Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Red Dot

By Joe Kriz


So, you want to buy a red dot?

Red dots are a great way to take your pistol precision to the next level, minimize the footprint of your rifle, and enhance the overall shooting experience. And you have many options to choose from! But, before you step foot in your local dealer or click ‘Add to Cart,’ do you know what purpose it will serve or what features you want it to have? Do you even have a budget in mind?

Start by asking yourself these nine questions before you buy a red dot.

Questions to Ask Yourself

1) What role will my red dot play?

While it’s possible one optic can fill multiple roles, different applications may require different features and functionality. For example, a small footprint red dot, like our Sentinel II, mounted to a micro compact carry gun may not be suitable as an LPVO offset on a competition rifle. But your offset competition dot may be perfect on a riser mount for your pistol caliber carbine range toy or mounted directly atop your turkey hunting shotgun.

It’s also okay to get an optic just for fun. Red dots are proven to be faster than iron sights once learned, and who doesn’t love to shoot more accurately, faster? Whatever your reason, just remember – this is your red dot, and how it’s used is entirely up to you.

2) What firearm(s) will I mount the red dot on?

To properly use a red dot, you must have a firearm – or multiple – to mount it to. Whether you’re buying an optic for an existing firearm, buying an optic for a future firearm, or buying both at the same time, it helps to know (or at least have an idea of) what you’ll mount your red dot to when buying.

This also goes back to our first question. A red dot for a handgun may be different than a red dot for an AR15, PCC, or sporting shotgun. Even firearms within weapon categories may require different optics. And if you plan to mount the same optic to multiple firearms, you’ll need multiple plans for how to mount it to each. Both optic and firearm must be compatible, so don’t choose one without knowledge of the other.

3) Which red dot footprint(s) does my firearm have?

Dictating that compatibility is the firearm’s mounting standard, or footprint. All red dots have an optic footprint made up of screw holes, recoil lugs/sockets, and physical dimensions. While over a dozen exist, the most popular mounting standards used by optic manufacturers, like Swampfox, are the RMR, DeltaPoint Pro (DPP), and RMSc. Corresponding footprints then allow red dots to be mounted to a handgun’s slide or a shotgun’s receiver directly/with the use of mounting plates or interface with a Picatinny rail receiver using aftermarket low-profile, riser, and offset mounts.

Many handguns, like Glock MOS models, accommodate multiple footprints thanks to adapter plates that transition one footprint to another, while others only accept one. Red dots are also designed to fit wider/thinner footprints, which may look odd or create problems on the wrong size mount. Whatever optic you purchase, select a footprint that matches your firearm exactly or be prepared to use an adapter plate.

Now that you know how your red dot will be used, what firearm you’ll mount it to, and which footprint you need/want, it’s time to get into the nitty gritty.

4) Do I want an open or enclosed red dot?

Two types of pistol red dots exist: open emitters and closed/enclosed emitters. These refer to the location of the LED emitter that projects the illuminated reticle. Open emitter red dots are the most common and feature only one main lens/window forward of the emitter, while closed emitter dot sights have two lenses/windows with the emitter enclosed within. Of course, there are pros and cons to each.

Open red dots tend to have larger windows for greater visibility but can be more susceptible to drop and bump damage and trapping lint, dirt, and water against the lens, whereas enclosed emitter red dots are easier to clean and typically more durable thanks to larger hoods but often have smaller windows with more restrictive views. And though newer style enclosed red dots, like the Swampfox Kraken, are quickly gaining traction among consumers, there’s no wrong answer to which is “best.”

5) Which style red dot reticle do I want?

Perhaps the most important component of any optic, you’ll next need to decide what style and size reticle you want your red dot to have. After all, the reticle is used to aim and can directly affect your accuracy on-target.

Red dot reticles are generally offered in three styles: a single center dot, a center dot encompassed by an outer circle, and some form of multi-reticle with various options. Reticles are measured in Minute of Angle (MOA), with larger MOA sizes equating to larger reticles. For example, single dot reticles can be had in sizes ranging from 1 MOA to 6 MOA, with 3 MOA being the most common. Smaller reticles allow for greater precision at longer distances, while larger reticles are easier for your eyes to pick up quickly.

Most circle dot and all multi-reticle red dots, like our Liberty II and Justice II, allow shooters to cycle through two, three, or even four different/combination reticles on the same optic for greater versatility and personalization. However, not every red dot is available in every style or size reticle.

6) Which reticle illumination color do I want?

