scores, some by five to ten percent, with much less remediation. Basically, with open sights, the shooter has to essentially align three specific points, rear sight, front sight and target, while with electro-optical red dot sights, there is only one reticle to place on the desired point of impact. All the accurate training done for grip and presentation is the same for red dots, especially if the sights are co-witnessed. A consistent and correct presentation will place the red dot precisely in front of the shooter’s dominant eye so all those thousands of reps of drawing and aiming are still useful muscle memory.

What are the options available for electro-optical red dot sights?

1. Dot color – The color of the dot is a personal and situational choice, as while red is common, a lot of folks swear the green provides for greater acuity, especially in bright conditions where contrasting the dot from the target is difficult. However, red reticles are the standard and most shooters prefer them. Overall, far more red dot reticles have been selected by consumers than any other color which indicates that the color red is the most useful, preferred and effective reticle available, pistol red dots included.

2. Reticle size – Selection of the dot size for your red dot is based on your intended use and eye health. Reticle sizes vary allowing the user to choose the one that works best for their style of shooting. A shooter can pick up a larger red dot much easier for close and intermediate range targets, but it can obscure distant targets. A larger reticle is also useful if a shooter has astigmatism or other eye limitations. To compensate for a blurry red dot, a 3-4 MOA reticle set on low intensity has helped a lot of shooters stay on target. A smaller red dot is for longer distances where a large reticle will completely mask the target. A smaller reticle set on a low intensity could be lost in the eyepiece in bright or changing light but excellent for distant engagements. The Mepro M21 red dot sight uses both fiber optics and tritium as well as a choice of reticles up to 5.5 MOA. It has an optional triangle reticle that shooters with astigmatism say it provides a superior aiming point rather than a dot.

 Mepro M21 Reticle Options

3. Closed or Open Design – Red dot sights can be “closed” or “open” with “closed” being sealed optics that are protected from the elements and ensure a clean display of the dot. They are usually slightly larger and bulkier, so they reduce visibility, but the optics are shielded from the elements, abuse or debris and are very water resistant. The “open” red dot sights are LED-generating optics but can be affected by water immersion or by debris or dirt. Since they can be made so small, they now are available in sizes appropriate for everything from long guns down to micro-compact pistols.

4. Reticle illumination – Shooters can choose red dots illuminated by battery, tritium and/or fiber optics for a clear target solution. Since LED’s uses very little voltage some powered units claim up to 50,000 hours of battery life and are most popular. Tritium sights contain a small vial of a gaseous radioactive tritium that emits charged particles that interacts with an internal coating of phosphor causing a reaction that produces radioluminescence and phosphorescence seen as a constantly glowing dot. The half-life of tritium is that in about ten years the tritium sight has lost about half of its “glow” (still visible though) and in twenty years has lost most of its potency. An unpowered and half-life free option is the fiber optic illuminated sight. The optical fiber absorbs ambient illumination, condenses it using internal reflection that provides a lit reticle always brighter than the available light. To get the best of both tritium and fiber-optics, there are several options from Meprolight that provide a shooter with sights with both features. Utilizing patented fiber optic technology, Meprolight combined tritium with fiber optics to create the combat proved, best-selling Mepro M21 Reflex (red dot) sight for long guns and the FT Bullseye, a single rear micro dot style sight that works with no batteries needed. Each of those modern sights can be used night or day, with every advantage of both. SIG SAUER released their P938 micro-compact pistol factory equipped with the Mepro FT Bullseye™ Rear Sight. SIG has stated, “the integrated, flush-mounted FT Bullseye sight mounted directly into the slide is intuitive, and easy for the untrained eye to pick-up for fast target acquisition.” The FT Bullseye is a shortened optic with an optical lens, tritium light source vial illuminating a dot within a circle in a bullseye pattern that when centered provides for accurate shot placement. Shooters can upgrade their own sights with the Mepro FT ™ by simply replacing their front or rear sight with a red or green bullseye reticle for many of the most popular self-defense pistols. For more information or to find your local Meprolight Dealer, visit or call (717) 985-4482.