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        An Argument for Always-On Red Dots

        An Argument for Always-On Red Dots

        Imagine this: 

        You’re sound asleep in your bed, dreaming about how you’re going to bring your brand new shake awake optic back to the range tomorrow. Earlier this afternoon, you mounted it on your EDC pistol and had it zeroed at 25 yards. Every round you fired hit dead center with your new red dot’s reticle. As far as you’re concerned, it’s a great investment. Not only is it deadly accurate but you’ll be saving your battery power with your new shake awake sight. In fact, before you turned off the lights and went to sleep, you gave it a goodnight kiss before turning it off and mounting it on your bedside rack. 

        The sound of a vase crashing onto your downstairs living room floor rouses you from your sleep. You don’t have a cat. Still drowsy, you reach for your bedside pistol and rack the slide. 

        You hear footsteps coming up the stairs and stand in the corner of the room closest to the door, you hold your weapon at the low ready, psyching yourself up to ambush whatever comes through the door. Your head is throbbing, your heart is pounding through your chest. 

        The door swings open and a figure in a dark hoodie bursts through your door. You have the drop on him. You raise your weapon– the dot isn’t there. For a split second, you remember that you manually turned off your red dot, rendering the shake awake useless. Before you know it, it’s game over. 


        Complacency is one of the problems with shake awake optics. Most modern variants with this system require that they be left on to naturally “go to sleep” after a period of motionlessness, and some new shake awake users forget that the power button is there for a reason. These people make the dangerous assumption that the optic will wake up every time they pick up their weapon. Even if a user follows the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, the complexity of the shake awake system is just another thing that can go wrong. The shake awake can also activate on a bumpy road or if you walk down the street with your weapon in your holster, so for EDC situations, there’s little difference between it and a traditional always-on red dot. 

        A shooter serious about self defense knows that every second he spends fiddling with components is another second he’s wasting on not reacting to the threat. A good optic should be grab-and-go, and the simplicity and long battery life of always-on optic will ensure that your optic will be ready when you are. 

        Shooters looking for a red dot will invariably be concerned about their optic’s battery life. Some skeptical users might judge a red dot billed as having 500 – 100,000 hours of battery life to only be reliable for a week. This would be an accurate assumption if they always kept their red dots on their highest power. 

        A high-intensity red dot in a dark room becomes hard to aim because of the reticle’s “splash.” A red dot on lower settings not only uses less battery power but also provides a clearer reticle. Those with astigmatism or poor eyesight may complain of blooming or split reticles on their red dot optics, but on low power the dot becomes a clear and well-defined circle.  

        A shooter can turn his weapon’s red dot on, adjust it to a lower setting, and leave it ready to go in his car on by his bedside for a year or more. This is especially true if the optic in question is a Mini Shot M-Spec Solar. It combines a CR1620 battery with its integrated solar panels to get 20,000 continuous hours of battery life on middle brightness. A shooter is more likely to spend more on gun oil than he would changing out his optic’s $1 battery every two years. Even in optics without solar power, the Sightmark Wolverine has a battery life of one million hours on low. In 114 years, this optic may still have battery power even after the soul of its owner has long departed the earth. 

        Having an always-on red dot becomes one less thing to fumble with when you have to engage targets at a moment’s notice. If battery consumption is still an issue, Sightmark’s red dots with adaptive reticles such as the Mini Shot A-Spec M3 Micro as well as the M-Spec M2 and M3 Solar models intensify or lower the brightness of their reticles based on exterior lighting. This means its high settings will only be used on the brightest of days while in the majority of cases, shooters will be using medium and low power reticles, which use less energy and provide optimal sight pictures. 

        Which camp do you support? Always-on or shake awake? Tell us in the comments below. 

        Finding the Dot on your Red Dot

        Finding the Dot on your Red Dot

        Many first time red dot users bemoan the fact that they lose their red dot sight when they draw. What might seem like a drawback to an otherwise efficient single-focal-plane aiming system can be corrected by proper drawing technique and repetition. 

        Scott Jedlinski, founder of the Modern Samurai Project, teaches a class specifically on pistol red dots and how to use them in a practical self-defense scenario. His principle is defined by what he calls “the four P’s: Present, Prep, Pinky, and Press.” 

        That is, present the pistol at the compressed ready position tilted slightly upwards (near your chest – at hand clapping distance, not touching your chest), prep the trigger by placing your finger on your trigger safety as you extend your hand forward to aim, then once the pistol is in position, guide the pistol downward with the pinky finger of your support hand to find the red dot, and finally press on your trigger. 

        These four P’s should be accomplished in a single swift motion, which should take less than five seconds. To further help with your aim, it’s a good thing to remember to manipulate the gun around your body and not your body around the gun. If you draw your weapon and move your head, for example, then your grip will have to readjust for your new head location, wasting precious seconds. Instead, move your weapon to where your head actually is. 

