Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 1

Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 1

What Works Best?

By Dennis Adler

Nothing new about red dot sights, they just keep getting smaller…but the gun at top is a Walther CP99, with bridge mount and Walther Top Point red dot, all almost 20 years old, the vintage Aimpoint MK III is 37 years old and still works, although compared to modern red dot sights is a little less competitive. In its time though, it was groundbreaking.

This is a subject that has many shooters seeing red. Red dots. Painting the target with a laser literally gives you a red dot on the target (and there are green lasers too, that are easier to see in brighter light). The laser indicates where your shot is going to hit when sighted in for POA. With air pistols, like blowback action, smoothbore BB models, this is not always as precise as with a centerfire gun, but even so, a laser is easy to see. However, with red dot scopes, the first developed over a quarter of a century ago, (I still have one of the early models manufactured by Aimpoint, a MK III that I purchased in 1983), sighting becomes more focused because you were no longer looking at a red dot projected downrange on the target, but rather a red dot within the scope that is as stable as the pistol’s own sights. Why the distinction? With a laser any movement of the gun moves the laser on the target and the greater the distance the grater the movement. Trained operators (SWAT, military Special Ops) have little trouble with this, than say the average shooter, but at closer distances a laser is an advantage for anyone. This is still less of an issue with a red dot scope or reflex sight; today military and law enforcement use both. In civilian pistol competition the dominant use of red dot scopes and reflex sights (within specific classes of competition) really makes the case for their use. With air pistols, and primarily blowback action CO2 models, the options are more limited as only certain models are suitable for use with a reflex sight, while any air pistol with a dustcover accessory rail is laser adaptable.

A couple of years ago I decided to see how the old sight worked with a comparatively new CO2 model, the now almost impossible to find Tanfoglio Gold Custom, which came with a top rail. The old Aimpoint MK III fit perfectly and while “huge” by today’s red dot reflex sight standards, was still a viable sighting system. In the 1980s I had it mounted to a .45 ACP AMT Longslide.

Origins

The red dot scope is the oldest and was originally developed in the 1970s. The innovative design was pioneered by Aimpoint in 1975, still the recognized worldwide leader of red dot sighting technology. To quote Aimpoint, “For over 45 years, we have been working closely with experienced hunters and marksmen as well as professional users around the world. During all these years, we have seen that the Aimpoint electronic red dot sight has revolutionized mid-range to short-range moving target shooting techniques. Aimpoint red dot sights are today globally recognized as the fastest, most rugged, and most efficient electronic small arms sighting system in the world.” I couldn’t agree more as I have had several centerfire guns equipped with Aimpoint devices over the years and I still have one of the early “large” Aimpoint MK III red dot scopes, and it still works after 37 years!

Aimpoint had one of the largest early U.S. military contracts for red dot sights, manufacturing more than a million red dot sights including the famous CompM or M68CCO. (Photo Aimpoint)

The red dot scope found its place with law enforcement and the U.S. military in the early 1990s. Aimpoint proved that red dot scopes could improve the speed and accuracy of operators in the field, and while we see this as commonplace today, a little over 20 years ago it was groundbreaking. In 1997, Aimpoint signed the first contract with the U.S. Army to deliver 100,000 Aimpoint CompM sights to the armed forces. Also known as the M68CCO, these sights have been continuously modified and improved over the years and over 1 million units have been delivered to the U.S. Army. Today, Aimpoint sights are also in service with most NATO countries and numerous police agencies and special teams worldwide. In addition to Aimpoint are other global manufacturers with tactical red dot optics for military and law enforcement use, and I have shown some of those very expensive devices in Airgun Experience articles over the years, but of course, they are financially unrealistic for an air pistol that costs a fraction of the sight (unless you also have the centerfire gun and use the air pistol version for inexpensive training sessions).

With the right gun and accessories you can have it all, a red dot sight on a top rail and a laser on the dustcover. This is a (once available) combination from Umarex using a Beretta 92FS pellet model.
Most of the components are still available today; you just have to look for them. As a 4.5mm target pistol this 8-shot (rotary magazine) Beretta CO2 model is a tough one to beat at 21 feet or even 10 meters. The 20 year old Umarex model is still being manufactured in Germany. It’s pricey but worth it.
Jump forward almost 20 years and you can build, with the right ASG accessories (currently hard to get), an ASG CZ-75 SP-01 target pistol with centerfire model-based alloy grips, magwell and optic’s bridge mount. This would be the best competition model in place of the Tanfoglio (also a CZ design) Gold Custom. The gun is mounted with a more expensive Styrka red dot sight. The underside of the rail mount would also accommodate a laser.

Fortunately, the cost of red dot scopes, red dot reflex sights and rail-mounted lasers has come down in the last half dozen years to the point where there are now quality-built dedicated models for air pistols, (which are also excellent for use with .22 LR rimfire guns), and they have done for air pistol accuracy what the red dot scope has done for centerfire competition and tactical pistols, rifles and shotguns. For red dot scopes, a handful of CO2 models are offered with available bridge mounts to place a rail over the slide for optics, even some CO2 revolvers like the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715.

