Everything You Need To Know About Carry Optics And Red Dots
Written by Guest Article / Contributor , in Section Gear Review
Above: Popular red dot optics for carry optics action shooting include (l. to r.) the C-More RTS2, Leupold DeltaPoint Pro and Vortex Viper.
A red dot sight on a handgun is not a new concept; the first time I shot one was an Aimpoint tube mounted to a Smith & Wesson Model 41 when I was about 10 years old. (I actually shot that same gun in one of my first Steel Challenge matches about eight years ago.) The first generation Aimpoint was a red dot originally meant for rifles in the 1970s, but in 1990 Jerry Barnhart mounted one to his single stack and won the USPSA Nationals. Doug Koenig would get one mounted to win the World Shoot later that same year.
These were big, bulky tubes weighing more than a pound, with a very narrow field of view. After that Nationals and World Shoot, Open Division was on, especially when the hi-cap frame came into play. Competitors tried everything, looking for reliable red dots that would hold up to the abuse of a match. It wasn’t just the red dot itself, it was the mount as well. Things were changing fast and competitors were looking for lighter weight mounts to offset the heavy red dots. Trying to find the right bullet and powder, red dot and mount, gunsmiths were very busy chasing the next “winning combination.”
The red dot, or actually the reflex sight, is over a hundred years old and relied on an optical system that superimposed a reflected reticle image onto a curved lens. These were better gunsights for aircraft and anti-aircraft gunners than telescopes because they didn’t limit the field of view. This resulted in sights that only require one focal point rather than a front and sight that need to be aligned. Aimpoint introduced the battery-powered sight that contained a LED (light-emitting diode), and its glowing “red dot” soon became its nickname.
The military and law enforcement quickly adapted to reflex sights on service rifles. Research showed that it made the average officer and soldier more accurate with less training.
We can thank the early pioneers in USPSA/IPSC, Bianchi Cup and NRA Bullseye (Precision Pistol), law enforcement and the military for continuing to push the manufacturers to produce lighter and more reliable red dots. The advancement in batteries and the design of the red dots allowed firearm manufacturers to look at producing optics-ready pistols.
Smith and Wesson introduced the C.O.R.E (Competition Optics Ready Equipment) in 2013, FN America had the FNX-45 Tactical out shortly afterwards, and Glock introduced their MOS (Modular Optic System) in 2015. SIG Sauer had the P320 out, but then brought out the P320 RX when it introduced their own line of sights, the Romeo1 and Romeo3. The RX model came equipped with the Romeo sight mounted to a machined cutout in the slide, zeroed at the factory. Walther revamped their entire lineup of firearms and brought out the PPQ Q5 Match model. Springfield Armory followed SIG with the XDm OSP model that comes with an optional Vortex sight pre-installed.
As these guns were being released, aftermarket players like Springer Precision, EGW and Dueck Defense were manufacturing mounting plates that would allow the user to drift out their rear sight and place the mount in the dovetail. This would allow you to run a red dot without having to mill your pistol’s slide.
The USPSA President at the time was Phil Strader, who was employed in the firearms industry. Strader noticed this trend and proposed to the USPSA Board of Directors a new division, Carry Optics. Introduced in mid-2015, Carry Optics followed the trend of polymer-framed handguns being released as optic-ready models. The Provisional rule set restricted the magazine capacity to 10 rounds and allowed Production division approved handguns to weigh no more than 35 ounces with an unloaded magazine. The sight had to be mounted between the ejection port and the rear of the slide. Modifications were limited to the same rule set as Production division, along with holster and mag pouch position.
The division initially showed a lackluster amount of participation. For example, the revolver division had twice as much activity in the same time period. Carry Optics was set for review at the 2016 USPSA Board Meeting, where newly-elected President Mike Foley, with the assistance of participants from within the firearms industry, presented a modified rule set to the Board.
A few minor changes were made in 2016, the biggest being a maximum weight of 45 ounces, and later that year there was the first USPSA Carry Optics Nationals. The one-day match was held after Production Nationals, with 77 competitors and Team SIG’s Max Michel edged out Shane Coley by 22 points. Michel would repeat his win at the 2017 Optics Nationals, 13 points ahead of Hwansik Kim, shooting for Walther.
Setting the Stage for Carry Optics Growth
Two months before the 2017 Nationals, the USPSA Board once again reviewed the still-provisional Carry Optics division and made just one more change that would set it on a rapid growth path for the rest of the year. Until then, magazine capacity had been restricted to no more than 10 rounds; however, the previous year base pads on mags were allowed, as long as they were less than 141mm in length. By removing the capacity restriction, competitors could now load up their mags, with many fitting in 21 or more rounds. Game changer? Yeah, a bit. It quickly started to grow and, as some like to refer to it, “Open Light” was no longer a division where people with bad eyesight went to compete. This year saw the Carry Optics division allow grip modifications, slide lightening and exchange of small external parts, as long as the gun continued to weigh less than 45 ounces.
Did it make a difference? You tell me. Last year, from January to October there were 9,257 activities submitted for Carry Optics. This year, in the same time frame 15,326 activities have been submitted. Carry Optics has seen the largest growth in activities this year, yes even more than much-heralded PCC (Pistol Caliber Carbine) division.
Manufacturers have stripped the red dots down to their basic components, and they are now referred to as Mini-Reflex sights. There are several manufacturers that are producing these handgun reflex sights: Trijicon RMR, Leupold DeltaPoint, Burris FastFire 3, Doctor Sight, SIG Romeos, C-More RTS2, and Vortex with several models.
At the 2016 Carry Optics Nationals I bought a CZ 85 model, used a Springer Precision dovetail mount and ran a Burris FastFire 3. This was a new experience for me; up to that point I had never competed in Open division, only having shot some at the range. I struggled badly during this match—but my preparation for it was putting the red dot on the gun and sighting it in at the range the day before the match. My stage times were horrible because I spent at least 63.7892 percent or so of my time trying to find the dot. This was with 10-round mags, so I had to try to find it on the draw, the transitions and after the reload. When I got home I put the gun, sight and whole rig up for sale and said to hell with it—I would rather shoot Revolver Division than mess with that again.
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