Study Suggests Red-Dot Optics Improve Pistol Accuracy

Study Suggests Red-Dot Optics Improve Pistol Accuracy

Trijicon RMR OpticsHours spend honing a sight picture. Countless dry fires developing the proper trigger pull. Weekends planted at the shooting range making it all come together.

There are few things shooters obsess over more than accuracy. Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts in developing tack-driving precision when behind the trigger. Or is there?

A recent study by James E. Ryan and Robin Adler suggests there might be one accessory that will tighten up a handgun shooter’s groups in a hurry – a red dot sight. The criminology professors at Vermont's Norwich University came to this conclusion after running a comparative study between the optic and iron sights.

Ryan and Adler had 27 students shoot a four-stage pistol course (go to the study via for a more detailed explanation of each stage) using a Glock 19 9mm on IDPA cardboard targets. The academics divided the targets into three zones: Zone 1 center mass, Zone 2 an octagon just outside center mass and Zone 3 the periphery of the target.

IDPA target and zones used in optics studyWhen everything was said and done, the students shooting with a red dot optic –  a Trijicon Ruggedized Miniature Reflex sight – proved much more accurate.

While there was little overall difference in the two groups connecting with the target, those outfitted with the red dot had a higher percentage of shots drill Zone 1. From Ryan and Adler's numbers, red dot shooters connect on center mass 58 percent of the time over the course, compared to 42 percent for iron sights.

Shooters connecting with the eight-inch center circle more often with a red dot won't come as a surprise in certain corners of the shooting world. Gabe Suarez, tactical instructor for Gunsite Academy, for instance, has become an advocate of the optic. And anybody that follows 3-Gun knows the accessory has been commonplace in the competitive circuits for some times now.

The reasons why red dots outperform their traditional counterparts are no mystery. As Ryan and Adler detail, the optics promote a slew of habits that make shots more efficient and accurate:

[A]n illuminated red dot might make shooting with both eyes open easier. This kind of aiming aids situational awareness and reduces ‘tunnel vision.’ Furthermore, a red dot can eliminate ‘eye sprint,’ the constant focusing and refocusing on the front sight, rear sight and target to get a properly aligned sight picture. A red dot allows the shooter to simply place the red dot on the target.


Next Step: Get your FREE Printable Target Pack

Enhance your shooting precision with our 62 MOA Targets, perfect for rifles and handguns. Crafted in collaboration with Storm Tactical for accuracy and versatility.

Subscribe to the Gun Digest email newsletter and get your downloadable target pack sent straight to your inbox. Stay updated with the latest firearms info in the industry.

Previous article What Does it Take to Win the Junior Olympic Women’s Air Rifle Competition?
Next article Secure Your Firearms with these Gun Safes
Elwood Shelton is the Digital Editor for Gun Digest. He lives in Colorado and has provided coverage on a vast spectrum of topics for GD for more than a decade. Before that, he was an award-winning sports and outdoors reporter for a number of newspapers across the Rocky Mountains. His experience has consisted of covering the spread of chronic wasting disease into the Western Slope of Colorado to the state’s ranching for wildlife programs. His passion for shooting began at a young age, fostered on pheasant hunts with his father. Since then, he has become an accomplished handloader, long-range shooter and avid hunter—particularly mule deer and any low-down, dirty varmint that comes into his crosshairs. He is a regular contributor to Gun Digest Magazine and has contributed to various books on guns and shooting, most recently Lever-Actions: A Tribute to the All-American Rifle.


  1. The study did not state how many, if any, of the 27 students were already proficient shooters. I can see how a red dot would be much easier for a beginner. Personally, I am actually more accurate with iron sights as compared to a red dot and/or a laser.

  2. If you need a red dot on your pistol for accuracy, you need a whole lot more shooting practice!!! The only “slew of habits” that a red dot on a pistol will promote are bad ones, I can see them used in a competition, but its a bad idea for people in general to become dependent on any aiming device like a red dot on a handgun other than the manufacturer provided sights to be proficient with a handgun.

    • Young shooters, shooters with good eyesight…why invest in anything beyond an iron sight if you are hitting the target fine. However, older shooters, failing eyesight, dwindling depth of field…that’s another story. Keep practicing after years of shooting…that can’t hurt, but how do you practice better eyesight? It’s difficult for us older folks to give in to the fact that we aren’t young anymore, don’t have the pristine eyesight anymore, and why the heck is my gun shaking when I shoot. Well, I can’t do much about the new lack of steadiness, but the red dot is definitely the answer to the depth of field problem. You younger folks will figure all this out in a few years. But remember, I didn’t say to stop practicing.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.