“That’s the future…right there.” My friend, Steve Tracy, may have been right as he pointed down at the M&P CORE pistol mounted with a Trijicon RMR at SHOT Show 2014. There is a relatively small but growing contingent of defensive pistol experts who believe that reflex sight optics will find a home atop law enforcement duty pistols in the near future. After all, optics are almost omnipresent on police carbines. While formerly considered an aid for competition guns, the quality of these devices has risen to the level that many feel they can trust them for defensive use. How does one measure just how much, if any, advantage can be gained by an optic over traditional sights in a defensive set up? I just happened to have an M&P40 that I used on patrol and in SWAT for several years. Smith & Wesson and Trijicon were kind enough to send me a pistol and optic for evaluation.
Smith and Wesson M&P CORE
Smith & Wesson’s Competition Optics Ready Equipped (CORE) version of the M&P comes from the factory with the ability to accept many different miniature red dot sights. No gunsmithing is required and all the necessary adapters are included. The CORE is a Pro Series pistol. It has taller sights that will co-witness with many optics of this type. Be advised that not all manufacturers’ optics will fit the CORE’s slide cutout or co-witness with the iron sights. According to Smith & Wesson’s website, the Trijicon RMR, the Leupold Delta Point, J Point, Doctor, C-More STS and Insight MRDS will all work on the CORE. We found that the Eotech MRDS also fits and works well, but will not co-witness.
The test pistols both have a 4.25″ barrel. The CORE came from the factory with a 5.8# trigger compared to the 5.1# of my well-traveled M&P. The CORE comes with the enhanced stippled back strap which makes for a greatly improved purchase. Other than that, the pistols are identical.
Like Smith & Wesson, Trijicon markets a lot of their products toward law enforcement and have a large following among cops. They sent me a Dual-Illuminated RMR with 9.0 MOA green dot for this review. It’s made from 7076-T6 aluminum. For those who don’t understand metallurgy, that’s okay. Nobody does. We only need to understand that it’s a well-built piece of equipment. It is, indeed, “ruggedized.” Trijicon representatives will often demonstrate this by hammering the optic on the closest hard surface upon prompting. The RMR is available in LED, Adjustable LED and the aforementioned dual-illuminated versions. It can be purchased with reticles ranging from 7.0 MOA to 13.0 MOA in both green and amber.
With iron sights, one must split concentration between three different focal planes: the front sight, the rear sight and the target. An advantage of optics in general is that the shooter can focus on the target rather than the front sight. Focusing on anything other than the object of an immediate threat to one’s personal safety is counter-intuitive to that little caveman who lives inside all of us. I’m not debating that people can’t focus on their front sight during a gunfight because we know from shooting debriefs that isn’t necessarily true. However, I believe this system will be easier for some to pick up.
In the case of the RMR, we are able to focus on the target while keeping both eyes open. That seems like a good thing, but it led me to another recognizable disadvantage of these optics. After this year-long experiment, I found myself developing an “eye-sprinting” (looking at the target between shots) problem. If one chooses MRDS for their pistol, I’d suggest splitting your practice time between the dot and an identical iron-sighted pistol to maintain both skill sets.
“Chasing the dot,” is a term I first heard from firearms instructor Todd Louis Green of Pistol-Training.com. Unlike holographic sights mounted on rifles, the MRDS pistol shooter will lose sight of the optic during recoil. There’s just no way around it. Acquiring and re-acquiring the dot on a pistol is more difficult than finding one’s front sight. After a few hundred repetitions, it gets better. Still, when shooting close and quick, I found myself just finding the front sight as I’ve done for so many years. In Todd’s experience, newer shooters see more advantage with MRDS than the more skilled. He also noted that the MRDS becomes more advantageous as the distance increases, even for skilled shooters. Shooters in our groups all saw an advantage starting at about 15-25 yards. The four who shot at 50 and 100 yards saw exceptional comparative results. Many thanks to Todd for his insights.
