Handguns And Red-Dots

When it comes to wielding a defensive handgun, you can't afford to use sights that you can't see.

Early pistol sights were near non-existent. Look at two of the most famous handguns of all time: the Colt Peacemaker and the Colt 1911. Even folks with 20/20 vision needed reading glasses to see the sights on these handguns.

As shooters begin to realize pistols were actually capable of accurate aimed fire, the sights got better. Today we have a plethora of highly visible sights to choose from, even some with tritium vials to light them up in the dark. But, I’m not so sure we have arrived at the pinnacle of pistol sights.


This Nighthawk Custom 1911 is called the Shadow Hawk and is an example of a high-end defensive handgun outfitted with a mini red-dot sight. In this case a tritium-powered Trijicon RMR.

Back before the new millennium, the term “race gun” was coined to identify competition pistols, most of which were fitted with red-dot sights. These compensated, semi-automatic pistols held lots of ammo and hardly recoiled at all when fired. They allowed competitors to breeze through stages of fire, blasting rounds downrange with fierce speed and precision accuracy. From a personal protection standpoint, none of these handguns or sights was practical. They were simply too large and cumbersome to conceal.

With the advent of the mini red-dot reflex sight, some gun savvy individuals began looking at another option. These micro optical sights weigh as little as 2-3 ounces and are only a couple inches long and about an inch tall. By installing them on the slide of a standard-duty-size handgun, shooters were able to have a race-gun -ike sight option on a pistol that could be effectively concealed.

Nothing of course is perfect, and one problem was that there were not any concealed carry holsters to accommodate this new sight system. Secondly, these sights rely on batteries, and if you pull your handgun and the batteries in your sight are dead, you might end up that way, too.


The new Smith & Wesson Core pistol comes out of the box ready for a mini red-dot sight. This one is wearing a battery-powered Trijicon RMR.

The answer to this problem was to install tall iron sights that you can see through the mini red-dot sight. This way, if your sight did not work, you still had open sights to fall back on. The concept is somewhat similar to co-witnessing back-up iron sights on an AR with a zero magnification red-dot sight. The holster side of the equation is fixing itself, and more holsters will continue to become available as more folks gravitate to this system.

And, they will. They will because for practical handgun application in a defensive situation, this both eyes open form of shooting with an aiming point or dot that seems to float in front of your eyes is deadly effective.

I’ve conducted a good bit of testing with this concept and have found I like it. It’s very fast to use but, admittedly, there is a learning curve. If you try only a few magazines through a pistol equipped with a mini-red dot sight you’ll probably walk away underwhelmed. For me it took about 250 rounds and judicious concentration to get trained up. I still find the battery thing problematic and I don’t like the high iron sights. There is, however, a solution to both of those problems.

The Trijicon RMR
The RMR from Trijicon is a mini red-dot sight and it comes in three versions. One has a non-adjustable, 3.25 MOA (Minute of Angle) or 6.5 MOA LED dot. It is battery powered. There is another battery-powered version with a 1 MOA, 3.25 MOA or 6.5 MOA dot that can be adjusted for intensity. The gem of the three is illuminated by fiber optics and tritium. No batteries to worry about and you can choose a reticle or dot that is either amber or green and subtends to between 7 MOA and 13 MOA.

I prefer the triangle aiming point and found that with a proper zero you simple place the aiming triangle over the vital triangle of a bad guy—at any distance out to about 50 yards—and pull the trigger. I have not found a simpler, faster, or more efficient aiming system for a defensive handgun. The good news is that both Smith & Wesson and Glock are now offering pistols ready to accept the Trijicon RMR. And, if you prefer high end 1911s, Nighthawk has an RMR compatible model too.


New-age defensive handgun sights like these from XS are among the best and easiest to see options. However, they—like all iron sights—pale in comparison to the red-dot when it comes to visibility in any light.

Do you still need sights on your pistol? That depends. Trijicon RMRs are very rugged; they’re built to withstand battlefield conditions. However, if you go with the battery-powered version, common sense dictates a need for backup sights. Trusting your life to a battery is about as smart as trusting your vote to a politician.

With the tritium version, I would not worry about the iron sights. The only thing you’ll have to do is get used to the system. Then again, you might wait a bit longer. This technology will continue to evolve, these new fangled sights will get smaller, and before long, more handguns ready to accept these sights will be available.

Aside from the advantages these sights bring to the defensive handgun’s effectiveness, consider the aid they bring to shooters with aging eyes and their potential on hunting handguns. Handguns and red-dot sights are the future unless someone comes up with something better real soon.

You might also like to read Richard Mann's The Rules of Gunfighting.


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