Shooters are mounting red dot sights (RDS) on their pistols with greater frequency these days. Once relegated solely to competitive events, they are moving into every discipline of pistol use. Red dot sights and weapon-mounted lights have become so widespread (particularly among military units) that Safariland Holsters has begun making accessory-compatible products.

Despite their growing popularity, concealed-carry pistols with red dot sights remain uncommon. With that thought in mind, I decided to give carrying an RDS-equipped pistol a try.

Much like lasers, it takes some practice to get used to red dots—but once they’re dialed in, they offer some advantages. Speed and accuracy are enhanced at close range, especially when shooting from awkward positions. Off-hand accuracy is improved at range. Shooting on the move is easier. The only drawback, aside from cost, seems to be the ease of using them on carry guns.

Guns and gear

The author's customized G19-pattern pistol. It is seen here with an Adjustable LED RMR and Surefire X300.
The author’s customized G19-pattern pistol. It is seen here with an Adjustable LED RMR and Surefire X300.

My test guns would be my Salient Arms Glock 41 and a custom-built Glock 19-pattern pistol. Ernie at Red Creek Tactical milled the G41’s slide to accept a dot, while the G19 incorporated a “pre-cut” slide made by One Source Tactical (carrying a KKM Precision barrel) mounted on a compact Lone Wolf Distributors Timberwolf frame. I mounted a Trijicon Dual-Illuminated RMR with a 12.9 MOA amber triangle on the G41 and an Adjustable LED RMR with a 3.25 MOA red dot on the G19. I added suppressor-height backup tritium sights to both. Mounting the RMRs on each gun took no longer than 15 minutes.

Rather than wait for new holsters, I “adjusted” several G19 holsters with my Dremel. For appendix in the waistband (AIWB) carry, I modified a JM Custom Kydex model. For standard inside the waistband (IWB) carry, I altered a Pitbull Tactical Bloodline holster. I also used Safariland ALS holsters (including a G34 model for the G41) to round out covering the most practical means of carrying a pistol with an RDS.

The G19 in a Safariland ALS holster.
The G19 in a Safariland ALS holster.

It is extremely important to properly zero pistol-mounted red dot sights at a confirmed distance. Mine are zeroed at 25 yards then fired at closer distances to ensure that I know exactly where to hold. Don’t just throw it on there and think it will be a point and shoot device. Before you trust your life to it, get on the range and practice with it.

Carrying and shooting

The RMR-equipped G41 fit perfectly in the Pitbull Bloodline. While the muzzle protruded form the end a bit, I encountered zero snagging or drawing issues. After the first day the RMR might as well have been absent. Carrying the “dotted” G41 was no less comfortable or difficult to draw than normal. Function was, of course, not impeded in any way—it was just as reliable and accurate as ever.

The G41 in an IWB holster.
The G41 being carried IWB.

The G19 fit equally as well in the Pitbull holster. There was little difference between the G41 and the G19 in comfort or feel when carried at the 3/4 o’clock position. Given my large hands, the G41 was easier to index, but that’s about it. Draws were fast and smooth, and getting on-target was easy. I went on several four-hour-plus drives with the G19, and I almost forgot it was there. Nor was there any change in function—the One Source Tactical slide worked without issue with consistent ejection, excellent accuracy, and complete reliability.

The G19 in the Pitbull Bloodline holster.
The G19 in the Pitbull Bloodline holster.

Theoretically the biggest difference should be felt with appendix carry. It’s a position I use with some frequency, mostly when sitting for long periods is not in the cards—but it is growing on me. If there was going to be a difference it would have been here. But nope, no discernible difference. Carrying over the course of several range days on other tests it was unnoticeable. It didn’t slow the draw stroke, poke or prod anymore than usual, or result in any less comfort. If you prefer this carry position, adding a red dot to your carry gun (at least on the G19 or similar firearms) will change little.

The G19 being carried AIWB.
The G19 being carried AIWB.

Lastly, I ran both pistols in Safariland ALS tactical holsters with and without weapon-mounted lights. Mated to my Survival Armor Warrior vest, the guns locked up perfectly. There was no difference on the draw or when re-holstering, nor did they seem to catch on anything getting in and out of the car or working in and around a shoot house. Mounted on the thigh or hip, there was no difference. I even ran several transition drills with rifles to see whether a sling would catch on it more often. Safariland’s ALS DO holsters cover the RMR so they never interfered. Running both pistols in the Pitbull during transitions caused no issues either, at least none having to due with the RMR.

