Are Red Dot Sights Compatible with Different Firearms

Chris G.

Red dots are some of the most common and popular optics. Most probably, you’ve seen them on pistols.

But can pistol red dots be used on rifles? How about shotguns? Carbines? Perhaps your preferred weapon isn’t a pistol but an SMG. Can you mount a red dot on it?

Stick with me as I’ll discuss the red dot optics’ compatibility with different firearm platforms.

Types of Firearms In Which a Red Dot Optic Can Be Mounted

Can you use a red dot sight on a shotgun? How about rifles? Well, one of the coolest things about red dot sights is that they’re very versatile. They can be mounted on various types of firearms to improve aiming accuracy and target acquisition. 

  1. Rifles: Red dot sights are frequently used on AR-15 and M4 rifles, providing quick target acquisition and versatility for both close-quarters and medium-range engagements. 

    Red dot sights can also be mounted on hunting rifles for quick and precise aiming when hunting. They are particularly useful in dense brush when stealth and concealment, not distance, are important factors.
  2. Shotguns: Red dot sights are popular on tactical shotguns used for home defense and law enforcement applications. They improve accuracy and target acquisition in close-quarters situations.
  3. Handguns: Micro red dot sights are commonly mounted on pistols to improve shooting speed and accuracy. In fact, some pistols are specifically designed to accept or mount red dot sights; these are usually labeled as “optic-ready handgun.”
  4. Submachine Guns: Submachine guns such as the MP5 or UMP can benefit from red dot sights for fast and precise aiming, especially in close-quarters engagements.
  5. Carbines: Red dot optics are suitable for various carbines, providing shooters with a fast and intuitive aiming solution in a compact and lightweight form.
  6. Scout Rifles: Red dot sights can be mounted on scout rifles as a versatile aiming solution.
  7. Crossbows: Some crossbow users opt for red dot optics to improve accuracy and target acquisition when hunting or participating in archery competitions.

Properly Mounting a Red Dot Sight

a man aiming a rifle

The proper installation of a red dot sight on your firearm is a key factor in achieving optimal performance and precision. A sight that isn’t properly aligned can result in off-target shots and loss of trust in your gear.

  1. Select the Right Mounting System: Choose a mounting system that is compatible with both your red dot sight and your firearm. Common mounting systems include Picatinny rails, Weaver rails, and specialized mounts designed for specific firearm models.
  2. Check the Compatibility of the Red Dot Sight: Check the specifications and recommendations provided by the manufacturer to avoid any compatibility issues.
  3. Consider Co-Witnessing: Co-witnessing involves aligning the red dot sight with the firearm’s iron sights. This allows for a quick transition between the red dot and iron sights if needed. Some shooters prefer a lower 1/3 co-witness, while others prefer an absolute co-witness.
  4. Use the Right Tools: Use the appropriate tools for mounting the sight. Do not use makeshift tools as these can damage either the red dot, the mount, or the firearm.
  5. Align the Red Dot Sight Correctly: Align the red dot sight with the bore of the firearm to ensure that the point of impact matches the point of aim. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for aligning the sight and making adjustments.
  6. Level the Sight: The red dot sight should be level with the firearm. You can use a bubble level or other leveling tools to achieve proper alignment.
  7. Tighten Screws Gradually and Evenly: When tightening the mounting screws, do so gradually and evenly. Tighten the screws in a crisscross pattern to ensure uniform pressure. Over-tightening can damage the sight or the mounting system.
  8. Check for Movement: After mounting the red dot sight, check for any movement or play in the sight. The sight should be securely attached to the firearm. It should not shift during recoil.
  9. Consider Loctite for Screws: To prevent screws from loosening over time due to recoil, apply a small amount of thread locker (such as Loctite) to the mounting screws.
  10. Verify Zero after Mounting: Once the red dot sight is mounted, verify its zero at the range. Make any necessary adjustments to align the point of impact with the point of aim. 

Applications of Red Dot Sights

Red dot sights are versatile optics with applications across various shooting disciplines. Check out some common applications of red dot sights:

  1. Tactical and Law Enforcement: Red dot sights are widely used in tactical and law enforcement settings. They provide fast and accurate target aiming, which is important when officers need to execute the strong arm of the law.
  2. Home Defense: Red dot sights are popular choices for home defense firearms. Their ease of use makes them effective for close-quarters engagements.
  3. Competitive Shooting: Many competitive shooters, especially in disciplines like 3-gun, USPSA (United States Practical Shooting Association), and IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation), use red dot sights for their speed and precision advantages.
  4. Hunting: Red dot sights are employed when hunting, particularly for fast-moving game. 
  5. Recreational Shooting and Plinking: Casual and recreational shooters often use red dot sights for plinking or target practice. The ease of use makes them enjoyable for shooters of all skill levels.
  6. Personal Defense: Red dot sights on CCW handguns are popular for personal defense. They provide a clear aiming point and are effective in low-light conditions.
  7. Military Applications: Red dot sights are mounted on military rifles, carbines, and other firearms for their speed and versatility in combat situations.
  8. Crossbow Hunting: Crossbow users often equip red dot sights to improve accuracy and aiming speed during archery hunting or shooting competitions.
  9. Training and Skill Development: Red dot sights are valuable tools for training purposes. They help shooters develop and refine their aiming skills, especially in scenarios that require fast and accurate target acquisition.
  10. Backup Optics: Some shooters use red dot sights as backup optics in conjunction with magnified scopes. 


Red dot sights are renowned for their adaptability with different firearms. They can be fitted on a variety of platforms, from handguns to lever-action rifles, using universal mounts such as Docter/Noblex and Trijicon RMR.

Proper mounting of these sights can significantly improve your shooting accuracy and experience. With a properly installed red dot, you’re now more prepared to improve your shooting skills. 

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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