“Weapons change, but the man who uses them changes not at all.” – Gen. George S. Patton
It seems that a segment of the shooting population pines for the old times, and actually believes things were better way back when. Guns were in .30 cal and .45 ACP, the uniforms were pressed to a razor’s edge, and Mitsubishi was a thing only known for being shot out of the sky. Back when the ships were made of wood, and the men were made of iron. But the truth is, weapons evolve. And you either get with that evolution, or you go extinct. To borrow a quote from my favorite humor website Cracked.com, showing up to fight iron age enemies with bronze age weapons, you might as well have been carrying a breadstick.
One of the biggest changes coming in pistols is no doubt the mass use of electronic optics. This has actually been around in the sporting world since the early 80s, but was primarily used on what are called Open Class guns. The “Open” part means you are basically unlimited in the modifications you can make, and these guns usually resemble works of science fiction. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Open Class pistols are the fastest thing around, but the reliability issues they have basically make them a joke for defensive purposes.
Over the last decade, we have seen more and more red dots show up for specific military purposes, like suppressed pistols. I also want to be clear here, this is still not a standard CQB tool. Those pistols are “oh sweet baby Jesus, my rifle just quit tools”, and exclusively have iron sights. The red dot versions are much more specialized affairs, for the kind of thing where we get to decide exactly when the shooting starts. The civilian sector has really gone all in with red dots recently too, both for new competitive classes like Carry Optics and the explosion of suppressed pistols in that market.
Also, I think it is good to discuss what exactly you gain from having a red dot on your pistol. Although they do add bulk and complexity to your pistol, once you get dialed in with them they can increase your speed at engaging targets and also be easier on older eyes. It is much easier to align a single dot with the target than it is to align two sights (front and rear) with a third point on the target.
There are some challenges ahead. I feel that within five years red dots will be looked at as completely normal on CCW pistols, but we aren’t there yet. First, I haven’t found a red dot yet that is as tough as iron sights. For pistols anyway. Ones for rifles have pretty much solved this problem, which means it is only a matter of time. Second, battery life is still an issue on micro sights. No one wants to go to combat with sights that may turn off at any second. Until someone steps up with battery life in a micro red dot on par with an Aimpoint T-1, I think it is a bad idea. Third, most of the pistol-size red dots today don’t have an auto on, but do have an auto off. A very few are motion activated, but that also means the battery is on all day while you are walking around doing your normal stuff. I don’t know about you, but I’m probably not going to add “press ‘on’ switch” to my draw stroke. And fourth, the cost is still insane today. You can find $200 red dot sights, but they are probably not the toughest things in the world. It’s a great starting place, and a fun toy. Use them for competition or playing with suppressed pistols; I totally get that. But the ones that I would consider combat reliable so far start at around $600. For that price, most people would choose a second pistol.
In the interest of a look toward the future, we decided to have a shoot-off of some of the most popular brands of 9mm pistol with a factory red dot mount option. In the interest of keeping things as fair as possible, all the guns were equipped with the same Burris Fast Fire III sight except the SIG, which is designed to only accept its own SIG-brand Romeo sight (which SIG boresights on the pistol for you direct from the factory). And for those keeping score at home, I count that limitation of optics choices as a strike against SIG. Anyway, this worked out to a Glock 17 MOS, a Springfield Armory XDM OSP 4.5, a SIG P320 RX, a Smith and Wesson M&P CORE 4.25 (Gen 1), and a Walther Q5 Match.
I liked all these guns, and we all have our own biases. I was actually a no shit Glock poster boy, so you know where my first loyalty is. To preclude some of that bias, I enlisted another male shooter, and a female shooter for other opinions. But here at Off The Reservation, we also don’t believe everyone gets a juice box and a trophy. There can be only one! So, let’s look at them in ascending order of success from the testing.
