An Argument for Always-On Red Dots

An Argument for Always-On Red Dots

Imagine this: 

You’re sound asleep in your bed, dreaming about how you’re going to bring your brand new shake awake optic back to the range tomorrow. Earlier this afternoon, you mounted it on your EDC pistol and had it zeroed at 25 yards. Every round you fired hit dead center with your new red dot’s reticle. As far as you’re concerned, it’s a great investment. Not only is it deadly accurate but you’ll be saving your battery power with your new shake awake sight. In fact, before you turned off the lights and went to sleep, you gave it a goodnight kiss before turning it off and mounting it on your bedside rack. 

The sound of a vase crashing onto your downstairs living room floor rouses you from your sleep. You don’t have a cat. Still drowsy, you reach for your bedside pistol and rack the slide. 

You hear footsteps coming up the stairs and stand in the corner of the room closest to the door, you hold your weapon at the low ready, psyching yourself up to ambush whatever comes through the door. Your head is throbbing, your heart is pounding through your chest. 

The door swings open and a figure in a dark hoodie bursts through your door. You have the drop on him. You raise your weapon– the dot isn’t there. For a split second, you remember that you manually turned off your red dot, rendering the shake awake useless. Before you know it, it’s game over. 


Complacency is one of the problems with shake awake optics. Most modern variants with this system require that they be left on to naturally “go to sleep” after a period of motionlessness, and some new shake awake users forget that the power button is there for a reason. These people make the dangerous assumption that the optic will wake up every time they pick up their weapon. Even if a user follows the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, the complexity of the shake awake system is just another thing that can go wrong. The shake awake can also activate on a bumpy road or if you walk down the street with your weapon in your holster, so for EDC situations, there’s little difference between it and a traditional always-on red dot. 

A shooter serious about self defense knows that every second he spends fiddling with components is another second he’s wasting on not reacting to the threat. A good optic should be grab-and-go, and the simplicity and long battery life of always-on optic will ensure that your optic will be ready when you are. 

Shooters looking for a red dot will invariably be concerned about their optic’s battery life. Some skeptical users might judge a red dot billed as having 500 – 100,000 hours of battery life to only be reliable for a week. This would be an accurate assumption if they always kept their red dots on their highest power. 

A high-intensity red dot in a dark room becomes hard to aim because of the reticle’s “splash.” A red dot on lower settings not only uses less battery power but also provides a clearer reticle. Those with astigmatism or poor eyesight may complain of blooming or split reticles on their red dot optics, but on low power the dot becomes a clear and well-defined circle.  

A shooter can turn his weapon’s red dot on, adjust it to a lower setting, and leave it ready to go in his car on by his bedside for a year or more. This is especially true if the optic in question is a Mini Shot M-Spec Solar. It combines a CR1620 battery with its integrated solar panels to get 20,000 continuous hours of battery life on middle brightness. A shooter is more likely to spend more on gun oil than he would changing out his optic’s $1 battery every two years. Even in optics without solar power, the Sightmark Wolverine has a battery life of one million hours on low. In 114 years, this optic may still have battery power even after the soul of its owner has long departed the earth. 

Having an always-on red dot becomes one less thing to fumble with when you have to engage targets at a moment’s notice. If battery consumption is still an issue, Sightmark’s red dots with adaptive reticles such as the Mini Shot A-Spec M3 Micro as well as the M-Spec M2 and M3 Solar models intensify or lower the brightness of their reticles based on exterior lighting. This means its high settings will only be used on the brightest of days while in the majority of cases, shooters will be using medium and low power reticles, which use less energy and provide optimal sight pictures. 

Which camp do you support? Always-on or shake awake? Tell us in the comments below. 

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