Tips for Selling Pistol Optics

More shooters are putting red-dots on their pistols, and you should be stocking what they’re looking for.

Tips for Selling Pistol Optics

Advances in product reliability and durability, combined with clear benefits to the pistol shooter mean that pistol red-dot sights are marching into your store with plenty of lunch money and a cocky attitude.

I’m betting gun stores had a heck of a time trying to sell the first riflescopes. Can you imagine the pushback?

“What? Are you crazy? You want me to put GLASS on my 1873?”

“That might be fine for turkey shoots or arcade games, but if you expect me to put glass on my homestead defense rifle, you’re nuts.”

You get the idea. There was a time when the idea of “glass” optics on working rifles was heretical. However, progress marched steadily onward, as it is wont to do, and even hardcore, old-school rifle sighting conservatives begrudgingly accepted that scopes were reliable and added a metric ton of capability to a good rifle.

Now, we’re rewinding and replaying a similar evolution with “working pistol” optics. Advances in product reliability and durability, combined with clear benefits to the pistol shooter mean that pistol red-dot sights are marching into your store with plenty of lunch money and a cocky attitude.

If someone is going to lay out a few hundred bucks for a pistol optic, a mounting kit and maybe even a new compatible pistol that’s optics ready, the cost-benefit equation has to be clear. So, what are the real pros and cons of pistol optics?

Precision With Speed

There’s a reason pistol optics appeared on the competitive circuit years ago. Those who compete and enjoy wins or suffer losses flip between those outcomes based on tenths or even hundredths of seconds. An extra one or two shots inside of a target line can make all the difference.

But what about pistol optics for defensive use? Some of the same benefits apply. With recognition that individual mileage varies, my experience with pistol optics boils down to this: I can be more accurate, and faster, when my target is at least 5 yards away. That 5-yard figure is an estimate, I admit.

What it means is that at “point-shooting” distance, I’m not necessarily faster with a red-dot. Regardless of what type of sight is on the pistol, at those short distances when I’m pushing the speed hard, I’m sighting with the slide. So, if anything, a red-dot sight gets in the way of rough sighting efficiency, although simply looking through the glass provides a reasonable short-range sight picture.

Where things get more interesting is at 10, 15 and 25 yards. At those ranges, I can put shots on target faster and more accurately with the red dot. Why is that?

One Focal Plane

With a red-dot sight, everything is in one focal plane. In a physical sense, the dot exists on the sight glass. In an “optical” sense, it sits on the target, regardless of distance. As a result, your eye only has to focus on one thing — the target itself. With iron sights, there are three focal points in play: the rear sight, front sight and target. Without training, the eye tries to focus on all three and rapidly flips back and forth between those focus points.

The single-focal-plane benefit is a big deal for defensive shooting because the human brain is programmed to focus on a threat. Can one “train out” that instinct to bring focus back to standard pistol sights? Sure. But if the option exists to allow the brain to follow its instinct, why not roll with it? The intuitive nature of focusing on a threat and seeing a bright aiming point right on that threat is a very big advantage indeed.

Blurry Sights?

As eyes age, the corneas harden and make it harder to focus on close objects like iron sights. Many people can achieve sight focus, but if it requires eye muscles to get involved, that requires time. I noticed a distinct slowing down of my ability to get a proper sight picture as my eyesight started to deteriorate. Red dots can make a big difference in one’s ability to focus a sight picture quickly thanks to that single focal plane at target distance.  

Low Light Conditions

While tritium sights have been the de facto low-light standard for decades, they only work well when it’s really dark. They don’t excel in those transitional light environments. Another advantage of a red dot is that it’s visible in any lighting condition. Some models even adjust on the fly to maximize clarity as light level changes.

“On” Status

In my opinion, any optic on a defensive pistol has to have a rock-solid, never-fail, always-on capability. Whether it remains “on” all the time or wakes up with motion of the pistol doesn’t really matter to me. What matters is that the dot is always there, without fail, when I raise the pistol to sight it. Can you imagine a scenario where you had to flip a switch or lever to “turn on” iron sights? Exactly.

While early pistol optic solutions migrated existing sights to handguns, like the original Trijicon RMRs, newer models such as the Sig Sauer Romeo1PRO and Trijicon SRO are purpose-designed for handgun use, so the on/off option is mostly solved.

Just be aware that many sights that will fit on a handgun won’t have that always-ready capability. For recreational or competition use, it doesn’t matter. For middle-of-the-night use, duty use, or concealed carry, manual activation is a big drawback.

Playing Find the Dot

One of the big complaints about pistol red-dot sights is that it’s hard to find the dot. That’s true — if you look for it.

There is a paradigm shift if you switch from a lifetime of iron-sighted pistols to a red-dot model. Instinctively, most people have a tendency to raise the pistol and start looking for that red dot. It should be easy to find, right? Well, not necessarily. It seems to be one of those mysteries of nature that the more you intentionally look for it, the harder it is to find. Again, your mileage may vary, but I find that if I raise a red-dot-equipped pistol and deliberately look for the dot, I find myself aiming high, so the dot is located past the top of the field of view.

