Buyer's Guide: Red Dot Ready Pistols
December 20, 2018
People have been mounting red dot sights on pistols since the 1980s, but because of optic size and their relatively delicate nature, they were really only suitable for competition. Over the last 10 years, red dot sights have gotten small and robust enough to be suitable for use on carry/defensive handguns.
Just how “in” are red dot-sighted pistols? I’ve attempted to include all the production handguns offered from manufacturers either equipped from the factory with red dots or set up to immediately mount one, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I’ve overlooked a few (such as Kimber’s Aegis Elite Pro (OI) and Super Jägare, covered elsewhere in this issue). We’re only covering traditional handguns, but remember, all those AR and AK pistols that easily mount red dots are legally, well, pistols.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson wasn’t the first major manufacturer to offer pistols set up for red dots, but their selection of M&P C.O.R.E. (Competition Optics Ready Equipment) pistols is perhaps the most extensive in the industry.
S&W currently offers eight C.O.R.E. pistols through their Performance Center. You have your choice of 9mm or .40 S&W and barrel lengths of 4¼ inches or 5 inches with standard or ported barrels. One version has a 5-inch extended, threaded barrel.
The C.O.R.E. pistols are set up to accept six different styles of mini red dots — Trijicon RMR, Leupold DeltaPoint Pro, JPoint, Docter, C-More STS and Insight MRDS.
Like most of the pistols in this buyer's guide, the Smith & Wessons have tall sights that can be seen and used through the window of the red dot. There is a removable plate just forward of the rear sight where the optic is designed to be mounted.
Most of the C.O.R.E. pistols have a suggested retail price of $769. The extended, threaded barrel model is $825; the ported, long-slide model is $1,092.
Nighthawk Custom is one of the most well-known custom 1911 shops in the country, and two of their new pistols come equipped from the factory with the Trijicon RMR mini red dot optic.
The basic Global Response Pistol (GRP) is a full-size 1911 chambered in .45 ACP. While the standard GRP model comes equipped with Heinie Ledge Straight Eight tritium sights, you can upgrade to an RMR, as well as get it chambered in 9mm, 10mm or .38 Super. As Nighthawk is a full-custom shop, the GRP is as feature-loaded as any 1911 on the market — 25-lines-per-inch (lpi) checkering on the frontstrap and mainspring housing, match barrel and bushing, and custom G10 grips with a complete dehorning of sharp edges. Prices start at $4,610.
Nighthawk Custom also offers several versions of their Shadow Hawk pistol, including the Shadow Hawk RMR. This is a full-size, 5-inch-barreled 1911 designed with the help of Steve Fisher, formerly of Magpul Dynamics. While it comes standard in 9mm, other calibers are available.
The Shadow Hawk RMR features the following: a flat-faced, solid trigger; extended, flared magwell; 25-lpi checkering on the frontstrap and mainspring housing; 40-lpi serrations on the back of the slide; Trijicon tall tritium night sights that can be seen through the RMR’s window; and many other custom touches. Prices start at $4,795.
Some of the first carry guns I ever saw wearing slide-mounted mini red dots were Glocks, but those were all custom gunsmith pieces. Finally seeing the writing on the wall, Glock introduced their Modular Optic System (MOS) line a few years ago, which now includes six different Gen 4 models — the G17, G19, G34, G35, G41 and G40.
Glock’s MOS pistols come with a cover plate and four different mounting plates that accept just about every mini red dot on the market. Apart from the ability to mount an optic, the MOS pistols are identical to standard Glock models. This means the MOS pistols are supplied with Glock’s standard-height plastic sights that will be unusable if you mount a red dot. Suggested retail on the MOS models runs from $600 to $800.
Springfield Armory’s first factory red dot pistol was the XD(M) Optical Sight Pistol (OSP). This is a full-size, 4½-inch-barreled version of Springfield’s polymer-framed, striker-fired XD(M) pistol with a Vortex Optics Venom installed at the factory.
However, Springfield also supplies three mounting plates with the pistol that will allow you to swap out that Vortex for most of the other popular optics. The Venom comes with a 3-MOA dot, but the sights on the pistol are standard height, so you won’t be able to use them through the Venom’s window. The pistol comes with two 19-round magazines and, even with the Vortex, suggested retail is just $979.
Springfield is just as well-known for their excellent 1911s, and they now offer their TRP 10mm available from the factory in 5- or 6-inch versions mounting a Trijicon RMR. The TRP is one of Springfield’s nicest 1911s with many custom touches such as their Posi-Lock texturing on the frame and mainspring housing, oversized magwell, tall Trijicon tritium night sights, Olive G10 grips and Black T corrosion-resistant finish.
The 5-inch model has an MSRP of $2,507; the 6-inch long-slide version has an MSRP of $2,558.
