On June 18-19, 2020, KR Training instructor Sean Hoffman and I attended a session of the SIG Academy’s Pistol Mounted Optics Instructor course. The class was a mix of private sector and law enforcement trainers. It was held at the famous Gunsite facility in Paulden, Arizona. I picked this particular session of the class to attend because it was a “double word score” on my training bucket list: visiting Gunsite and taking a class from the SIG Academy. Sean had attended red dot instructor certification courses from Modern Samurai Project, Centrifuge and Sage Dynamics in the past, so this course finished off his list of ‘red dot’ specific instructor classes.
I started shooting red dot sights on pistols in the early 1990’s, when they were mounted to the pistol’s frame. Here’s some pics of one of the Open division guns I shot during that period. And I came back to slide mounted red dots a few years ago when I ran an M&P Core with Trijicon RMR for a summer’s worth of weekly USPSA matches working my way up to Grand Master in that division. So I felt like I understood how to run a red dot (and had not been motivated to take a class from any of the red dot class specialist trainers), but the SIG class, mainly being oriented to instructors teaching transition classes for cops, interested me. I wanted to see the material they were using to bring moderately skilled shooters (average officers) up the learning curve.
Several years ago we did a 120 shooter study that essentially measured that learning curve for shooters of a wide variety of levels. What we found was that the lower the skill level of the shooter, the more difficulty they had finding the red dot under time pressure. Many red dot advocates complained that our results were not valid because we didn’t first provide all 120 people a 16 hour course so they could get familiar with the dot before being tested. We were more interested in how the typical shooter – the 99% that don’t seek out training unless the state forces them to – would or could do using the dot in a realistic drill.
By far the most common problem was bringing the gun up to eye level, seeing the target through the window, and not seeing the dot. Worse, having no visual information available to identify what to do to find the dot, usually resorting to wiggling their head and the gun around until they either ran out of time or found the dot or (most often) fired with no dot missing the target entirely.
A large chunk of the SIG curriculum addressed that issue, both in how to improve shooter index using a mix of new and old “point shooting” techniques (some going back to Fairbairn, others from Jim Cirillo’s book, and some specific to red dot sights). It provided instructors answers to the “‘what if” questions critics and skeptics of red dot sight have: what happens when you can’t find the dot? what happens when the dot’s lens is occluded?
These were our targets after a block of “no dot” drills shot from 3-7 yards, using the shell of the red dot sight, the back of the slide, and other very coarse alignment techniques for aiming.
The section on zeroing was very complete, including ballistic charts for 115, 124 and 147 gr 9mm loads, and discussion of how much class time can be wasted trying to zero pistols at 25 yards. They correctly observed all of these things: many shooters do not understand how to shoot from benchrest correctly, many shooters have never shot slow fire groups, and marching back and forth from the 25 yard line to the targets multiple times, as shooters fire slow fire groups and make sight adjustments, can be a very time consuming process.
They recommended doing the zeroing at 15 yards, and did a great job of demonstrating how to use an ammo can and Frank Proctor’s small sand bags for zeroing.
On day one I shot Sean’s Glock 48 with milled Holosun 507C, from concealment.
On day 2 I used one of the class loaner guns, a SIG 320 with Romeo 1 dot, to get some trigger time in with both the pistol and the optic.
The first thing we did on day 2 was shoot their 6 string standards course, cold, for score. Everyone else on the line was using the same gear they had used for 500 rounds of work the day prior. I did a few practice dry draws but didn’t get to do any live fire with the 320 before the test. Here are the 6 strings of the test, all shot on the SIG target, which has the same 8″ torso circle and 4″ head circle as the IDPA target. All strings are shot at 5 yards. The student notes say “5 yards between targets” for the two target drill, but that seems wrong and should probably be 5 feet which is about two lanes on a standard firing line. Shots outside the 8″ circle are considered misses. (I like this approach as it aligns with our concept of scoring hits as either acceptable or unacceptable.)
- One shot from low ready, 1.25 seconds or less
- Starting holstered, draw and fire one shot with two hands (open carry), 2.00 seconds or less
- Starting holstered, draw strong hand only, fire one shot, transfer to support hand and fire one shot. 4.00 seconds or less
- Starting holstered with only 2 rounds in the gun (1+1), draw and fire two rounds, emergency reload, fire two rounds. 5.25 seconds or less. (This assumes a 2.5 second slide lock reload. Most on the line had reload times of 3.00-3.50 seconds, and many were using the overhand rack method, rather than the slide lock lever, to run the slide. That’s slower. I could not reach the slide lever with my shooting hand thumb and used my support hand thumb to release the slide, which was faster than the overhand rack method.)
- With exactly 6 rounds in the gun (5+1), draw and fire 6 rounds, emergency reload and fire one additional round. 6.25 seconds or less.
- With at least 8 rounds in the gun, engage two targets as follows, one round each: body T1, body T2, head T1, head T2, body T1, body T2, head T1, head T2. 7.5 seconds or less.
I passed 5 of the 6 quals, only falling short on the first string involving a reload. That was because I tried to use my shooting hand thumb on the slide release, which didn’t work, and I had to immediately do the overhand rack to finish the drill, and only missed the par by less than 0.5 seconds in spite of that. (In my feedback to them after the course, I commented that reload speed has little/nothing to do with ability to shoot a red dot. The inclusion of two slide lock reloads in the standards, given John Correia’s observation from watching tens of thousands of incidents that reload speed really isn’t that critical a skill, is at least one too many. Sean shot the test from concealment, and was told later by the instructors that the par times were set for open carry. He shot the end-of-day test from open carry and was able to make the reload times.)
One of the students, Jim from ProForce LEO supply had donated a NightStick weapon mounted light as a prize to the top shooter in the day 2 morning “cold” test…which I won. Here’s the light mounted on my CoolFire M&P. My plan is to use the light for low light scenarios and dryfire work and class demos.
Day 2 was fewer rounds fired (about 250), with more complex drills requiring shooting on the move and more transitions, giving students an opportunity to work at finding the dot doing more than standing in one spot. In talking with students that attended a previous session of the course taught at the SIG Academy home facility, I learned that the version of the course they took also included shooting from cover, kneeling and prone. Our course, run in the summer heat at Gunsite, left the students fairly bronzed and baked in full 8 hour days on the range. Omitting the prone and barricade work was OK with us, as the work we did verifying that the sight has no parallax even when the dot is in the corners of the window confirmed to us that as long as we could put the dot on the spot we wanted to hit – even if the dot was not centered in the window – the hits would be on target.
In the end, everyone in the course performed well on the final run through their 6-string standard course. I passed all 6 and was top shooter in the class. Sean tied with several others with 5 of 6 passed for the #2 slot.
The course met its goal of teaching pistol instructors what they needed to know to coach competent shooters familiar with iron sights through a transition to red dot sights, and they provided us with solid drills and information. Sean and I teach another session of our “Red Dot Pistol Essentials” class in July 2020, and I teach a short version of it in August at Buck and Doe’s in San Antonio. Students in those courses will definitely see some of the material we learned in the SIG course.