Carry Optics – Time to Find the Dot! 

Set up and training with your first carry optic handgun.

A repost from the Tactical Journal.

So you have decided to put an optic on that pistol and try the new carry optics divisions in IDPA and USPSA.  If you have never shot the division before, or played with an “open” gun in USPSA then I warn you, it is addictive!  And for those of you seasoned shooter that might be pushing past forty year of age…well the dot makes your dreams come true because you can see it!  Unless those pesky iron sights that continue to get fuzzier each passing day.  So this article will give you some guidance on making the decision, setting up, and training with your first carry optic.  

Dot or not?  That is the question!  And for some of you the decision might be rooted in the fact that you carry a gun on a daily basis that does NOT have an optic on it.  Should you consider competing with one?  And will competing with one hurt your self-defense skills? In short, no.  There are actually some great benefits from training with an optic sighted pistol, and I was once given a recommendation from a top shooter that if I really wanted to take my game to the next level, I should consider shooting open division for a year.  I followed his advice, and learned from the experience.  Of course, if you do decide to compete with an optic then make sure you are spending adequate time training with your iron sighted carry gun as well.

Before we talk about how shooting a dot might improve your shooting, I’d like to give you a few tips on setting up your carry optics gun.  Here are some things you might consider:

The new C&H DMO (direct mount optic)
  1. Consider a milled out slide versus a dovetail or plate mounting solution.  Keep in mind that the closer the dot in the optic is to where the top of your front sight would be, the easier it will be to find the dot quickly.  Think about it for a second, you find your iron sights by driving them into your eye/target line.  An optic that sits higher in relation to your irons will force you to lower the gun slightly, which of course will cause you to have to learn a slightly different gun position.  That is the main reason shooters have a hard time finding the dot when switching over.  So, if possible, spend the money on a slide where the optic is mounted as low as possible.
  2. Which dot to choose?  That is a tricky question.  I have no financial stake in the optic game, but would certainly recommend you focus on reliability first.  I have recently used several optics such as the Leupod Delta Point Pro, and Holosun 507C, and C&H line of direct mount optics (DMO) and they all worked great.  But, I have also had failures with both the plates (specifically the MOS system on the Glock) and a few optics. One thing that I do like about the Holosun is that the reticles can be changed with a four second hold of a button.  This makes the sight exceptional as a “training wheel” type optic where you can switch from a 2MOA dot to a 2MOA dot surrounded by a larger reticle which is much easier to find inside the scopes window. 
An old RMR milled into the slide on one of the first guns I owned with a slide mounted optic.

So what will shooting an optic teach you?  Well, to put it bluntly, the dot movement will shock you if you have not trained with one before.  It will show you when, and how much your gun is moving during recoil, as well as what it does when you move.  Here are some things you might notice, which will help you fine tune your training and skills:

  • The dot will definitively show you how your gun moves during recoil.  You might find that the dot actually leaves the scope window when you fire a shot, and you will also be able to easier observe how the dot moves.  My goal in recoil control (one or two handed) is to A. minimize the upward movement of the muzzle, and B. attempt to get the gun to return to the same spot as quickly as possible.  Watching your dot while you shoot and tweak your grip pressure/placement is a great way to fine tune your grip. 
  • The dot will show you any pre-ignition movement of the gun.  The bottom line is that we ALL move the gun pretty much all the time as we are firing it.  The best shooters simply move the gun less, thus increasing their accuracy.  The dot will very clearly show you this movement so you can practice minimizing it. It simply magnifies the movement and makes it easier to see.  Have a pre-ingition “flinch?”  I guarantee your dot will show it to you. 
  • The dot will show you how your gun moves while you are moving.  The key to shooting faster overall stage times is to have the gun in place and ready to shoot when you are entering positions.  Training with a dot will help show you exactly how the gun moves as you enter positions and extend the handgun.  Training with a open gun years ago helped me smooth out my movements a bunch, eliminating any wasted time.

Changing over from iron sights to an optic will not be especially hard if you put a tiny bit of effort into it.  You will find that your one-handed shooting is probably going to be the most challenging in terms of finding the dot.  Here are some tips:

  • Instead of extending the gun and trying to find the dot, try reversing that.  Point the gun at the target with a firing grip, and reverse the gun in the opposite direction you extended it, paying attention to what area the dot disappears in the scope as you “unbuild” your grip.  That way you will know where the dot will be coming from as you extend the gun. 
  • Try it with your eyes closed!  Do this: extend the gun for ten repetitions from about six inches from full extension to full extension.  Pay attention to how the dot enters the widow and how the gun “feels” in your hand.  Try to “feel” where it is pointed.  Now compress the gun and practice extending the gun the same way with your eyes closed and try to get the gun in exactly the same place it was by feel.  Open your eyes and see where the dot is.  These exercises will help you find the dot by feel, which is important if you want to find it fast. 
  • Lastly, when you go to the range and begin to shoot live fire, repeat the same drills.  When shooting, pay particular attention to how the dot tracks, and attempt to improve that tracking and recovery with single shot recoil control drills.  One of my favorite drills is called the Extend, Prep, and Press Drill.  It is very simple yet will teach you a bunch.  Load up a magazine and begin the drill from where your support hand indexes under the trigger guard during the grip building process.  Then extend the gun, prep and press the trigger and watch how the dot tracks.  Not bring the gun back and repeat that over and over again, varying the pressure on the grip of the handgun in different manners in an attempt to improve the dot tracking and recovery.  

So there you have it, some thoughts on setting up your carry optic gun, what you will learn from training with a dot, and some considerations on changing over from iron sights to a dot.  I think if you take the leap, you will have tons of fun, and I promise will learn a thing or two that will improve your shooting!  Take the leap!

Until Then – Train Hard!

Mike S

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