SIG Sauer has a number of pistols that come equipped from the factory with SIG Sauer’s Romeo1 mini red dot sight. Known as the RX models, you have your choice of the P226 Legion RX 9mm; P227 RX .45 ACP; P229 RX and P229 Legion RX 9mms; and the P320 RX, RX Compact and X-FIVE 9mms.
In all RX models, the Romeo1 optic is mounted to the slide just forward of the rear sight. This optic has a 3-MOA dot with multiple brightness settings. All of the RX models come standard with tall sights, but depending on the model, you have your choice of SIG Sauer’s standard SIGLITE tritium sights, their XRAY3 night sights or their non-tritium “Tall Contrast Sights.”
The do-all, competition-oriented P320 X-FIVE has an adjustable Dawson rear sight set on a removable plate, so you can install a mini red dot if you so choose.
Prices vary between these models, starting at $887 for the P320 RX models. The price of the semicustom Legion pistols is nearly double that.
While we’re focusing on carry-gun options, I have to mention the CZ 75 Czechmate TS — specifically, the Parrot version.
This is a dedicated competition pistol mounting a C-More SlideRide red dot sight. It’s the only pistol CZ currently makes that comes with or is even set up to take an optic. It is a full-house competition gun available straight from the CZ factory.
The Czechmate isn’t just sold as a pistol, it comes as part of a competition package — included are three 20-round magazines, one 26-round magazine, the C-More SlideRide and mount, a front sight adapter (to replace the compensator) and a rear sight (to replace the slide racker) if you want to shoot iron sights in a Limited Division match.
The standard model is all black, but I love the Parrot version. The Parrot was probably set up by someone who wears the same kind of Hawaiian shirts as me. On this black gun, you’ll see all sorts of aluminum parts anodized in screaming colors — a ruby-red trigger, blue optic mount, purple slide racker, green magazine well, brilliant orange right grip panel and a banana-yellow left grip panel. Suggested retail on this unique pistol is $3,320.
Dan Wesson offers two pistols with factory-mounted red dots. Both are in their Elite Series of 1911s, which feature a high-capacity, wide-body frame. If you’re a 1911 geek, you’ll recognize the all-steel frame as the original Caspian high-capacity design.
The Elite Series Fury is available in 9mm or 10mm (18-plus-one and 14-plus-one capacities, respectively) and offers an extended, threaded 5½-inch barrel. From the factory, the Fury mounts a Trijicon RMR, tall night sights, a flat match trigger, checkered frontstrap and mainspring housing and G10 grips. The MSRP of the Fury is $4,899.
The Havoc is the same basic pistol as the Fury but features a long compensator instead of an extended, threaded barrel, and it comes with a sideways-mounted C-More optic. If you’ve never seen one of those before, it’s a competition trick — mounting the C-More sideways puts the red dot closer to the bore and gets the optic out of the way of the ejection port.
The Havoc is available in 9mm or .38 Super. It sports an oversized, extended magazine well and comes with extended 23-round magazines. The Havoc has an MSRP of $4,299.
Currently, Walther offers three pistols either designed to accept red dots or shipping with them.
First — and newest — is the PPS M2 RMSC, which is a version of Walther’s perennially underappreciated, slim 9mm carry gun mounting a mini red dot. The “M2” designation means it offers an American-style magazine release, and depending on magazine length, it will hold six to eight-plus-one rounds. This pistol comes with a Shield RMSc red dot optic mounted at the factory and has an amazingly low MSRP of $699.
Walther offers two versions of their flagship PPQ designed to accept red dots: the Q4 TAC and the Q5 Match. Both the Q4 and Q5 have their rear LPA iron sights mounted on a removable plate. The pistols come with three mounting plates to fit Trijicon RMR, Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and Docter mini red dots. And they both feature the excellent trigger pull that has become synonymous with the PPQ name.
The Q4 TAC has an extended, threaded 4.6-inch barrel and is supplied with flush and extended magazines. It has a suggested retail of $800. The Q5 Match is a 5-inch long-slide meant for competition use and has a suggested retail price of $849.
Many American consumers might not have heard of Turkish arms maker Canik or their TP9 pistol, but it’s been getting a lot of headlines over the past few years.
The TP9 is a polymer-framed, striker-fired gun that started out as a bit of a Walther P99 clone but has evolved. It is getting a reputation for reliability at a very low price. There are now several versions of the TP9 available, but the one we’re interested in for this buyer’s guide is the TP9SFx, which is intended to be a purpose-built competition pistol.
