January 14, 2022
Reflex optical sights have not been around for as long as telescopic sights, but they have been with us for quite a while. During my youth, I enjoyed occasional visits with my parents to a Sears, Roebuck store. Back then, the company sold rimfire and centerfire rifles and was first to introduce a gas-operated shotgun. The company also came out with an illuminated sight in 1955 called the Sears-Oxford Illuminated Sight. Powered by AAA batteries, the intensity of the dot superimposed in its non-magnified sight picture could be varied by turning a small knob on its rheostat.
Rather than being battery-powered, the Qwik-Point sight introduced by Weaver in 1971 utilizes either natural or artificial light to illuminate its red dot. It consists of superposed tubes with lenses. The top tube contains a light-absorbing filament, and because it is red, it projects a dot of that color on a lens in the bottom tube. The filament is quite efficient at gathering what little light there is, and if a deer can be seen in fading light quite late in the day, the dot is bright enough to bring home the venison. Through the decades mine has seen duty on a variety of rifles and shotguns, and it is still going strong. This sight should not be confused with the battery-powered Qwik-Point sight introduced by Weaver in 1995.
The original Weaver sight was followed in 1975 by the battery-powered ElectronicSight from Aimpoint of Sweden. Other models followed. In 1991 I began using the Aimpoint 5000 Mag Dot attached to a custom Model 1911 pistol in .38 Super in USPSA action pistol competition. The durability of both the gun and the sight left nothing to be desired. Counting several practice sessions each week followed by weekend matches, I was averaging 40,000 rounds annually. The high-capacity racegun on the cover of my book The Custom Government Pistol wears that Aimpoint sight in a Steve Woods mount. In practice and in competition, it saw hard use for six years, during which the same sight was subjected to the recoil of around 250,000 rounds. That gun has not been shot in about 20 years, but while preparing for this project, I fired 200 rounds at steel targets. Believe it or not, the sight’s battery is still good.
Red-Dots on Handguns
Some of today’s open-style sights are small enough to be attached to the slides of compact handguns used for IWB concealed carry. They can also be extremely lightweight. With a CR2032 battery installed, respective weights of the JPoint from JP Enterprises, the SIG SAUER ROMEOZero, and the Trijicon RMRcc are 0.4 ounce, 0.5 ounce, and 1.0 ounce. It is common for someone who tries one for the first time to find the dot difficult to bring into the field of view. Only after considerable muzzle-wiggling does the dot eventually appear, and that’s not a good thing on a personal-defense gun. Practice makes perfect in a lot of things, including using a handgun wearing a dot sight, with most of the learning curve taking place at home.
First, make triple-certain the gun is unloaded. Then concentrate on a lamp, a doorknob, or another object across the room and using a two-hand hold, slowly bring the gun up until you are looking through the window of the sight. If the dot is not there, continue concentrating on the doorknob while slowly twisting the gun in various directions until the dot is in view. When it is there, relax and make a mental note of how you are gripping the gun, the position of your arms, and in which direction you had to move the muzzle. Continue lowering and bringing up the gun while shifting the muzzle to bring the dot into view.
Repeat long enough and often enough and you will eventually develop the feel for gun position and the muscle memory necessary to instantly have the dot in view and on target without having to shift the gun. When you can close your eyes, quickly but smoothly raise the gun, open your eyes, and see the dot you will know you have arrived. At this point, your brain knows what to instruct the rest of your body to do, and you are ready to add drawing from a holster, aiming, and dry-firing in your practice sessions. And as I mentioned already, be sure the gun is empty.
Now head to the range for live-fire practice sessions. Practice not only makes perfect but also continuing your practice sessions at home with an unloaded gun as often as possible is absolutely necessary.
Some guns have open sights tall enough to be seen in the window of the optic. I know shooters who first align the sights and then transition to the dot but doing so can use up valuable first-shot and repeat-shot time during a life-threatening confrontation. With enough practice you will learn to ignore the open sights and be rewarded with improvements in both speed and accuracy. When shooting, my brain tunes out the open sights, leaving my total concentration on the target and the dot. Focus on a particular spot on the target, draw the gun, instantly see the dot on target, press the trigger—all in one smooth motion with no hesitation. As you bring the gun down from recoil, the dot is there for the next shot.
Shooting USPSA or IDPA targets for score and using a timer to record your speed will reveal how much progress you are making and in what areas you need to improve. A reflex sight can greatly improve accuracy when shooting with one hand from the strong and weak sides. The same goes for shooting from awkward positions where aligning open sights can be slow and difficult.
