Red Dot Pistol Shoot-Off: Clay Picks the Best Optics-Ready 9mm

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Clay decided that it was time to go hands on with some of today’s top red dot-ready pistols and see what came out on top.

“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.

The author selected top options from makers such as Glock, Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Springfield Armory and Walther.

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.

The Solution

The author has long been a fan of Glock pistols, so he thought this G17 MOS would come out on top. Did it?

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.

  1. The Walther Q5 Match is its case with accessories.

    Walther Q5 Match

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.

  1. The Springfield XDM OSP pistol.

    Springfield Armory XDM 4.5” OSP

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.

  1. The Glock 17 MOS.

    Glock 17 MOS

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.

  1. The Smith & Wesson M&P CORE pistol.

    Smith and Wesson M&P CORE

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.

  1. The Sig Sauer P320RX pistol.

    SIG SAUER P320RX

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.

Once he got accustomed to it, the author found that a red dot on a pistol helped him to speed up his target engagement times.

Conclusion

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:

Glock 17 MOS: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=Glock%2017%20MOS

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

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Mike Little May 31, 2017, 3:52 pm

    I like how you compare a Glock model 17 which hit the market in 1983 with recently designed firearms. Lets see in 34 years how these guns compare. Why is everyone always trying to find fault with the Glock, maybe because it’s the most copied handgun right now and every manufacturer has finally decided they’ve got the best design.

  • JJ May 23, 2017, 8:51 am

    Clay – Would you recommend buying a optic ready pistol in today’s market? Or are improvements to come a reason to wait?
    Which firearms do you think would be good purchases now?

  • Brook Campbell May 21, 2017, 2:36 am

    I want to Buy a 9mm pistol I like the Walther 9mm mine was from the war / Can I buy on from you?
    Im a Disabled man & live in Los Angeles,CA.90046, I recived a class 6 felony 30 years ago.
    how too find out if all is OK to get a glock – Walther if you can Gide in the place to start at

  • DONALD SILVERNAIL May 16, 2017, 7:41 pm

    With all the talk about co-witnessing the dot with the iron sights – the Walther rear iron sight comes off when the dot goes on. I think that would be worth mentioning.

  • Blackey May 16, 2017, 3:07 am

    I got the s&w with a vortex viper reflex sight I use to carry a xd 45 compact for years when it was the only 45 besides a glock the only glock I bought was a first gen because of the factory finger grooves. I bought a s&w m&p shield 9mm when it was warm weather and I got tired of carrying my ccw gun in a bag of sometype. When the shield 45 came out I jumped on it. So when I saw the core I figure it would be a get carry gun practice peice and if I was to get in to modern compitition shooting I would have a good gun for the factory optic category. I really like the texture on the core and 45 shielg it even feels a little painful. I put a vortex viper on the core then only drawback is with the factory cowitness sights requires loosing the viper undo the locking screws making the adjustment then retighten the locking screws then retighten the mounting screws hoping you got it right then re shoot to verify settings once set I guess your good only having to rececheck after a battery swap. Also mt factory sights were poi low and to the right about six inches. I wonder if smith would sight them in some how a lower front sight is the only solution for the height since it’s a dot sight. The rear I’ll adjust when I find my sight pusher.

  • Bob May 16, 2017, 12:49 am

    Clay this is your best article yet, have not shot a red dot but looking forward to getting my hands on one.

  • Adam May 16, 2017, 12:10 am

    Was the FNX tactical not included because it’s only offered in .45? Just curious how that pistol would stack up in your opinion.

    • Tony Z August 23, 2017, 11:59 pm

      I have the FNX 45 Tactical and recently put a Romeo 1 on it and it works great! I also use a Burris Fast Fire 3 on my Browning Buckmark in our Bowling Pin League.
      Both Red dots bolt directly to the slide of the FNX with identical bolt patterns, so I would guess ou should have been able to switch out the Romeo 1 with the Burris FF3.
      I really like the big window and Co-witnessing of the Romeo 1 on the FNX, which has a 3lb trigger in Single action (I usually start cocked and locked in Combat League). Went over to a friends home that has 4.5in flip around steel targets, and suddenly 150 rounds were gone!
      Too much fun.

