A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Red Dot Sights

Chris G.

Congratulations! You are about to enter into the exciting and thrilling world of shooting firearms. As you venture into this sport, you will eventually encounter the red dot. Upon first firing a weapon armed with a properly tuned red dot, you will wonder if you’ll ever use traditional iron sights again.

Red dot sights are great optics for beginners like you. These devices can truly alter the course of your shooting skills, turning you into a proficient marksman quickly, efficiently, and with more fun!

This guide will serve as your introduction to everything you need to know about red dot sights, explaining how they function, the various types available, and the factors to consider when choosing the right one. 

Understanding Red Dot Sights

a person holding a gun with a red dot sight

Knowing the workings of red dot sights is beneficial for amateur shooters looking to improve their shooting experience. This is what this article is all about.

How Do Red Dot Sights Work?

Wow! An image projected on a transparent glass while you can still see the surroundings? How does that happen? Well, a red dot works on the concept of reflection and collimation. Let me explain how it works:

Inside the optic is a light-emitting diode (LED) that generates a small, focused beam of colored light—usually red. The transparent glass, also called the lens, has a special coating that only reflects the red wavelength while allowing all other light waves to pass through. That’s why the red dot, called a reticle, seems to hover on the glass. 

The glass lens is shaped in a way to ensure that the red light wave is parallel to the eye, minimizing the spread. This principle is called collimation, and the collimated beam of light makes a red dot parallax-free. This means that the red dot will always stay on the target regardless of your eye’s position. 

And that’s basically it. The rest of the red dot sight’s features revolve around these principles. For example, the brightness of the reticle can be adjusted through automatic or manual controls. Some red dots may have apertures that allow you to shift reticle shapes. Red dot sights may have small solar panels that act as backups to the batteries. These are just some of the characteristics and features of red dots.

In order to increase accuracy, you need to zero the reticle, which aligns the bullet’s point of impact with the reticle at various distances. This means adjusting windage (horizontal) and elevation (vertical) settings to match the bullet’s point of impact at a specified distance.

Components of a Red Dot Optic

The red dot is a simple device. Yet it consists of several key components that work in sync to provide a point of aim:

  1. Objective Lens: Also called a spherical mirror, this is the lens at the front of the sight. It has special coatings to reflect red light back to your eyes while allowing all other lightwaves to pass through. The lens has a slight curve to ensure it is parallax-free (i.e., light waves are parallel).
  2. LED (Light Emitting Diode): The LED is the light source of the red dot sight. The light wave is usually deep red with a 670-nanometre wavelength.  An aperture at the front of the lens controls the dot size. 
  3. Reticle: This is the aiming point that the shooter sees on the lens. The reticle could be a simple dot, circle-dot, crosshair, or some other pattern. 
  4. Adjustment Turrets: Windage and elevation adjustment controls allow you to calibrate—or zero—the reticle to ensure accuracy.
  5. Brightness Control: Brightness control buttons or dials adjust the intensity of the reticle so it remains visible to you in various lighting conditions. Some red dots have sensors that automatically adjust the reticle’s brightness according to the ambient lighting condition.
  6. Power Source: Batteries provide power to the LED emitter. The LED is solid-state so it draws very little power, allowing red dots to run for thousands of hours.
  7. Housing: Usually made of durable and rugged materials such as aluminum or titanium, the housing encloses internal components and protects the sight’s sensitive parts from impacts, shocks, vibrations, and harsh elements. Openings and covers are often rubberized or has o-seals to prevent moisture from seeping in.
  8. Mounting System: This attaches the sight to your firearm and ensures a secure and stable attachment. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Red Dot Sight

While a red dot is a wonderful device, it does have its pros and cons.  


1. Easy and Fast Aiming: Red dot sights help you aim quickly, enabling fast target acquisition. The bright dot shows you where to point, making it easy for beginners. No need to align your firearm’s front and rear sight to the target. 

2. Shoot with Both Eyes Open: A red dot is used with both eyes open. This helps you see more around you while aiming.

3. Always on Target: Because of the parallax-free design, the reticle stays on your target even if you move your eyes. This makes aiming simple and accurate.

4. Good for Different Guns: Red dot sights work well on different types of guns like pistols, shotguns, and rifles.

5. Light and Small: Red dot sights are not heavy, and they don’t make your gun bulky. They’re easy to carry and use—perfect for concealed carry pistols or as secondary sights.

6. Easy to Use: Red dot sights are user-friendly. They have simple controls, and the red dot is easy to see.


1. No Zooming In: Red dot sights are not meant for long-distance shooting. They don’t make faraway things look closer. 

2. Needs Batteries: Red dot sights use batteries for the dot to light up. If the battery dies, the sight won’t work unless the sight has some other means to power itself such as solar panels.

