Red Dot Sights (RDS) are possibly the single biggest innovation on the pistol platform in recent years. But just like any “new” thing, it has its evangelists and its naysayers. Is it a valuable tool to help you protect you and your loved ones or is it just an expensive accessory to live out your Han Solo fantasy? In the following discussion I will provide some personal insight as to why I feel this is the future of pistols and why you should or should not consider having one.
First off, a little background on me…..
I am just a regular guy. I am not an LEO or a veteran. I am an NRA certified instructor (but who isn’t these days) and, more importantly, an avid (actually obsessive) researcher of everything self-defense. This obsession has led me to train and compete throughout my life in Martial Arts such as TKD and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I say this because through my combative arts training in the Metro DC area I have had the pleasure of training with many active/retired military, and LEO (local, state and federal). These friends ignited my passion in firearms and made me realize firearms manipulation is just another martial art.
What I quickly realized is that I was NOT a naturally gifted shooter. I was a “double front sight-seeing, low left shooting, grip crushing” noob. Realizing my competitive nature would not let this stand, I began my quest to become a “good” shooter. This journey probably resembled yours. Magpul videos, YouTube scouring, internet forum joining, CHP and other training classes, and thousands of rounds sent down range. I eventually got “better” but almost everything I shot was still with only one eye open and still slightly left. Then an epiphany happened.
I went shooting with my friend who is a State Department LEO. He took out his carbine with an Aimpoint red dot on it. He told do keep both eyes open. Of course I said my sight picture would be blurred because of my experience with keeping both eyes open with a pistol. He explained that the eyes can only focus on one thing at a time. On a pistol my eyes are trying to focus on the rear sight, the front sight and the target (FYI…dots on the rear sight exacerbate this). He went on to say that since there is no aligning the sights with a red dot, the sight picture is easily acquired and is now threat oriented, not front sight oriented. It was amazing. I finally shot perfectly straight for the first time…and did so quickly.
Later that night, I scoured the interwebz for information on red dots and came across a YouTube video on the Gun Websites Channel. In the video Steve “Yeti” Fisher talks about his custom Glock with a Trijicon RMR and that they are the wave of the future.
Video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLgxKc8FFSU
I felt a wave of triumph come over me. This must be the answer for my 42 year old eyes and my low left tragedy. So in the following days I purchased an M&P Core and a Trijicon RM06. Ready to blow out 10 rings at blazing speed! Well….that didn’t happen.
What did happen was I was much quicker finding my sight picture. I was keeping both eyes open so my field of view opened up to include the peripheral. My shots were closer to center Alpha but still inexplicably left. And why was that dot shaking so much?
So I reached out to my “friends” on the internet, they told me to slow down, practice the fundamentals, etc. None of this worked because I thought I was doing the fundamentals. So I sought out a local instructor. In short order we realized what I was doing wrong. The dot was shaking so much because I was crushing the gun with my strong hand and the sympathetic relationship between my trigger finger and my hand was pushing me left. He told me to relax until the dot stopped shaking….bang….bullseye at 5 yards! I was so happy I think I shot over 1000 rounds in the next week.
So the question is why didn’t I discover this while shooting with iron sights? My theory is that most front iron sights are big and bulky compared to a floating dot. This size masks movement whereas with a red dot it does not. Even today when I am teaching and I suspect people are crushing the gun, I let them hold my pistol. If they tell me the dot is shaking, I tell them to relax until the dot stops shaking. That is the level of grip they should use. This almost always works.
Another advantage to RDS is accuracy at distance. It is my belief that shooting accurately past 10 yards with irons for most is difficult. At 25 yards almost impossible. I think this is the case because most iron sights, again, are large compared to a target at distance. It covers a great deal of the target so it becomes a guessing game as to where to hold the sights. With RDS, this goes away because of the precise sight picture you get. Additionally, precision is enhanced because you can now see what is going on underneath the point of aim to get a complete sight picture. This is physically impossible due to the physical structure of iron sights.
Another side note that I learned from my time with RDS on pistols. It has made me a better iron sight shooter. I quickly realized that it wasn’t my eyes but the dots on the rear sights that were the culprit. My eyes did not know where to focus. Once I blacked out my rear sights I could easily shoot with both eyes open using irons.
Now are there any downsides to RDS on a pistol?
Absolutely! The first one is cost. A good economical RDS like a Burris Fastfire or a Jpoint is going to cost you at least $280. I would not however risk my life using them in a gun fight. For that you need a Leupold Deltapoint, Trijicon RMR or an Aimpoint H1/T1. A Deltapoint can run you $400, a RMR can cost you $450 to $600, a H1/T1 runs from $600 to $800. Now factor in milling your gun (plus the cost of the gun itself) or buying a pre-milled gun and you are probably in the $800 range. Don’t forget suppressor height iron sights as a backup, another $80 – $100. Furthermore, RDS are electronic and like all things electronic, they can fail. Most of the high end RDS (Trijicon, Leupold, Aimpoint) are very reliable with outstanding warranties, but they can fail. So you must keep training with irons in case your life depends on it. You also need to learn a new draw stroke. Picking up the dot is a bit different than picking up the front sight. The final downside is that all your friends will call you a cheater when you out shoot them.
All that said, I believe RDS are a tool that has helped me tremendously as a shooter. RDS will not magically cure trigger press, grip, stance, etc., but it may help you diagnose your issues.
Be Good. Stay Safe. Get Training.
Scott “Jedi” Jedlinski – NRA Instructor #202820597