  • Jeff Gibson May 15, 2017, 11:26 pm

    Well you left out the winner. Canik TP9 sfx. And it priced better than the others also.

  • PaulWVa May 15, 2017, 8:36 pm

    I feel like I got in on Sig P-320 craze kind of early on. I was looking for a carry gun in 9mm and fell in love with the medium frame, compact from first time I held one. I’ve had it a year and half and have run over 2500 rounds through it. But I found with 15 rounds it’s still kind of heavy for EDC and picked up the sub-compact. I love both guns and shoot them weekly. After shooting my Sigs my best friend picked up the new RX. He knew he liked the 320s and wanted a red dot and the RX checked all the right boxes. Great guns for any use. I want the new X5!

  • Sandy Reed May 15, 2017, 1:42 pm

    Having used handguns for a living for over 30 years, both operational and as a trainer ( training is different than instructing ) I too am a weekly USPSA ‘A’ shooter and run my P320RX in the Open Class; yes against all the highly modified STI, CZ, and the never ending plethora of 1911 clones. In almost every stage at least one competitor has a stoppage or other issue with his high-strung open gun. I usually run in the top 5% with my P320RX….how you ask? I did have my friend Bruce Gray (worked with him at SigArms) do his full house CELTS modification on the FCG. Now it has a 2.7# trigger that searbreaks clean like the proverbial icicle. Round count as of today is 2789 without a SINGLE malfunction in gun or optic. I plan on running the same gun in CO by just changing the flat trigger to the GG curved one( a 2 min job) and running stock mags instead of the 24 round mags I use in Open. I trained Federal Officers at FLETC for many years including the Air Marshall program as well as 2 deployments in the military and 2 deployments as a civilian close protection agent. Lots of lead down range and some in my body…….just my $ .02 worth. In stock form, the CORE and the RX co -witness with the irons. To find the dot, just present like you would with irons and the dot will magically appear on top of the front sight. I too carry a 1911, light weight Commander in .38 Super as my EDC.

  • Paul DeRidder May 15, 2017, 11:58 am

    Great rundown.

