8 Helpful Tips for Choosing the Best Optics Ready Pistol

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As firearms technology continues to progress, handgun technology has introduced new sighting systems and accessories, making them more versatile than ever. One such accessory is the reflex sight, which has quickly become one of the most pivotal advancements for handguns in the past century.

Tips for Choosing the best optics ready pistol
Jason showing some of his optics ready pistols
Some of my optics ready pistols

Almost every popular pistol model available today has an optic ready variant from the factory, so it’s tough to narrow down the options to find the best optics ready pistol. In this guide, we’re delving into why pistol reflex sights worth having, some of the best optic ready pistol options, and their features.

Table of Contents

Benefits of Using a Pistol Red Dots

Before we start going in depth into the multitude of optic-ready pistols that are on the market, it’s important to understand why they’re worth adding to your pistol. We can’t stress enough how they can enhance your shooting experience, as they provided you with improved accuracy, enhanced situational awareness, and a faster target acquisition speed.

Compared to stock iron sights, pistol red dots are much easier to aim with. So long as your optic is zeroed, all you need to do place your reticle on target. This is much more intuitive than aligning iron sights, which require you to focus your eyes on the front sight and away from the actual target.

Since red dots allow you to focus entirely on the target, they can provide you with better situational awareness. While not impossible, it’s notoriously difficult shoot with both eyes open when using your pistol’s iron sights since they need to be aligned with each other.

Reflex sights make this process much easier, since there isn’t a need to align anything. In doing so, your dominant eye can pick up the reticle while the other sees everything else. Both images come together, giving you a complete image that includes your target, reticle, and the peripheral view of each eye. By having a complete image of all your immediate surroundings, you can pinpoint targets when they’re moving, giving you the most optimal control of any defensive scenario.

See our guide on iron sights vs red dots for more and the pros and cons of each.


The Best Optics Ready Pistols

Given their benefits, it’s easy to understand why pistol reflex sights have surged in popularity. As their popularity has soared, so too has the demand for optic-ready pistols.

Without an optics ready pistol, it is impossible to mount a red dot without a firearms expert machining the slide (see C&H Precision’s milling service). So, it is important to purchase you pistol optics ready if you plan to mount a red dot.

Many of the popular pistol manufacturers provide a comprehensive lineup of optic-ready pistols. Below, we have a breakdown of some of the more popular optic-ready pistol brands and models on the market.

GLOCK

GLOCK stands tall as one of the leading names in the firearm industry, known well for the versatility and wide range of product models. Select pistols from GLOCK come with their MOS (Modular Optic System) mounting system, essentially making them compatible with most of the popular optics available.

This adaptability ensures that whether you’re using the compact GLOCK 19, full-size GLOCK 17, carry sized 19x/45, or the larger GLOCK 34, you can integrate your preferred optic with ease.

Jason showing a Glock 17 MOS with a Red Dot Optic
A Glock 17 with a Holosun ACSS Red Dot

If you’re unfamiliar with their pistol models, the GLOCK 19 has a 15-round capacity and 4.02-inch barrel, while the GLOCK 17 has a 17-round capacity and a 4.49-inch barrel. The GLOCK 19x/45 blends the larger frame of the 17 with the compact slide and barrel of the 19, giving it a 17-round capacity and a 4.02-inch barrel. A much larger pistol comparatively, the GLOCK 34 utilizes the 17’s frame size but incorporates a longer 5.3-inch barrel.

If you’re interested in a subcompact pistol, the GLOCK 43x/48 feature a 3.41-inch and 4.17-inch barrel, respectively. Likewise, both options have an MOS model available too, but due to their smaller size, you must use smaller optic variants like the Holosun 507k for example. Both pistols have a standard capacity of 10 rounds, though aftermarket manufacturers like Shield Arms produce steel, flush mount, 15-round magazines that fit in both pistols.

Something to keep in mind is that there are many pistols produced by GLOCK that feature their MOS system. These pistols vary greatly, offering different sizes, carrying capacities, calibers. All of this culminates together to make GLOCK a solid choice for anyone seeking out a high-quality optic ready pistol.