Top-quality electronic sights have to be nearly indestructible in order to survive thousands of violent poundings when attached to the slide of a semiautomatic pistol, and this brings up another advantage. Someone who does not have a great deal of hand strength, or perhaps a senior citizen who has arthritis or other health issues, will find grasping the optic while racking the slide makes doing so much easier, not to mention less painful. A friend of mine stopped carrying his Glock 26 because his eyesight was no longer good enough to use open sights and he also was experiencing difficulty racking its slide. A local gunsmith solved both problems by machining the slide and low-mounting a Shield RMSc sight.
Dot Colors and Sizes
Aging eyes are supposed to perceive a green dot better than red. I am no spring chicken, and I find just the opposite to be true. The TRUGLO sight on my Remington 870 turkey/coyote gun offers the option of using either color, and through the years it has allowed me to compare the two colors in varying light conditions, as well as on a variety of targets and backgrounds. To my eyes, the red dot always wins by a considerable margin. Color perception differs among people, however, and some may prefer a green dot. Visiting a gunshop and trying out both colors indoors and outdoors will reveal the answer for you.
Dot size options range from quite small to huge. Roughly converted, a 4-minute dot covers a 1-inch-diameter area at 25 yards, 2 inches at 50 yards, 4 inches at 100 yards, 8 inches at 200 yards, and 12 inches at 300 yards. For use on a personal-defense handgun and for competitive shooting with a handgun, I prefer a dot in the 3.5- to 6-minute range, with 4 MOA a very good compromise. Those dot sizes also work on short- to medium-range deer rifles in .44 Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, and other chamberings. For shooting small game with a rifle or a handgun in .22 Rimfire, where shots seldom greatly exceed 25 yards, a 2.5-MOA dot is about ideal.
A very large dot is good as long as it does not cover too much of the target at the distances it will be used. The Weaver Qwik-Point worn by an S&W Model 629 in .44 Mag. I used to take an Alaska-Yukon moose has a 12-minute dot. This is the sight that uses batteries and not the Qwik-Point I mentioned earlier.
Its big dot worked fine because a moose is a huge target, and I had vowed not to shoot unless I could get inside 100 yards. That’s exactly how it worked out. My preferences may or may not suit other hunters and shooters, so while trying red and green dots at your favorite gunshop, also give several different dot sizes a try.
When purchasing a sight for use on a firearm to be used for hunting, make certain it is waterproof. The open-style RMR sights from Trijicon will survive submersion to a depth of 66 feet, if the optional seal plate is used when mounting it. Other companies also offer waterproof, open-style sights. Among Trijicon sights, I prefer the tube-style MRO over the RMR for hunting because the surfaces of its lenses are easier to keep free of rain and snow, especially when the optional flip-up covers are used. On/Off/Brightness adjustments are good to have on a hunting-style sight or one used for competitive shooting, but a constantly glowing dot with automatic intensity adjustment is preferred for a personal-defense firearm. Use a lens cloth to keep lenses free of dust, lint, smudges, and fingerprints.
The use of reflex sights on hunting rifles appears to be slowly increasing in the United States, but they have long been quite popular in other countries, mostly for shooting driven game. On a dozen or so occasions through the years, I have enjoyed hunting moose in Sweden and Finland where it is customary for drivers and/or dogs to push them through heavy brush and timber toward a long line of shooters. Moose are often on the move and fairly close when presenting a shot, so a dot sight is ideal. I have also participated in driven-game outings in the Transylvania region of central Romania, and while Count Dracula never showed up, plenty of hunters using dot sights did.
For some applications, dot sights work great on shotguns. Coyotes in my area prefer wooded country, and when called in, shots often have to be taken quickly and fairly close. I sometimes use a Remington 870 in 12 gauge wearing a dot sight, and when a charge of T or 00 Buck pellets in HEVI-Shot’s Dead Coyote ammo exits its barrel, any yodel dog inside 40 yards is history. Loaded with smaller shot sizes, that same gun has also accounted for many turkey gobblers.
Have you wondered how shooter accuracy with a deer rifle wearing a dot sight compares to one wearing open sights, an aperture-style rear sight, or a scope? Years ago, I found out by shooting groups with a Marlin 336 in .30-30 at 100 and 200 yards. The Speer Nitrex ammo with a 150-grain PSP bullet I used then is no longer available, but Federal still catalogs the 170-grain Partition load. I used the Marlin because in addition to having open sights, its receiver was drilled and tapped on top for a scope or dot sight, and on the side for a peep sight. The scope was a 1-4X variable, the electronic sight had a 5-MOA dot, and the aperture sight was a Lyman 66 with its insert removed. The test results chart I have included might surprise you.
There you have it, some of the things I’ve learned about electronic dot sights over the decades. These tips should help you pick the one that’s right for you.
Red-Dot Sight Directory (Partial Listing)