This 9mm pistol has a 5.2-inch barrel and a Tungsten (gray) Cerakote finish on the slide. Two 20-round extended magazines are provided with the pistol. The provided iron sights are from Warren Tactical, but the rear sight is mounted on a plate that is removable, so you can install a mini red dot. Four different plates come with the pistol, so you can mount all the popular mini red dots to the slide. You also get a polymer paddle holster with the pistol, all for the low MSRP of $550.
Ed Brown Products is one of those custom 1911 shops that has been around since the original Ed Brown himself started gunsmithing in 1968. Since then, the company has continued to grow and evolve.
While they offer custom work, they have a large catalog of pistols, and many of their new models feature red dots. Last year, I reviewed the Ed Brown LS10, which is a 6-inch long-slide 10mm that comes with a slide-mounted Trijicon RMR.
But Ed Brown also has five other 1911s that come from the factory wearing Trijicon RMRs: the Ed Brown FX1, ZEV 1911, 2018 Executive Target, Special Forces SR (Suppressor Ready) and SRC (Suppressor Ready Compact).
Ranging from Commander- to Government-size pistols and offered in various chamberings from 9mm to .45 ACP, the red dot-sighted Ed Browns are fabulous-looking custom 1911s, but they’re expensive — prices start around $4,000.
STI International got their start making competition pistols, but they’ve branched out with their pistol lines. Of interest to this article is their H.O.S.T. Tactical pistol, which has a slide cut to “host” a mini red dot. This pistol has STI’s 2011 wide-body polymer frame and is chambered in 9mm, which means flush magazines hold 15 rounds, and you can buy up to 170mm magazines that hold 27 rounds apiece.
Offered with either a 4.15- or 5-inch threaded barrel and tall suppressor-ready tritium sights, the H.O.S.T. models retail for $2,999. It comes with multiple mounting plates, so you can use the mini red dot of your choice.
New for 2018 is STI’s DVC Omni, which sports their H.O.S.T. optic cut on the slide. Overall, it has the dimensions of a Government model 1911, but this is a “carry comp” model with a 4.15-inch barrel. Chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP, this pistol has a lot of custom features including tritium sights and a 3-pound trigger pull. MSRP on the DVC Omni is $3,999.
STI hasn’t forgotten their competition roots, and they offer two full-house “race” guns with factory-mounted optics. Both the DVC Steel and DVC Open guns are built on STI’s 2011 frame and sport long compensators and multiple custom options including 2½-pound triggers. STI installs C-More RTS2 8 MOA optics on these pistols on frame-affixed mounts. They both have $3,999 price tags.
FN makes so many modern pistols that I was surprised they only offer one that is compatible with a red dot.
The FNX 45 Tactical is a big, polymer-framed, double-action/single-action (DA/SA) semiauto chambered in .45 ACP. This pistol sports an extended 5.3-inch barrel and raised 3-dot night sights. This is already a big gun (standard magazines hold 15 rounds of .45 ACP), and it seems like a perfect host for a red dot. The FNX 45 Tactical is supplied with two mounting bases to accept numerous types of red dot sights, as well as a blank plate if you want to use the iron sights. The FNX 45 Tactical is available in black or FDE and has a suggested retail of $1,349.
Beretta is arguably the oldest firearms company in the world, but it is their newest pistol, the APX, that we’ll be covering here.
The APX is a polymer-framed, striker-fired 9mm pistol introduced in 2017. The first model introduced was a duty-size gun, but Beretta has introduced additional APX models since then, including the RDO and the Combat.
The APX RDO takes the full-size APX with its 4¼-inch barrel and gives it a slide cut just forward of the rear sight. Beretta provides four different mounting plates to accept the mini red dot of your choice, as well as a fixed blank plate if you want to use your iron sights without an optic. The sights on this model are of standard height, so they cannot be seen when mounting an optic. Suggested retail on the RDO is $725.
The APX Combat is basically the APX RDO with an extended, threaded 4.9-inch barrel. Suggested retail on the APX Combat is $775.
While there are innumerable small and one-man custom shops producing amazing red dot pistols, we had to draw the line at companies that actually make guns as opposed to doing machining work on guns made by others. So, the last company on our list is maybe the smallest, but the guns they produce are some of the finest in the country.
Infinity Firearms mostly makes custom high-end, high-capacity, competition-style 1911s. They make all of their own parts, including frames and slides. They don’t have any production models per se — every gun is made to order for the individual customer, who builds their dream gun through Infinity’s Gunbuilder feature on their website.
Whether you’re looking for an Open Division comped race gun with a frame-mounted C-More optic or a compact 1911 with a slide-mounted Trijicon RMR, Infinity can make it happen. With a near infinite number of options available to you between finishes and checkering — and, yes, even custom serial numbers — any pistol you get from Infinity will be one of a kind. As every pistol they make is essentially a one-off, there are no set prices, but look for a base gun to start around $5,000.