SIG Sauer

SIG Sauer’s flagship pistol model, the P320, is a pistol that’s been adopted by both Military and Law Enforcement groups and is incredibly popular on the civilian market due to its reliability and ease of customization.

What distinguishes the P320 from other handguns is its fire control unit or FCU. The FCU is the serialized part of the firearm, instead of the frame like most handguns. The P320 comes standard with an optic ready slide that’s compatible with Delta Point Pro mounting footprints, though adapters are available for other optics.

Jason showing the Sig P320 Optics Ready Handgun
The Sig P320 optics ready handgun

The P320 is available in a variety of sizes. Currently they offer a full-size pistol with a 17-round standard capacity and 4.7-inch barrel, a carry size with the same frame and a 3.9-inch barrel, and finally a compact size with a 15-round capacity and 3.9-inch barrel. Each one can be a great optic ready pistol for you, but if you’re looking for a smaller option, their subcompact pistol line, the P365, could be a good choice.

Like the P320, it also uses an FCU as the serialized portion of the firearm. Currently, there are three models available in this line, the P365 with a 10-round capacity and 3.1-inch barrel, P365XL with a 12-round capacity and 3.4-inch barrel, and finally the P365 XMacro which has a 17-round capacity and 3.7-inch barrel.

Jason showing the Sig P365 XL
My Sig P365 XL with a Sig Romeo X red dot

Each are great carry guns, that also come in optic ready configurations. Regardless of which one you choose, they each have a Compact/Shield RMS-c mounting footprint, when purchased in an optic ready configuration that is. Likewise, there are different adapter plates for other optic footprints as well.


Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson has been producing high-quality handguns for quite some time. One of the most popular pistols they produce is their M&P line, which can come with an optic-cut slide from the factory. The M&P9 2.0 is the latest variant in the M&P line, and when optic cut, it fits a wide array of optics.

Included with each pistol are adapter plates to fit multiple optic mounting footprints, such as the RMR, Delta Point Pro, Docter, and Crimson Trace mounting footprints. Additionally, it’s available in both a compact and full-size option, which have a 3.6- and 4-inch barrel respectively, along with a standard 15-round capacity.

The S&W Shield Optics ready pistol
The S&W Shield optics ready pistol

For a sub-compact option, the S&W Shield is a popular option. It’s well known for its slim form factor and reliability. While the Shield is commonly available with a single-stack 8-round magazine, there is another variant, the Shield Plus, that uses double-stack 10- and 13-round double-stack magazines. Like the SIG P365, the shield also has an RMS-c mounting footprint, though adapters are available for other compact optics.


Beretta

Beretta needs little introduction, as their renown comes from centuries of developing quality firearms. Throughout recent years, their pistols have been some of the most popular in their lineup, with models like the M9A4, 92X, and APX being among the most notable models with optic mounting capabilities.

The 92X and M9A4 are fairly similar. Both models use an aluminum frame and have a standard capacity of 15 rounds. The key difference between the two is that the M9A4 comes standard with a threaded barrel. Both pistols can come in an optic ready configuration.

Shooting the Beretta APX optics ready handgun
Shooting the Beretta APX optics ready handgun

Due to the design of 90 Series Beretta pistols, optics mount in a unique way. Instead of having a milled surface with a specific footprint, they instead use specialized mounting plates that thread into the top of the slide. Beretta carries plates for most of the popular optic footprints and can be bought directly from their site.

Moving on to the APX, it’s a polymer frame handgun that’s available in multiple sizes and configurations. No matter which possibility you look at though, they all come optic ready from the factory. The optic ready slide is compatible with many mounting plates, so it’s compatible with most of the popular mounting footprints.

Each of the APX models is double-stack except for the carry which is single-stack. The full-size model comes with a standard capacity of either 15 or 17 rounds, depending on the model, and the Compact has a 10-round capacity.


Walther

Founded in 1886, Walther has been designing and manufacturing firearms for more than 100 years. Their latest optics ready handgun, the PDP, comes in various models suited for concealed carry, duty, and competition use. The PDP improves on its predecessor, the PPQ, with an improved trigger (I have always loved Walther’s triggers), slide serrations, and specific improvements especially for using an optic.