Another potential disadvantage to some reflex sights is that the batteries will eventually fail. If you have my luck, they will likely fail at the worst possible time. Of course, the iron sights will still be there unless the glass is compromised by breakage or fogging. (I left the RMR in the cold several times and then brought it inside to see if it would fog up. It didn’t, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.) Speaking only of the Trijicon dual illumination RMR, battery life is not an issue. It uses a combination of fiber optics and Tritium to illuminate the dot. Still, most of these devices rely on electronics and we all know Murphy was an old Irish cop.
Yet another issue will be finding a duty holster. Manufacturing duty gear for this configuration is difficult because of the added bulk and positioning of the unit and also because pistol optics require taller iron sights. Some holster makers are starting to catch the hint, though. More are sure to follow.
Cost could also be a problem for many officers. Many can’t even afford a pistol light for $100-$300. Quality optics for pistols start at about $400 and only increase in price. The Trijicon RMR is about as good of a piece of equipment as I can imagine for this role, but its street price is almost $500.00. That doubles the cost of a duty gun.
I was able to get three volunteers to help with the first range day. The first is a strong shooter who has been in law enforcement for about a decade. He’s a SWAT team leader who consistently shoots 96% on qualifications. The second shooter is relatively new to law enforcement with about two years of experience. He shoots consistently perfect scores and is a solid gun handler. The third test subject is not in law enforcement. She is a young woman with some experience shooting, but absolutely no formal training except for her state’s hunter’s safety course. All three shot both guns at identical ranges and targets and gave me their impressions afterward.
As noted above, red dots (or in this case, green) on pistols are considered a little harder to pick up after the draw stroke and therefore, a little slower to the first shot. Our experience mirrored that. After some practice, initial sight acquisition became much quicker but it was obvious it wasn’t as easy as I’d originally thought. However, accuracy at 25, 50 and 100 yards wasn’t even a contest. Shooter number three fired a five inch, five-shot group standing unsupported at that distance. The group was centered in the ‘9’ ring of the B-27 target with two of the rounds within the ‘x’. Shooters number one and two were able to get three and four-inch groups at the same distances consistently. As the brass piled, the optic’s usefulness really began to show.
Retired Norman, Oklahoma Police Department Detective and friend Jeff Puckett set up a range day for us at Norman P.D.’s excellent facility to get some input from some of their officers. The shooters were of varied experience and skill levels from instructor to probationary officer. I noted the less experienced officers took to the red dot much faster than did the seasoned folks. Newer shooters who had previously struggled with iron sights also saw substantial improvement with the RMR.
One of the NPD firearms instructors asked if the optic was “washed out,” by a weapon-mounted light. I’d experimented with the RMR after dark and hadn’t found that to be the case. His question inspired some more testing, though. When used against a white background indoors, a reasonably bright weapon light does substantially diminish the dot’s visibility. Furthermore, when close to and facing a white wall, the light completely washes out the dot. A defensive pistol with an optic must always have the capability of co-witnessing with iron sights. Again, I instinctively went back to focusing on my front sight at that point.
Put The Dot On the Spot and Squeeze
I had a lot of preconceived ideas at the start of this experiment. As is usually the case, I didn’t know how much I didn’t know. These devices have some serious advantages and some serious limitations. MRDS on pistols require a brand new skills set. When I first put the sight on the gun, I could barely find the dot. After a bunch of draw stokes, I was able to put the dot on the target and press the trigger with good results. However, my assumption that optics on pistols would be equally as helpful as they are on carbines was incorrect. That said, these devices work better for newer shooters or those who struggle with iron sights, but there’s another group of folks who might find advantage in MRDS.
Much like youth, middle-age is quickly passing some of us by. In the last few years, I’ve noticed a tendency across all pistol manufacturers to produce blurry front sights. I’m not sure what is causing this failure in quality control, but it’s happening to every pistol I shoot. In seriousness, this premature glimpse into decrepitude makes the idea of a MRDS on pistols very interesting.