How To Zero A Pistol Red Dot Sight [Complete Guide]

If you are struggling with zeroing your pistol-mounted red dot sight, get all the information here. 

Since you have come here, you already know why it’s important to zero a red dot sight. But for the unversed, zeroing red dot sights gives accuracy; it ends the difference between your point of aim and impact. 

Why should you trust us? We are a dedicated team of writers working with sights and scopes to provide the most updated information about them.

I am Hannah Anderson, and I worked with my team for two days to find all the correct answers to the most common questions about zeroing pistol-mounted red dot sights. 

Let’s get started.

Prerequisites To Zeroing Pistol Red Dot Sights

1. Mount Your Red Dot Securely 

Secure mounting is the first step to zeroing a red dot on a pistol. The ideal way of getting a perfect fit is if your red dot attaches directly to your pistol. 

But, that is not always the case. If you don’t have a direct mount, you have two options: an adapter plate or a slide cut. 

However, adapter plates are less reliable because they can break. 

So, you can get a perfect and secure mount by getting a specific slide cut on your gun that fits your red dot, tightening the screws to spec, and using a thread locker. 

2. Find Out The Perfect Distance 

There is an ongoing debate about which distance is more suitable for zeroing a pistol-mounted red dot, a closer 10 yards or a farther 25 yards. 

Let’s see what the expert has to say. 

I will turn to Scott Jedlinski, a lead instructor at Modern Samurai Project. Scott prefers zeroing his pistol red dot at 10 yards.

He says that if you zero your red dot at 10 yards and then shoot at 25 yards, it will print only 0.7 inches higher than the point of aim, which is negligible. 

He also says that if you have the resources, zero your red dot at 10 yards and confirm it at 25. Makes sense!

Another way is to pick the distance that suits your practical application. If you use your sight for 10 yards shooting, why will you zero it at 25? 

3. Convert Inches To MOA

Your red dot reticle works with MOA. And the difference between the point of aim and impact is in inches. 

So, to reduce that difference, you must first convert inches to MOA. 

How to do that?

It will become much easier for you if you learn this basic thing, i.e., 1 MOA equals 1 inch at 100 yards. Now to calculate MOA at different distances, use this as a reference: 

1 MOA 
1 Inch
100 Yards
1 MOA
0.5 Inches
50 Yards
1 MOA
0.25 Inches
25 Yards
1 MOA
0.1 Inches
10 Yards

Keeping this in mind makes it easier to convert inches to MOA. For doing that, remember the formula:

Inches/[Yards/100]

I will explain with examples how you do these calculations.

At 25 Yards

You are zeroing your handgun at 25 yards, and the bullet deviates 3 inches to the right and 2 inches lower from the center (your aiming point). This is how you will convert inches to MOA. 

Inches/[Distance/100]  

3/[25/100]= 3/0.25=12

We assume 1 MOA is 1 click on your red do sight, which is mostly the case. You can check how many clicks 1 Moa is on your red dot from the manual. 

Now, you will click your windage settings 12 times to move 3 inches to the left on the target. 

Now we will use the same formula for calculating our values for moving higher.                  

Inches[Distance/100]

2/[25/100]=2/0.25=8     

You need 8 clicks on your elevation dial to move 2 inches higher on the target. 

At 10 Yards 

Now you are zeroing your handgun at 10 yards, and the bullet deviates 3 inches to the right and 2 inches lower from the center (your aiming point). This is how you will convert inches to MOA. 

Inches[Distance/100]

3/[10/100]=3/0.1=30

So, at 10 yards, if you have a red dot with 1 MOA equals 1 click, you will make 30 clicks to move 3 inches to the left on the target. 

Using the same formula for calculating our values for moving higher.  

Inches[Distance/100]

2/[10/100]=2/0.1=20

You will make 20 clicks on the elevation turret to move 2 inches higher on the target. 

