Friday, May 18, 2012

Red Dot Sights on Combat Guns

Back in 2006 or so I took my very first two-day defensive pistol course with Greg Hamilton, founder of InSights Training Center. I was relatively new to the game and what he said about sights kind of surprised me.

He said, "Ideally, we'd all be running around with some kind of red dot sight (RDS) on our pistols. Just wait, give it a few years and you'll see red dot sights made for carry pistols."

At the time, RDSs were not "new" but they were long and scope like, usually reserved for rifles and getting rave reviews in combat for their fast sight acquisition, ease of use and adaptability to all types of shooters.

Enter 2012.

Greg's predictions are coming true. This technology has been made available and it's piquing interest and gaining popularity. It's raising questions and people are wondering if it's a viable option for them.

I'm always willing to try new technology (especially when it comes to guns) but sometimes it's hard to get a chance to play with this stuff unless you are deeply imbedded in the business or have very good connections .. or, in my case, take classes with some very generous and trusting people. 

When I went to TDI's Handguns I - III this spring I  saw the Leupold DeltaPoint Reflex Sight on many of the instructor's firearms which made me stand up and take notice. When I went back for Partner Tactics I was able to shoot one for a day and play around with it.

I asked the same questions that others have when they see this technology for the first time:

How does it work?
We always want to know how this stuff works. In lay person (that's me) terms. The sight is a glass window wherein a red dot (or triangle, depending on which reticle you opt for) is projected. This dot is aligned over or on your front sight so that where the dot lies the bullet will hit.

Leupold DeltaPoint Reflex Sight
Unless you opt to physically remove your sights, the RDS can be mounted along with your physical sights so that they are only an addition to your sighting system rather than a replacement.

The sights do not need to be turned on physically (like a laser). They come on automatically when they sense movement. Yes, that means they are always on when you walk around but when you sit down for a time (I think they turn off after five minutes) or take your gun off at night they will automatically turn off until they sense movement. Those who have them on their carry guns never turn them off.

The dot also adjusts itself to ambient lighting conditions by itself so you don't have to be worried about being blinded by it at night or in low light or not seeing it in the day.

Battery life?
From those I have talked to, battery life depends a lot on how much you carry your firearm but even for those who carry (and even shoot) daily the battery can easily extend beyond six months though it's recommended to change it out every six months just to be safe.

What if the glass breaks?
According to those I've talked to, no one has ever heard of the glass actually breaking. There was one instance where it was told the glass cracked but the RDS continued to work without causing an obstruction.

What if it just stops working?
Well, if it stops working you do have your original sights to back you up. Line up the bumpy things like you always did and keep shooting.

What are the benefits?
Low light sight acquisition, fast acquisition, increased accuracy and speed are some of the biggies. But for those who are cross dominant shooters (aka, those who are right-handed and left-eye dominant or left-handed and right-eye dominant) there is a lot less head tilting and confusion when it comes to sight acquisition (according to my husband who is a cross-dominant shooter).

Improved sight picture is another big plus. Traditionally it is taught that you look at your target until you bring the firearm up and then you allow the front sight to interrupt your view of the target and squeeze the trigger. Because your front sight is much closer than your target (ideally) you will have a blurry rear sight, a blurry target and a crystal clear front sight. There is some dispute about whether or not that is ideal or even possible in a defensive scenario but with an RDS the two camps can stop quibbling. You can keep a crystal clear target, put a red dot over where you want the bullet to go and pull the trigger. Win/Win!

One of the additional benefits is that you do not have to have perfect sight alignment to get a good combat hit at your defensive distances. Once you are familiar with the sights, whenever the dot is over the target and inside the widow of the sight you will hit the target. No, it might not be pin-point accurate, but it will not be a "miss."

What are the drawbacks?
From what I hear and see and feel and shoot.... Nothing... except for price of the sight and having someone of repute install it on your firearm.

Traditional Rear Sight relation to RDS
Will it fit in my holster?
Most of the time, yes. Because the sight sits back to where the rear sight normally sat it is usually out of the way of the holster. Where you start to see an issue is where the rear sight needs to be moved to (which is much closer to the ejection port) (check out the picture to the left). I tried it out in my UBG Regulator and it worked fine. Other holsters may need to be slightly modified to allow the rear sight access, but most holsters stop long before they get to the actual RDS.

How does it conceal?
This depends a lot on where and how you carry your firearm. For me, who carries it behind the strong-side hip, there was a very small bump where the RDS sat but it was not so prominent that it made the firearm more noticeable. For others who carried more forward or appendix, it concealed just as easily as any other firearm.

How was gun handling with it?
Business as usual. I was able to do everything I normally did with the gun with the RDS. I witnesses others with the RDS use it as a level to help them rack the slide. Personally, it did not get in the way and I didn't have time to see if there was any new way I could adapt using its physical presence on the gun to my advantage though others certainly seemed to do so.

Remember those one-handed racking drills? I could see how they would be MUCH easier with an RDS sticking out the top of the gun.

Those I talked to who made the switch swore they would never go back to plain sights again. They say it has improved their sight picture, helped with accuracy and was a great investment.

I found it very easy to shoot with the RDS. Those first shots were a little slow as I figured out how to mount the sight without searching around for the dot, but once I got it it is a little like riding a bike and it got easier every time.

When I switched back to traditional sights I lost nothing in the transfer because there were still traditional sights with the red dot that I was aligning. Switching back and forth was not a problem at all. 

When I dropped my G19 off to Bowie for his reduction and trigger job I had the option of getting the RDS put on my gun but opted out of it for now.... especially since my husband was getting it put on his HK. I don't need it as much as he does. He was blown away by how much easier it was for him to shoot as a cross-dominant shooter and was immediately convinced that the RDS was something he wanted on his gun.

Will I eventually get it done?
I don't know. Maybe... probably? Perhaps as I continue to progress in my training I will find more and more scenarios where it could be helpful and decide it's time to make the switch. Already I can see it as a huge plus for low light and scenarios where you may not be able to get an ideal sight picture (clearing stair-ways comes to mind).

Sure there are those who resist change or are afraid of the added bulk or weight or whatever... everyone has the right to be a little skeptical especially when it means dropping a couple extra hundred bucks or so, but I really did not see much validity to those arguments... especially when we are talking about dedicated carriers and shooters. A casual, on-again-off-again carrier who doesn't train much or carry with regularity or with a good carry system may not see it being worth their money or time.

Would I recommend it? 
Absolutely! Especially to cross-dominant shooters! Do I think it's necessary? I guess that depends on your definition of necessary. People have been getting along pretty well without them on their carry guns but if you can have an advantage or get something that helps you improve, why not.. right?

Take a look at them!

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