How to tighten pistol groups

Does your target look like a good shotgun pattern after shooting your pistol at the range? If it does you are probably new to pistol shooting, don’t practice very much or you are mistakenly shooting bird shot loads through your pistol.

Most occasional pistol shooters fall into this category. The fact is, most pistol shooters actually practice only two to three times per year and think that is enough. Probably 85% of the people who come to the range to practice their pistol shooting can’t do any better than shots randomly placed all over a 24″ X 14″ target at 10 yards.

If you aren’t serious about becoming competent with a pistol, then this won’t bother you. If you are serious, however, about being effective with a pistol, you will need to practice much more than a few times a year and utilize every advantage you can find.

One advantage available to everyone is a pistol red dot. It won’t make you an expert right away but with one installed on your pistol, you will show immediate improvement in consistency and group size at all distances. There is a reason that all competitive shooters in open classes use them. They work, and quickly.

How much improvement should I see using a red dot ?

If you aren’t going to practice more than twice a year, or even if you are a frequent pistol shooting expert, you need to get more value from your practice to improve the accuracy of your pistol shooting.

One way to 10x the value you get from practice and training is to install a red dot on your pistol. A pistol red dot is without a doubt the best training device for pistol shooting and put your accuracy improvement curve into overdrive.

I have seen average shooters bring their pistol groups down from 10-15 inches at 10 yards, to as small as 2 inches, and with practice much lower.

Why does a red dot improve shooting?

A red dot has fewer focal planes to align in order to hit where you shoot. With iron sights you must align the front sight, rear sight, and target with your dominant eye. With a red dot, you just align the dot and the target. A much easier task especially for a new shooter.

As long as the dot is on target, no matter where it is in the view finder – it could be at the top of the sight window, lower right corner, doesn’t matter- wherever the dot is, is where you will hit, assuming a correct zero. Simpler, quicker, more accurate.

When you shoot a red dot, you are looking at the target with it in complete focus. This is a natural action, especially when under stress. Most instructors with iron sights will teach you to focus on the front sight, and they are correct. With irons you must see the front sight in focus and align it with a blurry target and a blurry rear sight.

Not the case with a red dot. With both eyes open, you just focus on the target which is natural, and once the sight is in alignment with your dominant eye, you will see the red dot floating around in the air. Align it with the target, make a good trigger press and look like a pro.

When you are faced with a threat, or under the strains of competition, your mind is not going to allow you to focus on the front sight. You will be looking at the target which is exactly what you need to do to shoot a red dot correctly. It’s natural.

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You will see immediate improvement once you have made the first few shots, but there is some work you will have to do before you can reach your potential and feel completely comfortable. The first time you use a red dot sight on a pistol the first thing you will notice is how much the dot moves around or wobbles when trying to hold it on the target. This is not a problem with the sight, this is the wobble you have always had, you just couldn’t see it with iron sights.

Now that your brain can see it you will automatically start to fix the problem. With a little practice your hold will become much steadier quickly. Your mind will quickly see what causes misses and will correct the issue. The other issue most people have with a red dot sight is they can’t find the dot when they bring their pistol up to shoot. A little practice, will correct this issue quickly. You will develop a feel for where your pistol should be when you bring it up to your eye. It’s not any different than finding the iron sights.

How do I put a red dot sight on my pistol?

There are a few ways to install a red dot sight on your pistol. The best, and easiest is to buy a pistol that is already set up for red dots and other optics with a rail installed on the receiver.

A Ruger Mk 3 (pictured above) in the tactical version came with an optic base and no iron sights. Many rimfire pistols can be purchased in this configuration now. Most pistol manufacturers today realize that red dot sights are the future of pistol shooting and offer a model to accommodate that. Check out some of Ruger’s offerings through Cabela’s here.

The second easiest way is to mount a picatinny rail somewhere on your pistol. Unless you are an experienced machinist, I suggest having a gun smith do this. They can usually do it very cheaply depending on the pistol.

The third way is to buy one of the many adapters on the market today that allows an optic to be mounted to a pistol. The Mako universal mount is pictured below. I have used it and can recommend it for any pistol with a picatinny rail below the barrel. Check it out on Amazon here

The optimum situation is to set the pistol up so you can use both, irons and a red dot, and they both co witness together. This allows you to quickly use either the red dot or iron sights with no adjustments giving you added flexibility which is never bad. It also makes zeroing the red dot much easier.

Which red dot should I use?

There are many brands of red dots on the market. Trijicon, Burris, etc. Some are better than the others but all do the same thing or serve the same function. Prices range from $700 down to $50. There are different MOA sized dots which can be important when you want to shoot fast close up or slower at a longer distance.

At pistol ranges, I like the larger MOA dot better because it is easier to find during presentation. Intensity of the dot can be adjusted all of the popular sights which can make the dot appear smaller in the viewfinder, or at least yield a much sharper dot shape.

The primary attribute you should look for in a rimfire pistol red dot is size and weight. If you are mounting on a fixed barrel like a Ruger Mark, size and weight aren’t really a big issue. If you are mounting to a slide type pistol, the least amount of additional weight could affect proper operation of the pistol. The real cheapos won’t survive this action so stay away from them.

Here are a few pistol red dots I recommend.

I have used them all and can tell you the best pistol red dot for the money is the Vortex Viper. Vortex also has a pistol red dot called the Venom that is a great sight but is a little different than the Viper due to how the battery is accessed. They are both the same price so I recommend going with the Viper.

I have 3 of them. One of them is 3 years old on a Ruger Mark 3 that has shot 15,000 rounds minimum during that time without one issue. No loss of zero, no malfunction, it’s there every time I need it. All I have done is change the battery which really didn’t need it. One battery is supposed to last 4 years on a medium setting. I replace mine every year just to be safe.


If you don’t have time to practice, or just don’t want to, I urge you to look into a pistol red dot sight. It will take a little time but very quickly your shooting accuracy and group size will be reduced substantially. You owe it to yourself to shoot your best. No one enjoys going to the range and preforming poorly.

The pistol red dot simplifies the process of aiming and hitting what you are shooting at. If you don’t practice for a year, you should be able to pick up your pistol and shoot it much better than if you only had iron sights. Give one of the Vortex’s a try and you’ll be glad you did.