Jason showing the Walther PDP Optics Ready Handgun
The Walther PDP with a Holosun 507 Comp

All PDP models come optics ready with Walther’s own proprietary footprint. When you purchase a PDP, Walther will send you an adapter plate free of charge for the optic of your choice. This allows you to choose your optic from six different possible footprint combinations. The PDP also has specific ergonomic features in the grip angle to help a shooter acquire the red dot faster when presenting the handgun to a target.

Two different frame sizes are available (Full size and Compact), along with barrel lengths from 4 inches to 5 inches. There is also an F series designed for people with smaller hands that features a smaller grip and a reduction in the force needed to rack the slide.


Mounting Footprints

Something we touched on when discussing the different optic ready pistol models available was optic mounting footprints. A mounting footprint refers to the type of mount an optic needs to secure to a pistol slide. For example, a Trijicon RMR has an RMR mounting footprint, while the Primary Arms Optics GLx RS-15 has a C-More footprint.

Our guide on red dot footprints covers this topic, going much more in-depth on the intricacies of many of the popular red dot mounting footprints. Be sure to read it before buying your optics ready pistol.


Understanding Red Dots

With a rough idea of the different optic-ready pistol models that are available, it’s equally important to understand what exactly pistol red dot sights are. When it comes to pistol optics, they fall into two categories: open-emitter mini-reflex sights and closed-emitter pistol red dot sights.

Open-emitter mini-reflex sights, as their name suggests, are small reflex sights with an open-emitter design. They’re characterized by having one lens onto which light from the emitter diode is collimated to form its reticle. In contrast, closed-emitter pistol red dot sights are more akin to their full-size counterparts, having two lenses and an enclosed emitter diode housed within the optic tube.

Jason showing 9 different red dots
There are many different red dots available for pistols

Choosing between either type ultimately comes down to deciding which one best suit your needs. While you can’t go wrong with either choice, one could be more beneficial to you than the other. For everyday carry, both options can be used to great effect, but the wider field of view provided from an open-emitter mini-reflex sight is better for quickly acquiring targets and situational awareness.

That said, if you’re using a pistol in tough or adverse conditions where it’s likely to see exposure to dirt, mud, or other debris, an enclosed pistol red dot sight will offer better protection.


Tips for Choosing your Optics Ready Pistol

Now that you know all of the popular models, here are our tips to keep in mind when buying an optics ready pistol:

  • Some handgun models come in both optics ready and non-optics ready versions.
  • Optics ready models are usually higher in price, but cheaper than machining later.
  • You do not have to purchase an optics ready handgun with the red dot already mounted (although it is convenient).
  • You do not have to use a red dot on an optics ready pistol. They come standard with iron sights.
  • Not all red dots optics will fit on all optics ready pistols.
  • Understand what red dot footprint the pistol you choose has. Some have dedicated footprints, while others are adaptable.
  • While backup iron sights are desirable, it may not be possible depending on the pistol/optic combo.
  • Full-Size handguns will typically allow for a red dot with a larger viewing window. This is usually helpful for beginners starting out.

Learn More

While you should train to be proficient with iron sights, using a red dot as your primary sight on a pistol opens the door for many benefits that remain hidden until you opt to use one. The benefits they provide can make a difference when it counts. However, having the right pistol and optic pairing is paramount in building the setup coincides with your needs.

Each of the pistols we’ve highlighted today would be an excellent choice for an everyday carry, home defense, or recreational pistol. That said, it’s important for you to continue to take time to research and test what’s available to you. While it’s impossible to discern the best pistol around, it is possible for you to find the best pistol for you. See our guide on the best concealed carry pistols and our review on the best 9mm pistols for our favorites.

The same notion goes for optics too. Be sure to check out other articles like the 11 Best Pistol Red Dots for Concealed Carry to get an idea of what all is available. Also be sure to check out our full concealed carry guide.

Whether you’re looking for guides on concealed carry or bushcraft and survival tips, you can find it all at Survival Stoic.

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Jason has an engineering and problem solving background. He is an avid outdoorsman, survivalist, and competitive shooter. He enjoys researching the best and most practical solutions for the problem at hand, studying stoicism, and finding innovative ways to be prepared.