Embracing The Red Dot Sight

I’m writing this column in a hotel room during the Rangemaster Tactical Conference of 2024.

TacCon is an unusual space, because some attendee or another might be there to challenge your preconceptions about the “average dedicated handgun carrier.” The folks there run the gamut from legendary defensive-handgun-training gurus to local instructors to just your average CCW toter looking to get some good instruction and level up their personal-protection game.

I’ve been attending since 2017, and one thing I’ve noticed is how much more common pistol-mounted optics have become. I went back and looked at my photos from that first year and only found one shooter rocking a Trijicon RMR on a Smith & Wesson M&P9. In 2018, there were a few more, and one shooter made it into the man-on-man shoot-off stage of the match with a dotted Glock G34. The very next year, the event was held down at NOLATAC and Rick Remington took home all the marbles with an RMR-equipped Wilson Combat 9 mm.

Fast-forward to this year, and I’d estimate that possibly half the pistols I saw had optics on them.

Not only have they permeated the serious training community, but an ever-greater number of casual shooters seem to be tinkering with them, as the used Smith & Wesson SD9 with a budget dot that had been traded in at my local gun shop would indicate.

I was there at Indy Arms Company picking up a transfer and an older gentleman was asking to see said pistol, and both he and the salesclerk were having difficulty acquiring the dot and expressing doubts about the MRDS’ viability. They were so visibly frustrated that I broke my Gun Store Prime Directive and offered some advice.

“Hey, y’all want to know a trick? Pick out a target spot on that wall there and look at it. Keep looking at it and stick the pistol up there so the slide cover plate is right in front of your nose—keep looking at the target and not
the gun.”

He couldn’t have looked more surprised if I’d pulled a quarter out from behind his ear. You could practically see the light bulb come on over his noggin. The customer tried it and it worked for him, too.

I learned that quick-and-dirty method for fast dot acquisition from firearms trainer Aaron Cowan, and it works via the magic of proprioception, which is your body’s ability to know where its various parts are situated. You can stick that slide cover plate (or hammer spur, if that’s how you roll) in front of your nose because your body knows where your hand and nose are located relative to each other.

Circling back to being in a hotel room at TacCon, though … Over on the night stand is my constant companion for the last several months: A Taurus 856 T.O.R.O. revolver with a Holosun 507K red-dot sight in a PHLster City Special optics-ready holster. It’s a handy little package and has held up well to use, with the dot holding zero faithfully to the tune of several hundred rounds at this point.

There’s one problem, though, in that the proprioception-based, dot-finding method from Cowan doesn’t work with the revolver-mounted optic because the dot sits too far above the web of your hand to have an easy physical reference point.

With the 856 T.O.R.O., I instead need to use the dot-acquisition technique I learned from Scott Jedlinski of Modern Samurai Project, which is equally reliable, but a little more involved. With Jedlinski’s method, you draw the pistol and, during the presentation, it moves through the muzzle-upward, high-ready position. As the front sight enters your line-of-sight, you drive it forward, elevating the rear of the pistol until it’s horizontal in front of you. If you were using irons, this would cause the front sight to drop into the rear notch. With an MRDS, the red dot essentially “drops into view” from the top edge of the optic’s window.

The Cowan proprioception technique is easier to use in odd positions and when coming on target from positions like the low ready, since the Jedlinski press-out requires the pistol transitioning through a muzzle-up orientation as it comes
into your sight line. It’s worth having both available in your toolkit, though, as I’ve learned.

The biggest problem people have with pistol dots is looking at the optic itself, rather than staying focused on the target. It’s actually worse with experienced shooters just getting used to dots, because we’ve spent years training ourselves to look at the front sight and not the target. Think about how unnatural that is, though—in what other activity do you look at the object you’re using to hit the target, rather than looking at what you’re trying to hit? Golfers and baseball players are constantly admonished to keep their eyes on the ball. Archers and dart players look at the bullseye, not the arrow or dart. From time immemorial, going back to the first thrown rocks and spears, we’ve looked at the deadly threat rather than the thing we’re throwing at it. Essentially, a handgun red-dot optic lets us go back to that much more natural way of hitting, once we unlearn the unnatural sight focus we’ve forced ourselves to acquire.

The other enemy to quick and reliable dot acquisition (and to iron sights, too) is people’s tendency to want to put their head in motion, hunting for the dot, rather than bringing the sighting system into their line of vision. The latter is far faster and more efficient, since you don’t have two things in motion that are hoping to luck into each other at some point in space. Instead, you’re keeping your sight line still and bringing the sighting device in line with it.

There’s a funny meme on the internet about cats playing with lasers, but it works for us and handgun-mounted optics, too. It shows a cat dressed in the saffron-colored robes of a Buddhist monk, sitting in the lotus position and is captioned “You must not chase the red dot. Be still and let it come to you.”

That’s seems to me to be a pretty wise cat right there.

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