A Basic Guide to Red Dot Sights for Beginners

Chris G.

In the sport of shooting, novices must learn quickly and enjoy the experience. Beginners often scoff and get discouraged if they experience the challenges and complexities of shooting a handgun, shotgun, carbine, or rifle during their first few sessions.

Novices tend to stick and nurture their interest if their first few experiences are enjoyable. That’s where the red dot sight comes in. By using a red dot, they can shoot easier, faster, and more accurately, which makes them love the experience.

I’ll discuss how using red dots can benefit beginners, the challenges that beginners face when using red dots, and some tips to make beginners maximize the use of their first red dot.

Understanding Red Dot Sights

What are the basics of red dot sights? While it may look sleek and high tech, a red dot, a type of open reflex sight, is really a simple but effective optical device for firearms. It works by using a solid-state light emitting diode (LED) onto a glass lens. The glass lens has a special coating that only reflects the red (sometimes green or yellow) wavelength of light while allowing all other wavelengths to pass through. The result is the optic’s namesake—a red dot that serves as an aiming point.

To use, simply point the firearm and superimpose the red dot on the target. Given the right range, ballistics, training, and other factors, the bullet should impact the target.

All other characteristics, designs, and features of a red dot sight revolve around this basic concept.

Benefits of Using Red Dot Sights for Beginners

If you’re a novice shooter, you’ll soon come to realize the many advantages of using red dot sights.  The user-friendly nature of red dot sights makes them an excellent choice for beginners, providing a positive introduction to firearm optics and helping in the development of essential shooting skills.

  1. Simplicity and Ease of Use: Red dot sights have a straightforward design, making them easy for beginners to understand and use. There are no complex sight pictures or alignment issues.
  2. Fast Target Acquisition and Aiming: Beginners can simply place the illuminated dot on the target without the need to align multiple sights, which allows for faster and more intuitive aiming.
  3. Both Eyes Open When Shooting: Red dots are meant to be used with both eyes open. Novice shooters stay aware of their surroundings other than the target
  4. Reduced Aiming Complexity: Unlike traditional iron sights that require precise alignment, red dot sights are more forgiving. Simply point and shoot. This reduces the complexity of aiming for beginners.
  5. Comfortable Shooting Experience: Red dot sights can reduce eye strain and fatigue compared to traditional iron sights. The shooting experience is more comfortable and enjoyable, especially during extended practice sessions.
  6. Versatility for Different Shooting Activities: Red dot sights are versatile and can be used in various shooting activities including target shooting, plinking, and even home defense. 
  7. Encourages Proper Fundamentals: By simplifying the aiming process, using red dot sights allows beginners to focus on developing proper shooting fundamentals such as trigger control, breath control, and stance.

Challenges of Beginners When Using Red Dots

a closeup of a gun

Red dot sights certainly have their merits, especially for beginners, but it’s equally important to be aware of the potential obstacles you might encounter when first using them. 

  1. Parallax Awareness: Beginners may not fully understand the concept of parallax and its impact on the sight picture. 
  2. Learning Curve for Both Eyes Open Shooting: Using both eyes open while aiming can be a new experience for beginners, especially if they’re used to using traditional iron sights. It may take some time to get used to this shooting technique, and some individuals may find it initially challenging.
  3. Adjusting to Non-Magnified Optics: Red dot sights are typically non-magnified, which may be an adjustment for beginners who are used to magnified optics. 
  4. Distraction from the Target: Some beginners may find the reticle distracting when they focus on the target. Focusing on the dot instead of the target can lead to accuracy issues.
  5. Proper Sight Height and Alignment: Achieving the correct sight height and alignment can be a challenge for beginners, especially if they are not familiar with the proper setup. 
  6. Environmental Factors: Beginners may not be aware of how glare, reflections, adverse weather conditions, and other environmental factors can affect the visibility of the red dot. 
  7. Quality of Optics: Inexpensive or poor-quality red dot sights—which might be the first option for beginners—may have limitations in terms of durability, clarity, and reticle quality. Beginners should carefully select a reliable and well-reviewed optic to avoid potential issues.
  8. Overreliance on the Red Dot: Some beginners may develop an overreliance on the red dot, neglecting fundamental shooting skills. Users need to maintain proficiency with iron sights and not solely depend on the red dot.

Beginners should spend time and effort in understanding the specific features of their red dot sight, practice proper sight alignment, and gradually develop familiarity with both the sight and the shooting environment. Asking for guidance from experienced shooters or instructors can also help address these challenges more effectively.

