For many years, I considered handgun-mounted red dots a gimmick for fun shooting or competition and little else.
With steady improvement in handgun optics and the ability to co-witness sights, their viability for personal defense has improved a great deal.
I cannot recall a single student coming through my class with a red-dot sight, although several used lasers. (This didn’t work out for most.)
I now train on an individual basis and the subject has come up.
I decided about three years ago to get into an extensive program and evaluate red-dot handgun optics.
The results have been very interesting and I find the sights are viable, but not for the casually interested.
Handgun Optics Training
I was primarily interested to see if the red dot had a positive or negative effect on the application of the fundamentals of marksmanship.
The primary goal in personal defense is presenting the firearm from concealed carry and getting a hit.
It is easy enough to draw the pistol and not find the red dot. Training with iron sights makes this possible.
I hold the pistol steady, and the sights as well. As long as the sights are steady as you fire, you have a hit.
You must learn to draw and immediately pick up the red dot. This takes time. Dry fire is fine with a triple-checked unloaded firearm.
In time, chances are you will speed up, but when you begin with the red dot you will be slower than using iron sights. Speed comes with practice.
The grip must be consistent. No wavering.
Once mastered, you will be fast — but the consistent grip pays big dividends in every type of handgun shooting.
Moving the gun around in order to find the red dot is counter-productive to accuracy.
The weak-side hand supporting the gun becomes critical in aligning the pistol and getting on target.
Considerable time and energy is spent developing the proper technique and coming into it smoothly.
You may look at the rear of the slide or the hammer and use these reference points to quickly align the pistol.
The first part of the skill-building exercise is simply getting the red dot aligned properly.
Get a Grip
I have used several grip styles over the years, including applying most of the pressure with the support hand.
The red-dot sight demands that you grip the pistol firmly.
Also use the strong-side thumb to help align the pistol by pointing the thumb straight forward.
The closer you are aligned to the bore, the faster sight acquisition will be.
This handgun has all of the muscle memory I needed, as I usually carry a 1911-type handgun.
Firing with both hands and thumbs forward in a strong grip is among the first lessons I learned.
Don’t allow a hollow or gap to occur in the grip at any part of the juncture of the hand and the grip.
Controlling recoil is perhaps even more important with the red-dot sight.
I have stressed that the cadence of fire is never set by how quickly you are able to press the trigger, but by how quickly you are able to retain the sight picture after recoil.
With the red-dot sight, you may lose sight of the red dot after the pistol recoils. The proper grip gets you back on target quickly.
(Most folks have the red dot set too bright for daylight shooting.) Crush that grip! Maintain a tight grip during the firing string.
The important shot is the one you are taking right now and that must be a hit. The firing string is a series of single shots and each should be a hit.
The red dot isn’t a front sight. Look through the red dot to the target.
The sights and the target are on the same plane like a rifle scope, not like a set of iron sights.
Focus on the target — which is counter-intuitive to our iron-sight training — and place the red dot on the target.
If the light is too bright, your eye is drawn to the dot not the target. It doesn’t need to be that bright.
The key to all of this is beginning the presentation slowly and keeping the grip perfect as you bring the pistol to the eye.
The grip cannot be misaligned. Use some part of the pistol to commit to memory as you bring the red dot up and on target.
Don’t look at the red-dot sight itself, the body of the sight. This slows you down. Practice acquiring only the red dot projected on the glass itself.
Draw with your eyes closed. Bring the gun up and on target. Open your eyes. The red dot should be visible.
You must get this initial work down pat before moving to multiple targets, speed loads, and addressing targets at long range.
You have been trained in conventional marksmanship and will realize that there is some movement in the front sight as you focus.
This movement is OK as long as the sight is steady as the trigger breaks and the pistol fires.
The red dot also has movement, it is your body and hand that is wiggling. But with the red dot we have a tendency to overcorrect.
There is very little correction needed in most cases. The movement is there, but should be controlled as the pistol fires.
With practice, you will find that the pistol is fast on target and brilliantly accurate at longer pistol ranges.
What do you think of handgun optics? Let us know in the comments below!