Love him or hate him, Gabe Suarez is a pioneer in the use, promotion, and sale of red dot sights on pistols. I had a chance to see the slides and slide/sight packages Suarez International sells when I spent a couple of hours at Suarez International before my visit to Gunsite in June.
So one of the things I was looking forward to most when I returned to Prescott last week to observe a Suarez International Pistol Gunfighting School was shooting a pistol with a red dot sight.
I am just an average marksman and not a gun hardware guy, so take these as the initial thoughts of a normal shooter.
(If you want more rigorous thinking on the topic, Karl Rehn has undertaken a systematic study of red dots on pistols in comparison to other sighting systems, and Aaron Cowan of Sage Dynamics released a white paper earlier this year.)
My first time shooting with the red dot was when the class was shooting torso size targets at 60 yards. I was just observing but one of the students, Tom, handed me his Glock 19 with Suarez slide and Trijicon RMR and said, “Try it.” So I did.
Right away I was able to hit the target more than I missed. And when I settled down and used the fundamentals of marksmanship (good stance, sight acquisition, breathing, smooth trigger press, and follow through), I could hit the target most of the time.
Of course, so could the guy next to me, the best shooter in the class, using a Glock 17 with stock sights and trigger.
The good shooters with iron sights were good shooters; the average shooters with red dots were average shooters.
The importance of basic marksmanship skills was again brought home to me again later when I borrowed one of Suarez International’s Glock 19s with their slide and barrel and a Trijicon RMR. I shot it at various size, shape, and distance steel targets on the second range.
Although I could hit a torso sized target from 60 yards on Friday, on Sunday I was unable to hit a 10″ target at 60 yards. It is still a pistol after all.
No doubt some practice with the red dot would make certain challenges easier to deal with. I was able to acquire my sights and make hits from 10 yards as fast with my Glock 43 as with the red dot Glock 19. But I could transition from target to target a bit more quickly with the red dot.
Also, it takes a while to get used to the red dot jumping around on the target due to natural body movement. That was distracting at first and led me to make some bad trigger presses because I wanted to send the rounds while I had the dot steady even if I was not ready.
So, crazy or not? Based on my initial experience, I don’t think it is crazy at all. Especially within the system Suarez teaches — point shooting in reactive situations at close range and more precise shooting in proactive situations and at longer distances — the red dot makes sense.
What is crazy is thinking that someone with poor marksmanship skills will instantly become a better shooter due to this technology. And even if a red dot can cover some aspects of poor marksmanship, as an electronic device its chance of failing is greater than zero. So it behooves shooters to be proficient with their iron sights.
To be sure, at first blush it is easy to say that a red dot is crazy EXPENSIVE, but in thinking about the value of your life, it’s hard to say what is crazy expensive. If a red dot on a pistol + training + practice makes you better shooter, that could be a great bargain if you need to be a good shooter some day.