Racing With Optics On Handguns

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Last year I started to use optics on handguns more frequently. In fact the only time I did not use a pistol with an optic was for the FNH USA 3Gun Championship match where I used my factory Glock 41 in Heavy Optics division. But over the course of a year I have been using some form of pistol with an optic on it.

My first pistol with an optic was my S&W M&P9 CORE.

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This is your entry level for optic mounted pistols. There are other methods to mount an optic on a pistol but the M&P knocked it out of the park. By adding tall factory suppressor sights, you can co-witness the irons with the countersunk optic. An aspect that has its uses. I recall during a night match at a local club the factory ammo I was shooting, combined with the cold temperature, caused a lot of smoke to linger after firing the pistol. The smoke was hit by the bright SureFire X300U that I had mounted to illuminate my targets. Well it was like high beams in fog. The JPoint MRDS is controlled automatically. The sensor read the ambient light as dark and not the light from the smoke so it dimmed the red dot brightness. With the back splash of light from the X300, the smoke was brighter than the red dot and I lost the dot. I immediately switched to my back up irons and continued shooting through the smoke.

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Another HUGE benefit to shooting a pistol with an optic is the ability to shoot with both eyes open and focusing at the target rather than your front sight. Now I am not saying you can only do this with an optic, but it makes it much easier. I also noticed a bit of wiggle room with sight alignment. I just put the dot on the target and squeeze the trigger. When I shoot with regular pistol sights, I spend a bit more time lining up the front and rear sights that it slows me down in competition. Reacquiring my sight picture after firing a shot is slower for me with iron sights. Now there are some really great pistol shooters who can shoot fast with irons. My skill level is not there, but shooting with optics does make me faster than shooting with just iron sights

 

The M&P is great as it got my feet wet into Open Division competition and competitors. Due to the popularity of factory pistols that have slide mounted optics, USPSA created a new division called Carry Optics.

Carry Optics provisional division announced

For decades, USPSA has shaped the pistol industry through its shooters who constantly made their firearms more accurate, comfortable and reliable. From handmade beavertails, thumb safeties and mag wells to electronic sights and porting, our competitors have been instrumental in pushing firearms manufacturing forward.

Recently, the tides have started to turn, and it is USPSA who must keep up with the industry. We have recognized the progression of lightweight carry pistols that are being outfitted with slide mounted electronic optics. In an attempt to answer this growing trend, USPSA has approved the provisional division of Carry Optics. For the remainder of 2015, Carry Optics will be recognized at sanctioned Level 1 USPSA events. At the next in-person USPSA BOD meeting, Jan 23-24, 2016, the Board will evaluate member participation, industry response and growth trends to decide if Carry Optics can remain a viable division within USPSA.

The division rules will stay very restrictive to avoid the potential “arms race” and will keep the requirements strictly in line with industry offerings. A complete appendix of Carry Optics division specifications will be available at www.uspsa.org in the coming days.

We are excited to see how this new division will be received by our members and the industry.

Phil Strader — President
US Practical Shooting Association

As I mentioned above, I was shooting in open division in USPSA. Competing with a stock M&P CORE is not that competitive against race guns. So I got a great deal on a slightly used STI Steelmaster. When I started shooting handguns, back in NY circa 2012, I thought race guns were silly. How wrong I was. It depends on what you want to use the gun for. Since I am racing for time, speed is crucial to scoring well. As my friend Adam of Aridus Industries likes to say “No, slow and smooth isn’t fast. Fast is fast”

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My Steelmaster has been modified a little bit. You can see it below. When I first tried the Steelmaster, I had a difficult time acquiring the dot in the C-More red dot sight. The optic is mounted on top of the pistol. I was used to shooting with irons on my Glocks as well as my M&P Core. Here I had no reference. Sure with dry fire practice I can get used to this setup, but I did not want to bother. My friend recommended that I switch to a 90 degree mount. This rotates the optic 90 degrees. More importantly it lowers the optic lens to sit right above the slide. So now when I draw up my Steelmaster, I just look for the top of my slide, like I was going to look for irons, and I pick up the dot much quicker.

Shooting a frame mounted optic is better than a slide mounted optic The optic does not move with the cycling of the slide so you can see the dot all through out the recoil impulse.

I swapped out the factory mag well for a larger one. Besides being easier to insert a magazine, the added weight shifts the CG a bit and balances the gun better.

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One compromise to running a C-MORE sideways is the body of the red dot obscures your vision a bit. You can get over this by shooting with both eyes open and then it ghosts out of sight. Another tip is to pan from left to right when engaging a series of targets. If you look at the picture below, the right hand side of the optic is not as obscured as the left side. Making it easier to see your next target. Very important when shooting a lot of small steel targets. The left side could cover up a target and you might not see it.

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Here is a steel match where I was able to shoot at a faster cadence then I was accustomed to. Most of it is due to shooting a thorough bred racegun. The compensator, thumb rest and weight balance is set up to control muzzle rise. I noticed that my dot does not move off target that much while firing. So it was easy to move or make up a shot faster than I could with my M&P CORE.

 

Last October, while at Big 3 East, I picked up an ALG Defense Six Second mount from Geissle/ALG and a Hilux Micro Max B-Dot from Leatherwood Hilux. While I was there, I mounted them onto my Glock 41. It is the long slide version of a Glock 21 in .45acp. Most people thought it would not work. The Glock 21/41 is perceived to be a much larger frame than the ubiquitous Glock 17 and therefore the ALG Six Second Mount could not work. How wrong they were.

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For the past couple months I have been using this setup on my Glock 17. It has the ALG magwell. The brass insert does make the gun balance feel better to me.

