Iron Sights vs Red Dot Sights – Which Sighting System Is Best?

Shooters are always looking for ways to improve their shooting performance. Adding a sight or optic is an easy fix to shoot with precision. However, not everyone knows which type of sight they should use. Shooters often debate between iron sights vs red dot sights. They know that picking the wrong sight could significantly impact accuracy. In this post, we’ll teach you the difference between these two types of sights so you can choose what is best for you.

Which Is Best – Red Dot vs Iron Sights?

comparing iron sights and red dot sights

Many shooters debate between adding red dor or iron sights to their weapon. Here is the main benefit of each sight.

  • Iron Sights – Very durable & don’t rely on battery power.
  • Red Dot Sight – Improved accuracy, better sight picture, faster target acquisition.


All things considered, the red dot sight is the superior option. Red dot sights have become increasingly popular in recent years as they provide improved accuracy and versatility. Some shooters even get tripped up thinking, do you need iron sights with a red dot? The truth is you really don’t!

Although iron sights will always have their place, red dot sights are simply better for most shooting situations. A red dot sight creates a better sight picture and allows you to shoot with both eyes open.

Modern red dot sights are lightweight and durable. Even though iron sights don’t require battery power, it is hardly a major concern with a dot sight. The average battery life is upwards of 50,000 hours!

When To Use A Red Dot Sight

When making short to medium-range shots, red dot sights offer more accurate shooting than iron sights. This is especially true when shooting at imperfect angles – like when you’re taking cover.

The reality of real-life combat, shooting, or hunting situations is that you don’t always get the perfect conditions for a shot. Red dots make shooting from irregular angles much easier as you don’t need to focus on aligning on front and rear sights.

They can be used effectively from short, medium or even long range. To optimize your optic, you should pick the appropriate reticle size for your specific application. Most shooters debate between choosing 3 MOA or 6 MOA red dots.

  • 1 MOA = Optimized for long range
  • 3 MOA = Optimized for medium range
  • 6 MOA = Optimized for close-quarters

When To Use Iron Sights

Nowadays, there are not many reasons to choose an iron sight over a red dot sight. And if you do, be sure you know how to use open sights on a rifle the right way. However, every shooter is different and we all have our own personal preferences.

Iron sights are more durable and do not rely on an external power source. Some people enjoy the security of knowing that their sight won’t run out of battery power at the worst moment.

Most people think that 300 yards is the maximum range of a iron sight. However, if you are a hunter I would recommend setting a more responsible range of about 150 yards. Shooters can also use 45 degree iron sights combined with their red dot to get the best of both optics.

Where To Buy

If you are in the market for a new red dot sight, you have come to the right place. We have tried and tested dozens of different optics to find the best sight for each type of weapon.

If you prefer a handgun, here are the Best Pistol Red Dots. Find a choice that matches your weapon and fits your budget.

If you own a rifle, check out our list of the Best Scopes for M&P 15 Sport 2! The M&P Sport is one of the most popular starter rifles in America. There really is a sight for everyone!

Technology Behind Red Dot Sights

When you look through a red dot sight, what you’re really seeing is a series of lenses that are reflecting light from a LED emitter. The LED emits a red light that strikes a plate of glass inside the sight.

diagram of the technology behind red dot sight

The light is then reflected back through the lens system and into your eye. This gives the illusion that the red dot is superimposed on the target.

In reality, the dot is just a glowing spot on the glass. But as long as your eye is lined up with the sight, it will appear that the dot is on the target. If you do go with a red dot sight, I recommend using a 36 yard zero to get your weapon calibrated properly.

Quick Target Focus

Although iron sights have been the classic method for lining up your shot for years, they’re not necessarily the most effective anymore. Red dot sights provide an uncluttered aiming point, making it easier and faster to acquire your target. This can make all the difference when you’re trying to take a shot in a split second.

It takes too long to light up your rear sight & front sight with traditional iron sights.

If you value faster target acquisition, using a red dot sight is the way to go. This is one of the major reasons why law enforcement and the military utilizes red dots on their weapons.

Operating In Low Light

If you’re primarily shooting in low-light conditions, then red dot sights are a great option. Unlike iron sights, red dots are illuminated, making them much easier to see in dim lighting.

In fact, the military even uses red dot sights with their night vision goggles to optimize their performance in low-light situations.

Weight Comparison

The average iron sight is slightly lighter than most red dots. For some people, this is a major consideration. Weapons, especially rifle, are heavy enough. Adding more weight just makes things worse.

In my opinion, the slight weight increase is a reasonable price to pay for the improved accuracy and shooting performance of the red dot sight.

Red Dot Optics vs Iron Sights: Accuracy Comparison

When it comes down to accuracy, the red dot sight is a clear winner. Using a red dot optic allows you to form a proper sight picture and shoot precisely from almost all distances.

