New Shooters - Electronic Optics or Not

I was out helping with a new shooters training class today and during our review of all the weapons we had available the question came up “is it better to start with [electronic] optics or not?” (we’re talking laser sites, and red dots)

I suggested that there was debate on both sides of the topic but that my personal preference was to start off initially with iron sights and then once the shooter has the fundamentals down move to an electronic optic if they desire.

All of my co-facilitators agreed which surprised me a little and made me wonder if there’s as much debate out there on the topic as I thought.

So what say all of you here? What is your preference in starting a new shooter out? Electronic optics or not?

BTW - hats off to the Community here, I found myself citing comments/knowledge from here more than a couple times. Thanks!


That would be me as well.


Electronic optics are a tool. They are not a suitable replacement for good overall markmanship. Electronics can fail and batteries go dead. Use these as a tool, not a crutch.


Gonna tell on myself here. I used electronic sights to cover up my poor fundamentals because I was impatient. Fast forward to today and I’m having to go back and unlearn habits and still learn what I wasn’t patient enough to learn first. Now I always reccomend learning irons first. If you’re good at irons you can be really good with optics. But if you’re only good with optics you’ll probably be poor at irons. That’s my situation


I agree with you @JamesR. Start with fundamentals, no extras. When all else fails, iron sights will still win the day. I love red dots and lasers but they do not take the place of iron sights, the complement them.


Growing up, I was taught with irons. Only used a scope if I was groundhog hunting. In the military, when I was in, the only option was irons.
With a rifle, I’m still sight in my irons before my red dot. I dont use a laser or red dot on my handgun.
Learn with irons first, electronic optics malfunction or battery dies.


When I started with my AR a buddy of mine was wanting me to go with just irons for awhile. I’m not unfamiliar with irons. My reasoning for not doing so is I don’t want to get used to what’s there when I’m going to have them removed and set up differently. (The two things I don’t like about my AR: There isn’t any real estate on the hand guard and a fixed front sight. I will be replacing the guard and switching to 45 degree offset irons).


I agree to start with and become proficient with iron sights. With that being said, I just cannot get into MRDs on pistols, I’ve tried but I just can’t. Maybe I’m paranoid but I just can’t get past the thought of the dot somehow straying away from zero and that would be a nightmare if it had to be used in a self defense scenario. I have friends that are proficient with dots and work their tails off to be good with them and that’s great, I guess I’m just an old soul. I trust the iron.


I am not a certified instructor but I have taken a lot of people who were first time shooters to the range and helped them learn the basics.

One woman (who became a shooting buddy) wanted to get her CC so the second time we went to the range I brought a good selection of weapons for her to try (from a 22 up to a .357 mag). She really liked my Bersa Thunder 380 and decided to purchase one.

She had the choice of one like mine (plain Jane) or one with a build in laser. You guessed it, the sales guy sold her the one with the laser. The first time we went to the range for her to try “Her” brand new “fancy” gun she HATED the laser.

Seeing that dot on the target move all the time really messed with her head and was a major distraction for her. After the first 1/2 hour I showed her how to shut the grip activated laser off and I have never seen her shoot with it on again.

Unfortunately our work schedules changed and we rarely get a chance to go to the range together any more, but the last time I talked to her she was still not using the laser when she goes to the range.

I tell you this story as it seems to verify what most everyone is saying, learn initially with iron sites.


[quote=“JamesR, post:1, topic:15244”]
to start off initially with iron sights and then once the shooter has the fundamentals down move to an electronic optic if they desire.

I also agree with JamesR.



No matter what it is when you’re new, I believe in learning the fundamentals and rudiments. If you attempt to run before you can walk you learn incorrectly and it will show no matter how much you fool yourself, then you’ll have to unlearn bad habits.


Like my Father said:
“First you have to learn how to walk, then you can check which shoe fits you best” :wink:


Iron, then electronics.


Well…maybe there’s not as much debate out there as I thought. Thanks for the feedback and the anecdotes.


Iron sights hands down.

Optics are cool for competition but not always necessary. I did a rimfire challenge this weekend and while those with red dots (I used a dot last year) acquired targets quicker, I felt pretty good when we shot 3" targets at 35 feet and I did it very successfully with iron sights on my M&P 15-22. Those with dots were in much more of a hurry than I was and fired more rounds and had more misses. The beat me but not by a lot.

Lasers just suck. I had one and hated it just because you can see how much it moves.


You should always learn on the iron sights. What if the battery dies in the electronic sight and you haven’t learned the iron. :tired_face:


I’m sure Facebook would have a much broader debate. Lol

I’ve found advice here more relevant and reliable. Even disagreements are a preference thing not an absolute right or wrong thing.


I gotta admit I am an irons guy for pistols (except my AR pistol and the like) in my mind pistols are only a primary weapon to fight your way to a good rifle. That said most pistols can be effective at keeping the bad guy’s head down out to 75 - 100 yards. Having a “window” on top of your pistol is counter productive to concealment unless you are running a race gun which is also counter to self defense as the rounds are loaded to “minimum major” velocities.

I have a different take on lasers. Not that I will ever carry with one on, but they are quite handy and a lot more practical then trying to balance a quarter on your front sight when dry firing and working on grip and trigger control. Dismounted the comic value with cats cannot be overrated.

I freely admit that I am an optics snob when it comes to rifles. Had you told me 20 years ago that I would be inclined to put a $2500 optic on a $1200 rifle I would have thought you bats. Yeah, that’s where I am at. There are several new lines of 1x optics out there that have battery only but having been too many places w/ no batteries or where it was so cold the electrons didn’t move I prefer an etched reticle w/ battery options. Vortex makes one for carbine style weapons that I am quite enamored with as does Burris. I love my EO Tech but hate that it is battery dependent, hence I have not acquired more than the original ones issued to me and a couple the “followed me home”.

On practicality sometimes electro-optics are like smart phones and people get lost inside them. No time or place for that. Irons are hard to learn and very unforgiving which is what makes mastering them so important. The next step beyond that is point shooting. Personally I don’t think I can recall seeing a front sight picture inside 10 yards in probably 20 years. I know where the gun is in my hands, I know where my hands are. The only question is shoot or don’t shoot. With both eyes up I can make a better decision without a dot or a front sight.




Definitely iron sights first, learn the fundamentals of good posture, sight picture, breathing, etc. Once those are down pat, then move to electronic optics. On a personal note, I prefer iron sites on my handguns & shotgun, and a scope of my long guns.



Start simple, with the most reliable equipment possible and that is going to always be a traditional iron sight.

Once the new shooter is competent and consistent with traditional sights the possibilities then become endless.