  • W.P. Zeller May 15, 2017, 11:43 am

    Well, opinions will always diverge, but this assessment comes as an almost complete turnaround.
    I am in the fortunate position of being a full-time instructor. Along with my female partner, a nationally-known USPSA competitor, we get to see a lot of guns, and more importantly, a lot of people shooting guns under all kinds of conditions. From the very beginning shooters who’ve never touched a gun to real live grand master whom we shoot with every Sunday, we see many thousands of rounds downrange every week.
    We stepped into the carry optics waters after watching Shane Coley, Glock team captain, blaze the enormous Stage 5 at last year’s Area 5 Championship (of which I was the CRO). His shooting on the 20+ yard partials (only six inches of width available) left even jaded me staring.
    So we went after the first CO gun available, the 320RX. We even paid standard over-the-counter price because the stores we instruct at didn’t have any, and given Sig’s inability to come through on even the smallest promise, we decided not to wait.
    We get a lot of older people, especially in the first two levels of classes, and we were sure the dot would be helpful and desired.
    Now that it’s been in the system for most of a year now, we’ve learned a lot.
    On top of that, our frequent attendance at USPSA and occasional IDPA matches lets us see a fair number of people shooting RMRs under time pressure at middle-distance targets.
    Here are some things we think we know:
    Unless the shooters absolutely devote themselves to the use of the dot, the carry optics always slow down the shooter. Quite a bit. Even good, C- to A-class shooters. Finding the dot takes nearly forever. Yet, beyond a few feet, sights are needed.
    A master-class shooter can point shoot and get past this; but not many handgunners out there are that skilled overall.
    We worked with the RX a bit (she’s A, I’m B) and neither of us could come anywhere near our performance with plain old 1911s. Not even close. Could we catch up if we shot nothing else and married the gun? Possibly, but then there’s the big question: why?
    Dots are, in our estimation and that of our skilled shooter friends, helpful beyond a certain distance, which varies with the individual. For me, that point is about 15-18 yards with my aging eyes. For my partner, the number is closer to 20 yards.
    For IPSC competition, with the smaller targets typically at longer distances than we see here in USPSA, that might be a thing. For a non-military, non-LEO practical pistol that’s simply not going to used beyond seven yards in almost any imaginable defensive situation, the RMR is a liability. Slower, more complicated, more stuff to do than plain sights or even the slide top. More complicated and more stuff is, to us, a liability. And slow is always bad.
    Back to the students interfacing with the dot- well, we were wrong about that, too. No one likes it on first and second tries, with the notable exception of teenagers. Do the adults try five or ten rounds and give up too soon? Perhaps, but that’s what actually happens on the range, virtually every time.
    Is there a problem with the platform, possibly? Again, in our experience, yes. The 320’s “medium” handle is too big for at least two-thirds of the people we get, including ourselves. And, of course, Sig’s inability to support their product means there are no “small” grip modules to be had. Even Sig reps and officials can’t get them for us, and we shoot with some of them.
    Then, the traditional Sig high bore axis is still there, and doesn’t help. It’s not catastrophic, but when our people shoot the gun side by side with the better guns in this regard, they always leave the 320 laying on the table and move on.
    Ironically, the most popular guns in the range for us among the polymer nines are the M&P and PPQ- two of the smaller handles. Our PPQ 5″ has only been with us for a half-year but it’s already a big hit with the customers. And I know that I personally get far better, faster results with the M&P than the 320 when working with the iron sight versions.
    Further irony- our 320’s trigger is not at all good. 320s have developed a reputation for inconsistent triggers gun to gun, and Sig’s attempts to make it back with the new model and constant insistence upon Gray triggers is evidence. I’ve shot 320s with tolerable triggers, but most are middling at best and ours is simply not good. Any Ruger American trigger will dust off a 320, and PPQ will do the same.
    Again, so say our customers.
    So our conclusions vary, and there they are. One last element, though- the Sig does not seem sturdy at all, having owned one for some time now. The trigger group seems cheesy and flimsy. Time will tell about that, but if the 320 comes anywhere near the G17 for reliability, you will color me surprised.
    The above is all coming from a 1911 shooter who carries a .45 Commander and does not care for 9mm polymer guns, so there’s no dog in this hunt.

    • Joshua May 16, 2017, 8:14 pm

      Time will tell how reliable the P320 is when it gets fielded to the big green w…err my employer…

    • Sgt. Pop May 18, 2017, 9:21 pm

      W.P.Z, that was good information to have. I only tried hand gun red dot couple times, except for timed slow fire, I couldn’t use it at all in active movement shooting. Works great on my .22 bull barrel Ruger armadillo pistol w/ light though.

  • Sandy Reed May 15, 2017, 11:14 am

    The P320 and CORE, CO-WITNESS WITH THE IRONS, YOU CAN RUN EITHER PISTOL WITHOUT THE OPTIC BEING TURNED ON. The Romeo 1, is an excellent optic, thousands of rounds through the RX without optic or pistol issues and the Holosun on my SBR has been working without a glitch for years. And Yes, the Leupold Pro will not fit on a CORE. I have had more issues with the Trijicon RMR on my CORE than any optic, back to the factory 6 times, finally sold it and replaced it with the old style Leupold Delta Point that will co-witness.

  • bill cattell May 15, 2017, 9:46 am

    don’t know where you get your glocks, i have bought two mos pistols, and they both came with inserts and screws.

