The Rear Sight Should Be Behind The Red Dot


Let us discuss the relative positioning of the red dot sight in relation to the iron sights.

Sometimes I think if I came out with a verifiable supplement that would double the size of your penis and at the same time make every young woman within a half mile want you, there are men in the gun community that would say that a small penis actually was better and that real men did not desire young women.

Why would they say that?

Because it was my idea, and not theirs - pure and simple. It is, after all is said and done....about money. When everyone is broke, everyone is friendly.  But when they are competing for market share, is war.  And right now the focus is either to develop a different system than ours and claim superiority, or to copy what we are already doing. Like everything else, we need to know the source and reasoning...and history of each development to understand its motivations and validity.

Early red dot

The first installations of red dot sights did not make use of back up iron sights at all.  Here is a photo of Kelly McCann's Glock 19.

Kelly was the first to pioneer the use of a red dot (a Docter in this case) on a carry weapon.


This was our first experiment with red dot Glocks.  A far cry from our present work, nearly a decade later.

As more skilled users went that route, it was soon discovered that without the back up iron sights, unless the draw and point were perfect, the shooter would experience a lag time waiting to "find" the dot.

So the race was on to fix the problem. The first one was to place the red dot sight way in the back and the rear iron sight in front of the red dot.  Let me tell you the history behind this.


Red dot rear view  First red dots on pistol










Originally, there was one man installing J-Points by milling out the entire ass-end of the slide.  He claimed the J-point's rear notch served as a rear sight. The problem was that not only was this only a manufacturing happenstance, but the notch was never intended to be a rear sight.  Moreover, with a front sight and rear sight that were fixed in place and not adjustable (by drifting them laterally if nothing else), the sights and dot could not be aligned in the desirable co-witness manner.

Once I wrote about the J-Point's failings - the race for the solution was on like Donkey Kong. The simple answer of course was to do the same thing that FN had done, but it was as if guys wanted to do everything possible to NOT put the sights in their usual places.

Interesting idea, and yes...we tried it out.  The problem is the same as the J-Point.  It is not possible to truly zero both the dot and the back up iron sights unless at least two of the points can be moved.

Now with the S&W MP of course, the front sight can be drifted.  That is not the case on the world's most prolific pistol - the Glock.

As well, when I tried to fire ultra-accurate groups with this, it was not anywhere as easy nor as accurate as with traditional post/notch sights. Our standard by the way is five shots in one hole (representative of an eyeball) at 7 yards.

Then, some guys started putting the rear sight in front of the red dot.

I heard various "reasons" why the sights should be set up that way.  None of them make any sense at all. 

The real reason? 

Some of these original guys had done many "no-back up sights" installations, and when their customers - not wanting to invest in a new slide - asked for the sights to be added, that was the only place left.  A band-aid fix to a poorly thought out installation.

We actually tried it during our initial T&E phase.  The slide pictured is one we did.  We gave it to students to shoot in class.  Everyone preferred the proper installation with the sights behind the red dot.  We discarded that system as substandard and less useful.

Why?  Simple. Your eye is accustomed - via thousands of repetitions - to look for the sights in the traditional place - the back of the slide.  That training curve has been completed and only an absolute neophyte has to hunt for sights when he presents the handgun to point.  If you change the location of those sights, the eye will need to relearn where to look, thereby extending the learning curve to using the red dot system fast and accurately.  The visual anchor point is no longer there...but in some other place.  The first thing the eye will pick up is the ass end of the red dot and not the rear sight.  If the original skill-set is altered, it will in fact make transitioning to the red dot more difficult, not easier.

And it will also make shooting a non-red dot pistol more difficult as the eye will now have a different place to look for.

Why do they say that installation is better?  Read what they say and then ask yourself without any emotion or predetermined loyalties if their argument makes any sense.

They say -  Unless the red dot is moved back what amounts to a whopping quarter inch (1/4"), that ejected brass will hit the lens. 

I say - If I had a pistol that was ejecting brass in that other words, straight back and into my face, rather than sideways and away, I would think that something was wrong with it and a trip to the armorer was called for. If your car's alignment always pulled to the right, would you install the steering wheel at an angle so it felt right when you were driving, or would you go get the damned alignment fixed?  The intelligent thing is not to alter the position of the sighting platform, but to fix the ejection issues. 

When we were testing this we actually took an inert RMR provided by Trijicon and painted the lens to see if that was the case. We ran a few hundred rounds and then inspected the lens. We found no impacts indicating that anything would hit the RMR. The ejected brass striking the lens is a non-issue with a properly functioning pistol.

They Say - That oil and crud will get on the lens of the red dot.

I say - If you over lube anything you will not only get crud on the lens of the red dot, but on your shooting glasses and eyes as well. And the moving of that lens one quarter inch to the rear will not change anything at all.

In fact, the only time I have ever had the lens get cruddy was when I was filming a segment with the AWC Abraxxas Wet Can and over greased the can to get it Hollywood quiet. I videoed it and it should be up on our channel - I disappear into a cloud of fog. That is the lithium grease getting over everything...shooting glasses, camera lens, and RMR. With normal first world ammunition and normal lubing, this is again, not an issue.

Do either of these excuses make sense to give up the natural positioning of the iron sights front and rear with the red dot in between?

Not to me, and I disagree with the notion of giving the customer whatever he wants.  Sometimes the customer is wrong and does not know, and it is a dishonest position to give him something you know is substandard simply because you can make an easy dollar. I will never put my name on something I would not take in harm's way.

Finally...I am a pirate. I admit it. And if the front-rear-red dot was in fact superior to what we are doing (front-red dot-rear sight), I would surely do it that way. That I have not, and trust me I would do it in a heartbeat, speaks volumes for the position I have taken on this.

So here is the rationale for doing it the right way:  All your life you have been using the sights in their traditional positions. Front in the front - rear in the rear.  If you pick up a pistol from someone else, you will find it has sights in the traditional positions. Your eye is accustomed to looking for them THERE....not elsewhere. The main reasons to retain the BUIS (that is back up iron sights for those who came in late) is twofold.

One is as training wheels to get the eye looking at the right spot for the dot. If you pick up the irons, and your pistol is zeroed properly, you will pick up the dot instantly. There is no learning curve since you have already attained the uniformity of presentation and sight picture. When I train guys to use red dot pistols I tell them to look for the sights like they already do.  Then I ask, do you notice the red dot?  All reply, "Oh yeah...right where the sights are".

All we are doing is tapping into that skill set. A skill set that is simply not there if you change the position of the sights. A skill set that is not there if your eye initially meets anything other than the rear sight.  But, as I said...the quest for excellence is not a crowded road.

Two is as an instant back up to any malfunction of the red dot.  Just like on your M4, you have BUIS in the event your Aimpoint goes down.  Same thing here.

The future of this will be decided by the market itself, and I think there will be a definite polarization coming.  On the low end we will see a race to the bottom to see who can put out a casually adequate red dot on a pistol for the cheapest price...something SIG has the dubious lead on currently. The other end will be populated with the excellence-seekers that want the best and are willing to pay for it. 

I predicted a few years ago that by the time I was ready to retire to the Caribbean, pistols would routinely come from the factory with red dots and while true, few seem to want to do it right.