How To Sight In A Red Dot Sight – 5 Simple Steps

Zeroing your new optic is necessary to ensure your red dot lines up with the bullet’s point of impact. Losing zero on a sight will destroy your accuracy. For many shooters, sighting in a new red dot sight can be tricky. But with these 5 simple steps, you’ll learn exactly how to sight in a red dot sight in just a few minutes.

What Does It Mean To Zero A Red Dot?

picture of a weapon with a red dot otic on it

“Zeroing” a red dot sight simply means calibrating the sight so that the dot falls on the point of impact at a given distance. Most shooters will zero their sight from 25 or 50 yards for their red dot sights.

Why calibrate?

Simple. So that you can hit your target exactly where you want. If your red dot sight is not properly calibrated, you may end up shooting high, low, left, or right. By zeroing your red dot sight, you can be confident that when you aim for the center of your target, your shots will land where you expect them to.

5 Steps To Sight A Red Dot Sight

If you just purchased a new red dot optic for your AK or another weapon, it’s time to get it zeroed. Some sights may be pretty close right out of the box & require only minor adjustments. While others may need more significant adjustments. Here are 5 simple steps to master the process of how to sight in a red dot sight.

  1. Pick A Distance
  2. Grab Your Laser Bore Sight
  3. Test Shots
  4. Make Adjustments
  5. Repeat Until Perfect

1) Pick A Distance

Before you get into the actual sighting process, you need to choose a distance to zero your red dot. Pick your zero distance based on your specific needs.

  • Pistols – Most commonly sighted from 15-25 yards. This is the distance I choose for my hellcat red dot in the past.
  • Rifles – Most commonly sighted from 25-100 yards.

The sighting distance works to ensure you can hit shots consistently from your desired range without having to account for bullet drop. If you plan to use your weapon for purely home-defense, a shorter zero distance is probably best.

2) Grab Your Laser Bore Sight

Picture of a bore sighting device

To zero your red dot the right way, you need to grab your AR 15 boresight. The benefits of this tool include:

  • Pinpoint accuracy
  • Save ammunition
  • Save time

This nifty little gadget attaches to the muzzle of your gun and projects a laser beam directly onto your target. Once your laser is aligned with the target, it’s time to move on to the next step.

3) Test Shots

Now that your equipment is all set up, it is time to test your red dot sight. Align your red dot sight & laser on the target and fire a few test rounds.

4) Make Adjustments

Check if you had a tight grouping on target. If not, it is time to make some basic adjustments. Pop off the adjustment turrets to access the adjustment screws. There are two main settings to adjust.

  • Elevation Adjustment – Moves your red dot vertically to account for up/down alignment.
  • Windage Adjustment – Moves your red dot horizontally to account for left/right alignment.

Make the necessary adjustments to ensure your red dot’s reticle aligns perfectly with the laser pointer.

5) Repeat Until Perfect (Optional)

After making adjustments to your windage and elevation settings, most red dot sights will be sighted in. However, if you are still out of zero just repeat steps 3-4 until you’re calibrated to the desired point.

Equipment You’ll Need

There is some basic equipment your need to ensure your red dot is sighted in. Here is a list of tools you’ll need to get your red dot zeroed.

  1. Sandbags or Shooting Bench
  2. Boresighter
  3. Red Dot Sight

1) Sandbags or Shooting Bench

If you can’t keep your weapon steady while zeroing a red dot, you are going to have a tough time. Even the most experienced shooters can’t keep the barrel perfectly steady. Depending on your budget, I recommend choosing between sandbags or a shooting bench to hold your weapon steady. Minimizing variables is the best way to get your red dot dialed in.

2) Boresighter

There is more than one way to zero your rifle or pistol. However, I always recommend boresighting to get a more precise result. Not to mention you will save a significant of ammunition using a boresighter. If you are an AR-15 owner, check out our post on how to use a laser bore sight for AR-15. It will save you time and money!

3) Red Dot Sight

It goes without saying…you can’t zero a red dot sight without owning a red dot sight. Red dots come in many different shapes and sizes. Find a high-quality sight that fits your specific budget and needs.

Zero Without Firing A Single Round

Although I don’t recommend it, you can actually zero your red dot sight without firing a single round. Follow these simple steps:

  1. Align your red dot on the target
  2. Align your laser with your red dot
  3. If the laser and red dot reticle don’t align, make the necessary windage and elevation adjustments.