    • clay martin May 19, 2017, 1:50 pm

      mine came from Glock. Maybe they package them different for retail sale, mine came direct from the factory.

  • Dan White May 15, 2017, 9:43 am

    Great review. Thanks. I’m a H & K P2000SK .40 fan but that Sig looked like it would be worth locking at.

  • Mike May 15, 2017, 9:38 am

    I’m not sure if I see reflex sights becoming “normal CCW equipment” anytime soon. Manufacturers seem more concerned with firepower and size, than they do with reflex capability in carry.
    For many today, optics on a rifle have more or less become common place, as entry level shoots have little experience using iron sights and only shoot at targets 50-100 yards away (no real adjustment for windage, range or conditions).
    For those wanting a full size “run it fast” target pistol. I can honestly say reflex sights are a game changer! I currently have a micro H-2 installed on my MK-4, making it one of my favorite range pistols. Although, I’m unsure if I would ever fully remove the standard front and rear sights, as the AimPoint only increases the speed I acquire the target and doesn’t really effect how I manipulate the trigger.
    Take one look at a new shooter utilizing a pistol laser and you’ll quickly realize that fundamentals of marksmanship are more important than equipment attached to the weapon… But that’s just my opinion.

  • KCshooter May 15, 2017, 9:19 am

    Could a standard Sig 320 slide be milled to fit standard micro RDS’s?
    Being able to take a threaded barrel conversion kit slide and have it fit to take the Burris or Vortex sight, yet still having a normal upper for carry, would be a great option.

  • Vincent Brady May 15, 2017, 8:51 am

    CANIK TP9SFx was my choice for home SD & fun shooting after reviewing the marketplace. Definitely not a CC firearm and you do remove the rear sight when mounting the optic but the stock rear sights on the reviewed pistols can not see over a mounted optic anyway. (not sure about the Sig). The Vortex Venom 3 MOA red dot is a better choice for most than the Burris.

  • Mark May 15, 2017, 8:37 am

    Again, no love for the CZ. I can never understand why the most popular handgun design in the world never gets tested.

    • Paul Helinski May 15, 2017, 8:39 am

      Perhaps in a future article. But it still won’t be the SIG for this particular application. Go try one. We were shocked and had no idea the preference would be so dramatic.

    • BR549 May 15, 2017, 9:38 am

      And I am still amazed at how many people have taken the bait on the value of a Glock; any of them, really. While the subject of the article is quite pertinent, putting a Glock at the top of the list doesn’t have me putting this article in my “keeper” list.

      • clay martin May 15, 2017, 10:28 am

        Uh, we put the Glock at 3rd on the list. Did you read it, or go straight to the comments section?

      • singleshotcajun May 15, 2017, 11:03 am

        Mr. Samples. I am no Mathematician but it would seem that the Glock came in middle of the pack.

  • Todd Jaffe May 15, 2017, 7:47 am

    Always great to see I made the right choice. I own the 320 RX, have for 5 months now. And bought it at The GUNSITE ON MERRITT ISLAND FLORIDA for less than the ones on Guns America. Just saying, is all. And yes, it is a 1-1.5 inch grouping gun, almost out of the box.

    • Paul Helinski May 15, 2017, 8:38 am

      Generally local dealers can get guns cheaper than you can find online, which is why we have a huge stocking dealer platform here and not just classifieds and auctions.

  • Ken May 15, 2017, 6:32 am

    Went through this myself a few months back. A couple things to add. I love Sigs but the Romeo sights are garbage. Rebranded Chinese Holosun. The sig would have been my choiceif it would accept a proper sight. The M&P will not accept the Leupold Delta point Pro.

    • Jim May 15, 2017, 12:28 pm

      The Sig Romeo sights are not rebranded Holosun. They are all SIG. I have a Romeo 4 and love it. My wingman has a Romeo 5 and loves it.

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