Red-Dot Roundup

A simple guide to red-dot optics and their sometimes-confusing footprints.

Red-Dot Roundup

I am not accustomed to feeling like a dinosaur. Quite to the contrary, I’ve carved out a bit of a niche as a rebellious punk kid, challenging norms, and breaking all the rules. 

Then I stood on the firing line at Gunsite Academy and heard the rangemaster call out, “How many do we have shooting iron sights in this flight?”

In a class of 25, there were only a handful of us shooting without a pistol-mounted optic. 

In that moment, I felt the need to chastise the other shooters for being in my yard, get my dinner out of the way by 4:30, and check the local listings for a Matlock marathon. 

Why Pistol-Mounted Optics?

It’s not difficult to see the appeal. There’s a reason so many shooters use the red-dot platform to introduce children and new shooters to optics and shooting. Red-dot optics are incredibly straightforward and easy to use, and in recent years, they have completely buried the “unreliable” label that they had in their infancy. 

Shooting a pistol accurately, and reliably, requires the shooter to be able to focus on the front sight, while also keeping the sight on the target. It is not an easy task, and for my part, I think it is the most difficult part of shooting a pistol. 

Red-dot optics remove the need to train yourself and your eyes to focus on the front sight and shoot with a blurry rear sight and blurry target. Because to the shooter, the dot is hovering directly on top of the target, the focus can be on what we are shooting at — something that is much easier for most shooters. Because that operation feels more natural to most shooters, it also allows them to react faster, and with more confidence. Whether it is competition or a self-defense situation, a confident, fast response is certainly the goal. 

Virtually all shooters are going to see an improvement in accuracy when shooting with an optic as well. Because the shooting operation feels more intuitive and the dot provides an affirmative confirmation of your aiming point, every shot is closer to where the shooter wants them to impact.

Growing Popularity

Pistol optics aren’t really new; they’ve been around for some decades, but advancements in overall technology and quality, along with a renewed appreciation for the benefits they offer shooters, has helped drive the most recent surge. 

Another factor in the growth in popularity probably has to do with the number of new shooters that have entered the market in recent years. 

For those of us who grew up around guns, and with mentors, friends and family to help us hone our skills, shooting a pistol is one thing. But it’s entirely different for those adult-onset gun owners who have surged into the market in the last handful of years. 

My rangemaster at Gunsite said several times, “They take a little getting used to, more for those of us who came up with iron sights, but once you figure it out, they really are like cheating.” 

For newer shooters, without the network to help them hone their skills or the time or money to invest in training, a pistol-mounted red-dot optic is what can help bring them to a level of proficiency quicker and possibly save their life. 

Optics Footprints

Traditional optics are pretty straightforward. The scope is mounted with rings that attach to either a Weaver/Picatinny or dovetail rail. Make sure the objective bell doesn’t touch and you’re in business. 

Pistol-mounted red-dots are not quite that simple. There are several popular mounting footprints that pistol optics use, so you have to make sure that the pistol will accept the footprint for the optic that the customer wants to use. 

You also have to consider the pistol itself. Some pistols are optics-ready. You might think this would simplify the situation — well, that depends. Some pistols are ready to accept an adapter plate that is configured for whatever footprint the optic being used is. In this case, you simply select the plate that matches the pistol and the optic and you are good to go. Other pistols have been milled to accept only optics that match the footprint milled into the slide. Still other pistols aren’t optics-ready at all and would need to have the slide machined to accept a plate or optic of a specific footprint. 

Overall, the popularity of pistol-mounted optics have driven some change and homogenization of the options, so it isn’t quite the mess it was a handful of years ago, but you still have to be aware of the options you are stocking, for both pistols and optics, and make sure you have the accessories to marry them up. Granted, that’s often easier said than done. 

There are four footprints you need to consider: the RMR and Docter/Noblex are the most common, but the C-More and RMS/c are also in fairly common use. The specifics of each footprint aren’t important for this discussion, but if you aren’t really stocking pistol-mounted optics and are considering it, you will want to look at the models you are looking to bring in and make sure you have everything you need for a given footprint, and that you have options for your customers. 

You also need to keep in mind that there are some platform-specific cases as well. Glock cuts its slides specifically for the company’s MOS (Modular Optics System). The Aimpoint Acro has its own footprint, too. Most platforms fall into the main four we talked about, but there are outliers to consider. 

Any pistol-mounted optic will have listed what footprint it uses, and be sure to lean on your manufacturers and reps for details and solutions when you run into questions. 

Sidebar: Red-Dot Optics for Your Shop

Pistol-mounted red-dots are all going to have a few things in common. They are going to be parallax free and offer unlimited eye relief, just like any red-dot. They will be battery-powered and have a dot of a given MOA size, and maybe a few size options. There are things that will be different though, like the overall size and dimension of the optic, finish, aesthetic, warranty and reputation. Here are a few options to suit shooters with different needs and different budgets. 

Trijicon RMR

MSRP: $731

Footprint: RMR

When there is a handgun optic footprint pattern named after an optic, it’s probably wise to include it on the list and in your shop. The RMR from Trijicon has become the Kleenex of pistol optics, with some shooters simply referring to pistol optics as RMRs. The reputation of Trijicon is well-known, and the RMR has become the bar by which all other optics are measured. It runs on the higher end of the product segment price point, but there are still plenty of shooters that live by the “spend at least as much on your optic as you do on your gun” axiom, even when it comes to handguns. There’s no reason you shouldn’t have a few on hand for a category stalwart. 

Vortex Defender CCW

MSRP: $349.99

Footprint: RMS/c

Vortex has a reputation for building great products that stand up to whatever use is thrown at them, and the Defender CCW is no different. What stood out first to me on the Defender CCW was the Fast-Rack texturing on the face of the optic. Not only does it look cool, but it also allows the shooter to rack the slide off any surface using the face of the optic. With so many products that look the same, because frankly they need to, small things like that can really set a product apart for the user. 

Crimson Trace CT RAD

MSRP: $249.99

Footprint: CT RAD / Compatible with Docter

Crimson Trace is a name synonymous with pistols, but most people think of their lasers before the pistol-mounted optics. Don’t sleep on the rest of the lineup. Crimson Trace makes some great products, including the CT RAD red-dot. Design and construction are solid, and the controls are straightforward. It does everything you would want it to do and comes with the Crimson Trace reputation for quality and performance to with it. 

Sightmark Mini Shot M-Spec M1

MSRP: $149.97

Footprint: Docter

There’s a lot to be said for the value the Sightmark Mini Shot M1 offers. The aluminum housing has a steel protective shield to protect the optics, offering some added durability for a piece that is likely to get bumped, dropped and a little bit abused. All told, the Mini Shot M1 still delivers a lot of the same features you see in units that cost more than twice what it does. Just like you need a good-better-best assortment of other products in your shop, the same is true of pistol-mounted optics. The bonus with this Sightmark piece is you’re getting good pricing on a better product. I’ve used these on everything from compact pistols to AR-platform rifles and even on my shotgun during turkey season. You’ll hear no complaints from me. 


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