Results of a 4 Year Handgun Red Dot Study by Sage Dynamics

In short, quality modern red dots are durable, handgun mounted red dots allow the shooter's focal point to remain on target, and handgun mounted red dots drastically improve accuracy.

Results of a 4 Year Handgun Red Dot Study by Sage Dynamics Pistol Drill

Handgun red dot sights are all the rage these days, but also the source of a lot of controversy – much like red dot sights for rifles not that many years ago. As technology improves, micro red dots durability improves, and batteries last longer – the pistol red dot is only going to get more popular. At this rate, red dots on a pistol will be as ubiquitous as optics on a carbine.

To prove that point, Aaron Cowan from Sage Dynamics has spend the last 4 years conducting a study on the use of handgun red dot sights, specifically for police duty handguns.

The full study: “Miniaturized Red Dot Systems for Duty Handgun Use” – by Aaron Cowan.

It is a very comprehensive 64 page overview of everything Aaron found out within the study. For those who don’t want to read the entire study, then keep on reading here for my summary.

Original hypothesis

a MRDS is not only more efficient than traditional iron sights for the duty handgun, but that the MRDS would provide distinct advantages not possible with proper iron sight use.

If you want the conclusion now, Aaron has concluded that modern micro red dot sights for handguns improve speed and accuracy and are sufficiently durable.


The testing conducted drop tests, impact tests, hot and cold tests, submerging in water, and live fire testing. The study includes specific numbers on page 16/17 for those who are interested, but it concluded the Leupold Deltapoint Pro and Trijicon RMR are the two most reliable micro red dots, which are often called reflex sites.

Interestingly, this handgun red dot study also found Energizer and Sony batteries cannot reliably withstand the handguns’ recoil, but Duracell’s batteries held up to a handgun’s recoil. Are many shooter’s pistol red dot reliability issues actually battery reliability issues?

Handgun Red Dot and Iron Sight Target Aquisition

Fast target acquisition

One of Aaron’s primary cases for the use of red dot sights on handguns is the focal limitations of the human eye – or as Aaron calls it, “focal plane confusion.” With iron sight shooting, we’re taught to focus on the front sight, leaving the rear sights and target blurry. This allows for accuracy, but does not allow the shooter to maintain ideal situational awareness – which is naturally quite important for self defense use. A red dot on a pistol allows the shooter to focus on the target and simply place the red dot on the target. In the case of police officers, this is useful for watching a suspect’s actions, while still keeping the pistol sights on target.

Handgun accuracy in force on force

For this test, the study used a Glock 17 with iron sights and another Glock 17 without backup iron sights and only a Trijicon RMR with 6.5 MOA dot. 12 students were put through 4 consistent scenarios with the iron sights or red dot sight. The following is a graph of force on force testing.

Handgun Micro Red Dot Sight vs Iron Sights Accuracy Graph

Clearly, the pistol mounted red dot provided greater accuracy, both in total hits as well as hits within the vital area. The shooters with red dots even had to put less shots on target due to the increased accuracy. The drastic improvement in vital hits is more clearly illustrated in the two contrasting hit maps comparing shot placement.

Handgun Iron Sight Hit Map

Handgun Red Dot Sight Hit Map

Both iron sight and red dot shooters very consistently reported they focused on the threat. However, the vast majority of iron sight shooters reported they did not see their sights. In contrast, the vast majority of red dot shooters reported they did use their red dot. That can quite clearly be seen in the graphs showing shot placement – red dot sights consistently improved accuracy in these force on force scenarios.

Addressing optic failure

All mechanical and electrical devices can, and eventually will, fail. A red dot failure is possibly the most often reluctance for its adoption. If an optic fails, back up iron sights are easily used, and the window of the red dot can act as a ghost ring for close distance accuracy.

In the case of optic view obstruction, particularly fogging, both eyes open shooting can still be used to obtain fairly accurate shooting in self defense shooting distances. Aaron explains it extremely well starting on page 59, I recommend his explanation over a short summary from me. Red dot fogging is quite unlikely except in the most hot and humid of environments. It is also almost entirely preventable through treatments such as Cat Crap.


The study goes into much greater detail as to how the study was conducted, relevant information from the findings, and more detail about the findings. It also goes over recommended training regimens and suggestions on how to get a police department to adopt handgun red dots. I intentionally kept my summary short to provide a digestible overview of the extensive study.

In short:

  1. Quality modern red dots are durable
  2. Handgun red dots allow the focus to remain on target
  3. Handgun red dots improve accuracy

In closing, the validation for MRDS as an increase in officer effectiveness has been well established by this white paper and will assist in adoption of MRDS on duty handguns, it is now up to law enforcement to further their never-ending efforts to increase officer efficacy.

Thank you so much Aaron Cowan for this comprehensive 4 year study on pistol mounted micro red dots.

What do you think about handgun mounted red dots?

Written by - always a student, sometimes a teacher.

I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.

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