How-To: Shooting Groups with a Red Dot Sight

The fundamental test of accuracy for a firearm is the ability to shoot a group. When folks first switch to an Open division gun, they struggle with getting the gun to group because they overlook one very important issue that doesn’t seem to show up with normal partridge sights: finding a consistent aiming point! Here’s some tips on making that happen… (note: this applies to any red dot sight, including when mounted on a rifle or shotgun!)

The group above is a five shot group at 50 yards from my Brazos Custom Gunworks Pro Sx racegun. Not a shabby group. As a side note, it should also lay to rest any concerns about the accuracy of STI barrels – this gun has an STI TruBor barrel in it (custom cut with Brazos’ Thundercomp 2 compensator pattern – these are available as a stock item from Brazos Custom Gunworks, BTW) and the gun shoots groups like this all day long.

A solid rest helps immensely in group shooting. It makes it far easier to hold the gun steady so that you can focus on minimizing your tension level and proper trigger control. The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to consistently break clean shots. The less muscle you have to use to keep the gun pointed precisely on the target, the less tension you’re going to have in your shooting platform. Worst case, use your shooting bag off a bench, or prone on the ground. Best case, use sand bags or a Hornady Delta front rest filled with sand or similar. Certainly, it’s good to practice shooting groups offhand, but when we’re testing the accuracy potential of the system, we want to remove the shooter out of the equation as much as possible. However, all the stuff below applies to shooting groups offhand, too!

It’s tough to shoot groups like that if you don’t have a consistent aiming point on the target. Just picking some random area of the target isn’t going to get it done, and using a standard bullseye target won’t do it, either. Unlike partridge sights, the red dot isn’t friendly in those situations. The second mistake that folks make is that they tend to crank the dot brightness all the way up. This tends to do two things – it obscures the target behind the dot, tends to make the apparent dot size bigger as the dot tends to flare outward, and makes the edge of the dot appear to be fuzzy and imprecise. In the pictures below, the top is flared way out, whereas the bottom is tuned to be somewhat translucent (click on the images to make them bigger).

Note – it’s hard to take pictures of red dot sights that are usable for these purposes – hopefully, you get the idea…

The translucent dot is actually easier to align on the target, especially on strongly contrasting targets, like black on white or black on a tan target. In the opening shot, I was using a standard black paster on an IPSC target.

The target you use makes a big difference, too. Ideally, your target will be close to the same size as your dot at the distance you’re shooting at. Dot sizes are measured in minutes of angle or MOA. While not precisely accurate, for our purposes, an MOA covers an inch at 100 yards. So, if I have a 6 MOA dot size, and I’m shooting a group at 50 yards, my dot is covering 3 inches on the target face. Ideally, a black circle slightly larger or smaller than 3 inches on the target gives me the most consistency on the target (see lower two sight pictures below). With a target shaped like a square, you can repeat the sight picture easily with target sizes that are more disparate (like, say, a 3/4 inch black paster vs. a 3 inch dot). If the square is smaller than the dot, you make sure that the same two corners of the square touch the edge of the dot every time (say, the top two corners). If the square is larger, you put the dot in the corner of the square and make sure the dot touches the two edges of the corner in the square each time. If the square is closer in size, you get one of the top two sight pictures below….

Notice that center sight picture? Here we’ve got the dot intensity turned way up (but not flared) and we can’t see the whole square. Can you see how this makes it harder to use? Dial that dot down until you can see through it – hopefully, it’s bright enough out that you can achieve that level of relatively brightness. If not, just do your best – you can still shoot superb groups like that, it’s just not as user friendly.

Remember to avoid your arch enemy in ultimate accuracy with an optical sight – parallax! Make sure you keep the dot centered in the lens all the time when shooting groups, and keep yourself solidly centered behind the gun.

Focus on using consistent, solid trigger control. I’ll make a post about trigger control in the future – in the meantime, drop me a note if you need some help in this regard.

Finally, keep in mind that if you close your off eye, you’re inducing stress in the open eye. I like to use something to block my off eye from seeing the target, rather than closing it. Something as simple as a piece of paper or cardboard inserted under my shooting glasses gets it done and is easily removable.

About the author


USPSA Grand Master, NRA Instructor, http://re-gun.com/about/

Permanent link to this article: http://re-gun.com/2011/04/how-to-shooting-groups-with-a-red-dot-sight/


3 pings

  1. Vic says:

    Does it make a difference what size the red dot is when buying a scope for target shooting? How small is too small? How big is just too big? What is the best scope for the money?

    1. DaveRe says:

      Vic, it somewhat comes down to a personal choice, but most of us run 6-8 MOA dots for USPSA/IPSC competition. You need a size that’s small enough to be precise on hard shots, but large enough to be bright and be easily seen against the targets. There are other considerations (which I’ll hopefully get to write about some day), but these are kind of the main ones. Anything below 4 MOA is too small, and anything above 12 MOA is too big.

      As far as using a red dot for Bullseye or other competitions, I’m not the best guy to ask for those games…

  1. DR Performance says:

    Shooting groups with a red dot sight gets tricky… unless you do it right… http://bit.ly/kq3BXk

  2. xre says:

    RT @drperformance: Shooting groups with a red dot sight gets tricky… unless you do it right… http://bit.ly/kq3BXk

  3. C-More Care and Feeding – Zero’ing and Adjustment | Re-Gun says:

    [...] I spend zero’ing). Remember to use good trigger control, and follow the steps I outlined for shooting groups with a red dot sight – you want to make sure that the only thing that’s changing is the adjustment of the [...]

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