By: Jeremy Tye 9/20/19
Miniature/Micro Red Dot Sights, or MRDS, are the way of the future. There really isn’t a good argument against them these days. “They aren’t reliable”, “They are too expensive”, “I’m good enough already”, or the most popular excuse, “I tried one, it made me slower”, it’s all rubbish.
Technology has reached a point now to where we are seeing the desired/required durability, size, battery life, and holster support for most major pistol/MRDS combos. The only argument that has any truth is that the cost of the MRDS is still relatively expensive. All the others are rubbish. If you’re serious about your personal safety, or you carry a gun in a professional capacity, and you’re not thinking about getting into the MRDS game, you’re behind the power curve.
I’ll give a brief background on my shooting experience in order to put my observations and opinions in perspective. I’ve been a sworn LEO for just over 9 years now and am currently assigned to a regional task force that does pretty exciting stuff on a regular basis. I’ve got all the standard LE instructor certs for firearms and high-liability stuff (DTs / less-lethal / MACTAC) and I do a small bit of firearms instruction in the private sector. I also shoot quite a bit in the competitive arena. I hold a 92% Master classification in USPSA Single Stack and have significant experience in IDPA, Steel Challenge, Multigun/3GN/Outlaw 3-gun, and NRL precision rifle. I don’t mention this to boast, but rather just to establish that my shooting experience and perspective is pretty diverse. I carry just about 24/7/365, regardless of whether I am on the clock or not.
Now, back to the dot. I agreed to run a MRDS on a duty pistol full-time after my home agency undertook a 6-month T&E project with the goal of evaluating the suitability of a new pistol/MRDS combo as a dept-issued firearm. MRDS have made significant inroads with multiple departments, but I am unaware of any large LE agency that issues pistols with MRDS across the board, starting at the academy level. We have purchased a new pistol platform this budget cycle, and MRDS will more than likely be in the next budget cycle. The T&E program was a glowing success overall, and our instructor cadre build a great knowledge foundation to build from in the future. We wrote a pretty neat summary of the project that I hope will one day be in the public domain, as there is a lot of good info in it.
Last week while at a Frank Proctor pistol class in central CA, I broke the 15,000-round mark on my personally owned duty pistol, a FN509 Tactical that has a Trijicon RMR Type 2 RM06 mounted on it. Every round fired through the gun since I first picked it up in August 2018 has been documented in a spreadsheet, along with any maintenance performed and malfunctions observed. I have shot this pistol almost exclusively for the last year, the only exceptions being when I need to shoot my agency quals with the few other handguns I keep current in my file.
Those 15,000 rounds were shot rain and shine, day and night, square range and dynamic shoot-house live-fire. Training environment, competitive environment, range environment, and real-world environment, I used the pistol everywhere. I fired 115/124/147 FMJ from most major ammunition manufacturers, as well as a whole lot of Speer 124gr +P JHP duty ammo. I recorded two weapons malfunctions over the 15,000+ rounds.
The most immediate takeaway is that you have to be willing to commit to the dot. I am pretty competent with irons, but I didn’t feel comfortable with the RMR on my pistol until around the 2,500-round mark. From day 1 I was “good-enough” by most standards, but I took a lot of live fire, and even more dry fire, before I got to a point that I could look at a target, present the pistol, and the red dot would land right on that target without any conscious input from me. Up until I hit that point, the RMR was frustrating, as I couldn’t draw and hit an A-zone USPSA scoring zone from 15+ yards without having a measurable pause between the end of my presentation and actually breaking the shot. I was always to having refine the dot sight picture which would cost me 2/10ths or 3/10ths of a second.
Once I hit that point where the dot went where I wanted it to naturally, it opened up a whole new level of shooting performance for me. 25-yard A-zone hit from the holster, repeatedly, on demand? No problem. Tracking and engaging moving targets at distance? Easy peazy. Precision shots from compromised positions or through/around cover? No big deal. With irons, I could call my shots and generally put rounds where I wanted them to within the limitations of the front sight width. What I mean by that is, at 25 yards most tritium front sights are so wide that they obscure most of a USPSA A-zone, or most of the head on a LE qual target. So, I could call shots with about that resolution.
Now, with a dot, I can pinpoint exactly where I want that round to go. Left eye of the head target, lower right corner of the A/C border, center A-zone right where the letter A is imprinted, those calls are possible now because my sight picture is so much more precise without a wide front sight obscuring half of the target or more. I can negate that disadvantage slightly by going to a narrower front sight, .090 or .100 with a fiber optic insert along with narrowing the rear sight a tad, but those sights aren’t really suitable for duty/CCW use in my opinion.
