By Chris B.
As I write this I am seated comfortably in a coffee shop taking a break from the work I should be doing this Sunday afternoon and thinking about my EDC and a recent article written by TTAG’s Nick Leghorn. After reading the article and various comments, I get the feeling that a lot of people might be dismissing something that really works for me: red dots on pistols. The concept has truly helped me get back to where I once was as a shooter. In addition, I have found the system to be reliable and compact enough to make it part of my everyday carry . . .
If I were to take my glasses off right now, I could not read the Word document I’m typing. But even if your eyes aren’t that bad, each year you spend on Earth will take some of the crispness out of your sight picture. Two years ago, as a result of my coming to grips with this conundrum, I decided to take the financial and logistical plunge of putting a Trijicon dual illuminated RMR on my carry pistol, a Gen 3 GLOCK 35.
I ended up really loving the end result and carried it in the appendix position with a Seraphim Holster from Dale Frike. I ran it though a few classes. I ran the gun in the rain, in the mud, and in snow. I never had any issues with reliability, the sight, or finding the dot under pressure. I did, however, have a few issues with the G35 being a long-ass gun and chambered in .40 cal.
My issues with it being a long gun related to the fact that carrying it around all day in the appendix position meant it stuck into my groin in an uncomfortable manner from time to time. My issue with .40 caliber was that I was sacrificing ammo capacity for a round that ultimately wasn’t offering me much more than a 9mm in practical downrange ballistics.
So wanting a shorter gun and not wanting to go lower than a 15-round magazine, I switched to a GLOCK 19. I was sold on the RMR by that point, so I put on on a One Source Tactical slide and carry it in a Raven Concealment Eidolon holster. I haven’t looked back.
My PHLSTR IWB GLOCK Mag carrier worked just fine transitioning from a Glock 22/35 mag to the Glock 19/17 magazines I was carrying as a reload. Add my Surefire Backup Light, and a Spyderco fixed blade called the Reverse, and you have my EDC.
It all carries on my belt line with a Volund Gearworks Atlas G-Hook belt. With a variety of untucked shirts or sweatshirts depending on the weather, I can conceal it pretty much anywhere, anytime. In addition to all the stuff on my belt, I still carry a small non-threatening pocket knife to do menial things and not scare the timid souls in my area.
I can clean Ken Hackathon’s Wizard Drill without issue. I can consistently make headshots out to 25 yards off hand. This isn’t to brag. I know plenty of shooters who use iron sights who can eat my lunch any day of the week on the range. It’s just that I have objectively looked at my old times and my current times with irons vs. red dot and found that I have lost nothing up close and gained precision and accuracy at distance under the same time constraints. I feel a large part of that has to do with being able to see the dot better than I can see the sights.
So when I read Nick’s article, I took pause and thought a little bit about what he said. What he says makes perfect sense. After reading the article and watching the video posted with it, I thought about what I carry and how I carry and how that might have made my transition to red dots a lot easier than I realized.
First off, my gun is set up with the slide milled out and irons that allow me to co-witness. The RMR is positioned toward the rear of the slide. When I draw I find the front sight during my draw process, and as I go through the process of aligning my sights I pick up the dot as the front sight begins to align with the rear sight. As that happens I just switch to the dot and drive on. So long as the pistol is at full presentation, I don’t have any issues. If I pull back to a compressed or low ready, I just repeat the process of picking up my front sight again as I push out and hand off again as the pistol gets close to full extension.
Gabe has a video that explains it. I know a lot of people here at TTAG may not appreciate all of his views on firearms and personal defense. That said, he’s been working with and writing about red dots on pistols for longer than most. And he’s not the only one. Steve Fischer of Sentinel Concepts says something very similar.
My pistol is set up to help me out. The KE Arms GLOCK that Nick was shooting has an Aimpoint tube forward mounted. This might make it little harder to use the front sight hand off technique I was described above. The tube of the Aimpoint may obstruct picking up the front sight as the tube is forward mounted and appears from what I can tell to block the sight until you are looking through the tube. In addition, an RMR and an Aimpoint T1 don’t weigh the same. Slide mounting one vs. the other does not mean you’ll get similar reliability. Also forward mounting an optic may create a different set of reliability issues altogether. It is hard to tell. But all this combined might have accounted for some of the reliability issues Nick was facing in addition to having trouble picking up the sight.
