Using the red dot sight on handguns

With the development of the basic red dot gun-sight, it was soon found that when using them on handguns that are hard to control for some people and that also offer the shooter a very short sight radius, the red dot scope (housed) style sight or the HUD (heads up display) can turn things around very quickly when it comes to performance. 

Because of the short sight radius on the handgun, any movement off-target can be magnified greatly when compared to sights used on a long-barreled rifle. 

What the sight will do is eliminate all references to sight alignment, as you’re now dealing with a single aiming point versus two (front and rear sights). And now all the shooter needs do is put that dot on the target and send a round down-range. 

Find out more by reading this helpful article from Hunting Mark.

Ruger MARKIV with HUD sight.

There are issues when using handgun red dot scopes, however, and here are some things you will have to train for when turning to this glass sight system.

Sight wobble

Because the glass sight is magnified or at least superimposed on a glass screen as in HUD sights, there will be some excess or overstated red dot movement when aligned by the shooter. This wobble, as I call it, will differ depending on the ability of the shooter to control the weapon in hand. 

Just like the rifleman needs to develop breathing and trigger control, the hand-gunner needs to develop a smooth grip and also learn how to eliminate as much of that wobble as possible. In this case, less is always more in terms of performance-based standards (hits on targets down-range).

One method that always works is shooting from a rest. I shot the Remington XP-100 on a 22 Hornet and a .223 Rem for years on prairie dogs at long-range, but always used a special small bench rest setup. Trying to hold that sight on a dog’s body at 200 yards was a bit much for my aging carcass.

Tube housing sights. reduced viewing area.

Eye relief

When considering applying a red dot sight to the handgun, some major consideration needs to be given to the amount of eye relief that is designed into the gun sight. Why is this important? Because of recoil. And also, shooting stance and form are different from rifle or shotgun shooting. 

Hand-gunners require a massive amount of distance between their eyes and the gun sight’s rear lens. Without this, and being forced to compress against the scope to sight a target, will result in serious damage to the shooter’s face or eye. 

view from rear on a HUD sight. Note wide open viewing with both eyes open.

Large caliber weapons, such as the 44 Magnum, 500 Smith & Wesson, or the 454 Casull, for example, require an eye relief of at least 17 inches. Recoil is massive and the gun comes back at the shooter very quickly. 

No time or room to duck from the reward movement of the weapon, and even if you could get by without being hit in the face, the shooter will likely flinch and send the shot off target.

In terms of red dot sight design, I like the HUD style using the wide-open sight window with the superimposed red or green dot against the glass. This gives the shooter ample wide-open vision around and beyond the sighting window, and at the same time allows for control of the red dot in a very precise manor when on target. 

For example, I shoot the Truglo ‘Open Dot’ sight. This unit is small, has an easy to acquire glass screen, and is comparable with optics-ready pistol sights. 

The other type of sight is a tube or has a round housing design that requires looking through, much like a scope sight, when picking up the red dot sighting point. In this case you lose peripheral vision regarding areas around the primary target, and also observe your target in a very specific viewing area. 

Ruger MARKIV with HUD sight.

I shoot the Truglo on a Ruger MARK IV 22 LR game or target pistol. The gun is a Black Hills Ammunition presentation model and is ultra-accurate, dependable, and deadly with the use of a 3 MOA red dot.

The red dot sight takes away the traditional approach to shooting a handgun. The only major drawback to this system is that it requires batteries and can go dead just when you need it the most. 

The second problem is the size of the HUD or tube-style sight. In this case, special chest-style holsters are required when carrying the weapon afield. 

If you find it difficult to get your hands on the RDS compatible holster, take a look at our selection here

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