        Now, the Mini Shot M Spec Solar M3 from Sightmark has an advantage to “red dot tracking” that many other sights on the market do not. The long hood which houses the sight’s solar panels and protects the unit from weather damage have a few advantages over the reflex sights used by other brands. 

         The Solar M3’s hood prevents glare and thus offers a clearer reticle with a more precise dot. Mistakes in alignment are also easier to correct thanks to the tube’s design, and the dot can be found simply by eliminating any minute traces of “scope shadow” which may appear. 

        At the same time, the Mini Spec M3 Solar’s variable reticle is dictated by the brightness of whatever environment one is shooting in, with the reticle growing to a large 3 MOA dot for extreme brightness and shrinking to a 1 MOA dot for encounters at night. 

        Armed with the adaptability and ease of use of the M3 Solar as well as proper red dot shooting techniques, there should be no reason why you’d be unwilling to put a red dot on your everyday carry. 

        Canted Red Dots and Why You Should Run Them

        Canted Red Dots and Why You Should Run Them

        Engaging targets at close range when your rifle is zeroed for 100 yards or more is anything but swift. It is usually a matter of knowing your holdovers and holdunders, and if a scope is zeroed for 300 yards, shooting targets at distances of 50 yards requires you to aim significantly lower to hit center mass. 

        For competition shooters who need to shoot at variable distances with the speed of a greased lightning bolt, a single LPVO is not going to cut it. A canted red dot sight, however, allows a shooter to transition from rapid fire targets at 25 yards or less to precision aiming at 100 yards with the flick of a wrist. 

        The idea of an offset sight has been around since World War 2, but back then it was mostly used for weapons with top-loading vertical magazines which blocked the barrel like the Japanese Type 96 and the British Bren gun. The idea did not gain traction again until the 21st century, when shooting trends began to move away from iron sights towards optics, and shooters decided they would need backup sights like small red dots to engage targets at close range. 

        Canted red dots are especially good for cheek weld consistency. Unlike scope-mounted red dots, which require a shooter to raise his head and break his cheek weld, a canted sight only requires the rifle to be slightly tilted at an angle. In a flash, the shooter can go right back to engaging long range targets without spending the additional seconds it would take to reacquire his sight picture. 

        Backup red dots are especially beneficial for those who run sights with a minimum magnification of 3x, but also useful for those who run LPVOs. It is much easier and faster to flick your wrist than taking your finger off your trigger to manipulate your lens magnification. 

        Sightmark’s Mini Shot M Spec Solar combines the compact nature of a pistol red dot sight with the fast target acquisition of a traditional close combat optic. Rather than mounting a full-sized 9oz red dot to your weapon, the M Spec Solars are unobstructive and light. The M Spec M2 Solar comes available for RMR pistol footprints, compatible with 45-degree offset mounts (available on Amazon for as low as $25). Their hooded designs make them perfect for shooting in bright environments while giving them protection from the environment. If a shooter is worried about mounting compatibility, they can also be attached to a Weaver or Picatinny rail directly with their included adapters. 

        With offset sights like the Mini Shot M Spec Solar, a shooter can be deadly accurate at any range, and transitioning between CQB and long-range shooting at the flick of a wrist is a tactical skill with usefulness both at the range and in the field.  

        The evolution of the modern rifle scope

        The evolution of the modern rifle scope

        On a muggy February afternoon in 1969, a US Army landing craft meandered down the Mekong River on a routine patrol mission. The boat was about a thousand yards away from the shore, safe from enemy AK fire – in theory. GIs scanned the treetops and bushes with their binoculars for Viet Cong, enduring the humidity and the quiet anxiety one can only get on patrol.

        The crack of a rifle in the distance broke the afternoon silence. A round pinged the side of the boat, and every soldier on board scrambled to find cover and return fire against the unseen enemy sniper. Another round struck the side of the landing craft. Nobody could find the shooter.

        An American counter-sniper spotted the black-clad VC hiding among the leaves on top of a coconut tree, aimed his M21 and fired, taking out the enemy sniper in a single shot.

        The American sniper was Sergeant Adelbert Waldron, who would go on to win two Distinguished Service Crosses for his outstanding skill and bravery. The legendary shot he made seemed impossible. He fired from a boat moving 2 – 4 knots (about 5mph) at a target 1000 yards away, a little bit over the effective range of the M21.

        The optic he used was a technological wonder for its time: the Leatherwood 3-9x Adjustable Range Telescope (ART). A brainchild of Second Lieutenant James Leatherwood, this optic was attached to a base which raised or lowered the scope according to elevation like an iron sight. All a sniper had to do was insert a target of known dimensions into a bracket on the ART’s reticle and adjust the scope’s cam until the target fit inside the bracket. The scope would raise automatically raise or lower to account for elevation. Magnification on the ART was also made easier and quicker through the thumb nipple on the magnification ring. This meant US snipers would no longer need to perform math on the fly, trying to calculate holdover while the enemy rained down bullets on them. While this was a convenient solution, the problem was the ART would lose zero as it transitioned from target to target and would have to be adjusted every time it acquired a target at a new range.

