Competition Self Defense

Size Matters and Bigger is Better

Dot sizes on pistol mounted optics can make a difference depending on the application. In my opinion, larger dots lend themselves exceedingly well to situations calling for multiple fast good hits.

I’ve been shooting with pistol mounted red dot sights (RDS) for a couple of years now. In that time, I’ve tried several different RDS optics and fielded many questions from readers about them. The most common question I get is, “What optic should I mount on my pistol?” That question is often followed by, “How should I mount said optic to my pistol?” My answers to those questions depend on what the reader is intending to do with the pistol and optic, which I’ve written about before. However, I want to take a minute to share how my preferences for dot sizes and, to some extent, RDS reticles have evolved over time. More specifically, my growing preference for larger sized dots. Hence the click bait title of this post.

If I recall correctly, I first asked the late Sean Hoffman about picking a dot size when I attended his pistol/rifle class back in 2019. During that class, while he was teaching me about the gun fit issues I had with the pistol I brought to the class, he let me shoot his pistol which was outfitted with a Trijicon SRO. That was my first time shooting a pistol with a mounted optic and the moment where my fascination with pistol mounted dots began. But I digress, I do recall his answer about dot sizes, “Smaller dots lend themselves well to precision shooting, but are harder to steady, while larger dots lend themselves to faster shooting.”

I’ve repeated that explanation in many posts when I’ve explained my reason behind opting for a middle of the road dot size as being what I considered to be a fair compromise between precision and speed. I don’t know that I was wrong per se, but I do think that my decision was naive at the very least.

So what changed? Even today, I think the explanation Sean provided me with is sound. I also think there is a place for the compromise I initially made. However, as I’ve been exposed to different dots and gained experience shooting them I’ve noticed a few things, albeit anecdotally, that have evolved my opinion. I want to emphasize that this is just my opinion. Take from that what you will as your mileage will undoubtedly vary.

While I had held and touched several pistol mountable RDS optics, I really had not shot a pistol with anything other than the 3.25 MOA RMR enough to evolve my opinion until the fine folks at Primary Arms send me a Holosun 507C X2 equipped with their ACSS Vulcan reticle for evaluation. The ACSS Vulcan reticle provides a 10 MOA tall chevron to aim with. There were two main things about the large chevron that left a big impression on me. The first was how much easier I felt the chevron was to pick up (or find) as the pistol was presented or when recovering from recoil. It felt like I was able to find the 10 MOA chevron significantly easier during the short evaluation of the 507C X2 than I had ever been able to find 3.25 dot on the RMR after years of shooting, training, and practicing with it. Even though this feeling was noticeable, I essentially dismissed it due to the second thing about the chevron that left an impression on me. That second thing was that I seemed to struggle maintaining visual focus on the target. It was as if the chevron was telling me to “look here” and my visual focus often shifted to the chevron. This shift of visual focus is not desirable for defensive civilian applications nor is it desirable for the types of competitive pistol applications I am interested in.

I suspect my experience with the 507C with the Vulcan reticle subconsciously planted a seed of curiosity in my head as I started paying attention to the dots folks were using at training courses and at competitive matches I attended.

On the training side of things, I pretty much saw nothing other than RMR and 507C optics. There was an occasional oddball optic that went against the grain, but this was rare. The RMR optics were almost always of the 3.25 MOA dot variety while the vast majority of the 507C optics were equipped with the multi-reticle system which is made up of a 2 MOA center dot and 32 MOA ring that encircles the center dot. Discussions with some of the instructors who were using the 507C optics with the multi-reticle systems generally echoed my experience with the ACSS chevron’s size – bigger is easier or faster to find and use.

On the competition side of things, there were a lot of different pistol optics with a much wider variety of dot sizes and reticles. Filtering the optics used by accomplished and seasoned competitive shooters, I noticed a strong preference for larger windows combined with larger dot sizes. Discussions I had with those competitors revealed a consistent theme of larger dots lending themselves to faster shooting and improved tracking under recoil especially when combined with larger windows. Given the nature of the competitions I participate in, namely USPSA, IDPA, and Steel Challenge, this bias made a lot of sense since the name of the game is fast and accurate hits (which also is analogous to the needs for defensive pistol applications).

The combination of my experience with the ACSS Vulcan reticle and the data I collected influenced my relatively recent decision to replace the 3.25 MOA RMR with a 6.5 MOA RMR on the VP9. The results have been positive. Here are some of the benefits I’ve noticed:

The larger dot is easier to stabilize or rather it appears to be more stable. The reality is that the VP9 hasn’t been any more or less stable than it has in the past. However, the larger dot seems to move more smoothly. One side effect from this is that I find myself aiming confidently in a shorter period of time as I seem to detect the “acceptable wobble zone” more rapidly. Additionally, I find myself being able to maintain target focus with less effort which contradicts my initial suspicion that a larger dot would draw my visual focus to the dot more than a smaller dot. I attribute this to the increased perceived stability that appears to have reduced the effort I need to exert in order to get an acceptable sight picture.

My eyes seemingly continue to find and track the dot with less effort. I suspect this also contributes to me being able to maintain target focus more easily. This also has allowed me to make more detailed intentional adjustments during practice and apply micro corrections to my shooting technique during strings of fire. While I’d like to believe these improvements which are evident in improved match scores and drill times are caused by the increased dot size, it is more likely that the improvements are directly related to improved marksmanship skills. However, I do think there is a correlated link to skill improvement rate and the larger dot size.

So, yes. In my opinion, larger dots are better. At least, they are better for me given the pistol shooting activities I like to participate in.

I am not saying that middle of the road sized dots or small dots are bad. I have no evidence to support this. In fact, there are plenty of competitors who are using smaller dots than I am who dance circles around me at matches. Additionally, I think middle of the road dot sizes are a good idea for folks who are just getting into pistol mounted dots without a specific application in mind or who will not, for whatever reason, be investing into application specific pistols and optics.

I am also not suggesting that folks immediately run out and replace their existing optics with larger dots. The benefits that I have seen, while present, have been marginal improvements. They have certainly been sufficient to motivate me to write this post and I believe I am getting a return on my investment. However, these improvements have not been life altering. If I am doing anything at all with this post, then it is simply sharing my observations in hopes that somebody will find them useful enough to inform a future purchase.

1 comment

  1. For decades the industry standard was to put a .125″ wide front sight on pistols. That width sight fills the rear notch. Bullseye shooters, and later, USPSA shooters, figured out that running .100″ wide front sights gave more light around the notch. If you do the math, a .100″ wide front sight is basically the same as a 7 MOA dot for a 5″ barrel and associated sight radius. It’s no coincidence that 6-7 MOA dots remain popular for drills that more accurately reflect the skills required for defensive, not bullseye, shooting. Part of what has driven the popularity of tiny dots is the resurgence of the B8 target, and 25 yard bullseye shooting and drills using the B8 re-branded as ‘tactical’ shooting.

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