“Red Dot Sights? – That’s cheating!”
What’s all the noise about Red Dots, some instructors hate them, while others love them. This is my journey and how I came to embrace the DOT.
I’m an experienced instructor, shooter, and on the rare occasion I have a free weekend, a competitor. I hold my own in classes and matches, and really love those “tight groups” – though I continue to work on speed. I was happy with my shooting and instructing, and life was good.
About 2020 students started showing up with Red Dots – so what was I to do?
I insisted that students should be taught the fundamentals first, be proficient with iron sights, then possibly move on to red dots to enhance performance, but not out of the gate because its “cheating”
I saw that new shooters and, or even more experienced shooters, could shoot better with a dot sight over irons to a certain extent. I still felt that it was cheating because I felt they were using a crutch instead of learning the fundamentals of marksmanship.
But because so many students purchased guns with red dots, many of them new gun owners in 2020-2021 I had to understand how to best serve them, I didn’t want to be the instructor that insisted on an old way when a new way might be better. So, my journey began out of necessity, to be in a better position to relay information.
Then I took an NRA TC class, and we had an excellent range portion run by Martin Sprick, Christian, and Patrice, and one of the qualifications is the standard NRA Pistol instructor qualification, (16 out of 20 shots in a 6 inch circle at 15 yards). I passed but there was another instructor candidate that kicked my butt by “that much” with a tighter group, that’s what Tom Givens would call “a clue”, I have attended a few other training classes with higher level shooters and instructors and had the same experience. I started to think maybe those other folks were on to something.
A few months later I bought my first gun with a dot sight, an impulse buy while training at the Sig Sauer Academy. It was RXP Pro with all the extras, full-sized pro cut slide, tungsten grip, and a Romeo 1 Pro 6MOA (ooh, ahh, so pretty!) and I started shooting it, and was amazed at how much easier shooting became. I also have issues with my vision being older and having one eye near sighted and one far, I have my contacts set up to see my front sight but anything further that 15 yards is blurry and the work it takes focusing on iron sights causes eye fatigue.
Then I bought another and another, then I started slowly switching out my iron sights.
One of the ones I really enjoy is the Delta Point Pro 6 MOA, a nice wide field of vison that is easy to see, enabling me to get shots on target faster.
But red dots are so hard to use and learn, and what about the zero?
I totally over though this, as I’m sure many do when they begin their red dot journey.
Remember picking up a rifle with a red dot and as you come up onto your target from a low ready you see the dot and press, its similar, stop overthinking it. (As I did!)
Shooting with a red dot is more target focused, allowing you to more focus on the threat, so you can engage with more information available: did he drop the knife, and should I stop, or is the threat still engaging?
Our eyes can only focus on so many things at once, with iron sights you are committed to focus on them and then your target to confirm before you press, with red dots you can focus on the actual threat and apply shots as necessary once the dot appears. Once of the best tips I picked up in red dot specific classes was from Willie Parent of Glock who said, “just put the ball in the basket”.
Starting off with a slightly elevated muzzle either from compressed ready, focus on the target and when you see the “red ball” just put it in the basket (typically depending on the gun you are shooting and the grip angle you will need to come to a full extension) if you can’t see the dot don’t go side to side, just lift the muzzle slightly then back down.
But what if the red dot fails?
You can still use the actual window of the red dot, which is in alignment with the slide as a reference to place defensive hits on target, you can also make sure you have iron sights that can be used as a backup.
If you are a student thinking of transitioning or trying out a red dot, reach out to your friendly neighborhood instructor and see what they run, and if they might be able to let you try some, or can guide you on your journey. I am encouraging students to consider buying a gun that is already optics ready, so down the road if it will be much easier than buying a new gun/new slide/ or having the slide cut (which will most likely also void your warranty). For shooters with older eyes like mine, or with vision problems, it can open up a whole new world, and induce less eye fatigue.
If you are an instructor and uncomfortable teaching use of dot sights, take some classes. I highly recommend PFC in Las Vegas, Willie Parent with Glock, and Brian Hill with The Complete Combatant. Many other top-notch facilities have dot specific pistol classes. Don’t just discourage your students from embracing something that could possibly save their life.
Is it cheating? Hell, yes, it is – and in a fight for my life I want every advantage I can get!