Types Of Red Dot Sights

Due to the invention of the red dot sight, iron sights are used significantly less today than in years past. There are three main types of red dot sights that are used today.

1) Holographic Sights

A holographic sight projects a red dot onto a thin film of glass inside the sight. The red dot is used as an aiming point, and the position of the dot is determined by a laser that is projected onto the film. The advantage of a holographic sight is that the aiming point is not obscured by the sight itself, as it is with a traditional red dot sight.

2) Reflex Sights

Reflex sights are a type of optical sight that uses a red dot or another illuminated reticle to aim. The red dot is projected onto the glass lens, making it appear as if the dot is floating in mid-air. A reflex sight makes it much easier to aim than traditional iron sights, and it also allows you to keep both eyes open while shooting.

3) Prism Sights

In our post about what is a prism scope we saw that Prism sights work by using a series of mirrors to create an image of the target that is magnified and superimposed over the real target. This makes it much easier to line up a shot.

Which Type Of Red Dot Sight Is The Most Accurate?

The most accurate type of red dot sight is the holographic sight. Holographic sights use a laser-illuminated reticle that is projected onto a holographic lens, creating a virtual image that appears at the same optical plane as the target. This reticle system makes it very easy for a shooter to acquire a target quickly and fire accurately.

Are Red Dot Sights Effective From Long Range?

Red dot sights are not as effective from long range as magnified scopes. They are limited in precision at long distances due to their lack of magnification. Typically, red dot sights perform best within 100 yards. Factors such as shooting conditions, skill, and firearm type can impact the range of your specific red dot.

Red dot sights perform best in scenarios like home defense, tactical shooting, and fast-paced competitions, where quick target acquisition and a wide field of view are crucial. Red dot sights are also popular among law enforcement officers and military personnel for their speed and versatility in dynamic environments.

FAQs – Red Dot Sight

How far should you sight a red dot?

Your zero distance will really depend on your specific needs. For example, someone who plans to only use their weapon for close-quarters home defense will not use the same distance as a hunter who fires from longer distances.

Do you zero a red dot?

You should always calibrate your new red dot sight. The idea is to adjust the elevation and windage and elevation adjustments on the scope until the crosshairs are aligned with the point of impact on your target.

Do you focus on red dot or target?

Always focus on the target. When you're focused on the target, your shots will be more accurate. It can be helpful to use a red dot as an aiming point, but always keep your focus on the target itself, not the dot. When the red dot lines up with the target...pull the trigger.

What is the effective range of a red dot sight?

Most red dot sights are designed for short to medium-range shooting, typically out to around 100 yards. Beyond that distance, the shooter would need to compensate for bullet drop and other factors. Your zero distance will impact the effective range of your red dot. For most situations, a 36-yard zero will work fine. However, some shooters choose to use 15, 25, or even 50-yard zeros.

What are the 3 dots in a red dot scope?

The three red dots on a scope are there to allow the shooter to sight in the top dot at their closest range. This gives shooters the best chance to consistently hit their target from a variety of distances.

Do red dot sights work on shotguns?

Red dot sights are great for close-quarters target acquisition, and they work well on shotguns. The red dot helps to quickly and easily center the target in your field of view, which can be especially helpful when you're shooting moving targets.

Should red dot line up with Front sight?

When sighting your dot sight, the red dot should align with the front sights. This ensures that you're pointing the gun in the right direction and helps you to accurately aim. If your shots are consistently off target, it may be necessary to adjust the height or angle of your dot sight until the red dot is correctly aligned with the front sights. However, when you are shooting there is no need to worry about the rear sight or front sight. Just align the red dot & fire away!

Can I zero a red dot without shooting?

Although I don't recommend it, it's possible to zero a red dot without shooting. You can do this by using a bore sight, which is a special type of optical tool that helps you align your gun's barrel with the sights on the firearm. A laser bore sight cartridge is your best bet. Once the barrel is aligned with the bore sighting device, you can then use the red dot sight to aim the gun more accurately.

The Bottom Line

Now you know exactly how to sight in a red dot. Zeroing your new optic is not rocket science, but it only works if you do it right. Follow these basic steps to get your sight calibrated and ready to fire with extreme accuracy.

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

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