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How to increase mission success with any red dot optic

Because a very small aiming error can turn into a large miss at distance, it is important to know your red dot works and is still on target every time it is deployed

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Red dot sights are fantastic for quick target acquisition before sending rounds downrange.


Red dot sights are fantastic for quick target acquisition before sending rounds downrange. The problem is that red dots can be knocked off zero or they can fail. Here are some ideas to help increase mission success with any red dot optic.

First off, the actual color of the optic doesn’t really matter when we use the term “red dot optics.” Red was the first color used because that was the color of the laser diodes that were available at the time. With the cost of green lasers coming down and the fact that a green laser is subjectively brighter at the same power, green reticles are becoming popular.

When some people talk about red dot optics, they may group reflex and holographic optics. The difference is that reflex sights need a semi-silvered (one-way mirror) or dichroic coating to reflect the reticle, while holographic sights do not. The tradeoff is that while holographic sights can be used in lower light conditions, they use more power and have more complex driving electronics than a reflex optic.

For this discussion, the similarities are more important: Both are non-magnifying, the aiming reticle and the target field both will be in focus, and unlike iron sights, you can still hit your target with your head off-axis.

Bump in the night

Tactical iron sights tend to be low profile and are rigidly mounted to the firearm, while red dot optics are pretty large and accidentally can be bumped off center. Because a very small aiming error can turn into a large miss at distance, it is important to know that your red dot works and is still on target every time it is deployed. Here are five ways you can help keep your sight mission ready:

  1. To ensure your sight has power when you need it, either buy a sight with timed or motion-sensitive auto-off or form muscle memory to turn it off every time you store your weapon. Know the estimated battery life for your sight and test or replace the batteries when the time passes that number.

    For example, if the battery life of a sight without auto-off is 1,000 hours, test or replace the batteries monthly. If your sight has an 8-hour auto-off, you can extend this to quarterly. Replace batteries when they reach about 50 percent power. And think about keeping a spare on hand for extended deployment.

  2. Consider a sight that can use ambient light to drive the reticle. This type of sight works like fluorescent plastic handgun sights, using a light pipe to pick up whatever light is available.
  3. Co-witness your red dot with fixed iron sights. This means that the point of aim for both is the same. You can do this either with an absolute or lower 1/3 co-witness. Choosing what type of co-witness you want to use is largely a matter of personal preference, but there are some things to consider.

    The advantage of an absolute co-witness is if your optic goes down, your sights are already lined up and you just pull the trigger. The downside is that your field of view is blocked by your iron sights, defeating one of the advantages of a red dot optic.

    In the lower 1/3 co-witness, your iron sights are well below the actual point of aim with less clutter in your sight. While aligned horizontally, you have to lower your eye so that the iron sights line up to make your shot.

  4. You also can absolute or lower 1/3 co-witness your optic to pop-up iron sights. While these sights are tightly fixed to your weapon, they fold down to stay out of sight unless you need them. When you deploy your weapon, you can pop them up to double-check your red dot is still aligned then either leave them up or fold them back out of the way for a complete field of view.
  5. If your main concern is that your red dot might fail completely, you can mount fixed or popup 45-degree sights. These sights mount like any other rail accessory but like the name says, they are off to the side and you use them by slightly rotating your weapon to bring them to your eye.

Red dot sights seem like magic. But whether red or green with a circle, dot or combination reticle, your sight is useless unless it is powered on and aimed correctly. This article should give you some tips for doing both.

Ron LaPedis is an NRA-certified Chief Range Safety Officer, NRA, USCCA and California DOJ-certified instructor, is a uniformed first responder, and frequently writes and speaks on law enforcement, business continuity, cybersecurity, physical security and public/private partnerships.

He has been recognized as a Fellow of the Business Continuity Institute (FBCI), a Distinguished Fellow of the Ponemon Institute, Master Business Continuity Professional (MBCP), and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).

Contact Ron LaPedis