I resisted mounting a red dot sight (RDS) to my pistols for quite some time. This mainly stemmed from the lack of an industry standard to mount them and me not wanting to mill a slide for a RDS I might not like. However, that resistance has waned given the evidence of more gun manufacturers making optic ready pistols, more optic manufacturers offering one or more RDS optics in their product line up, and seeing more and more RDS optics at IDPA competitions. I finally caved and picked up an RDS ready pistol when Heckler & Koch put out an optics ready VP9. Given my propensity to seek training to level up my game, I registered (some time ago) and recently attended the Red Dot Pistol Essentials course offered by KR Training.
Personally, I actively avoid spending a lot of time on the range during mid summer in Texas. Early morning and late evenings are not so bad, but a full day on range during this time of the year is brutal. Nonetheless, I attended. I’ll start by saying that the staff at KR Training understands the environmental challenges of holding a full day training course in these conditions and did their best to balance range and classroom to minimize the exhaustion experienced when training in these conditions. This one of the many things I’m growing to love about KR Training.
The Red Dot Pistol Essentials course is an introductory course to using the RDS optics on pistols with a duration of about six (6) to seven (7) hours. There is an expectation of students to already be familiar with safe firearm handling and have a rudimentary understanding of pistol handling fundamentals.
The day began in the classroom with Karl Rehn, the owner of KR training who acted as an assistant for this course, introducing himself and a safety briefing. Following the safety briefing, Sean Hoffman, the lead instructor for the course, introduced himself. This was the second training course I’ve attended under Sean Hoffman’s instruction. The students then introduced themselves and vocalized what they were each hoping to get from the course. Sean does an amazing job at remembering individual student goals and emphasizing course elements that aid the student in getting what they expected out of the course.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for out of the course. Prior to the course, I’ve struggled mostly with finding the dot on presentation. Beyond that I was hoping the course would help me know what I don’t know I should know about RDS optics on pistols. That may sound a bit vague, but even though I’ve been carrying a RDS equipped VP9 for several months and previously taking a course with it, I’m still uncertain whether or not the confidence I have with it is a result of a lack of competence and ego or something else.
When attending a training course, I like to leave my ego at the door and keep an open mind to try what the instructor suggests. The idea is to internalize the knowledge that is offered that can be evaluated at a later time. After all, I’ve made a monetary and time investment to help level me up. Keeping an open mind helps maximize the return on the investment.
Before getting into the course details, I’m going to quickly list the gear I used since it is a frequent question that I get:
- Gun: Heckler & Koch VP9 with a Trijicon RMR
- Holster: G-Code Incog Eclipse IWB holster on my strong side
- Mag pouches: Concealment Solutions Racer-Mag x2
- Belt: Concealment Solutions 1.5″ Python Gun Belt (Horsehide)
- Ammo: Aguila 9mm Luger 124gr
While this course usually includes some additional classroom content after the introductions, the flow of the course was altered a bit to get students out on the range earlier (due to the heat) and allow the classroom portion to help students cool down in the middle of the day. I’m not sure if this took anything away from the typical flow in terms of learning optimization, but it worked well.
The range time started with a bit of dry fire work. We began by working on presenting the firearm (position 4) from compressed ready (position 3). This felt counterintuitive to other courses I’ve attended that typically begin dry practice from gripping the firearm in the holster (position 1), to retention (position 2), to compressed ready (position 3), and finally full presentation (position 4). Even though it was counterintuitive, it became quickly obvious that transition from compressed ready to full presentation is critical to finding the red dot to get the first shot on target.
After the dry practice, all the students zeroed their red dots. Zeros were established at 10 yards. Sean pointed out that different RDS pistol experts suggest different distances for the RDS zero. Scott Jedilinki from Modern Samurai Project suggests a 10 yard zero. Sig Sauer Academy suggests 15 yards. Aaron Cowan from Sage Dynamics suggests 25 yards. When I first zeroed by RDS I used the 25 yard zero, but again keeping an open mind I re-zeroed the RMR on the VP9 to 10 yards as that what the course called for. The idea is that only shots taken under 7 yards will require a hold over for precision hits. I really need to work with different zeros before I establish my own firm preference of a zero distance. However, I will say that zeroing at 10 yards is a lot more forgiving than establishing a 25 yard zero (in my opinion). Karl suggested picking up an MTM Pistol Rest to help shooters get a good zero.
From here on out, almost all of the drills used an Evolution Training Solutions Target (ETS target).
The very first drill consisted of taking a single shot on each of the top three 1″ squares towards the bottom of the ETS target from the three yard line. The purpose of this exercise was to figure out what the hold over for our RDS is with a 10 yard zero. The hold over is going to vary a bit depending on the mounting platform of the RDS. Generally speaking, OEM optics ready pistols with an adapter plate sit higher than pistols that have an aggressive custom milled slide from an RDS. As such, it seemed that OEM pistols required a higher hold over than those with custom milled slides.