3. Hard to See in Very Bright Sun: In super bright sunlight, the red dot might be hard to see. Some sights have settings to fix this.

4. Simple Dot Only: Red dot sights usually only have a simple dot or circle-dot. If you want more complex sights with mil-dots and rangefinders, you might need something else.

5. Tricky to Set Up at First: When you first get a red dot sight, it might take a bit to learn how to set it up correctly. Adjusting the dot to hit where you aim needs practice.

Types of Red Dot Sights

different types of red dot sight

There are different types of red dots in the market. The most common ones are open reflex sights, but there are others, each with its own design, characteristics, and features. 

  1. Tube-style Red Dot Sights: As its name implies, this red dot is shaped like a small tube. It’s commonly used on rifles, carbines, and shotguns. 
  2. Reflex-style Red Dot Sights: These sights have an open design with a single lens in front, looking like a tiny TV screen. Because of their small size, they can be mounted on pistols, even small concealed carry handguns.
  3. Holographic Sights: These sights use holographic technology to project a reticle onto a lens. They provide more complex reticles and offer a wider field of view.
  4. Prism Sights: These sights use prisms instead of lenses to project the reticle. These can be mounted on various firearm platforms.  
  5. Miniature Red Dot Sights (MRDS): Extremely compact and lightweight, these red dots can be mounted on micro pistols or concealed carry handguns. They also act as secondary optics in addition to magnifiers, night vision scopes, and other primary optics on larger or longer weapons.

How to Use Red Dot Sights

Using a red dot sight is a straightforward process. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to use a red dot sight effectively:

  • Familiarize yourself with the controls: Before mounting the red dot sight on your firearm, familiarize yourself with the sight’s controls, including the on/off switch, brightness adjustment, and any reticle options.
  • Install the red dot sight: Mount the red dot sight securely on the firearm, aligning it with the bore and considering eye relief.
  • Turn on the red dot sight: Activate the red dot. Some sights may have buttons, dials, or switches. Adjust the brightness setting to match the ambient lighting conditions.
  • Acquire a sight picture: With both eyes open, bring the firearm to your shoulder and align the red dot with the target. The advantage of both eyes open is an expanded field of view, improved situational awareness, and faster target acquisition.
  • Zero the red dot sight: – Before using the red dot sight in a real-world scenario, zero—or calibrate—it at a specific distance. This involves adjusting the windage and elevation settings to align the point of impact with the reticle.
  • Maintain proper cheek weld: If mounting a red dot on a carbine, shotgun, or rifle, ensure a consistent cheek weld on the stock or cheek piece of the firearm. This ensures a consistent sight picture and aids in rapid target acquisition.
  • Place the red dot on target: Aim the red dot at the desired point on the target. The red dot should appear superimposed on the target, allowing for precise aiming.
  • Focus on the target, not the reticle: Concentrate on the target, not the red dot. The advantage of a red dot sight is that the reticle remains on the target regardless of your eye’s position.
  • Adjust the brightness level as needed: If the ambient lighting conditions change, adjust the brightness settings on the red dot sight accordingly. Ensure the reticle remains visible without causing discomfort or glare.
  • Practice rapid target transitions: Use the red dot sight to practice transitioning between multiple targets quickly. The sight’s design allows for fast and instinctive target acquisition.
  • Understand holdover and holdoff: Familiarize yourself with the holdover and holdoff points of the reticle, especially if you’re using the sight in conjunction with an optic with a bullet drop compensator (BDC). This helps make accurate shots at different distances.
  • Regularly check and maintain: Periodically check the zero of your red dot sight and ensure the sight is securely mounted. Keep the lenses clean and protect them with lens covers when not in use.
  • Practice regularly: No amount of optical technology substitutes for regular practice. The red dot sight is only a tool. You need to hone your accuracy, speed, stance, effectiveness, and skill in shooting through regular practice. guidelines while using any optic on your firearm.


The usefulness of red dot sights can’t be overstated for anyone who shoots whether for hunting, sports shooting, marksmanship, law enforcement, or home defense. A foundational grasp of how they work and their practical applications can greatly improve a beginner’s precision and reaction times.

Armed with this insight, you are now ready to make your way through the exciting world of firearms and the optics that make them even better.

About the author

The name's Chris. Just a regular dude who loves firearms. I've been shooting since I was a kid. My old man taught me the ropes.

I'll never forget the first time I missed an easy shot on a buck, thanks to a bum scope. The image was fuzzier than my dog's butt. After that, I got obsessed with understanding scopes. What makes the good ones tick and the bad ones trash. After a few years and a few thousand bucks, I learned what separates the winners from the losers. Once I had a good stockpile of knowledge, I launched this site.

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