How to Zero a Handgun Red Dot Sight

Pistol red dot sights are growing in popularity. While the process of zeroing a pistol red dot is pretty much the same as zeroing a rifle red dot or optic, there are some minor differences.

Red dot sights for pistols are gaining in popularity and are still a controversial topic in the firearms community. Primarily, are the benefits or a red dot worth the drawbacks of optics failure? These exact same debates arose during the early days of red dot sights on rifles, but as reliability and quality increased, those concerns quickly diminished as optics became king on rifles. In my opinion, we are at that point concerning red dots on pistols. Red dots mounted on handguns provide substantial improvements in speed and accuracy.

But just like a rifle optic, a pistol red dot sight must be sighted in, or “zeroed.”

How do you zero a red sight?

At its core, how to sight in a pistol red dot sight, or zero a pistol red dot sight, is mostly the same as zeroing a rifle red dot or rifle variable optic. One of the differences from rifle red dots to pistol red dots is shooters must first determine the pistol’s point of aim. Shoot groups at different distances with your pistol to figure out what distance your pistol sights are zeroed at, probably somewhere around 15 or 20 yards. It’s a good idea to do at minimum a five shot group, and possibly even several shot groupings, just to eliminate human error as much as possible. Just like when sighting in a rifle, use a rest to maintain consistency and accuracy.

Next, use the red dot’s dials to adjust your pistol’s red dot so it matches up with your pistol’s iron sights, just a little bit above the front sight post. (This is one of the multiple reasons why co-witnessed irons are good to have on red dot mounted handguns) Shoot the five shot group again at the distance your pistol iron sights are at to verify zero. As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. It’s always better to over verify a red dot zero than under verify a red dot zero.

If your pistol sights are at the distance you want your pistol zeroed, great, pack up and go home. Generally, a good pistol sight in distance is 25 yards, although that may be different based on personal preference and use case. If you wish to have a different zero, shoot your pistol as is at that distance to see what difference the point of impact is, you might not even need to adjust. The point of impact shift is very minimal from 5 to 20 ish yards, depending on your ammo.

Pay special attention to focusing on the target, not the red dot.

Watch out for different points of impact with different ammo, a concern that is no different than sighting in a rifle. Given pistol distances and the accuracy of off hand shooting, this likely will be an imperceptible factor, but worth considering. If the red dot is mounted on a carry gun, definitely sight the pistol to the ammunition you carry, not your cheap training ammunition.

Be sure to spend a lot of time behind the gun with the red dot before carrying it for self defense. If this is your first time using a red dot mounted pistol, there really is a learning curve to the optic. Mounting a red dot to a handgun for the first time makes you a worse shooter so you can become a better shooter. The greatest learning curve with red dot mounted handguns is the initial sight acquisition. The key to overcoming this hurdle is lots and lots of draws from the holster and dry fire at home is a great way to work in a lot of volume of training (for free!). Eventually, that sight acquisition will become second nature, just like when learning iron sights on a pistol.

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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