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Tactics & Training

Red Dots on Handguns

by Dave Spaulding   |  November 16th, 2010 0

Are red dots the future of combat pistol sights?


Caspian made a special Glock slide that allowed the Trijicon red-dot sight to sit low enough on the slide so the author could still acquire the pistol’s front sight.

Anyone who thinks you can just fling a handgun forward, chase down the front sight and get a fast and accurate shot is naive at best. The problem with pistol sights is that they are relatively small, and if the color of the front sight blends with the color of the target, especially under duress, front sight focus is all but impossible.

Black-on-black sights are good for competition, where the shooter knows where and what color the target will be, but in a gunfight you will likely have to seek out your opponent, get the gun on him or her and then hold sight alignment while you shoot quickly. And they might just be shooting back at you, too.

So in a highly stressful situation such as this-—when you need to be able accomplish the “eye sprint” necessary to accomplish all of the above—imagine the difficulty of aligning a black sight on, say, a black T-shirt.

This is why I like fluorescent orange front sights. Orange is the color our society uses to draw attention to things such as traffic cones, hunting vests, warning signs, traffic control devices and the like. Other people like lime green or white. I really don’t care; use what works for you.

But wouldn’t it be good to have a sight system that would allow you to superimpose the sights on the target and still be able to maintain focus on the threat? A sight system that is simple, easy to use and also reliable?

We already have such sights for long guns via the Trijicon Reflex, Aimpoint Red Dot and EO Tech holographic sights. What such sights will do is eliminate the debate over point shooting versus sighted fire by giving shooters a sighted index that can be placed on target without changing the visual plane.

For the past year I’ve had a red dot sight on my carry pistol. Since I made this addition to my carry gun, a number of companies have introduced compact red dot sights, mostly intended for long guns.

This new generation of red dots is being used in conjunction with magnified optics to give the shooter both long- and short-distance sighting options. Thus, many of these optics do not have a rear sight notch built in.

One of the few that does is the Trijicon Red Dot, which is used on the company’s ACOG and has metal protrusions that protect the sight if it’s dropped. While visiting at the Trijicon plant, I spoke with production manager Myles Waterman about mounting a red dot on my gun for an experiment.

Myles agreed that it would be interesting and supplied me with a compact red dot and a factory mount for my Glock 19. I used the mount when I first added the sight to my pistol but later decided that it was a bad move as I would have no fixed-sight backup in the event the sight was broken or failed. I needed to get the sight lower on the slide.

I contacted Gary Smith at Caspian Arms and explained to him what I was trying to do, and he agreed to help. The sight was shipped off to Caspian, and a special Glock 19 slide was manufactured to sink the red dot so that the rear sight notch would line up with the Glock front sight. A flat black front sight was used instead of my normal orange front as I did not want it to visually conflict with the red dot. After all, the only reason I would be using the irons would be if the dot failed.


The folks at Caspian did a beautiful job on the slide. The sight sat deep into the slide and was solidly mounted in place using the two screws supplied for the mount. Caspian had drilled and tapped two holes for these screws, which were held in place with Loc-Tite.

I then began a year of carrying, teaching, shooting and trying to abuse this sight in every way I could, in all kinds of weather. I stopped just short of dropping it on a hard surface upside down because I realized early on that the sight would not stand up to this as it has a plastic housing.

Were there problems? Yes. The screen used to project the red dot chipped when ejected casings occasionally hit it. However, these chips did not affect my ability to use the red dot, nor did they obscure my vision. The other problem I had was the screen would fog on cold days when I brought it into a warm building. I tried a number of different fog-proofing compounds but in the end decided common saliva was the way to go. A quick lick of the thumb wiped over the sight solved the problem.

The sight fit most holsters, with the exception of the Safariland ALS, which features a rotating-hood retention device. The red dot keeps the retention device from rotating fully forward due to the sight’s height above slide.The Speed Advantage

On the positive side, the red dot is very fast on target, resulting in some outstanding plate rack runs and El Presidente drills. I also used the slide with Simunitions and found that it worked very well during interactive training. If the gun could be brought to the eye/target line, the sight could be referenced—even under the duress imposed by simulated combat.

I spoke with Kelly McCann of the Crucible training school, who has been using a compact red dot on his Glock for a number of years. He told me he has been very satisfied with the sight system, and he said he has never had to re-zero his, nor has it lost battery power.

As far as field use is concerned, I was only able to find one case in which a red dot has been used in actual combat. An intelligence officer in Afghanistan had a J Point sight mounted on his Glock 21 .45 when the convoy he was riding in came under attack.

He had to leave his vehicle, and when he did he fell down a steep grade, tumbling end over end. When he looked up, there was an insurgent standing at the top of the hill with an AK-47, so he pulled his Glock and fired several shots, killing his assailant. After the situation stabilized, he realized that not only had his J Point sight survived the fall, he’d been able to use it to save his life. Good stuff to know.

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