A Year Long Experiment with a Pistol Optic


Norman Police Department Officer Ali Jaffery fires “2 and 1” failure drills with the CORE/RMR combination.

“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 CORE comes with taller sights to allow for co-witnessing with the Trijicon RMR optic.

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.

Trijicon RMR

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.


The RMR co-witnesses with the pistol’s iron sights as a back-up.


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.

Range Time

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.


A five-inch group fired by a teenager with the M&P CORE/Trijicon RMR combination unsupported at 25 yards.

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.

Norman P.D. 

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.

Canis Veteris

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.

This entry was posted in Gear, Modern Service Pistols by Warren Wilson. Bookmark the permalink.

About Warren Wilson

Warren Wilson is an experienced law enforcement officer with approximately 20 years of service, specializing patrol and tactics. He is a former SWAT team leader, writer, and firearms instructor. Warren is currently the training lieutenant for a metropolitan agency in the State of Oklahoma.

13 thoughts on “A Year Long Experiment with a Pistol Optic

  1. Warren, A timely article, as we’ve got one guy getting his RMR set up as we speak. Looking forward to holsters, and to see how they hold up in the rain. (Think PNW wetness!) Thanks again

  2. Interesting that I should see this just hours after having a shooter at a practice event (we unoriginally call “Skills & Drills”) arrive with carry optics on his M&P. It’s a holster/draw/speed/multiple targets set of drills we cook up twice a month for our attendees.
    Adam is a solid shooter and a capable USPSA competitor in his late twenties with quick reflexes and in excellent physical condition. He’s also quite safe and competent with his handgun- he’s one of the shooters we don’t mind using appendix IWBs in our events.
    He said he’d had some time with the optic so far, but I’m not sure how much.
    The short version: his shooting in our 101-round set of drills against IPSC silhouettes and white plates at 5-10 yards was the worst we’d ever seen him do. He was both agonizingly slow (compared to his previous speed) and inaccurate. Twice he shot the binder clips we use on the target sticks to hold the targets (meaning a far perimeter hit on the 18″ wide target); we’ve never seen him do that before.
    I’m going to watch this carefully.
    I’ve also officiated at USPSA and IDPA matches where carry optics are starting to show up. Much like in the article, if the ranges are not excessive, the optics shooters are slow, especially to the first shot, and not always so accurate. Yes, get past about 15-18 yards and it changes.
    So far, I’m strongly reminded of the results obtained by laser-shooters: worse than they are with their irons. Chasing the dot isn’t just a feline-entertainment situation: it is paralyzingly slow and worse, takes attention off the surroundings and situation while the eye and brain looks for a little circle instead of additional threats and varying circumstances.
    I am looking forward to being able to observe a lot more of this as the year goes on in USPSA shooting. I like to keep an open mind, but I still get the creeping feeling a dot will be a hindrance, not to say a hazard, within 15 yards.

  3. I started shooting USPSA in 1983. Twenty years later I got hold of an STI open gun with C-more sights. I spent a lot of time doing the “C-More Shuffle”, but when I got the hang of it my match scores soared.

    Using Dot-sights is like “cheating and getting away with it” .. very rewarding. But it’s a whole different thing from iron sights, and the progress curve is shallow because there are new techniques to be learned, and a lot of things to “un-learn”, too.

    As mentioned, though, this is JUST the thing for ageing eyes. I can pick up that dot and maneuver it to the target a lot quicker than I can pick up the front sight, find the target, and them figure out where the rear sight is.

    Battery life is an issue, but most systems will give you a ‘flicker’ of warning before it goes totally toast. And when you’re not using it, there’s little drain on the batteries. The best version, of course, is one which also incorporates a physical “post” which gives the shooter close to the same accuracy as iron sights.

    As always, frequent practice and ‘failure drills’ keep the shooter familiar with the alternatives to a working electronic sight.

  4. One of the great things about the writers here are the broad range of perspectives. I respect Warren’s experiences and viewpoints, but I am actually not a fan of the MRDS on a pistol for most applications. While for specialized applications (such as folks who have to address specific eye issues, or environments where distant targets are much more likely than ones up close), the MRDS offers distinct advantages, most folks use their pistols in a defensive capacity where statistics show the threat will certainly be at room distances. Most folks agree that the MRDS is slower at close distance out of the holster, and while this can be mitigated with training, being able to index that first shot quickly is far more perishable than when using irons. Jeff Gonzales has a great article on this on his blog.

      • I ran a Docter 3 optic on a Gen3 17 for a little over a year. For close, reactive (O S____! ) shooting it worked well to use the entire RDS as a big ghost ring sight. At the end of the day the RDS exposed some technical flaws in my grip and trigger pull and improved me as a shooter. My issues were more with the Gen3 Glock than the red dot.

  5. I was originally sceptical when I had an opportunity to borrow a Glock with an RMR for the weekend. It was slow process getting acclimated and in-learning years of muscle memory / hand-eye coordination but I was pleasantly surprised, after 500 or so rounds, that my times and accuracy across all shooting ranges improved (and at longer ranges, so,we hat dramatically). I’m stil not 100% sold on the concept and I’m a Sig guy and I’m not aware of any pre-milled offerings from Exter quite yet but I suspect that as these become more accepted, Asia will do what always does and start cranking out RMR ready weapons. Battery life is a issue on any electronic sight – I have a strict ritual for replacing the batteries on my long guns and shotguns and some manufacturers have auto-on/off functions so being dilligent about swapping out batteries mitigates the issues substantially. There’s also the noted issue of holsters but either have Raven make one up or wait a few months and the market will respond to the demand. Overall, I’m leaning towards “really liking” the concept but I’m not quite ready (and as I said neither is Sig) to make a permanent change to my carry weapons – I suspect that will change over time. Lastly, the price is an issue, and hopefully that will level out. It would be interesting to know what type of acceptance the military special operations community has experienced since I’m quite certain they were one of the first groups shown and given the setup for T&E.

  6. “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.”

    Isn’t that the point, to use a target focus and super impose the dot over the target?

  7. I’ve been running a 17 with a Docter and a 35 with an RM07 for about six months (strictly for competitions at this point). My experience seems to mirror most folks’ – it hasn’t made me any faster, but it’s made me way more accurate. I’m a decent handgun shooter but I couldn’t reliably drop steel at 50 or 100 yards until I started running a dot.

  8. I used a J Point dot sight monted on a Glock 19 five years ago as a duty carry weapon.
    In relation to the difficulties in getting the sight picture up after drawing from holster; after trialing various methods the best I found was a CAR type stance. Ultimately, by bringing the pistol closer to my dominant eye/face I could control the loss of sight picture better and was faster to target from the draw. It was also close to the sight picture offered by our primary weapon – G36 with EOTech and felt very natural.
    Unfortunately we changed stance on weapons use, and had to standardise our guns so that any issued weapon could be used by all officers.
    I now shoot a Glock 19 Gen 3 with iron sights, modified iso. I’m accurate but groupings are not as tight as when I used the dot sight.
    Solid articles guys – thanks.

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