Heresy! Red dot sights on pistols
There was a time in our development when we thought that all pistols needed high visibility sights. "You must use the sights, always, and at all distances" we were told by the gun gurus of a prior age, and like faithful followers, we shipped our guns to the smith to have them suitably arranged. And yes, sights that were easier to see made those 1 1/2 second head shots at 3 yards very easy to make, and right inside the "credit card" too. "Bravo!", we thought, as we holstered our 45s into our pricey handmade Milt Sparks rigs (just like the instructor had) and walked up to examine the group with a jaunty swagger.
But then...something changed.
Some crazy guys thought to have students shoot each other with Airsoft BB guns. Shooters would replicate exactly the drills that formed the Modern Technique, and that Gusmoke's Matt Dillon tried to emulate in his show. Insane! Outlandish! Heresy! Yes, they called it all of those things...but the first time guys stepped up to do it, everything changed.
Gone were the Weaver Stances. Hell, those lasted one evolution as guys realized that standing and shooting it out, in an equal initiative fight, or a reactive fight, was a guarantee of getting shot. The need for movement made the need for a proper stationary position obsolete in this type of fight. And keeping two hands on the gun was a luxury few got a chance to enjoy.
I recall after our first session of this several years ago I asked, "What sort of sight picture did you see"? Silence was the reply. "Well, what did you see?". I got varying replies from "the bad guy running at me", to "nothing", to "meat and metal". What we didn't hear, and have not heard, is that anyone has used a proper sight picture inside of five yards.
I base my view of the pistol fight on what we see in force on force sessions, as that parallels most, what I have seen personally on the streets. What a competitive pistol champion may use is interesting from a technical perspective, but that is all, as the two worlds of range shooting and gunfighting only bear a passing resemblance. And the world of force on force, paralleling the gunfight more closely than anything else, tells us that using traditional sighting methods for close range shooting on a moving adversary is simply not done. Guys point and shoot.
At recent classes I have been using Airsoft guns with no sights at all...just to be sure. You know what? It has not changed the hitting percentages at all at the close range intervals of reactive gunfighting. It has made guys somewhat faster since they are not slowing down to try and find the sights. Wow! Insane? Outlandish? Heresy? Maybe, but also the truth. So what do we need sights for?
We need them for two things.
We need sights for precision shooting at close range as might be seen in an adversary's exposed elbow, foot, or eye behind cover. Or as may be needed for a shot passed an innocent to hit a bad guy.
We also need sights for long range shooting as might be seen in an Active Shooter event where you have a long shot available. We have taken pistol shooters out to 220 yards at one point so it can be done.
Do you need high visibility sights for shots inside 7 yards? Nope. In fact, you could literally take the sights off the gun and be able to, statistically speaking, handle most CCW gunfights easily.
So if we need sights for precise shots, but not for general reactive close range shooting, which sights will work best for this? If we are looking at iron sights, then we need sharp, clearly discernible black sights, with a serrated front and flat rear face. Do we need dots or bars on the sights to see them better at close range? In my opinion, no we don't.
I can't see my sights!!!
Sights are like religion for some people. It seems once they spend money on something, even if it does not perform well, they cannot seem to let go of it. Much of this is based on the modern technique myth that you need sights for everything. We've shown that you do not. On a pistol, partly due to its intended application and partly due to only one or two points of contact, you generally will need sights as you enter into the distance interval of seven to ten yards and out, but not otherwise.
So let me be clear. If you plan on only using your pistol for the minimum - "average civilian CCW stuff", (a watered down standard with low expectations of your own skills) you really don't need any sights on the gun at all and can make do just fine with a bare slide. But if you want to optimize what you and your weapon can do, read on.
What you do need sights for is when things are taking place at a longer distance interval, or any close range event requiring greater precision than can be expected from point shooting.
A pistolero should be able to hit with his CCW out to at least 50 yards. We prefer to be able to hit out to 100 yards minimum, as far as for our staff instructor standards. Again, don't judge the world by the so-called "average standards" used by lazy instructors to foist substandard training upon you. I want to put the sights on my gun that will allow me to do get hits at long distance, because I do not need sights for close ranges.
But Suarez International is but one voice. And since many in the training field focus exclusively on the CQB aspects of the pistol, students think that is all there is. Few schools ever take their students out beyond the CQB envelop so a desire to do well in that realm takes over and weapons begin to get modified for gun school use rather than for battlefield use.
Will you be able to see your Big Dot better than your steel sights if you have old used up eyes? Sure, but hitting a target is only partly about seeing the sights, the other parts are about seeing the target itself and then indexing your sights onto it.
For a distant target here are some possible scenarios:
You can see the target but cannot see the sights or index them on the target = you will miss
You can see the target, and you can see the sights, but you cannot index them with any degree of accuracy on the target because they cover up the entire target = you will miss.
You can see the target, and you can see sights, as well as index those sights on the target with the necessary degree of accuracy = you will hit.
Miss one of the three points:
Indexing sights on the target,
..and you will miss.
If you cannot see the front sight well, you can add Big Dot sight, but if you can't index that Big Lollypop sight well on a distant target, you still won't be able to hit it. I know it is perhaps a poor analogy, but how many Big Dot sights do you see at the national level action shooting events?
Now, I can still see pretty good, but many of my students cannot, so I sought out a best answer for them. The best answer, given our modern technology, is this. If you simply cannot see the front sight at all, or have issues indexing what you can see on the target, adding a red dot optic to the pistol is the best solution. That coupled with regular glasses (not your special reading shooting glasses) that you can see the target with will solve the hitting problem discussed above.
Red dot sights allow you to see the target, plus see the dot in the same focal plane. As well, it is relatively easy to index that red dot (between 4 MOA 13 MOA) onto the target. Moreover, you immediately eliminate the need to move the visual focus back and forth between target-rear sight target front sight. All of that makes shooting very easy and hitting very easy.
To those who disdain technology I will say that our troops are almost exclusively using Red Dots of one sort or another (Aimpoints and Trijicons almost exclusively) for nearly a decade with no issues. Sure its nice to be able to use your iron sights, but if you cannot visually do that, then your only viable option, if your goal is to use the rifle to its utmost utility, is to use a red dot sight.
It is often heard to put your money where your mouth is. I do. Most of my personal rifles have red dot sights on them, and I am experimenting with adding such sights to pistols as well. Why? Because, in the realm where sights are needed, they allow you to do those things that are needed in order to hit the other guy before he hits you.