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How to Zero a Red Dot Pistol Sight

If you just got a new shiny red dot sight, you are probably super excited to put it on your gun and head to the range. Although if you want to make sure it is mostly sighted in at first, you will need to do a couple of things. Of course, you cannot have your sight completely sighted in until you shoot a few rounds, but you can get pretty close. Let us go over exactly what you need to do to sight in your new pistol red dot sight.

Photo Credit: Crashmc, (

Testing Out Your Irons First

The good news is that most handguns already come with fairly accurate iron sights. If your gun is not new and you have shot it before, then you should have a good idea of how accurate the irons are. If your iron sights are accurate, then you are in luck; your red dot will be close to dead on as soon as you mount it. If your iron sights are not perfect, then that is okay too. You will just spend a little extra time making adjustments to your red dot.

Securely Mounting Your Red Dot

Every red dot is a little different, so make sure you are following the manufacturer’s instructions when you mount it. You also need to make sure you mount it tightly. The last thing you want is for your sight to fly off after you start shooting. Plus, you will likely grab your red dot to rack your slide, so it needs to be sturdy.

Picking Your Zero

The first thing to do with any sight is to pick its zero. Your zero is going to be where you are the most accurate, and it should be set at a distance that you would typically shoot from. If you are putting a red dot on your self-defense pistol, then you will likely want to put your zero at around 10 yards. Most self-defense encounters happen at a distance of 7 or fewer yards. A 10-yard zero is preferred, so you can be confident in any shot a self-defense situation may call for.

If you are a competition shooter, you need to set your zero accordingly. There are hundreds of different competitions, and all of them are a little different. If you normally shoot at 20 yards in your competition, that would be a good place to set your zero. For some competitors, a better distance would be 25 or even 30 yards. It all just depends on what you shoot the most. 

If you are just shooting at the range and having fun, you can set your zero to whatever you want. Although we usually use our self-defense weapons at the range, and if that is the case for you, you will want a shorter zero. Plus, it isn’t like you can’t shoot farther than 10 yards with a 10-yard zero, so you will still be able to hit those 30-yard shots at the range if you want to.

Bore Sighting

If you really want to be prepared before you go to the range, you can bore sight your new red dot. This is completely optional, but it will speed up the process. Bore sighting is fairly simple in principle. All you need to do is pick up a bore sight and aim at a target that is at your zero distance. Then you can adjust your red dot sight until it matches the laser from the bore sight, and you are ready to go. For short distances like we will be doing for a handgun, this is going to get you sighted in just about every time. However, you should still go to the range and test it out.


Photo Credit: (MidTen 9MM Bore Sight)

Bore sights come in a few different shapes and sizes. You can buy bore sights that you insert into the end of your barrel, but you can also buy bore sights shaped like cartridges, and they will load into your magazine and chamber. They both work well, but I prefer the cartridge-shaped ones just because it is as close to the real thing as you can get.

Shooting a Test Group

Once you have everything mounted and ready to go, the fun part starts. Shooting a few groups at the range is super important. You can bore sight and mount your sight as straight as possible, but you just do not know if it is dead on without shooting it. Start with five-round groups and then figure out how much to move your dot by.

You also want to make sure that you are shooting from a steady surface, commonly referred to as a bench. We normally shoot pistols standing up, but our form has a lot to do with where that bullet lands. Right now, we are not working on our form; we are sighting in a red dot. In an effort to make you as accurate as possible, you should shoot from a seated position and with your firearm on a shooting bag or other steady rest.

Although there are plenty of shooters out there that actually prefer to sight their red dots in from an unsupported position. These are usually competition shooters or guys that have done a lot of shooting. If you have practiced your form for a while and you can consistently shoot tight groups standing up, you might as well sight in from a standing position. Although if your form is not the best yet, and your groups are six inches at 10 yards, you should use a bench.

Making Adjustments

Once you have your first group on paper, it is time to start making adjustments. Of course, you do not just want to start turning dials until you get close to where you want to be shooting. You want to look at the grouping that you just shot and figure out where the center is (roughly). For example, if the center of your group is 2 inches left and 1 inch low, then we would need to do 20 clicks to the right and 10 clicks up, assuming we are at 10 yards.

If you are shooting at 10 yards, 1 MOA is about one-tenth of an inch. As you probably know, 1 MOA is defined as a one-inch circle at 100 yards, so if we are at one-tenth of that distance, 1 MOA would be one-tenth of an inch instead of 1 inch. There are 20 tenths in the number 2, so we moved 20 clicks over. Likewise, there are 10 tenths in the number 1, so we moved 10 clicks up. Here is a quick table to make it a little easier for you if you are not shooting at 10 yards.

Guide for Zeroing Pistol Red Dot

Zero Distance Yards 1 MOA Equivalent in inches
5 1/20
10 1/10
15 3/20
20 1/5
25 1/4
30 3/10
35 7/20
40 2/5
45 9/20
50 1/2
60 3/5
70 7/10
80 4/5
90 9/10
100 1

Number of clicks = (adjustment distance) / (1 MOA) eqivalent relative to zero distance

Do not be afraid of the weird fractions, either. Tenths were easy, but what about seven twentieths? Here is how you would calculate your clicks if you were 3.5 inches left with a 35-yard zero. You see from the table that 1 MOA is 7/20ths of an inch, so you can simply take 3.5, divide it by 7, and multiply it by 20 on your phone. That is just multiplying by the reciprocal of the fraction. You end up with 10, which is the number of clicks you need. Obviously, if you end up with something like 7.25 clicks on another calculation, we can not do a quarter of a click, so I would stick with 7 clicks and shoot another group.

Most red dots hold true to this “one MOA is one click” idea, but always make sure to read your user manual to make sure that is the case for your sight.

Transport Your Pistol Appropriately

The last thing you want to do, after having spent so much effort zeroing your sight, is to undo some of your hard work by not carrying your pistol appropriately. Not carrying your pistol appropriately can lead to unintentional contact with – or place stress on – the wrong points of your firearm, such as the sight that you just spent all that time getting just right. Use a tactical belt made for the job and compliment the belt with the appropriate holster.

Shoot Again and Again!

Once you shoot your first group, make your adjustments, and shoot your second group, you should be dead on! Of course, there is always time to make more adjustments if needed. Just to make sure everything is working right, you should shoot a few groups and make adjustments if needed along the way. Once you get a group that you are happy with, start doing your regular shooting drills. 

These sights can also get bumped around from time to time, so make sure you are checking your zero periodically. It depends on how much you use the pistol, but It is recommended that you check your zero every six months to a year. If it is on your concealed carry weapon, shoot it every couple of months just to get some practice in and make sure everything works properly.

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