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Person at a shooting range aiming a pistol with a red dot sight attached

How to Use a Red Dot Sight

Adding a high-performance reflex sight to your weapon can speed up target acquisition and improve precision, but only if you know how to use a red dot sight. For most shooters, red dot shooting is highly intuitive, but for others, especially those who are used to traditional scopes or who happen to have a cross-dominant aiming eye, it can be more challenging. The good news is that with a little practice, almost any shooter can improve their proficiency and accuracy with a reflex sight. Let’s take a look at how these advanced optics work and how to get the most from them at the range and in the field.

How the Optic Gets Its Dot

Whether you’re using a reflex, holographic, or prism sight, the red dot is created essentially the same way. A bright light source, either an LED or laser, emits a beam that is reflected back to the shooter’s eye, overlaying the target with a dot, chevron, or reticle, depending on how the beam is collimated, filtered, or split. This effectively reduces the focal planes involved in aiming your gun from the three planes of iron sights–rear sight, front sight, and target–to two planes–dot and target. 

As you learn how to use a red dot sight properly, these planes tend to merge, with the target in focus and the dot intuitively overlaid, effectively creating a single-plane aiming system. The eye and brain have a much easier time lining up your shots, making it far easier to find and acquire your sight picture quickly and get back on target for follow-up shots. It also improves accuracy since you no longer have to hold two planes out of focus while carefully placing the third, as with iron sights.

What a Red Dot Doesn’t Mean

A red dot does not change the physics of firing a ballistic projectile at a target. It’s important to understand that your bullets will still follow an arcing trajectory when they leave the gun. While learning how to use a red dot sight makes finding your aiming point easier, red dot shooting still requires you to manually adjust for range. It’s still necessary to understand at what ranges your bullet passes through the aim point directly and when you need to adjust your aim point up or down to account for the target’s distance. 

Gideon Optics red dot sight mounted on a Canik

How to Use a Red Dot Sight

Reflex red dot sights, whether open or closed emitter, have unlimited eye relief. This means that you can leave both eyes open while aiming. This results in a process that is almost as easy as looking at your target past the gun and lining up the red dot where you want to hit.

  1. Find Your Stable Base. – Adopt a shooting stance that’s suitable for your body and firearm. For most shooters, that will be a weaver or modified weaver stance, as they are the most popular among trainers due to their versatility and ease of learning. Your stance provides a stable platform to aim, fire, mitigate recoil, and move if necessary.
  2. Line Up Your Optic with Your Dominant Eye. – Keep both eyes open, as the stereo vision helps you better gauge distance and provides a wider view of your target, its surroundings, and your immediate area. 
  3. Keep the Dot in the Center of Your Optic While You Focus on the Target. – Guide the centered dot or reticle onto the point you’re aiming at on your target. Adjust your aim point up or down based on the estimated distance to your target.
  4. Squeeze the Trigger Smoothly. – You’ll fire your weapon the same as you would with iron sights, pulling–never jerking–the trigger until it breaks cleanly, firing a round.
  5. Get Back On Target – You’ll find that getting back to your sight picture is just as fast for follow-up shots because you can keep your eyes open and focused downrange throughout the process when shooting a red dot.

How to Use a Red Dot While CoWitnessing

Cowitnessing is when you install your reflex sight in a position where your iron sights can still be seen through your optic’s lens. Some optics can be set up for absolute co-witness, with the red dot lining up with the iron sights exactly, while others allow for lower third cowitnessing, which positions the iron sights for use below the center point of your red dot lens.  Cowitnessing has a few advantages.

  • Increases Situational Flexibility – Sometimes, the iron sights may offer a better aiming alternative, such as for longer-range shooting or when the brightness setting on your optic isn’t adjusted to optimize visibility.
  • Doesn’t Require Batteries – Iron sights never run out of battery power, so you never have to worry about not having a backup aiming platform on hand and ready to go.

Red dot shooting with a cowitness mount set-up is just as simple as using either your red dot or iron sights separately. For aiming with the red dot, line up your shot as above using the illuminated aiming point. To use the iron sights, adjust your weapon to allow you to line up the back sight, front sight, and target.

Tips for Better Red Dot Shooting

Now you know how to use a red dot sight, but using it effectively takes work. Here are a few tips to shorten the learning curve:

  • Practice Makes Precision – The best way to get better using any tool is to practice with it. This includes both range time and dry firing exercises that let you focus on keeping your trigger pull smooth and your anticipation low. 
  • Keep It Clean – The world is filled with oils, dust, and moisture that want to accumulate on your red dot sight. Make sure you know how to clean and maintain your optics.
  • Be Battery Vigilant – Even with modern power-saving features, batteries will wear out. Plan your battery change to fall well within its expected service life, such as every other January or more often, as needed. For extra assurance, make sure you have an extra on hand.
  • Explore Your Optic’s Features – Take the same time to become familiar with your optic as you did with your weapon. Learn what adjustments you can make and how to make them to give yourself the best possible shooting experience.
Various red dot sights from Gideon Optics mounted on different pistols placed next to each other

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