Student Handgunner: Red Dots and Calling Shots


Serena first shot the plate rack with the .45, then moved to the .22 with a red dot. SSG Anthony Heinauer on the right.

Shooting the Bianchi mover was an exciting task. Serena had never shot
a moving target before. It was tough with irons but much easier with a red dot.

I resisted mounting a scope on my service rifle for the longest time. High power service rifle was strictly iron sights until just a few years ago when rules changed to allow 4.5x optics and I was determined to stay true to tradition. After a year of holding out, I realized 4.5x scopes weren’t so much an advantage as an opportunity for shooters who struggled with vision to continue to compete.

Reviewing targets with SSG Anthony Heinauer. The black circle is considered the x.
Anything inside the next ring is a 10.

First Experiences

I am well aware red dots are not scopes. They aren’t magnified, but my approach to them nearly matches my scope experience. I’ve grown up around iron sights. I never thought about owning a red dot other than to mount on a shotgun for turkey hunting. One experience, though not my first with red dots, changed that.

I’ve shot dozens of pistols at media events, many of which were equipped with red dot sights. Most were exposed reflex — smaller red dots with a sleeker design ideal for concealed carry. Even though I was told shooting with a red dot was “easier,” sometimes it just seemed harder.

If you have a properly zeroed, quality red dot, this isn’t the case. Last fall, I spent some time with the Army Marksmanship Unit’s Pistol Team. For those unfamiliar, the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) is a tight-knit, elite unit dedicated to winning shooting competitions, setting records and training others — raising marksmanship standards throughout the Army.

During my training day, I worked with two AMU guns: an iron-sighted .45 ACP 1911 and a .22LR with a red dot. These were not ordinary guns but ones optimized for extreme accuracy.

Shot Call Visibility

At the risk of sounding like a gushy high schooler, red dots are amazing. I spent the afternoon with SSG Anthony Heinauer at the Hibbs outdoor range, which featured a plate rack and Bianchi mover. Shooting the plate rack and movers were new experiences for me. Rather than remaining as still as possible, I needed to engage multiple targets, or a moving target, as quickly as possible. I started on the plate rack with the .45. I was surprised at how successful I was, missing just a few plates, though I couldn’t very well call my shots. Every time I shot the .45, I had no concept of where my shots would land exactly. It was always a surprise. I couldn’t articulate scoring ring values with the iron sights, just direction.

Transitioning to the .22LR with a red dot allowed me to pinpoint exactly where my shots were going. While I could say I pulled a shot to the right or left based on where my sights landed after the shot, I couldn’t tell you what scoring ring they landed in with irons with much accuracy. With the red dot, I placed the dot exactly where I wanted the shot to land, and it would land there, as long as I didn’t mess anything else up. If I jerked the trigger or moved the gun in any direction, I could easily see the effect as I was shooting. Following the red dot showed my path of motion.

One of the most satisfying feelings in the world is a bullet hitting precisely where you’re aiming. I could tell you with utmost certainty exactly where each shot was going as I pulled the trigger — because I could clearly see the “sight” (dot) and the target clearly. The fact the dot didn’t need to be perfectly centered in the glass to hit where I was aiming surprised and delighted me. To my astonishment, I performed incredibly well, even cleaning a target on the mover stage. Comparing the groups I fired on the mover range with the .45 to the .22, there was a marked difference. My groups shrunk exponentially.

I had the fundamentals. The time between shots would be longer with the .45 as recoil is a longer process for a .45 than .22.
I left that day with a newfound appreciation for red dots and how accurate they can allow me to be. Next step in search of small groups?

Try a red dot …

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