        Back in those days, etched reticles were a rarity, and even high-tier brands like Leupold used simple cross reticles with small variations. In fact, at the time, the Soviet PSO-1 scopes the Viet Cong were using featured a more advanced reticle than nearly anything in the west. Used by Communist Bloc designated marksman rifles up to this day, the reticle allows snipers to do no-math ballistic calculations thanks to features such as an etched rangefinder. This rangefinder diagram located on the lower left of the reticle allows the shooter to estimate the distance of a man 5’7” tall. It was also one of the first scopes to use a nitrogen filled tube to prevent fog.

        We caught up with the reds a long time ago, and many modern long range optics feature a first focal plane reticle that simplifies range-finding without having to fiddle with a dial like the ART scope. For example, the Sightmark Presidio’s HDR2 reticle, designed for hunting deer rather than enemy combatants, is designed to determine range on a target of a known size without having to reach for a piece of paper for arithmetic in a similar way to the PSO-1, but with etched subtension lines that aren’t off center.

        At a hundred yards, 1 inch is roughly 1 MOA. Knowing this, if, a target is ten inches tall but only reaches halfway to the lower subtension at max magnification, the target’s range is roughly 200 yards, since the distance from the center aiming point to the lower subtension line is 10 MOA, and the target would fit snugly in between the center aiming point and the lower subtension at a hundred yards.

        In another throwback to technology that was popular in the bygone days, the Presidio mimic’s the ART’s thumb nipple with a throw lever, a trend which recently started to come back into style after years of magnification rings which were dial-only.

        Over the years, the Presidio and other modern optics like it have adapted the PSO-1’s nitrogen-filled tubes and illuminated reticles while simplifying the process of range-finding that doesn’t mess with a rifle’s zero like the Leatherwood ART. These features, in conjunction with the Presidio’s high power magnification, truly make it an optic that builds on the laurels of its predecessors.

        Getting Used to Your New Red Dot

        Getting Used to Your New Red Dot

        A red dot optic enhances a shooter’s precision and speed while allowing him to keep both eyes open, giving him a wider field of vision to engage his next target. This is perfect in competition shooting, where only the fastest and most accurate shooters take home the prize. 

        There is, however, an important caveat. A red dot is not a plug-and-play device. Since these modern optics are so different from traditional iron sights by design, they require their users to make small changes in the way they shoot. While transitioning to red dots on a pistol is not as alien to an iron sights shooter as transitioning to a riflescope, the process still takes some getting used to on the part of the shooter. 

        Getting the most from your optic requires time and practice to familiarize yourself with its fit and features. For example, logic dictates that it is easier to find a single focal point on a sight rather than aligning a front sight with your rear sight posts. However, transitioning from traditional iron-sights to a red dot can be like switching from stick-shift to an automatic. Both are effective for transportation, but the driving experience is drastically different. If you’re a shooter unfamiliar with your new red dot pistol optic, it will take some time to get used to the head and firearm adjustments needed to land your reticle on target. 

        Since adjusting your head can ruin your form, most shooters opt to adjust how their weapon is held and train their muscles accordingly. When you find a position comfortable for you, holster your weapon and draw it again to achieve the same position. Repetition of this exercise will train your body to lock itself into this new “red dot stance.” It may also help to use the thumb of your supporting hand to act as a guide. When you aim with your pistol in the firm grip of both your strong and support hands, point the thumb of your support hand at whatever you intend to shoot and align your weapon accordingly. 

        With a red dot on, the weapon may now need to be held slightly lower to compensate for the sight’s height, which is why a smaller red dot is preferred. An optic like Sightmark’s Mini Shot M Spec M2 Solar would be perfect for any pistol since it doesn't exceed 2 inches in height. As expected of a compact red dot optic, the M Spec Solar series are also very light, with the M2 weighing 3.9 oz, the weight of three AA batteries. Since this mini red dot is so light, it barely affects the weight of your pistol slide, making it perfect for repetitive draw drills.  

        Once you are familiar with your grip, it’s advisable to zero your pistol red dot, just like you would with a rifle optic. While some may have the steady hands and keen eyes to zero their rifles free-handed, using a brace can ensure precision accuracy with consistency.  

        The Solar, true to its name, is powered with both a traditional battery and a solar panel. As long as there is any form of ambient light in an area, whether natural or artificial, the M Spec Solar’s secondary power system can turn it into energy. It also provides automatic brightness compensation for its reticle in the form of a variable dot, which grows to 3MOA from its 1MOA low point according to brightness. With 20,000 hours of brightness through its main power source, there should be little reason for the optic’s display to fizzle out even on multiple-day hunts or long range patrols. 




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