Pistol Mounted Optics

These are not new. They have been on competition guns for decades and were first put on duty guns in the late 90’s. Kelly McCann, a United States Marine Special Missions Officer, among many other high speed-low drag ventures, and a truly hardened and battle tested, just all around hard core operator, is the first I know of that put a Doctor Red Dot on is Glock 19. He did it so he would have commonality between the Trijicon Reflex on his M4 and his G19 when he transitioned. He thought that going from target focus dot to dot was more applicable to the speed of life in combat than target focus dot to front sight focused 3 dot. Probably on to something to that……..

Non-magnified optics that are mounted on a carbine, shotgun, or pistol are not as complicated as many of the new guys that found internet fame would like you to believe. If you start the training off with masking tape over the front lenses to force an occluded eye principle (Search for: Operation Ivory Coast- Occluded Eye to get some historical perspective and some knowledge). Forcing the shooter to focus on the target and not the dot, is the first step to getting them to pick the dot up quick.

The second key to getting the shooter to pick up the dot is where they go into the #2 draw position. The wrist must be locked, rigid, and the gun must fit the shooter’s hand. Head position, foot position, and body position are not factors in finding the dot quickly, other than initial range training. Fundamentals do not change. However, any system that requires a special head or foot position is not combat survivable, other than through pure luck. Once the shooter has the basics of proper grip, with a gun that fits, then they should be put in various situations on the range that require them to venture off from the standardized “stand tall, and skin that smoke wagon” syndrome that plagues us throughout the training community. *This should be done with all use of force scenarios and weapons systems, not just pistol mounted optics.*

Tall Sights, to go along with the pistol mounted optic are nice for when the dot goes down (and it will, just give it some time or the right circumstance). They should not be trained to be relied on. Do not slave your dot to the front sight, unless that is actually where it lands through proper zero. Do train in every session, to turn the dot off, and force the shooter to use the irons. Do teach the shooter to use the outline of the optic housing as a large aperture at close range, and see how far out each individual can go and still get reliable hits in a pre-defined area of 6 inches.

While we are talking about dots and irons, stop trying to track the dot in recoil. For the vast majority of shooters, that means they are dot focused, which defeats the purpose of putting one on the pistol in the first place. If the gun fits the shooter’s hand, they have a crush grip, and are focusing on the target, the dot will appear back on the target. If they try to track the dot, they are looking at the dot, away from the target, and at the dot, then the target, then the dot, and so on. Focus on the target, allow the dot to superimpose, proper grip, smoothly and rapidly generate a compressed surprise break of the trigger, let recoil do its thing, and repeat as necessary.

Maintenance is where these things will get us. They have to be maintained. Use eye glass specific products such as moist lens wipes or spray and microfiber cloth, or a Leupold’s Lens Pen to clean. Apply Cat Crap (Yes, that is an actual product. Google it.) to prevent fogging. AVOID rain-x or other water repellant items, as those damage the coating on the lenses.

Change the battery every 6 months to 1 year, whether it needs it or not. Depending on the optic, and your operational tempo, you may need to change the battery every month. DURACELL batteries, end of story. If the optic does not come with a Duracell, throw the factory supplied battery away, and replace it. Or don’t, it’s only your life or someone’s your responsible for. Check the torque on the battery cap, and mark it too.

When you mount the optic, make sure ALL threads are clean and degreased. Apply Blue Loctite GEL to the male screw, and WAIT for it to dry. Then install to the proper amount of inch pounds of torque. Mark it with a paint pen, and let it sit for at least 24 hours before you shoot it. *If the optic is installed on the gun from the factory, at the very least, check the torque on it, then mark it.

You need to check what setting your dot is on, and how that works in various lighting conditions. At night under street lights, as opposed to inside a completely dark room with a 1000 lumen flashlight for illumination. Inside a room shooting out into bright sunlight. Being in bright sunlight, and going into a dimly lit room. Does the dot wash out shooting past the emergency lights on your police car on a dark country road? How about shooting past the flashing emergency lights into a brightly lit parking lot? You will generally not have time to change the brightness setting under extreme duress. See which works second best in all settings, and leave it that way……

Before every single time you walk out the door with your gun: Verify that the dot is on, and not blinking or has dimmed. Verify the lens is clear. Verify the witness marks on the screws have not moved. And verify zero every time you go to the range.

As a whole, we throw terms around that don’t make sense. Sometimes this is regional specific, and sometimes it is across the board. Pistol Optics are no exception. You tend to hear the cries of “we have to have an enclosed emitter optic, or we will die in the streetz!!!!” Harsh reality is that all duty grade optics are enclosed emitters. Go check, and you will see that there is something over the emitter covering it to keep water and debris out of it. What people mean to say is Single Pane or Dual Pane. Single Pane is a single piece of glass that the emitter projects the dot on. Double Pane has a piece of glass behind the emitter giving extra protection from anything covering the emitter specifically.

