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How to find the perfect sight for your gun, according to a firearms trainer

Choosing the right optic to enhance your shooting accuracy sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s a step sometimes overlooked


Sponsored by Vortex Optics

By Sean Curtis for PoliceOne BrandFocus

Pat Goodale spent 22 years in the United States Marine Corps, Special Operations Command (MARSOC). After leaving the MARSOC, he opened a training center in West Virginia that focuses on tactical education. His organization, Practical Firearms Training, teaches a wide array of firearms skills to as many as 2,400 students a year (this includes civilians, police and military). When I caught up with Goodale, he was running training for a sheriff’s office in Montana. I had reached out to Pat because he had experience with Vortex Optics  and I wanted to share some feedback. 

Riflescopes and red dots can simplify the aiming process for officers. (image/Vortex Optics)
Riflescopes and red dots can simplify the aiming process for officers. (image/Vortex Optics)

When a man with his depth and breadth of experience speaks, the wise listen.

Red dot optics improve sight acquisition

Goodale explained that he’s used a couple of different sighting systems over the course of the many trainings he's offered at Practical Firearms Training. These modern optics aid patrol units by simplifying the aiming process for officers. He referenced the traditional three-planed quandary of lining up the rear sight, front sight, and the target, saying red dots and low-powered variable optics do the same. 

By placing a red dot on the target, a shooter can acquire a sight picture quicker, which translates into a shorter time between raising firearms and rounds on target. Another advantage of the optics is that it gives the shooter greater situational awareness (we all know that this is key since there may be other threats in the area).

From Goodale’s perspective, Vortex Optics not only does a great job of reliably holding zero, but their products are also rugged enough to withstand the wear and tear of officer use. Another surprising fact about these optics is that they’re quite affordable.

The dot that’s great for short distances and for its simplicity

Goodale said his trainers stock backup weapons and sound ARs in case a student’s gun suffers some major failure during a class. This way, students can continue to train if their weapon cannot be brought back into service. This is where the SPARC AR, a lightweight, and compact red dot comes in. These red dots that get mounted on the support rifles come with many advantages which include:

  • Allowing the shooter to become better at shooting with both eyes open (some less experienced officers tend to close one eye)
  • The unlimited eye relief of the optic (due to the lack of magnification), which allows shooters to engage targets from non-traditional positions often encountered in close-quarter engagements
  • Its ease of usability (Goodale said these were very easy to teach)
  • Its versatility and compatibility with multiple firearms, including an AR pistol, carbine, shotgun and even a gas launcher

Red dot systems come with some limitations, which include their lack of magnification. It can be difficult to maintain accuracy when you’re shooting beyond 100 meters with a 4 minute of angle dot. Nevertheless, the unit still excels in short distances. Another point to consider is that red dots are susceptible to extreme environmental conditions. For instance, extreme brightness can occasionally wash out the dot and may require the shooter to adjust his or her dot brightness accordingly.

When you need short- and long-range versatility

Goodale described this low variable power optic (LVPO) as a popular option among officers in West Virginia. One rural tactical team re-equipped its entire unit with the Strike Eagle, especially since it needed a red dot that could allow them to aim at both short and long distances.  

The riflescope Viper PST Gen II is another alternative that has a more advanced reticle and illumination capability than the Strike Eagle.

This scope operates just like a red dot on a 1X magnifying sight. Having enhanced target identification capabilities allows officers to use the LVPO as a spotting scope. This creates opportunities for officers to identify a weapon in a suspect’s hands from a much greater distance, increasing safety.  Other benefits of leveraging LVPOs also include:

  • Its ability to work well in varied light settings (the magnification gathers light and has lit reticles)
  • Ability to engage targets with more precision (this comes in handy when an officer needs to engage targets with more precision in scenarios in which you have targets mixed with other non-targets)

Again, there are some things to look out for in LVPOs, such as being wary of extreme environmental conditions while using them. Some officers may want to use the optics at higher settings, but too much magnification can narrow the user’s field of view. This is where getting proper training really helps.

But what about backups? Would back up iron sights be needed? When I consulted with Goodale, he said backups are useful, but not essential. These days, with recent innovations in optics technology, even if a red dot failed, a target in the middle of the optic would still offer good sight and reasonable hits.

Whether you’re inexperienced or a veteran of leveraging red dots in the field, it’s worth opening your eyes and scrutinizing whether your existing gear reliably gets the job done. My chat with Goodale reiterated the importance of understanding your optic and finding the right ones for your mission.

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