Fall Of The Red Dot? Think Again.
Renown firearms trainer (and fellow member of the Miamisburg Sportsman’s Club) Dave Spaulding recently shared this article by Jeff Gonzales regarding red dot optics. Go ahead and read the article…I’ll wait.
For the record, I don’t know Jeff Gonzales – never met him, trained under him, and I know next to nothing about him. The position he makes in his article is that red dot optics (valuable tools though they may be) aren’t the best option for concealed carry hand guns. According to Gonzales “At close range and under time constraints picking up the red dot is more time consuming and challenging that originally perceived.” He goes further to explain his feelings on this topic are primarily formed based on his observation of students in his classes. “Last year, in the 14 Concealed Carry classes we did we generally saw one MRDS equipped pistol per class. Our observations were pretty consistent, they were slower or less accurate at the closer ranges when time was an issue.”
The fact that Gonzales is using observable data from his Concealed Carry classes to support his conclusion is the first major fallacy I see in his thinking and his article I’ve taught a few Concealed Carry classes myself, and what’s true of my students (and something that’s pretty well agreed upon by every instructor I’ve ever spoken with) is that vast majority of students in Concealed Carry classes are beginning level shooters. These are people that, in many cases, are lacking in even basic marksmanship skills. How is this type of shooter going to do with a red dot optic?
The dirty little secret that most people don’t understand about red dot optics (unless they own one) is that it does require some practice to use them effectively – there’s a learning curve. Specifically, to overcome the “where’s the red dot!?” syndrome you need to do some dry fire repetitions of coming up from a low-ready position to dot on target. At first, when the gun comes up to your line of vision, you’ll look into the viewing window for the red dot, and you won’t see it – you end up moving the gun around until the red dot appears in the window. Once you figure out the positioning of the gun to make the red dot visible, you start repeating the motion of coming up from a low ready with the gun in the same position and developing the muscle memory to make it repeatable. With enough repetitions, the gun will naturally come up to eye level with the gun oriented correctly for the red dot to be visible.
Knowing this, let’s go back to Jeff Gonzales’ observation that students in his Concealed Carry classes with red dot optics were consistently slower or less accurate than those with iron sites. Well duh! Of course they are. CCW students often don’t have enough training to even know to practice or how to effectively practice. It would never occur to them to do 50 dry fire repetitions per day from a low ready every day until the gun comes up with the red dot correctly positioned every time. So yes, they’re likely going to be a lot slower and even less accurate relative to their traditional iron site counterparts in class.
My observational experience with red dot optics (which I would argue is far more valid that Gonzales’) is quite the opposite to his. A gun range local to me has a competitive Tactical Training League shoot every week. This is a league of experienced shooters who want to train and develop their skills. Myself and another friend started shooting there several years ago, and after we both started shooting in the league with red dot optics, our respective placements rose dramatically because we could shoot both faster and more accurately. So much so in fact that people started complaining that we had an “unfair advantage” and a separate “optics division” was created – essentially my buddy and I could only compete against one another. I’ve also been in several training classes and see how experienced shooters perform with and without red dot optics. In every case I’ve seen, when you take an experienced shooter and let him practice with a red dot optic, he’ll be able to shoot faster and with greater accuracy. In fact, I even wrote an article comparing my own performance with a red dot optic vs. traditional iron sites. The results were clear and conclusive – in my case, a red dot optic made a huge difference in performance.
In case you’re thinking that because a gun with a red dot optic requires “special practice” to be effective, iron sites must be automatically better, let me dissuade you from that thinking right up front. If you have iron sites, you really should be doing the same type of dry fire practice I describe above – the difference being you’re trying to bring the gun up to eye level with the iron sites already aligned. The difference is that iron sites are “user friendly” for new users because with iron sites, you have points of reference (namely the front and rear site post’s positions relative to one another) to help you get them correctly positioned and aligned. With a red dot, you have no points of reference to get the dot to appear in the window – you just keep moving your gun around until you “find the dot.”
Gonzales further concludes that, while he can see an advantage to a red dot in longer distances, at closer range (which he defines as seven yards and closer) iron sites are superior to a red dot and therefore better for CCW (most defensive shootings are at 10 feet or less). Why? Because according to Gonzales, “the ability to quickly pick up the red dot sight diminishes as speed is increased.” Gonzales goes on to reason that in shorter distances where there is less time to get a shot off, shooters can panic looking for the red dot. To this I would point to two absolute certainties that Gonzales should be aware which strong contradict his reasoning. Firstly, red dot optics have been used by competitive shooters long before they became a viable option for concealed carry. If there were any truth to the notion that “the ability to quickly pick up the red dot sight diminishes as speed is increased” then no competitive shooter would use a red dot optic. Secondly, if a shooter is going to panic, they’re just as likely to do so trying to line up iron sites as they are hunting for the red dot in their optic. Why? Because in either case, it’s apparent they haven’t done the kind of training and practice necessary to draw their guns with the sights aligned/dot visible if trying to do so puts them in a state of panic. Regardless of the sites used on the gun, it’s imperative that practice to the point of monotony so that correct draw is done automatically and without thought. As an experience firearms trainer, I’m surprised Gonzales doesn’t realize this.
Gonzales does acknowledge that “the solution could be as simple as more training, lots more time on the red dot” but then goes on to say that “I feel the juice isn’t worth the squeeze and the shooter would be better off going with “high vis” iron sights.” All of which tells me Gonzales hasn’t done his homework with regard to red dot optics, doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and makes me question his ability as an instructor. Clearly Gonzales hasn’t spent enough time working with a red dot optic on a hand gun or he would realize that the solution absolutely is as simply as more training/practice. If the “juice isn’t worth the squeeze” with regard to red dot optics it’s because for some the improvement in speed an accuracy isn’t work the cost associated with a red dot optic, which can be as much or more than the price of the gun it’s mounted on if the slide needs to be milled to accept the red dot. But I maintain that the majority of shooters can shoot faster and more accurately with a red dot optic as compared with iron sites…IF they’re willing to pay the price of admission and put in a little work.
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.