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"SH*T, can't find the dot" - RDS Diagnostics

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Ah yes, the unmistakable, often frantic, movement of a pistol equipped with a red dot sight (RDS) in a shooters hand as he/she desperately searches for the dot in the optic window. It is by far the biggest complaint we hear from shooters who switch over from traditional iron sights to an RDS system. This happens most commonly, but not exclusively, when the shooter draws the gun from the holster and that’s where we’ll focus today but “losing the dot” happens in other scenarios as well, such as shooting around cover or barricades and shooting through ports to name a few.

So why do shooters struggle to find the dot in the window on presentation when they have no issues with iron sights? It would be easy to say something along the lines of “bad weapon index” or “improper presentation” but let's dive a little deeper than that. In the simplest of terms, the iron sights act as a sort of crutch that masks errors in the shooters presentation and allows the shooter to make micro-corrections to the guns alignment on the way to their point of natural extension. Because there are 2 points of reference with iron sights, a front and a rear sight, shooters have the ability to align the sights off of each other. Pair this ability with years of training and thousands of reps and it becomes subconscious. The shooter doesn’t even realize they’re making the corrections. They present the gun and by the end of the presentation, the corrections are subconsciously made and the sights are aligned on their target area, its like magic.

Now take away either point of reference and the crutch is gone. This is essentially what happens when a shooter switches from iron sights to an RDS. With an RDS there is only one point of reference, more notable, nothing to reference the RDS off of to ensure the gun is level both vertically and horizontally.

When the shooter, accustomed to iron sights and the subconscious ability to correct alignment issues during presentation, presents the gun without this ability with an RDS, he/she is at the mercy of their trained “index” (the natural orientation of the weapon at the shooters point of extension). Most shooters have a significantly under-developed index with the pistol, meaning they don’t present the gun level both vertically and horizontally.

An easy check for your own weapon index:

  • Gun in the holster

  • Close your eyes

  • Keep them closed and draw the gun

  • Once the gun is at full presentation, open your eyes

  • If the sights are not aligned with each other as they should be when you open your eyes, your index is lacking

(Note: What the sights are aligned to is irrelevant, you’re not attempting to aim at a specific target with your eyes closed, just the ability to present the gun with the signs aligned to each other.)

With the culprit identified, a misaligned weapon at presentation or "bad index", the question now becomes; How do we fix this issue for ourselves and our shooters?

The exact solution is going to be dependent on the individual shooter and the position of the gun he/she has the natural tendency to present to. In order to figure this out we can have the shooter present the weapon in dry fire. If the dot is not in the window, move the muzzle in a pre-determined pattern to find out where the dot is positioned.

(Ex. Move the muzzle of the weapon to the right. If the dot appears, we now know the dot was positioned too far to the left. If it does not appear, move the muzzle upwards. If the dot appears we know the dot was too low. Continue this in each direction until the dot appears and take note of which direction the dot entered the optic window from.)

Once we know the position, corrections can be applied and these will vary. Two of the most common issues we see are insufficient grip pressure in the support hand and presenting the muzzle high.

  • Insufficient support hand pressure causes the gun to point slightly to the shooters support side which in turn puts the dot outside of the optic window to the support side. This can be corrected by applying more pressure to the support side of the gun with the mentality of “crush the gun”.

  • Presentation of the muzzle elevated, even slightly, will cause the dot to be high. The fix for this is to consciously present the gun level until it becomes a subconscious action. If you’re not sure how that process works it is worth looking into but we’re not going to explore it here.

While not all encompassing, this should give those that are struggling with the RDS or those who are planning on switching to it, an idea of what to expect and how to work through issues. This is also the process that should be taken throughout one’s shooting journey with regards to other issues that arise, not just the red dot.

Find the problem, discover why the problem is happening and what you are doing to create it, and then apply conscious corrections to the problem until the corrected action becomes subconscious.

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