Thoughts on the RMRs

The fact that the Dual-Illumination RMR doesn't require batteries is a huge plus.
The fact that the Dual-Illumination RMR doesn’t require batteries is a huge plus.

Both the Dual-Illumination and Adjustable LED RMR have their strengths. The Dual-Illumination’s triangle made some serious precision shooting possible, using the point at the top. It comes up quickly at close range and is fast. At distance it will cover much of your target, but we are talking pistol ranges here. Using the tip at the top eliminated most of that. Its only drawback was the ability to wash out in the shoot house with the powerful Surefire X300 light. Since the light brings the iron sights into view, it was not limiting, but nonetheless should be considered. The Dual-Illumination does not require batteries,, nor will it lose contact and turn off with recoil.

The author shooting his custom G19.
The author shooting his custom G19.

The Adjustable LED was great at distance, given its 3.25 MOA dot. It could be found at close range and held accurately farther out. Adjusted to a higher power, it is easily seen during daylight. Crank it up and the light won’t wash out. Its only drawback was that, due to my age, the LED was sparkly with my dominant eye. You will also have to be mindful of replacing the battery.

Conclusion

If you want a red dot sight on your pistol, then get one—even if it is a carry pistol. I kind of wanted there to be an issue or two—short of cost and the need to alter your slide, there were none. Testing most of the common carry methods, there was no appreciable difference in comfort, carry, draw, or re-holstering. Material removed from the slide to add the RMR (and most any other RDS) makes weight differences negligible.

From a strictly carry perspective, it offers no disadvantages. If you like red dots, then have at it—it will only make you better and take nothing away from your ability to carry and use your pistol.

Images by Dave Bahde

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10 thoughts on “Carrying a Pistol with a Red Dot Sight

  1. I think you need more stuff on your handgun. You have a flashlight, and a red dot. I suggest a mini grenade launcher, a camera and pepper spray. A taser would be good,too. Then a retractable bottle opener that pops out with the push of a button.

  2. Good review! I’ve shot red dot on my Ruger 22/45, and super easy and accurate! Have been wondering how they’d work with carry guns and holsters, and you hit those marks, thanks!

  3. Dave, I’m sure you are very good at what you do- a lot of tactical stuff. I just read your article on “Carrying a Pistol with a Red Dot Sight”. Your conclusion was ” From a strictly carry perspective, it offers no disadvantages. If you like red dots, then have at it—it will only make you better and take nothing away from your ability to carry and use your pistol.” I have to disagree. Concealed carry is no place for a red dot. CCW need to be minimal & carried w/consistency. Most fights don’t involve sights at all. Did you ever hear of Paris Theodore or JH Fitzgerald? Do you have any idea what would happen to a permit holder who used their gun & then had to see it in court fitted with a red dot? I’m sure you are an exceptional tactical instructor but lay off giving advice to non-LEOs. Lawyers do well enough without consultant help. Roady

    1. Roady: Reads more like you’re more afraid of the legal system than you are of losing the gunfight. Some people are, which puts them at a disadvantage when they engage in the fight.

      RMRs can assist you at any range. You are correct in saying that they won’t be acquired at the usual close ranges–neither will iron sights, for that matter. So do we just take everything off and go with smooth slides? RMRs can be useful at close range the same way the slide is used for metal-on-meat aiming–frame the center of the upper torso window of the optic and fire. The technique is called the ‘Window of Death’ or ‘TV Screen of Death’ by some. I just call it way way to get fast acquisition at close range.

      Also at close range the optic or irons are good for precision shooting. Also, by moving the dot to a corner of the window, you can make hits even if you’re somewhat off-axis.

      Then there are the small percentage of cases where a shot beyond 20-25 yards will save life. Here the RMR comes into its own.

      As for going to court: Whatever allows me the greatest chance of ending the fight while reducing risk of misses reduces the danger both to myself (or the one I’m defending) and anyone else that is in the area at the time. Increasing accuracy reduces actual and legal risk. An RMR increases accuracy. If my attorney can’t explain that properly I will find another that can.

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