Getting Started: Using a Red Dot Sight for the First Time

Do you want to improve your shooting capabilities with a red dot sight? Excellent decision! Check out these tips to help you out: 

  1. Understand the Basics: Familiarize yourself with the basic components of the red dot sight, including the on/off switch, brightness controls, and any additional features specific to your model. Read the user manual thoroughly.
  2. Mount the Sight Correctly: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the correct placement and alignment. Pay attention to achieving the right height over bore.
  3. Zeroing In: Calibrate, or zero, the red dot sight for accuracy. Start at a close range (e.g., 25 yards) and make adjustments to bring the point of impact to the point of aim. Follow the specific zeroing instructions provided by the manufacturer.
  4. Understand the Reticle: Different models offer various reticle options such as dots, circles, or other patterns. Choose a reticle that suits your preferences and shooting needs.
  5. Both Eyes Open Shooting: Practice shooting with both eyes open. This technique enhances situational awareness and allows you to maintain a broader field of view. 
  6. Adjust Brightness Settings: Experiment with the brightness settings of the red dot sight. Adjust the illumination level to match the ambient lighting conditions. Too bright or too dim settings can affect visibility and target acquisition.
  7. Practice Target Acquisition: Practice acquiring targets rapidly with the red dot sight. Focus on bringing the dot onto the target efficiently. This is one of the primary advantages of using a red dot sight, and regular practice will improve your speed and accuracy.
  8. Pay Attention to Eye Relief: Maintain a consistent and comfortable eye position to prevent injuries and ensure a clear sight picture. This is especially true if you’re using a red dot sight on a firearm with recoil.
  9. Practice at Different Distances: Practice shooting at various distances to become familiar with how the red dot sight performs at different ranges. This will help you build confidence and adapt to different shooting scenarios.
  10. Backup Iron Sights: If your red dot sight is your primary optic, consider learning how to use the iron sights on your firearm. This ensures that you have an alternative aiming option in case the red dot fails or encounters issues.
  11. Environmental Adaptation: Practice shooting in different environmental conditions such as low light or bright sunlight. 
  12. Seek Guidance: Experienced shooters or instructors can provide valuable tips, address specific concerns, and help you optimize your use of the red dot sight.

Popular Red Dot Sight Brands and Models for Beginners

a man holding a Vortex red dot sight

Once you have a solid understanding of how to use a red dot sight, it’s time to get familiar with some beginner-friendly brands and models. Are you ready?

  1. Vortex Optics
    • Model: Vortex Crossfire Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Affordable, durable, and known for good optical quality. The Crossfire series offers a variety of models suitable for different firearms.
  2. Bushnell
    • Model: Bushnell Trophy TRS-25 Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Compact and affordable, the TRS-25 is a popular choice for beginners. It offers a 3 MOA red dot reticle and has a long battery life.
  3. Holosun
    • Model: Holosun HS403G Paralow Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Known for its durability and long battery life. The HS403G features a 2 MOA red dot and offers various brightness settings.
  4. Sig Sauer
    • Model: Sig Sauer Romeo5 Compact Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Compact, lightweight, and durable. The Romeo5 features a 2 MOA red dot reticle, motion-activated illumination, and offers excellent value for the price.
  5. Primary Arms
    • Model: Primary Arms SLx Advanced Rotary Knob Microdot Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Compact design, crisp 2 MOA red dot, and rotary knob for easy brightness adjustment. Offers good performance at an affordable price.
  6. Burris
    • Model: Burris FastFire III Red Dot Sight
    • Features: Compact and lightweight with a 3 MOA red dot reticle. The FastFire III is known for its durability and ease of use.
  7. UTG
    • Model: UTG 6.4″ ITA Red/Green CQB T-dot Sight
    • Features: Budget-friendly with a T-dot reticle, this UTG sight is known for its reliability and ease of use.
  8. Aimpoint
    • Model: Aimpoint PRO (Patrol Rifle Optic)
    • Features: A bit higher in price, the Aimpoint PRO is known for its rugged construction, long battery life, and crisp 2 MOA red dot. It is widely used by law enforcement.
  9. Nikon
    • Model: Nikon P-Tactical Spur Reflex Sight
    • Features: Compact and lightweight with a 3 MOA red dot reticle. The P-Tactical Spur is known for its durability and clear optics.
  10. Leupold
    • Model: Leupold Freedom RDS Red Dot Sight
    • Features: A reliable option with a 1 MOA red dot reticle. The Freedom RDS is known for its quality construction and user-friendly design.

Conclusion

Are red dot sights good for beginners? If you’re just starting out, using a red dot sight can significantly improve your shooting experience by providing speed, accuracy, and user-friendly features. 

Trusted brands such as Aimpoint, Vortex, and Trijicon offer models that are perfectly suited for beginners. With consistent practice and a touch of patience, you can master your red dot sight. You can bolster your shooting abilities and confidence in the process.

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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