From here, we ran a number of different drills and exercises at different distances for A-zone hits in both the center of mass and the head box. One of my takeaways here is that hold over matters in order to achieve precise and accurate hits – especially at close distances.
One drill that stood out was the Dummy Drill (at least that’s the name of the drill as I recall it). The process is simple:
- Make sure a round is chambered.
- Remove the magazine.
- Take two shots.
The first trigger press will obviously yield a bang. The second trigger press will yield a click. It’s important to pay attention to how the dot moves on the second trigger press as it provides a ton of feedback to help the shooter identify fundamental gun handling deficiencies.
We ran several other drills and exercises, most of them made me realize that the fundamentals and presentation of the firearm are perhaps even more important to use a RDS optic on a pistol effectively. For example, grip is considered to be possibly the most important fundamental to effectively manage recoil. Having an exceptionally strong support hand grip minimizes the movement of the dot under recoil and allows the shooter to get back on target for follow up shots quicker. This holds true for pistol shooting in general, but feedback from a dancing dot makes its importance painstakingly obvious.
There were several topics covered in the classroom as well. While many topics pertained to pistol skills using a RDS aiming system, other topics covered some of the general considerations a person should be aware of. For example, not all batteries are created equal. Duracell was highly recommended as it seems to provide good battery life in conjunction with tighter tolerances that mitigate battery failure risk. Typical optic system maintenance was discussed as well, such as, using anti fog coatings and cleaning the RDS lens.
After lunch (and some classroom discussion), we started work on RDS failures. There are two categories of failures. The first is an obstructed view. In this scenario, the RDS lens is visible but one can’t see through it. In this scenario, the dot is visible and (assuming good target focus) the brain compensates and acceptable hits can be made on the target without much effort.
The second scenario deals with a complete RDS failure. This may be due to the lens being completely obstructed, the battery dying, or the lens being broken. In this situation there are a handful of ways to get an aiming reference and still make good hits on the target. The methods include:
- The guillotine method, where the top of the RDS is used as a reference,
- the ghost ring method, where the frame of the RDS lens is used as a reference,
- and the backplate method, where the backplate of the gun is used as a reference.
I found the guillotine method to work the best for me. However, I suspect the backplate method can be useful for both RDS and iron sight failures (such as the front or rear sight breaking or shaking loose during recoil).
One of things that stood out was the importance of good dot placement on the target. This was extremely counterintuitive for me. Essentially, dot placement on the target is all that is needed to make a good acceptable hit. This means that the dot doesn’t need to be perfectly centered in the window (lens) for this to happen. I struggled with this as iron sights require even spacing and level alignment along with a good sight picture to work. The sight picture doesn’t really matter with a RDS as long as the dot is over the right place.
The afternoon consisted of several other drills and exercises. All of which reinforced the classroom lessons.
Towards the end of the day we worked on shooting while moving. Unsurprisingly, very little of it had to do with the dot itself. Most of it was simply getting good dot placement, moving naturally, and exercising a good grip and trigger press.
The day ended in the classroom where we discussed some of the different RDS options available in the market. There was a clear preference towards the Holosun 507c which provides a combination of good battery life, ruggedness, and value. The course also recognized the Trijicon RMR Type 2 (which is what I run) to be the gold standard.
As I attend more training courses, I’ve become really fond of ending the day with a scored course of fire as it provides me with a measurement of my current skill level. This course didn’t have one. Sean and Karl informed me that when they initially started offering this course, earlier this year, they included a scored KR Training Three Seconds or Less drill. However, it has since been removed from the course. This course is designed to help shooters learn how to properly utilize a RDS and be made aware of related considerations regardless of the students skill level, rather than elevating a specific set of skills. Personally, I would have liked to run the three seconds or less drill or perhaps a standard LTC qualification exam just so I could objectively compare my shooting ability with a RDS versus iron sights. Even without a scored course of fire, the course delivers on its intended purpose – teaching folks with a wide range of pistol skill levels about using a red dot. As a bonus, it counts as an elective towards the KR Training Defensive Pistol Skills program.
Overall, this course is solid. It provides a solid foundation for folks considering using a RDS optic system on their pistol and those new to them. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think even experienced RDS users (without or with minimal formal training) can fine tune RDS usage fundamentals. If this sounds like something you can benefit from, then I encourage you to check out the course schedule at KR training and register for an upcoming course. It’s worth taking a peak at their newsletter and subscribing to it in order to stay up to date with upcoming classes with space available. KR training offers a variety of courses that can help folks at any skill level further develop their gun handling mechanics and marksmanship skills. As mentioned in a recent post on the KR Training blog, they also offer defensive tactics courses which aid self-defenders in building essential skills beyond defensive tool mechanics. If for some reason attending one of the scheduled courses is not viable, then another option is to contact KR training and arrange a private lesson, both Sean and Karl are available for private lessons on weekdays. Private lessons can cater to all skill levels, red dots or irons, pistols or long guns. I highly recommend checking them out.