How To Zero A Pistol Red Dot: Step-by-Step 

1. Set Your Target At A Distance

Set your target to the required distance. In my case, it’s 10 yards. I have explained above why I prefer that. 

2. Shoot Your First Group

Shoot a five or a three rounds group while aiming at the target’s center. 

3. Check Where The Shots Land

Once you aim the center and shoot, see where the shots land. Keep the dot on the same spot every time you hit. Measure the distance between the point of impact and the point of aim. 

4. Make Adjustments

The motive of zeroing your red dot is to make your point of aim and impact one. 

Once you have seen that bullet doesn’t land where you intended, it’s time to make changes. 

You must make windage and elevation adjustments according to the distance.

5. Up And Down Adjustments

If you aim the center, but your rounds hit lower or higher, you change the elevation settings to bring the round to the aim. 

6. Left And Right Adjustments

If the round hits left or right to the aim, you would change the windage settings. 

7. Adjust According To The Distance

I have explained under the distance heading how you make changes to windage and elevation settings according to the distance. 

Here, I will give one example: at 10 yards, if your bullet deviates 3 inches to the right from the center and you have a red dot with 1 MOA equals 1 click, you will make 30 clicks to move 3 inches to the left on the target. 

8. Shoot Another Group

Shoot another group to see if you have made the adjustments correctly. If not, repeat the process until you start hitting the center of the target.

How To Zero A Pistol Red Dot Without Shooting?

1. Laser Boresighting 

Boresighting gets you close to accurate but not completely accurate. For complete accuracy, you need to shoot. 

Some shooters also boresight their red dot before the actual zeroing process. For boresighting a pistol red dot, you need a laser bore sighter. 

2. The Process

  • Set the target at your required distance. 
  • Attach the laser bore sighter to your handgun.
  • Turn on the laser.
  • Aim the laser beam on the target.
  • After that, adjust the red dot to match the target’s laser beam. 

Should You Zero Red Dot Using Iron Sights?

You must have heard that you can zero your red dot sights by co-witnessing with Iron sights. But, if you ask, should you do that? I would say NO. 

This is not just my opinion. Experts at Gun and Tactics share this opinion with me. 

Iron sights with red dots are great for a backup if your red dot breaks. But zeroing red dots with iron sights is not a good idea.

Instead, you should align your iron sights, install your red dot, and zero it separately. 

Rest Vs. No Rest 

Whether or not you use a rest while zeroing your red dot is about preference. 

When you shoot using a rest, you have a more relaxed posture which is different from the actual shooting scenario. 

But, those who can’t shoot good groups without support should use a rest to avoid human error.

Protips To Zero A Pistol Red Dot Sight

1. Keep The Dot Brightness Dim

When you keep the brightness at a lower setting, you get a smaller dot which is excellent for precision; we want a tight and precise zero. 

2. Tighten Your Screws

Loose screws can throw off your zero, so mount your red dot securely. 

Endnote

Red dot optics on pistols is no more the future; it’s the present. You can be a competitive shooter, a law enforcement officer, or a regular guy carrying for self-defense; you need a red dot sight.

Zeroing a red dot is a prerequisite to accuracy. The process includes setting a target, shooting a group, making windage/elevation changes, and confirming zero. 

It will help you gain accuracy, and perfect shooting with a red dot on a pistol will require training.

If you are new to red dot shooting, you can also get your red dot zeroed professionally. 

FAQs

What distance should I zero my red dot pistol?

The best distance to zero your pistol red dot is 10 yards. Because if you zero your red dot at 10 yards and then shoot at 25 yards, it will print only 0.7 inches higher than the point of aim, which is negligible. 

Do you need to zero a pistol red dot?

Yes. Zeroing a red dot sight gives accuracy; you hit where you aim at the target. In other words, your point of impact and aim is one. 

Can you zero a red dot with iron sights?

You can zero a red dot with iron sights, but it is not a preferred method. You should zero a red dot independently. How far does a red dot sight shoot?
The effective range of a red dot sight is 100 yards.

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