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  /  Firearms   /  Optics , Sights and Lights   /  Red Dot Sights: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Red Dot Sights: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

I’ve recently been chided in regard my dismissive posts about red dots, “they are not a gimmick” I am told. That is correct, and I’m well aware of this. You can take a person with an AR platform firearm using irons to great effect…eventually. What you find today is that outside of military/LE circles, few are using irons. These 2 groups will likely give you the same answer every time- money is the reason. The sad truth is that I learned 20 years agao that rifle irons at night are a liability. Everything at night is black-on-black. This is not good.

Give this same person half the time with a red dot, and their results are far better. I completely get it, red dots work. There are just some issues that I have in regard to red dots on pistols. The chiding most likely came because I’d forgotten to list my trepidations. In an effort to not upset anyone, while “pleadng my case”, here we go.

My overriding concern with this is the concept of constant, uninterrupted vision. Oddly enough, I find vision is fundamental to shooting. I’ve gotten by without a dot on a handgun this far, so I’m going to continue to do so until I retire from my current job. At that time (theoretically) I’ll be able to shoot what I prefer, versus what is issued. Yes, the idea of rapid acquisition with even aging eyes is a huge temptation, but for now, I’ll avoid it, thank you.

Here is an illustrative example- the BAD Lever. Is everyone familiar with this? It’s a dingus that “makes you more proficient with reloads/malfunction clearance”. Do they work? Yes, for some people they are an amazing device. However, put the BAD lever user on a hot range where the firearms for work don’t have BAD levers, and you’ll see them struggle as they try to handle things “the old way”. The time spent sorting things out could be lethal. When you have something at home, and you train with it constantly, it’s only natural to look for it, even when it’s not there. That is a reason for me to stay away from them…for now. When I’m only on my time, I can have fun with whatever I choose.

I see people looking for ambi bolt catches, mag releases, and ambi safeties, all the time. This does not equal an inefficient , or bad person, it just makes them a struggling person. This is why my AR Platform firearms that I practice with are basically the same as at work- (different handguard type, etc.). I’ve managed to use them in their “milspec configuration” for a long time now, with no issues. If I were to put a ton of “necessary” doo dads on there, it could cost dearly in real life. In my opinion, this carries over to pistols.

Here’s a reason I don’t like red dots so much- and it doesn’t pertain to me- astigmatism. That’s right kids- red dots will definitely let you know if you have it. Helping people through this particular condition can be a treat. Again, you can’t help this, or take a pill to make it go away, but you, as an Instructor, have to help your people contend with it.

At this point, if it’s worth anything at all to anyone, my favorite type of sight is a reflex. Trijicon makes some amazing products, and I’ve used them for decades. This is a strong contender for what may live on one of my pistols when the time arrives. For that matter, I don’t like holographic sights, so that ought to infuriate someone, somewhere. Does anyone even make a holographic pistol dot? Basically there is 1 well known maker, and I can tell you that on 2 separate training cycles, I had the “magical donut” get “stuck” performing this maneuver- imagine you’re on 1 hand, both knees. The rifle is in Strong Hand/shoulder, as you’re using a vehicle for cover/creeping, looking for Bad Guy feet to perforate. Well, when you return to vertical again, the donut can stick. You can usually get it to “float” again by gently whacking it with your palm, but it happens. I’ve overheard other people in other classes say the same thing. The second part of my dislike is knowing about defective products, and selling them anyway.

Red dots can be problematic for astigmatism. Trijicon reflexes are outstanding, but they can wash out. There are just days where the sun is too bright, and the Tritium dot, or triangle, or chevron, or whatever, is not visible. No one would EVER even consider attacking you with the sun at their back. That’s just silly talk… I posit that with quality eyewear, and irons on my pistol, I can prevail. Yes- you can have the target “in the optic”, no visible dot or whatever, and still get hits, no question. How many misses are you allowed with passersby everywhere? This would likely be a great time to run, or go hands on. Be aware of your surroundings, folks.

So, status check. I don’t employ them yet because I have to use what is issued. If you have astigmatism, it will cause problems. The next concern is the whole steaming up thing. Is there a magical fluid to smear on the dot to mitigate/negate fogging up? If you’ve ever worn tactical goggles, and rubbed whatever “anti fog” fluid on them, you know that it doesn’t work.

I could be completely off base here, as I’m ignorant to the hundreds of hours and thousands of rounds I’d want to press down range prior to carrying the thing concealed. That’s correct, thousands of rounds. I find it hard to believe that you can master a red dot in just a couple hours. Perhaps a person with zero firearms experience would be capable of this. A new shooter is clay to be molded, and they usually just take to the experience, doing very well. I know at my advanced age that stuff is hardwired into the brain, and know that a learning curve is in order.

There is a catch phrase I keep hearing , said by people with red dots/pistols, and it is this- “if you have a red dot on your rifle, and not your pistol, you are a hypocrite”. That’s pretty smug. It sounds almost as if the red dot is mandatory, in some circles. It’s like we’re in high school all over again, and dream of joining the cool kids. Silly. Is this combo the best new tech out there? Absolutely. There are already several pistol/dot deals to be had as a package, and that’s marvelous.