When double pane optics came along we heard that they would prevent blood, water, dust, etc. from covering the emitter so we could see in any circumstance, and they were more robust and duty ready. To a degree, that is true. However, by fixing one supposed issue, we created a bunch more: More glass to break. If you break the rear pane, you might not be able to see the dot or the iron sights. If you spill coffee or milkshake, or blood on the rear pane, you won’t see the dot. If the front or rear gets cracked, it allows condensation in, and you can’t see the dot or the irons. Also, putting a double pane optic on a pistol makes it even more challenging to conceal if that is something you plan on doing with it. Finally, at the moment, not many gun companies offer a direct mount slide for dual pane optics. Adding an adapter plate adds more things to go wrong. I constantly see them fall off guns, or crack, or raise them too high for certain security holsters. If you do choose a dual pane optic, make sure the entire system works correctly, and you are absolutely willing to bet your life on it.

What optics seem to be the most reliable and robust for duty usage? In alphabetical order for orderliness:

Aimpoint Acro P2 (P2, P2, P2; did I say P2?)

Holosun 507, 508, 509, EPS, EPS Carry

Sig Romeo 1 PRO, Romeo 2 PRO

Trijicon RMR Type 2

If I left out you pet optic, it is because I have seen many of them fail at a higher rate. If yours works for you, fine; and you are willing to bet your life on it, press on.

What about dot color? We have Red, and we have Green. This is not new either. Back when lasers were being billed as the must have accessory, so that you didn’t die in the streetz; in the beginning we had red, and it was good. Then as time went by, we realized that on a bright, sunny day; we couldn’t see that little red dot so well if we were more than a few yards from the target. Things were no longer so good, and we didn’t know what to do since we had spent hundreds on equipping every single gun we had with red lasers. Then a company decided to make a green laser. How lucky we were! The only catch was that it was 50% more expensive than the red one. But, we went out and bought them anyway, because it was newer and had to be better. All kidding aside, the green lasers did work better in bright sunlight.

What does that have to do with red vs. green dots is kind of the same thing. The green works better in brighter light. However, some people’s eyes cannot pick up the green. So, if you are equipping an entire agency, make sure that everyone can see green, or red, as some can’t see red…….

What about dot size? The two most common are 3 MOA and 6 MOA. I have a lot of people tell me they prefer the 3 MOA because they want to be more precise. Precise for what? It is a pistol. Pistol bullets are horrible at stopping violent, dedicated, deadly force threats. A 6 MOA is perfectly capable of making accurate head shots at 50 yards, but so are iron sights if you train enough. Here is where the 6 MOA comes into play as having an edge for the Peace Officer: those bright, flashy blue lights on your patrol car. Go out in a dark or dimly lit area, activate your lights, and then (with a VERIFIED, UNLOADED gun) see if you can see that 3 MOA dot when you are aiming past those lights. Did your dot wash out? Did you know that was a possibility? All I am saying is THINK of any situation you are morally possible to be in, and vet your gear. Then vet it again. Game it with your partners, and try it out in different situations. Test it until it fails, find a fix, and drive on. Don’t forget to load your gun before you go back on duty.

Different Reticles? Most of the pistol mounted optics are dots. Some are chevrons, some are triangles. Yet, one of the most popular optics on the market has a multi reticle option. You have a dot, a circle with a dot inside, and a circle with no dot. I was taking a class from Lee Weems (www.firstpersonsafety.com) and using a Holosun 507C on a Shadow Systems XR920. We were drawing to a single head shot (4″ circle) at 12 yards. I ran this multiple iterations with each option. Here is what I found: my times were roughly the same. The dot yielded the smallest and most consistent group. The circle dot stayed within the 4″ circle, but was spread out. The circle only, had some of my bullets out of the 4″ circle, but still in the head (I consider that a failure for me personally). So, just because you perceive something as faster or better, does not make it so. Quantify it with a measured standard under time pressure, in front of peers. Then choose what works best.

Non-Battery Powered Optics? Specifically, an optic that uses tritium and fiber optic. They sound great on paper, and might be the ticket for assaulting caves or mud huts in some third world hell hole. On the streets of the US, they tend not to work so great. They wash out in bright sunlight, they wash out in dark rooms with a bright flashlight, and they have some other issues a few years down the road.

An optic that has a “shake awake” feature, or a solar backup, are great features. Those two things extend operational life, and give the shooter a little extra insurance. That is a good thing, and something to consider when making your choice.

Let me be crystal clear. I am not anti pistol mounted optic. I look at them, as I do any life saving equipment, with a critical eye, and from what can fail on them at the worst possible time. They do give old eyes an advantage, they do allow you to shoot quicker and more accurate at distance. They do allow for more precise shooting at certain distance and under certain conditions. Just like everything, they have their limitations. Know theirs and know yours.

Make informed decisions, pressure test them, and replace them if they do not work. Go forth in the world, be kind, and do good.

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  1. Weekend Knowledge Dump- December 2, 2022 | Active Response Training

    […] Pistol Mounted Optics […]


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