Fortunately, the correction is easy. Forget about the dot. Raise the pistol and look for the front sight, and voila! The dot will be right where you want it. This takes some training to overcome, but then again, so did riflescopes.


Recreational red dots aren’t cut out for defensive pistol use, even if you can mount one. The violent reciprocating slide action is tough enough on the pistol, not to mention precision optics. The Pistol Optics 1.0 era was characterized by sticking existing sights on adapter plates and firing away. Many worked just fine, with the Trijicon RMR being a classic example. It’s a tough and durable sight and hasn’t had too many problems surviving just fine on pistols.

Now, we’re in the Pistol Sights 2.0 world, and new models like the Trijicon SRO and Sig Sauer Romeo1PRO are designed from the ground up to live on pistols. Just as riflescopes gradually evolved to the point where they were considered reliable, so go red dots on pistols.


If I had a nickel for every person who poo-pooed red dot sights on pistols or rifles because, “the battery will die at the worst possible time,” I would be in Aruba sipping on mai tais. Are those people right? Yes. Are we all big boys and girls that can take responsibility for changing out batteries regularly? Also, yes

We seem to do an admirable job of similar activities like paying electric bills to keep the power on and filling up the car with gas, so I suspect with a little proactive effort, we can change sight batteries, too.

Besides, if you’re worried about this, it’s easy enough to install sights tall enough to co-witness through the glass. That approach offers a secondary benefit of taking away the temptation to “find the dot” as previously discussed.

Pistol Optics Options

There are a wide variety of red dots that will fit on a pistol. The list of ones optimized for more serious use is much shorter. Here are a few examples of solid pistol red dots.

Trijicon SRO - The Trijicon SRO is new on the market and designed specifically for pistol use. The primary visible difference is the size and shape of the window. It’s rounded and a bit larger than that of the RMR. At first glance, it looks huge, but when you compare the SRO and RMR side by side, you can see that the SRO is more efficient in the frame, so it fits a larger window without a significantly larger exterior profile.

The SRO models include some improvements over the RMR. The SRO features manual and automatic dot intensity modes, and the battery loads from the top, so you don’t have to remove the entire unit from the pistol and reverify zero when changing the battery. It’s also footprint compatible with the earlier RMR models so it will fit on the same pistols and adapter plates.

Sig Sauer Romeo1Pro - The new Sig Sauer Romeo1Pro uses an automated on/off system called MOTAC, or Motion Activated Illumination system. With 12 brightness settings, two of which are night-vision compatible, the battery will power this unit for 20,000 hours. In plain English, when the Romeo1PRO senses any motion at all, the dot turns on. When stationary, like in a safe, the dot powers off to save battery life.

The aluminum housing is thinner than that of the original RMR and uses a rounded top profile to provide maximum window size for easy dot acquisition. You can get a Romeo1Pro with either a 3- or 6-MOA red dot. It’s mount is compatible with any optics-ready Sig Sauer pistol and other pistols or mounting plate system for the Romeo2 / Pro interface.

Trijicon RMR - One drawback of the Trijicon RMR is its small window size. One benefit of the Trijicon RMR is its small window size. For carry, this tradeoff makes a lot of sense. Assuming a traditional strong-side carry position with a forward cant angle, the RMR doesn’t present much if any cover garment bulge. With most holsters, the optic portion sits above the beltline, and while it does protrude, the effect is subtle.

The RMR is also a proven option. Built like a tank, it can take the knocks and dings inherent to daily pistol carry and hard use. One big plus of the RMR option is the range of configurations. Three basic model types include fixed-brightness battery operation, adjustable intensity battery operation, and dual-illuminated version powered solely by fiber optic and Tritium. Each option is available with multiple “dot” size choices. That’s great for customer choice, although tough for stocking decisions.

Leupold DeltaPoint Pro - A general-purpose red-dot sight, the DeltaPoint Pro works well on pistols, too. Like the Sig Romeo1Pro, it uses motion-sensor technology to turn on and off as needed whenever the unit senses motion. It’s available in a 2.5-MOA red-dot configuration and with a 7.5-MOA triangle-shaped aiming point. Mounting compatibility is excellent, as most gun manufacturers offer adapters that fit.

What About Holsters?

More and more holster makers are offering pre-cut fits for common red-dot-compatible pistols. The positioning of the sight itself tends to interfere with the holster body unless accounted for, so don’t assume that a standard holster will work

I’ve also seen that mounting clip locations can get in the way of the sight location, so in some cases, a manufacturer can’t just cut material from that area of the holster shell. They have to redesign the layout and mount locations. Of course, for Kydex or injection-molded holsters, a little Dremel shaping can usually solve the problem if a favorite configuration isn’t available.

The Bottom Line

While it will probably be some time before local law enforcement agencies will shift to red-dot-equipped pistols for standard issue, we’re seeing more and more tactical use of these configurations. The wave of pistol red-dot standardization is coming one way or the other, and the only unknown at this point is how long it will take before more pistols on the shelf are red-dot ready than not.

It’s a good time to start thinking about adding not only pistol-ready red-dot sights, but also any required mounting adapter solutions for common optics-ready pistols. I’m fairly confident a general store or two got left in the dust back in the day when riflescopes started to catch on.


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