Not to step on your morale if you are a Walther fan boy, they already did that with the $42 dollar magazines. The Q5 Match came in last for us, mostly I think because the grip is so small it is hard for me to properly place my support hand. My male shooter also didn’t like it because he is a lefty, and the magazine release was difficult for him to press. Our female shooter just picked it last based on feel. There were some high points to this gun too, though. By far, Walther had the best plates for red dot installation. They were beefy, solid hardware, and lots of options for different sight base profiles. And this gun looks sexy, no denying that. Definitely not a bad choice, but not my favorite option, either.
Nothing I could define as bad with this gun, or even anything I particularly disliked. It just didn’t click with me. The XDM OSP got two 4th place votes and a 3rd place vote. This isn’t a brand issue; I carry an XDS as my all-time favorite carry gun and my male shooter used to carry a .45 ACP XD as his primary CCW pistol. The XDM did have a fantastic plate mounting system, and it was included in the box. I’ve just never really liked the full-size XD pistols myself, and that carried over to the red dot version. If you are an XDM guy, this is obviously the one you will love. So enjoy it, and you can tell the other forum members over on XD love I am a retard that doesn’t know jack. I can handle it.
I was a little hesitant when this test started that I would unfairly love the Glock because of familiarity. One thing I forgot a long time ago was that out of the box Glock triggers suck. This is the one weakness of the Glock system, and they really need to fix it. It does improve somewhat with time, but we were running new guns for this. Still, the Glock handled recoil like a boss, as it always does. Old reliable got two 3rd place votes and a 4th, which was a bit of an upset in my opinion. Glock also gets negative points because the mounting hardware is a separate purchase. No one buys an MOS with the idea of going back to the store for mounting plates. From assembly of the red dot guns, another weakness was exposed. The screws used for mounting to the Glock are the worst of the bunch; the heads strip easily. Also, be absolutely sure you read the directions with this one. Tacoma screw saved the day, but I snapped the first mounting screw off when I put the Burris on.
Even without putting its best foot forward, the M&P landed solidly in 2nd place. I say not its best foot forward, because the CORE I used was not a 2.0. Smith and Wesson recently released the M&P 2.0, which features an improved frame with more rigidity, which helps eat recoil. Still, this was a tough call between 1st and 2nd. I really like the M&P trigger, and the ergonomics are great. This gun is a great set up, and the one we tested is actually the first pistol I have purchased in years. I liked it so much, I bought it last September after I did a review on the gun. It is also the only red dot-ready gun that comes out of the box with suppressor-height iron sights you can use in a pinch, which is a big plus.
This was a bit of a surprise to me, because prior to the P320, I never shot a SIG handgun I loved. But it was unanimously the first place winner. That even with the medium-size frame installed. The trigger in the P320 is nothing short of a miracle for a polymer gun. It is better out of the box than most polymer guns can be made with race gun parts. The ergonomics of the P320 are fantastic, and the red dot sits deep in the slide. This set up absolutely blew me away, and my timing on the test reflected that. I was a full second faster with this gun than any other, in a 12-target array. I think the DOD made a good purchase for once; this gun delivers. There are many benefits to this gun, which we will have a full review on later this month, that are outside the scope of this test. The bottom line though for today — in red dot configuration, the SIG 320 RX absolutely blasted the competition’s doors off. I don’t get rocked back on my heels by gun designs very often these days, but this did the trick.
So there you have it. The breakdown of our little test. Now, this was our test based on our testing parameters, so remember that you might pick up one of these and get a chance to shoot it and decide it is the greatest one ever, even if it ended up near the bottom of our test. So, take a look at what we did, go hands on with them if you can, and decide how you want to get into the red dot-equipped pistol market. Because, if you ask me, this is the way things are heading—no question. The future is definitely now!
To purchase the following pistols on GunsAmerica.com, click these links:
Sig Sauer P320 RX: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=P320%20RX
Smith & Wesson M&P CORE: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=M%26P%20CORE
Springfield Armory XDM OSP: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=XDM%20OSP
Walther Q5 Match: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Q5%20Match