Iron Sights Vs. Pistol Mounted Red Dot Sights
Written by Steve Moses,
in Section Latest Articles
It is typically bad form for a writer to state his conclusions regarding a certain subject at the beginning of an article. Regardless, I am doing it anyway. I do not own a Pistol Mounted Red Dot Sight (“PMRDS”), I have not subjected a PMRDS to any meaningful testing whatsoever, and I have no intention at this time to purchase a PMRDS. I am also not opposed to the use of the PMRDS by concealed carriers.
For the most part, violent criminal actors dictate at what distances a typical concealed carrier can expect to fire his or her handgun in self-defense. According to information provided to students of respected Rangemaster firearms trainer Tom Givens during his outstanding Three-Day Firearms Instructor Development and Certification course, the average distances between an armed criminal attacker and his or her intended (and armed) victim which gunfire involved was as follows:
Federal Bureau of Investigation (1989-1994): 6-10 feet
Drug Enforcement Administration (2007 report): 14.6 feet
Rangemaster Students (62 incidents through 2015): 6-15 feet
In order to put this into perspective, an average car is about 16 feet in length. I believe that the PMRDS offers no meaningful advantage over iron sights (assuming a highly visible iron front sight like the Ameriglo Pro-Glo tritium front sight with orange or green outlines) at these distances for most shooters, even those who struggle with presbyopia. Taking this a step further, the PMRDS may very well put the poorly-trained concealed carrier at a disadvantage simply because they have not invested the time to learn some of the nuances of properly aligning the PMRDS at speed, and find themselves unable to locate the dot and then position it on their attacker under extreme stress.
While I was not willing to conduct a comparison test by investing money into either milling the slide of my Gen 5 Glock 19 or buying an aftermarket slide already set up for a PMRDS, much less spending the kind of coin it would take to purchase a quality electronic red dot sight like the Trijicon RMR, I was most willing to call my long-time friend HANY MAHMOUD and coerce him into testing my theories using his time, guns, and ammunition. Hany is a firearms instructor at the Tarrant County College Police Academy in Fort Worth, Texas. He has a MA degree in criminal justice and is well-known for both his law enforcement and private sector teaching abilities and his outstanding shooting skills (as evidenced by his 3rd place overall win in the 2019 Tactical Conference competition in a division that included shooters such as Wayne Dobbs, Gabe White, Spencer Keepers, and Massad Ayoob). He has been a Texas peace officer for 20 years and has served in various capacities, including chief deputy, firearms training officer, and commander of a multi-precinct Special Response Team in one of the most populated counties in Texas.
As a full-time firearms instructor, Hany shoots thousands upon thousands of handgun rounds every year, and he is no one-trick pony wedded to a specific type of handgun or sighting systems. I asked him to shoot two nearly identical Glock 17s side-by-side and specified that they both have similar triggers and identical ammunition, with the sole major difference being that one had iron sights and the other a PMRDS (in this case, a Trijicon RMR). I even went so far as to specify the tests, which were as follows:
The Larry Vickers Half Test (“Half Test”) shot on a B-8 Bullseye target at 5 yards. Shooter must fire ten rounds from the holster in five seconds. A score of 90 or above is considered very good.
The 15-yard stage of the Hardwired Tactical Super Test (“Super Test”) also shot on a B-8 Bullseye target. Shooter must fire ten rounds from the holster in fifteen seconds. A score of 90 or above is considered very good.
We both agreed in advance that this would not be an exhaustive test where he would shoot the drills multiple times so we could get an average of scores in order in order to conclude as to which sighting system was superior. I told Hany that I wanted to know the following:
What was the total score on each drill?
What was the time on each drill?
What were his impressions as to the pros and cons of each sighting system at both 5 and 15 yards?
The results were as follows:
Glock 17 with Dawson black rear sight and fiber-optic front sight.
Half Test: Score of 100 in 3.38 seconds.
Super Test: Score of 92 in 11.58 seconds.
Glock 17 with Agency Arms slide and Trijicon RMR:
Half Test: Score of 100 in 3.72 seconds.
Super Test: Score of 99 in 13.10 seconds.
Hany stated that he felt he had performed close to the best of his ability on all four stages with no called flyers or bobbles. He said that these tests simply confirmed what he had already come to believe. At short distances there was no advantage to the PMRDS and that it was slightly harder for him to track when shooting at high speed. At the longer distances there was a decided advantage in favor of the PMRDS. He emphatically noted that it was markedly easier to make slight sight corrections just prior to pressing the trigger with the dot than with the iron sights.
My thoughts on the PMRDS for concealed carriers is that with the features of some of the great new PMRDS models coming out like the Trijicon SRO and Aimpoint ACRO that there is soon going to be something for everyone. While I think concealed carriers should think long and hard about proactively engaging an active shooter in public, this distances at which this could very well take place would likely favor the use of the PMRDS. Please note that there is a distinct learning curve when it comes to using a PMRDS, and it is not uncommon for even experienced shooters to find themselves searching for the red dot when they bring the pistol up to the shooting plane (a more-or-less imaginary straight line between the eye and the desired target).
I recently picked up my business partner’s Glock 19 bearing a Trijicon RMR and shot the Five-Yard Roundup drill with it cold and found myself outside of my comfort zone on some of the rapid-fire stages. Advocates of the PMRDS might correctly point out that I lack formal training with that sighting system, which is exactly my point. Concealed carriers who are unable or unwilling to invest in formal training followed by practicing are likely to experience the same thing as me.
I think it is entirely up to the concealed carrier to decide whether iron sights or the PMRDS is right for them. One huge plus in favor of the PMRDS is that may be the only way to go for some concealed carriers who have significant vision issues. At the risk of being redundant, I do think that is important to understand that going the PMRDS route will require significant practice before it can be used as well as highly visible iron sights at the distances most deadly force encounters take place, and that most concealed carriers would benefit from training under a qualified instructor.
This article first appeared on CCW Safe By Steve Moses