And lest we forget revolvers, which have a rich history of their own with optics and lasers. Today we have the very best CO2 revolver on the market, the ASG Dan Wesson Model 715 (6-inch pellet model shown) which has an optional rail mount for optics and a laser on the bottom.

On the other side of the isle are early Crimson Trace laser grips originally designed for 1911 pistols, replacing the standard grips with a wraparound rubber grip that contained batteries (one on either side), the laser on the upper right hand grip panel, and the pressure sensitive activation button on the frontstrap. They wrapped around the front of the gun and used the same screw holes in the grip frame to attach. It took about a minute to install. That is still the basic design in use today for laser grips made to fit a variety of handguns. For air pistols, however, this is not a practical design, and it wasn’t for many centerfire guns, either, so Crimson Trace branched out into the manufacturing of rail-mounted lasers and combination tactical light/lasers. This in turn led to most armsmakers adding accessory rails to their handguns, most notably Colt’s 1911 Rail Gun design (now a 1911 industry standard for tactical models). And of course, there are 1911 CO2 Rail Guns and a number of others brands including recent CZ, HK, Beretta, and Glock entries.

The 1911 Rail Gun had its origins with the Colt Model 1911 CQBP which was used by elite Marine Corps units. This CO2 version sold by Swiss Arms is mounted with a Fox Fury combination red laser and tactical light.
Downsizing lasers, the LaserMax Spartan mounted on this new Umarex Beretta M9A3 is a powerful combination for accuracy with a blowback action CO2 BB pistol. The LaserMax Spartan is also offered as a green laser which is easier to see downrange under brighter lighting conditions. I have tested green lasers in broad daylight out to 25 yards (with centerfire guns).

The models in this article are just a sampling of what is available today for air pistols and air rifles, including both red dots and lasers from manufacturers like LaserMax, UTG, CenterPoint, Hawk, ASG, and now Sig Sauer, (all of which are available from Pyramyd Air), as well as more expensive red dot sights from C-More, Styrka, and Crimson Trace lasers, all sold in retail gun shops and online. There are enough choices and price ranges today, in fact, that you’ll be seeing red (or maybe green), but you’ll be seeing your target better.

Some guns are built with laser sights in mind like the Heckler & Koch USP. The guns (centerfire and Umarex licensed CO2 model) have a special rail that only works with a dedicated mount (or a rail adapter). The CO2 model, one of the best and most authentic blowback action BB pistols today, accepts the NcStar red laser made for the USP.
Laser sights are not the only thing getting smaller as time goes by. From big bulky red dots to smaller red dot scopes and reflex sights to one of the newest and smallest, the Sig Sauer reflex sight made for the M17. This is the new CO2 pistol version of the sight that is also built for the 9mm models. This is state of the art for 2020 as a pellet pistol compared to the old Beretta 92FS pellet pistol with the MRS reflex sight.

6 thoughts on “Lasers vs. Red Dot Reflex Sights Part 1

  1. Just a footnote,

    If any readers have adapted tactical lights, red dot sights or a laser to their CO2 pistol, feel free to post a comment and show us what you have done, especially if you have a matching centerfire pistol or rifle.

    Dennis




    • I like that laser on the M&P, is that a Swiss Arms? The CP99 is another one I’ll have to try, I have that laser on one of Walther P22s. You have more laser-equipped CO2 guns than I do! BB gun mania knows no bounds.

      Dennis


      • Yes, the laser on the M&P 40 BB pistol is a Swiss Arms laser. Unfortunately, the Swiss Arms micro laser doesn’t appear to be available anymore. Fortunately, the LaserMax lasers are a good substitute for a micro size laser.

        I’ve been experimenting with several different laser models over the years. I started with the Walther Night Force laser / light as seen below mounted on the Sig Sauer P226 X-Five Silver and Blackwater 1911 R2 pistols. The Walther Night Force also appears to be discontinued. I also experimented with the ASG Universal Laser shown below mounted on the Smith & Wesson M&P 45 pellet pistol. I also have an ASG version of the Walther Night Force that I have used on occasion with a Swiss Arms P92 BB pistol.

        The “big” problem I have with the Night Force and the ASG Universal lasers is that they are “too big.” If you want to practice drawing from a holster with these lasers mounted on the pistol, you need a very big holster.

        I’ve been moving away from these big lasers to the smaller lasers, first the Swiss Arms, then the LaserMax. Universal holsters like the UTG Deluxe holster I often use can accommodate pistols with either one of these micro size lasers, although the pistols with the LaserMax fit more deeply in the holster than do those with the Swiss Arms. One feature I especially like about the Swiss Arms laser is that the batteries can be removed without removing the laser from the pistol. To remove the battery from the LaserMax, the entire laser must be disassembled and removed from the pistol.

        I asked Sig Sauer about holsters that could accommodate the M17 pellet pistol with the mounted reflex sight, and the response was “just about any of our OWB holsters for a full sized P320 should work.” I ordered one of Sig’s P320 OWB COMP-TAC holsters. It should be delivered by the end of the week. I’ll post pictures once I have it.


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