The second major takeaway from the T&E was that not all MRDS are duty-ready, even though they were advertised as such. We had almost twenty different pistol/MRDS combos in the mix, and not all MRDS emerged from that mix successfully. I don’t want this article to devolve into a “who’s gear is better than who’s” argument, so I’m going to stay away from individual product reviews.
In general, the dots that had thicker glass housings, or a sacrificial shroud around the glass housing, showed to be far more durable than those that did not. Brightness controls that significantly protruded from the side of the dots did not last very long after repeated presentations from duty holsters, rendering the dots unserviceable. MRDS with top-loading and bottom-loading batteries were more reliable than ones with side-loading battery slots, it appeared that battery connectivity was not as positive with the side-loading slot/tray models.
All of those failures cast the concept of a pistol mounted MRDS in a negative light, but that wasn’t the case for every MRDS tested. A few brands/models came through the T&E with very favorable results. My personal pistol, the FN509T with the Trijicon RMR Type 2, experienced exactly zero failures of the dot during the course of the program. In fact, I haven’t experienced a single dot failure of any kind ever with this pistol/MRDS combo.
The only maintenance I’ve had to perform was a battery change the battery at the 1-year mark, and I occasionally clean the glass. The gun was carried in both a uniformed and plainclothes environment, as well as being carried off-duty in a CCW capacity. It also made many, many trips to the range, got banged around in the back of my truck, and it took two falls onto pavement. The rear of the pistol slide shows the damage from the falls, but the MRDS maintained zero both times. Over the course of 13 months I think my personal MRDS was exposed to just about every reasonable environment possibility, and it performed 100% in all of them.
Outside of my personal shooting experience, the T&E program tracked qualification scores for all participants. Every single shooter showed higher scores while shooting with a MRDS, especially while shooting in low light or no light. Average shot time from distance (15/20/25 yards) decreased, shot placement on target was more consistent, and the shooters were more confident at extended, “further-than-normal” distance.
Our cadre spent a few hours of one range session up on a rifle range used primarily by precision rifle guys. Hits on full-size steel targets at 100/150/200 yards were easily achieved with a little practice to establish the correct holdover for each shooter’s gun. Prior to the MRDS program, shooting steel at 200 yards consistently with a pistol was a not something I would consider realistic. With a MRDS though, I feel pretty confident in my ability to hit a full-size plate on demand from that far out. 200 yards is, admittedly, a long way, but we don’t always have a rifle with us. 200 yards is a pretty realistic engagement distance though with the proliferation of “active-shooter” events across the country in large shopping centers, outdoor entertainment events, schools, etc. That 9mm round might not hit with a whole lot of energy out that far, but it would definitely give the “bad guy” something to think about.
The last major takeaway for me from looking back on the last 13 months, and arguably the most important one, is that if you’re serious about the gun, and serious about the MRDS, you need to seek out training for BOTH. I had the benefit of shooting a few classes focused solely on pistol MRDS, and those classes were well worth the time/resources invested.
Running a MRDS effectively takes more effort than simply buying the dot, screwing it on the pistol, and taking it to the range once to zero it. Without “stealing the thunder” from those instructors whose courses I was able to shoot, the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” is pretty applicable to shooting a MRDS if you haven’t been exposed to it before. I thought I knew what I was doing with a MRDS right off the bat since I had some pretty valid skills with my irons, but shooting those classes illustrated the subtle but important differences when it comes to shooting the dot vs. the irons.
Since making that commitment to the dot, I have learned how to become faster and more accurate at the same time. I feel much more confident taking shots at longer distances and compromised positions. The MRDS allows me to take in more visual information and make precise shots that simply aren’t possible with a pistol wearing “defensive” sights. Yes, the dot is expensive, and it’s doubly expensive if you don’t currently have a gun capable of mounting one. Yes, running a MRDS requires some training and range time. It’s a commitment in time and money. In my mind though the juice is absolutely worth the squeeze, and I won’t buy another duty pistol that isn’t capable of mounting a MRDS.
Jeremy is an active duty LEO in the Southwest US, currently assigned to a regional task force.
His instructor certifications include firearms (patrol carbine/pistol/shotgun/SPR), defensive tactics, less-lethal, and MACTAC. He holds a Master classification in USPSA Single Stack, and has also competed in IDPA, Steel Challenge, 3-gun/Multigun/3GN, and various other outlaw events. Jeremy is currently concentrating on precision rifle matches and has earned several Top-LE awards at national-level events.