We’re not done with reticles yet, because after selecting a style and size you’ll need to choose a reticle color. Thankfully, you typically only have two colors to choose from: red or green. And while you may think you know which you want, let your eyes guide your decision.

Without getting too scientific, red travels the fastest of all color wavelengths and, thus, is the easiest to see for most shooters. Red is also not commonly found in nature or our everyday surroundings, allowing it to further stand out. But for one in three people with astigmatism, green may perform better thanks to it being in the middle of the color spectrum. That said, green can be more easily lost against backdrops like grass and trees and come with shorter battery life. Again – tradeoffs.

If you can, get behind optics of both colors and see what your eyes like best. Swampfox offers all dot sights in red and green illumination, but not every optic manufacturer does.

7) What features do I want my red dot to have?

Like firearms, different manufacturers and different optic models can have different features. Often more ‘nice to have’ than ‘need to have,’ these extra or bonus features can enhance red dot performance, functionality, and battery life.

Such features may include motion/time-activated illumination – like Swampfox Shake N’ Wake – to conserve battery power, integrated solar panels for longer run time, a top or side load battery for easy replacement without having to re-zero, separated brightness controls for better activation, rear hood serrations for reduced glare, and more. If any of these matter to you, consider narrowing your red dot search from the jump based on these features.

8) What is covered under warranty?

Whether used professionally or recreationally, firearms and the accessories we mount to them, including optics, are tools. As such, tools are subject to regular use and abuse that may eventually require repair or replacement. But not all warranties are created equal.

Though no one buys a product expecting it to break, it’s important to understand what is and what isn’t covered by your red dot’s warranty in the case something happens. Normal wear and tear? Probably not covered. Faulty electronics? Most likely. A broken lens? That may depend on how it happened. Warranty coverage isn’t the be-all end-all, but proactive research can better protect your future self should issues arise.

At Swampfox, our Limited Lifetime Warranty covers all illumination and electronic systems for 10 years, with lifetime coverage against manufacturing defects and material flaws. This is on top of our 30-Day Money-Back Satisfaction Guarantee, which gives direct customers 30 days from delivery to try their optic risk-free. If unsatisfied, customers can return the optic for an exchange or full refund.

9) What is my budget for a red dot?

With more red dot options on the market than ever before, gone are the days of spending more on your optic than your gun. While $600 battle-tested, American-made red dots can still be had for those who desire them, quality and feature-rich red dots are widely available for half that cost with negligible difference in performance for the average shooter.

Though some buyers may have budget higher on their priority list and let price tags dictate their search, you may prefer to select your desired red dot features first and then walk back functionality to get under budget. Others may find an optic slightly over budget but choose to splurge to get additional performance. Whichever route you go, know there’s a red dot out there fit for your budget.

Once you've answered all of these questions, you should feel better knowing your first – or next – red dot will be the right one for you and your specific needs.

Swampfox Optics

Swampfox manufacturers clear, precise, tough red dots at prices for the everyday gun owner. From home defense to hunting, concealed carry to competition, our RMR and RMSc footprint dot sights offer shooters rapid target acquisition with superior glass clarity, choice of red and green reticle illumination with manually adjusted brightness, Shake N’ Wake auto on/off functionality, and rugged durability backed by a robust warranty.

Learn more about our red dot lineup below:

Swampfox Sentinel II

Always on guard, Sentinel II stands ready with enhanced construction and patented features.

  • Footprint: RMSc
  • Window: 21mm (W) x 17mm (H) / 20mm (Angular)
  • Reticle: 3 MOA
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • MSRP: $269-299

Shop Swampfox Sentinel II

Swampfox Liberty II

Offering the freedom of IWB or OWB carry, Liberty II is a compact all-purpose optic.

  • Footprint: RMR
  • Window: 24.5mm (W) x 19mm (H) / 27mm (Angular)
  • Reticle: 3 MOA / Multi
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • MSRP: $249-289

Shop Swampfox Liberty II

Swampfox Justice II

Optimized for competition, Justice II was engineered to win with our largest window yet.

  • Footprint: RMR
  • Window: 28mm (W) x 23mm (H) / 30mm (Angular)
  • Reticle: 6 MOA / Multi
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • MSRP: $259-299

Shop Swampfox Justice II

Swampfox Kraken

Built like a tank, Kraken is an enclosed multi-footprint optic with legendary durability.

  • Footprint: RMR / MOS
  • Window: 16mm (W) x 16mm (H) / 16mm (Angular)
  • Reticle: 3 MOA
  • Illumination: Red / Green
  • MSRP: $349

Shop Swampfox Kraken