This is especially true in fast-paced environments where you need to acquire a target quickly and shoot accurately.

Which Requires More Maintenance?

Red dot sights are more simple to maintain. Iron sights require a specialized tool to make adjustments to the front sight and rear sight alignment.

The red dot sight generally needs to be zeroed one time, and is good to go. Simply place the dot on your target and pull the trigger.

Which Provides More Flexibility?

Hands-down, the red dot sight provides shooters with more flexibility.

  • The red dot sight takes up less rail space
  • Options to add magnified optic for long-distance shooting
  • Easy adjustments to windage and elevation settings

How To Choose Between Red Dot Sights & Iron Sights For Different Firearms

When it comes to handguns, the choice between iron sights and red dot sights depends on various factors, including the intended use and personal preferences of the shooter. Red dot sights allow shooters to improve their target acquisition speed which is critical in self defense situations.

For rifle scopes, red dot sights are highly recommended for being able to shoot accurately from further distances. Check out the list of AR-15 Red Dot sights if you want to find the best match for your needs. However, if you want even more range you will need to invest into a magnified rifle scope.

Both iron sights and red dot sights can both be utilized on shotguns. Considering most shooters are using their shotguns for close range hunting (i.e. turkey hunting) and self defense situations, red dot sights are optional. It comes down to personal preference. Many shotgun owners decide to use a red dot sight because it provides a clear and unobstructed sight picture of their target.

What Do I Recommend

I always recommend friends to go with a red dot sight over the traditional iron sights.

  • Easier to acquire targets – Instead of having to align your front and rear sights with the target, all you have to do is place the red dot on the target and pull the trigger. This can be a big help in fast-paced situations where every second counts.
  • More forgiving – Do not require perfect alignment or shooting angles. As long as the red dot is visible, you’ll be able to hit your target.
  • Better accuracy – My accuracy significantly improves with a properly sighted red dot sight.

FAQs – Red Dot vs Iron Sights

Is red dot on pistol better than iron sights?

For most situations, red dot sights are superior to iron sights for pistols. However, I would recommend having an iron sight installed on any pistol with a red dot. This is because battery life can be unpredictable. You don't want to be in an emergency situation and have to deal with a dead battery.

Is a red dot on a pistol worth it?

Red dot sights can significantly boost accuracy and overall performance in close quarters and low light conditions. If you have the budget, investing in a red dot sight for your handgun is a no-brainer.

Why are optics better than iron sights?

There are a few reasons why optics are often preferred over iron sights. They tend to be much faster, more accurate, produce a better sight picture, and perform better in low light conditions. When using iron sights, the front sight post can obstruct portions of your target. If you have the fundamentals of sight alignment down, optics will improve your performance.

Do Navy Seals use red dot sights?

Navy seals are indeed known to use red dot sights. They are particularly known to use the AimPoint Dot Sight, as we show in The Best Red Dot Sights for AR-15. There are many reasons why the military uses red dots, but the most likely one is that red dot sights offer a lot of benefits in terms of accuracy and target acquisition. In addition, red dot sights are also very durable, which is obviously a major consideration for any military force.

Do you need to sight in a red dot?

Sighting in your red dot is a critical step to shooting accurately. By sighting in your red dot, you are able to place the dot on the target exactly where you want the bullet to go. Without zeroing in your weapon, you are destined to struggle to produce accurate shots. I recommend using a laser bore sighting cartridge to get your red dot sight dialed in.

Do you need iron sights?

Iron sights have been around for a long time, but they are not necessary anymore. There is new and better technology that can help you shoot more accurately without them. You have many other sights to choose from including laser sights, red dot sights, reflex sights, and more.

Are iron sights still relevant?

Iron sights have lost popularity in recent years. Let's just say this is not WWII anymore! The advancements in different scopes and sights have made iron sights obsolete.

How far can you shoot iron sights?

While there are legends of target shooters hitting shots from 600-1,000 yards. Iron sights are normally accurate for shots up to around 300 yards. It will take considerable practice to shoot accurately from long distances with iron sights. If you want to shoot even further, consider an ACOG or red sight with a magnifier.

Can I put iron sights on a rifle?

Yes, you can put iron sights on a rifle. However, not all sights are compatible with all models of rifles. So you'll need to verify that traditional iron sights can interface with your particular rifle. Iron sights are a great option for those who want to be able to shoot accurately without the use of a scope such as a red dot or holographic sight.

The Bottom Line

Now you know the difference between these two popular types of sights. You don’t have to be a competitive shooter to upgrade your weapon with a red dot sight. They are lightweight, durable, and improve accuracy. And if you prefer iron sights…that’s ok too. Regardless, let us know which type of scope you prefer in the comments below.

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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