Remember Transition Lenses for prescription glasses? They may still be a thing, I just don’t care, and this is why. A hundred years ago, I spent way too much money for ANSI approved (mandatory) lenses, with this feature. My post was outside, and we were doing drills, yet again. Circumstances dictated that I had to get into a certain area (within a building). It should be no surprise that the lenses did not go from super dark to clear nearly quickly enough, and I “died”. That was the end of those glasses. That type of scenario is why contact lenses and quality eyewear exist. The glasses can be pitched, and you can see, instantly. What do you do when you can’t see your marvelous dot? Even if you have suppressor height sights, you can’t see the front (most important) through the lens of the dot, which started the whole damn problem, now didn’t it? Conversely, with no dot, we have uninterrupted vision…make sense?

I’m thinking it will take a while to learn to NOT get sucked into the optic. This is when you fixate so much on the dot that you lose the rest of the battlefield. Once upon a time, the motto was “if something is worth looking at, have your muzle on it”. Sounds crazy, right? It is indeed a true statement, and it pisses your team mates off, everytime. Training/techniques, and tactics constantly evolve, and this was a good thing to get rid of. Imagine trying to clear a building full of friendlies, who tend to pop up, and stick to you. Can you see the potential for said friendly taking the Room Temperature Challenge?

Remember Cardinal Rule 3- no muzzle on anything you’re unwilling to destroy. Learning to not live in the optic should be a fairly easy hurdle to jump; just move in a Compresed High Ready Position,and all should be well. As we say to new people learning firearms- If you choose to live in the optic, don’t be surprised when you die, in the optic. Scan.

Maybe that’s a good idea for all of these guys in the club I’m not a member of- make a video showing how to not get sucked into the optic. Show people how to maneuver from the “Hunt” position and get that dot on line, firing as rapidly as situations dictate, or don’t. That would be good, performed correctly.

So, hopefully there have been correct reasons as to why I’m holding back for now, but why does it matter? It doesn’t matter what each of us do with our own equipment. I understand that when you have something that you JUST KNOW will help everyone, you want to share, and that is noble. Please just understand that not everyone will jump on the wagon. For that matter, I’ve gotten my feet wet with a pistol optic several years ago, with limited success. The device is called the “See All”, and it rides on virtually anything with a rail. They’re fairly inexpensive, and I can see their potential. My experimentation showed me that my presentation- to finding target- until firing -was far too long. I’m sure that this would have became exponentially faster, but I was aware all those years ago of the reasons I’ve been typing up. I already own pistol red dots as well, but again, see my dissertation.

Again, for what it’s worth- there is one exemplary source of information out there for everything red/dot pistol related, and that site is Sage Dynamics. I don’t know this man, but he’s a straight up, honest person, and I can immediately respect that. He breaks things down so that everyone can understand, and he’s got the guns, ammo, dots, etc. to really prove valid points. He proves his points under filming conditions, rather than waste time talking. He (in my humble opinion)- is the ambassador for this topic, and one can learn a lot from watching him. He also has a living data base in regard to his testing. This is what we call “science”, kids.

Here are a couple more nuggets, and we’ll pull the pin on the pontification- a few years back, lasers on handguns were going to save the world. Is everyone still using these too? There are people who use them to great effect, when lighting is correct. I trained with a police sniper who had one on a SIG, and he was Death- On-Legs. Then his battery died during the training. Bummer. I also watched a police chief gushing over his Kimber that he had outfitted with a green laser. As we have all been coached upon- green is superior to red, even though it’s way more spastic, and expensive, easily affected by cold, etc. Shooting bowling pins is fun- if you’ve not done this- you should. The chief was doing great, until he couldn’t see the laser anymore. In both cases here, the same basic tenet applies. There are lumps on top of the slide that are not there by accident. Learn to use them.

For what it’s worth, we had a gentleman in our last pistol class a few weeks back, red dot on the pistol. He suffered from something I see all to often with people, and that is- like lasers, you have to zero red dots, too. He got through the class, but his “edge” wasn’t razor sharp, if the object is not performing at optimum.

There’s another idea for the Cool Guys, post a video on “how to ” zero a red dot. I’m constantly being chided about the need for pictures, too. A video would likely be looked at far more than manuals. The videos from Sage Dynamics will show you how to do this, as well as point out what the vast majority of people are doing wrong with irons/red dots. These are things I was already aware of, but hats off to this gentleman for sharing his passion with well executed video.

No top ten things learned today, my head hurts. Until next time, Stay Safe, Train Often

Featured Photo by Mark Miller. Nomad 9 Frame, Trijicon RMR, Grey Ghost Slide, GSL Stealth Suppressor and Streamlight TLR-VIR II gun light.


  • Mike

    September 22, 2019

    Red dots for handguns are here for good. They are affordable, reliable and there are duty holsters available. In 5 years every cop in America will have a red dot on his handgun.

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