Handguns mounted with red dot sights are popular options for defensive shooting. Some serious instructors and schools have been catering training towards, and sometimes selling, equipment for optically sighted pistols for duty and concealed carry. It’s an interesting example of technology expanding from experimental to practical.

Optical sights on handguns appeared in the 1960s when competitive shooters embraced the “Bullseye” pistol scope by Burris. Gil Hebard, the Bullseye pistol match legend, championed the scope, which came in 1X or 1.7X. About a decade later, the Swedish company Aimpoint offered its first electronic sight, followed by several similar models from Japan. Bullseye competitors quickly adopted these, and Bianchi Cup (NRA Action Pistol) shooters were next. Initially thought to aid in precision handgun shooting, but too slow for speed shooting, Jerry Barnhart proved this wrong by using an optic to win the United States Practical Shooting Association Nationals in 1990.

Optically sighted “race guns” at first were temperamental, requiring competitors to have two of them so one could be down for repairs. Detractors labeled them “Rooney guns” as being removed from the spirit and intent of practical shooting. Experiments and hard use by competitors led to improvements that made red-dot optics more reliable. This increased durability and battery life made them suitable for military and law enforcement long guns, but the sights were still too big for daily duty and concealed carry on handguns.

This bulky issue also led practical shooting organizations to begin alternate equipment divisions to recognize and encourage more practical handguns. In addition to modification limits for Limited or Standard handguns, groups like the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) also created size requirements and the need to fit standardized dimensions. In 1992, IPSC also allowed a unique hybrid option called “Modified” that was anything goes like “Open.” However, the handgun had to fit the 225 x 150 x 45 mm internal dimensions required of more practical “Standard” handguns. At about the same time, makers of red dot sights introduced their first “miniaturized” products. Just as with the full-sized sights, these first micro red dot sights had some reliability issues that rigorous shooting quickly revealed, leading to more robust offerings. While IPSC officially retired its Modified Division in 2011, the red dots became better and more common. These small but sturdy handgun optics caught the attentions of defensive shooters and trainers. A concept popularized in competitive shooting now had “real world” appeal.

Of course, the means to carry such equipment is another challenge. It’s possible that adding an optic to a handgun won’t require a holster specifically designed for such dimensions, but some models simply won’t fit. To answer this, here some holsters made for duty and concealed carry of handguns with red dot sights.

For more information about the holsters for handguns with red dot sights featured in the gallery above, please visit the following sites.

5.11 ThumbDrive

5.11 IWB

Armordillo Concealment X-FER V2

Blackhawk A.R.C. IWB

Custom Action Sports

Custom RMR Cut OWB

RMR Cut RAM Mounted Holster



Archangel V3

Suarez NPE

Safariland 6354DO ALS Optic Tactical

Uncle Mike’s Competition Reflex

This article was originally published in “Survivor’s Edge” Summer 2017. To order a copy, visit

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