Mini red-dot sights (MRDS) have been around for some time in sport shooting and competition arenas but have only recently been seriously considered for personal defense on concealed carry firearms.
Durability and battery life were two of the major hinderances to their use in critical situations. Currently, both issues have been sufficiently addressed to allow their overall acceptance on semi-automatic handguns and, in some instances, even revolvers. As a firearms instructor, you must have more than a cursory knowledge of what the MRDS is designed for, how it is intended to be used, who might benefit from having one on a carry gun and why an MRDS would or wouldn’t suit a student’s needs.
Simply put, the MRDS is an alternative sighting system that can deliver a speed and accuracy advantage over the conventional iron sights found on most handguns. They can be used as a stand-alone sight system, mainly for the sport shooter, or in concert with iron sights, which is recommended for the personal-defense shooter. For self-defense, a firearm should always have backup iron sights in case of electronic failure.
As a firearms instructor, you must have more than a cursory knowledge of what the MRDS is designed for, how it is intended to be used, who might benefit from having one on a carry gun and why an MRDS would or wouldn’t suit a student’s needs.
The fact that there is only one sight component — the dot — to align rather than the front and rear components of standard iron sights simplifies speed and accuracy. Keep in mind that dot brightness is an individual preference for speed and accuracy in the prevailing light condition, making experimentation necessary for optimum performance. Those who experience challenges with focal distances generally benefit from using MRDS.
These sights are by no means right for everyone though. A color-blind individual might be unable to see the red dot at its brightest setting in any light condition. The size of the gun with the MRDS may not fit the size needs of the individual carrier, or the platform may just not be well-suited to MRDS use. Recognizing and addressing such factors will provide firearms instructors solid foundations upon which to build comprehensive training programs for the MRDS.
A major consideration when you’re adding to an existing gun or transitioning to a new gun equipped with an MRDS is how the gun’s sights are configured. It is absolutely essential that a personal-defense pistol have backup iron sights that co-witness with the red dot in the MRDS or align in such a way as to both be sighted in on the same point of impact. This provides a safety net for the operator just in case the MRDS is affected by “Murphy’s Law” and fails just when called to duty. This is unlikely to happen if the battery is changed as per the manufacturer’s recommendation, but these kinds of things do come to pass.
A major front-end benefit of co-witnessed backup iron sights is assisting the shooter when he or she is getting familiar with the MRDS. Initially, the iron sights assist the transitioning shooter since a first-time user of the MRDS sometimes experiences difficulty locating the red dot on the screen and then getting it on target. More often than not, this makes his or her first-shot capability slower than with his or her more familiar iron sights and can poison the well as far as attitude goes.
The biggest complaint for many new to the MRDS is that the red dot always seems to be in the top of the screen or even higher when they draw to a target. There are two simple ways to overcome this deficiency, and they can be combined or used independently.
As firearms instructors, we have to be adaptable to progress, especially with products as popular as MRDS. They are valuable tools in the world of putting shots where they need to be as quickly as possible.
The first is primarily visual in nature. By using the backup iron sights as a reference for getting the muzzle on target, the co-witnessed red dot comes into view during the draw and presentation. This makes it easier to visually pick up the dot and get it on the target using techniques the student already possesses. In short order, the primary focus will transition from the iron sights to the red dot, leaving the iron sights as a coarse, secondary point of reference in the student’s visual field.
The second method is more of a tactile execution of spatial awareness. This is done by practicing the draw to the target slowly enough to get the “feel” (position) of the arms and hands in relation to the eyes necessary to get the dot on the target as quickly and easily as possible. Doing this dry at first is beneficial because it isolates the action to only what is visually necessary to get the dot on the target. By training on just this set of motions, the shooter is conditioning the body to respond naturally and automatically, which will put the gun on target expediently.
Once the dry work is satisfactory — once the student can get the dot on the target without having to search for it — live fire can follow, and the remaining fine-tuning of technique will naturally occur as the student sends bullets into targets.
Here to Stay
One distinct advantage to the MRDS is that it allows an operator to look at a target as he or she superimposes the dot over the area of intended impact. As long as a shooter sees the dot on the target, whether focusing on the dot or the target, hits will occur.
To be fair, there are multiple schools of thought as to where the eye should be focused, and both have merit. Of course a student should be keeping both eyes open and maintaining awareness of his or her surroundings, but he or she also has to land hits while doing so. From a tactical perspective, focusing on the desired point of impact while superimposing the red dot on that area as the trigger is pulled makes a lot of sense.
As firearms instructors, we have to be adaptable to progress, especially with products as popular as MRDS. They are valuable tools in the world of putting shots where they need to be as quickly as possible. Regardless of whether you pride yourself on being “old school” or how you feel about battery-operated sighting systems, MRDS are here to stay and have earned a well-deserved place at the table in the constantly evolving personal-defense community.