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The Hilux Micromax B-dot has worked flawlessly. The battery life is staggering. It has not been off since October. The C-More on my Steelmaster eats through batteries like no tomorrow. I check to make sure it is off like someone with OCD. I have had two batteries die because I forgot to turn them off and they died in a matter of days. Not the case with the Hilux B-Dot. It will stay on for years.

The only issue I have with the B-Dot is the black ring around the lens. It makes the optic look smaller. Like I can’t see as much compared to my Jpoint and C-More. Obviously I am spoiled by having the STI Steelmaster. The Steelmaster is like a true race car. It was built to go fast. This Glock setup is an attempt to mimic certain attributes that the Steelmaster has. It is like modifying a Honda Civic for SCCA auto-x races. There is nothing wrong with that and Hondas have performed very well and should not be dismissed. However it is not the same as say a Nissan GT-R.

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I saw close performance out of my Glock setup compared to my STI Steelmaster. But there are noticeable differences. The trigger is not as good. I cannot hammer on it as fast as I can with the STI. This Glock does not have a muzzle brake nor a gas pedal for my support thumb. I am using the recess of the ALG mount as a thumb rest. Perhaps if I got a better trigger and muzzle brake this Glock will perform even closer to the performance of the STI.

Another aspect to running and gunning fast is magazine capacity. USPSA has rules about that and competitors always push that boundary. What ever little advantage they can get to better their performance, they will exploit it. Magazines is an area to focus on.

USPSA Open Division allows magazines to be 170mm long. Sadly this excludes the happy sticks like the 33 rd Glock magazine and the 34 rd M&P Magazine. The Glock magazine, second to the left, is a Glock 22 rd .40 S&W mag. It is almost the perfect length for competitive pistol shooting.

Next up are the mags for the Steelmaster. The shorter one holds 17 rounds but the 170mm long one holds 28 rds! And that is legal for Open Division shooting.

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The STI Steelmaster is hard to beat, but the tricked out Glock is a close second. No matter what you have or what your budget is, all the really matters is having fun safely and improving your skill set. Having shot the M&P Core and Steelmaster for several matches, I noticed a significant improvement in my manipulation of my Glock 41 at the FNH USA 3Gun Championship last September. I was able to aim faster and squeeze off follow up shots quicker than before.



Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Steve

    You don’t shoot pistols with iron sights with both eyes open?

    • Nicholas Chen

      When I started back in NY, no. I had to close my left eye. Then I started to cover my left eye by suspending my gopro. It helped train me to shoot with both eyes open for irons.

      Shooting with both eyes open obviously can be done with irons. But it is much easier with a red dot on a pistol. Fewer things to line up and you can focus on the target plane rather than the front sight.

      • LV-426

        You should shoot some bowling pin competitions Nick. It’s a great way to really understand the dynamics of handgun control using major + power factor loads. While in a race against the guy or gal next to you. Drag racing with handguns is a lot of fun.

        • Nicholas Chen

          Sounds like fun. I do like shooting dueling trees.

  • There are a number of high end shooters that advocate that every competitive shooter should spend a year or two with an open gun.

    It was explained to me that by simplifying what you have to manage you get to spend time on things that often you are too busy with the gun and sights to spend time on. Basically transitions with iron sights you have to eye sprint from your front sight to the next target, and back again. While with an open gun you are just looking target to target. Same with moving into positions.

  • Also you should be able to get 30 rounds of 9mm in the MBX 170mm magazine. You have to stuff it with a Uplula, but I get 29 reloadable, and 30 non-reloadable.

    • Nicholas Chen

      I am worried about rounds getting underneath the follower.

      • Never has happened to mine. Personally if it did happen I would be pissed as you pay $160 for a tuned magazine you expect it to work at full capacity.

  • Spencerhut

    I setup a M&P Ported CORE for my wife for Steel Challenge. It burned through several slide mounted (battery powered) dots, using 105PF loads. Trijicon RM06’s and C-More RTS.
    At this years World shoot in Morro Bay it gave us nothing but grief and we had some high powered help to try and get it running properly. It never did work right with anything battery powered. Many of the other competitors basically said “duh, those slide mounted optics don’t last”
    So we switched the optic out for a Dual-Illuminated Trijicon and have had no problems since. The gun is now mine since she can’t see the green dot. We are working on getting her a 1911 steel gun with a frame mounted optic now.

  • Jae

    Shoot any USPSA/IPSC matches with the ALG mount? I keep considering it as it doesn’t reciprocate and I’m not ready to jump to an STI yet, additionally any issues using standard race holsters using the ALG mount?

    • Nicholas Chen

      Sadly no. I got the ALG in Oct. But schedule conflicts and season closure, I missed my chance to shoot a match with it. I will when the matches open back up. I may try it in an indoor practice at a local club.

  • Nate H

    That is a very nice STI. I want an Open gun sooooo baaaaaaad. Like little kid throwing a temper tantrum bad. I’ve considered selling off every gun I own and my Honda chopper to fund one, but I know my wife would kill me lol. I almost bought a EAA witness Limited gun, but alas, it’s too difficult to slap a compensator on of those bad boys. And the 1100 it was being sold for is a far cry from the 2700 you’d need for the Witness Gold Team Elite or even a STI DVC Limited gun. *Sigh* I guess I’ll just keep saving those pennies up.

  • Johnny D

    I decided to play in the USPSA CO division so I ran out and bought a m&p core and spent the big bucks on a RMR RM07 optic. The pistol is great but this top of the line optic lasted about a 100 rounds. Tech support says ya….we know all about that. They were quick to point out the sight was not designed to be mounted on a pistol slide but send it in anyhow and we will fix it. Lesson learned. Buy a non battery operated sight.

  • Justin Henry

    What holster do you use with the glock? I just recently picked up a 34 and want to mount an optic at some point.