Firearms Handguns Opinion

Pistol Mounted Optic as a Training Aid?

A red dot on a pistol is not necessarily a good idea, but that doesn’t mean a dot is only then an accessory for recreational purposes. Given that one of its benefits is a reduced marksmanship learning curve, maybe we should consider it as a training aid.

A few days ago I published a post that intended to answer a reader’s question regarding whether or not mounting a pistol to a carry pistol was a good idea or not. I think it did a decent job at taking a stab at an answer to that question. However, I didn’t expect the hubbub that followed on social media as a result. Amidst all of the pro-dot and anti-dot discussion, there was a handful of good discussions that ensued as well. In one of the discussion threads, a question was asked, “Does transitioning from a dot pistol to your not dot pistol take some getting used to?” This came from an individual who is comfortable using iron sights, but curious about dots and wondering if taking the time to get used to a dot would have an impact on his ability to use irons that would require effort to transition back. It’s an excellent question and valid concern worth exploring.

Learning to shoot a pistol is easy. Learning to shoot it well is not. One of the advantages of learning to shoot with a pistol mounted optic, or red dot sight if you will, is that it can shorten the learning curve between shooting a pistol and shooting a pistol well. However, as I’ve stated several times before, a red dot sight isn’t a panacea or some sort of magical object that will transform a mediocre shooter into a world class pistolero instantaneously upon mounting it on the pistol. It requires work. In some ways, the red dot sight is less forgiving than traditional iron sights to poor technique. For example, on a bad presentation, one is still able to find the front sight, make adjustments, and get to work fairly quickly at least in comparison to a bad presentation with pistol equipped with an optic. Whereas with a red dot, a bad presentation leads to not being able to find the dot which leads to fishing for the dot that is generally takes more time to correct and get work compared with a bad presentation with a pistol equipped only with iron sights.

On the surface, the unforgiving nature of a red dot sight might sound contradictory to the shortened learning curve that I claimed. I suppose in a way it is, but it really isn’t. Bear with me. Being unable to find the dot is the most common problem folks who are new to shooting pistols with dots encounter. However, it only requires a modest amount of practice to resolve. That work takes the form of working to develop a good and consistent presentation. Of course, if one isn’t willing to put in some work, then whether or not the learning curve is shortened or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that the dot provided some very clear feedback. It said, “Hey! Your presentation needs work.” After the work is put in and one is able to consistently find the dot, the dot then says, “Hey! That presentation is pretty good.” The irons on the other hand aren’t as opinionated. They still provide feedback, but it’s far more subtle.

The reason a dot shortens the learning curve, in my opinion, is because it is far more vocal with feedback and less forgiving to poor technique than irons. Another way to look at this is that a pistol mounted optic is a better coach than traditional iron sights. It’s still far from being a perfect coach since it doesn’t tell you how to fix the problems that it points out, but at least it doesn’t let you get away with them.

So far, I’ve only mentioned how the dot doesn’t let you get away with a bad presentation. That’s only one example. A dot helps in a lot of different ways. Let’s look at some.

A dot points out when one is using a poor grip. This manifests itself in a couple of different ways. One is when the dot isn’t oscillating in a vertical pattern during a string of shots at the same target. An erratic movement pattern is indicative of a poor grip, insufficient support hand pressure, or sub-optimal trigger control. Yes, it will point one when one is slapping, jerking, or honking the trigger. A consistent movement pattern that isn’t vertical is indicative of too much or too little lateral support hand pressure. If the grip is really poor, then one might lose the dot entirely in a string of fire. The exact problem isn’t always obvious, but it is still significantly easier to recognize that a problem exists.

Lost the dot during a transition? Yeah, that’s the dot pointing out a problem.

A dot also makes shot calling far easier in my opinion. Shot calling is a technique where the shooter uses the last known position of the aiming reference (the dot or the front sight) on the target at the moment the shot breaks to determine whether or not the impact was acceptable or if a follow up shot is required without visually confirming the impact on the actual target. It’s a difficult skill to develop and the dot can make developing that skill a little easier as well. This is yet another form louder feedback.

Circling back to the question that was asked, “Does transitioning from a dot pistol to your not dot pistol take some getting used to?” The short answer is yes. How long that transition takes is proportional to how out of practice one is with iron sights. However, the transition from a dot to irons is far easier to make than from irons to a dot. This is in part because the irons are more forgiving. The other part comes from the improved fundamental skills that were developed as a result of the dot being less forgiving. A consistent presentation, a better grip, more consistent transitions, and improved shot calling benefits all pistol shooting regardless of the sighting system, or sighting systems, available on the pistol.

So, yeah, as I said in the last post, a dot on the everyday carry defensive pistol may not be a good idea. For those folks who are in a situation where it isn’t a good idea, it doesn’t mean that the red dot is only relegated to recreational purposes. It very well may function as a training aid that may help one become a better shooter even if one decides to continue to stick with iron sights only on their everyday carry defensive pistol.

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