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The Mental Mechanics Behind Red Dot Pistol Sights


Shooting Illustrated by Serena Juchnowski 9/14/2022

Red dot pistol sights can be an incredibly useful addition to your defensive pistol, but they take some time to master.

Experts Weigh In On Red Dot Pistol Sights

Buck Buckner, U.S. Director of Training for Aimpoint, has been using red dots for decades through his experience in the military. “If you focus on the dot,” he said, “you are giving away one of its chief biological advantages…threat focus.”

This made me think. In a defensive situation, it makes most sense to focus on the threat at hand, not to look away. Focusing on the sights makes everything else disappear. While great in competitive shooting, this lack of situational awareness can make a bad situation worse. It isn’t an illusion red dots are often easier to use — in fact, they are superior under stress. “They complement our biology,” Buckner said, “particularly under stress. They make us work less, and give our brain an easier path to a more efficient solution…which is what we are always looking for. If you have one and are working as hard as you were with Irons…you aren’t using it right.” Buckner also noted that simplifying sights leaves room for decision making.

Threat Focused or Target Focused?

This opinion isn’t unique to Buckner. Steve Fisher has been a consultant for red-dot manufacturers for several decades. He noted that red-dot pistol sights give the user less to think about visually, allowing more information to be gathered elsewhere. “The person using the red dot no longer has to focus on 3 to 4 things,” Fisher said. “Now only one focus.” Since irons require utmost focus on the sights, many people will shift their view between the threat and the sights. Red dot pistol sights allow the user to do what’s natural, look at the threat and superimpose the dot over what they see.

While threat focus is a huge advantage to red dots, Fisher also noted that they allow for shooting in reduced light and better accuracy for those with eyesight issues. On the downside, red dots require more maintenance than iron sights and can fail. Open emitter red dots especially can fall victim to environmental factors.



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