Aside from pistol setup, I was watching Nick draw. I watched him over and over actually. Admitting that I’m only watching one iteration and that I could be completely wrong, I think I see a fundamental difference in between how Nick draws and how I draw. It comes down to where the front sight is in relation to the rear sight as we begin to level the pistol out while driving the gun to target.
My front sight is above my rear sight when I start to push out. Nick’s seems to start out below it (Look at the six second mark of the video to see what I mean). I have cut and pasted a diagram below with my limited paint shop capabilities to illustrate this point.
Essentially, when I draw I end up orienting the muzzle up at the beginning of the process of pushing the pistol out to the target. I did not realize I was doing it until I was at a class with the aforementioned Pat McNamara. When coaching some of the students on ways to improve their draw, he mentioned that he found orienting the pistol slightly muzzle up during the press out allowed him to better acquire the front sight and have a faster hit. If you watch this clip from Pat’s Panteo DVD you can see what it looks like. His draw stroke is in the 37th second [NSFW language].
After he said it, I realized I had been doing that already for some time. When I tried doing it the other way, I realized that I was chasing my front sight once I got onto the target. Thinking back to when I started drawing from a holster, I realized I had had this problem early on. Eventually, through trial and error I got faster at picking up the front sight. However it was not until I switched how I carried the pistol that my presentation improved drastically. After the fact I realized that by changing from strong side to appendix carry, I changed the way I drew the pistol and in essence was changing the way I oriented my sights during the push out.
For an excellent discussion of how all this works, I will refer you to the late Todd Louis Green’s amazing website, pistol-training.com. http://pistol-training.com/archives/9323 If you watch the video from Todd, who also carried appendix, you’ll see in a slightly more exaggerated fashion how the muzzle and thus the front sight is oriented slightly up allowing the shooter to lower it down “into” the rear sight. If you watch the Range Time video (for those of you who don’t like Range Time over the whole Stolen Valor thing, I get it, but the video illustrates a point) with Travis Haley and Ron Avery, you can see that they do it differently. Todd’s article points out the differences between the two methods in an articulate and thoughtful manner. For my part, I am not saying one is right and the other is wrong.
Instead, I have come to realize that by chance when I transitioned to a red dot on my pistol, I had already inadvertently changed my draw stroke by changing to appendix carry. Mechanically with appendix carry, it just seems to work out that when you support hand comes up to meet the pistol your muzzle is going to be slightly up as opposed to slightly down. This allowed me to drop my front sight into the rear sight. While this seems like a minute detail, I think it has some significant implications when trying to run a red dot on your pistol. For one thing if you have properly sighted in the optic, the dot will follow the muzzle. The optic housing is in many ways like windshield of your car: when you look out you can only see what is above the hood. In this case, the dot is being projected wherever the muzzle is oriented. If it’s below the line of sight or “below the hood” you will not find it quickly. If however it is above the line of sight you will be able to pick it up almost without trying. I’ve included some pictures to illustrate this.
When I try drawing my red dot from a strong side holster, I feel like there is a slight delay. I think that is because strong side draw does not immediately lend itself (at least for me) to muzzle up orientation during the press out. Looking back at some of the proponents of red dots on pistols, it seems like some of the most vocal are also strong advocates for appendix carry. After thinking more about red dots on pistols this does not surprise me. Looking at Nick’s draw, I think I can see he is slightly more muzzle down than level or up when his pistol is coming to his line of sight (check the 6 second mark). As a result, he may be having a harder time than necessary when it comes to dot acquisition.
So with all that rambling on my part, I think that there are a lot of good reasons that people may have been less than satisfied with their first attempts at slide mounted red dots on pistols. I think there is a learning curve, but I do not think it is as steep as some people would think. I do think there is a need to look at one’s draw stroke or presentation from the ready position. In addition there is a need to look at the pistol you have on hand with said red dot and look for visual index points you can acquire as you are pushing the pistol out to help you pick up the dot quickly.
I know red dots on carry/ non-competition pistols aren’t for everyone. The tech is still being developed for one thing. The positioning of the dot on the slide is still being worked out. The best choice of optic is still in debate. As a result, putting a red dot on your pistol isn’t for the financially challenged. I acknowledge that in many ways it is a luxury item. It was a good expenditure for me, but an RMR costs about as much as a GLOCK 19. Also, depending on how you present the pistol, it may not work as well for you as it does for others. All that said, if you’re willing to spend the coin and assess your draw stroke and presentation, you may find it to be well worth your time and money. I have.