Running Your Red Dot Like a Pro (Part 2)

By Bethany Harris, Competitive Shooter

Welcome back for part 2 on running your red dot better. If you missed part one, check it out here. Trying out any of these practices suggestions will help, but hitting them all will get you the most bang for your buck.

As a refresher from last time, here's what I covered last time:

  • Tip #1: Practice, Practice, Practice
  • Tip #2: Study Your Dot Brightness
  • Tip #3: Practice on the Bad Days
  • Tip #4: Practice on the Good Days
  • Tip #5: Practice with Targets of Different Sizes

Now, let's keep rolling.

Tip #6: Practice with Targets of Different Colors

You may have noticed that Match Directors have different preferences for distance target color. Some paint them white, others bright orange and there's a few that don't paint flashers at all. If painted, they may get a new coat between every squad or even just once a day.

If painted between squads, get comfortable negotiating with you squad mates if you're a dot shooter. Ask them if you can be rolled up early in the shooting order.

A freshly painted target is naturally easier to see without magnification. The edges can be discerned easier and holds acquired faster and more accurately. Having a better target presentation earlier in the shooting rotation can be the difference between a hit or miss.

If painted orange, you can actually lose your red dot on the target face depending under certain lighting. You'll find yourself speculating on where your dot is compared to the edges of the plate. Is it low on the target or high? You can spend too much time acquiring your dot and the correct hold for the distance.

In this situation I apply a technique taught to me for shooting true irons. With iron sights, there are holds that require you to completely cover the target with the front post. As you can imagine, it's difficult to shoot a target you can't see.

When shooting irons, you position the front post to the left or right of the target at the proper elevation. Then, you slide the post over in front of the target and pull the trigger at the estimated center.

The same is true for shooting an orange target when you can't see your dot against it. Position your dot off target and slide it into position. Like most of what I have to say here, getting the feel for this is something best tested in practice.

When practicing, consider taking a few cans of spray paint (white, red and grey) to the range with you. Grey is the best to cover up any other color on the target and mimic steel that's been shot all day.

Move the targets of different colors in front of backgrounds of different colors too, i.e., in front of dirt berms, within green foliage, buried in dry grass, etc. Be prepared for every combination you may encounter at a match. No doubt a camouflaged target is a challenge, but with a little experience, you can make it work for you.


Tip #7: Try Different Lens Colors

After compensating for different atmospheric conditions and target colors, here's an easy recommendation. Consider changing the lens color in your shooting glasses.

It was amazing how much a purple lens can make a grey target pop out in front of a green tree line. Yellow lens can cut through fog and mist revealing a crisper target. Super dark lens will allow you to tighten (dim) your dot size on really bright days. Clear lenses are always best when running thought a shoot house or barn.

Moving between dark and very bright areas can be tricky, so be prepared for your eyes to adjust. If you have the opportunity, practice moving in and out of shadow and learning when to squint. This will help minimize the time it takes your eyesight to adjust to the new illumination level. This is also a perfect practice scenario for adjusting the dot brightness on the move.


Tip #8: Learn When to Leave a Target

"When should you stop shooting at a distance target?"

This is one of the questions I get asked most. Unfortunately, no one but you, the shooter behind the gun, can answer it. That holds true whether you are a red dot shooter or have a magnified optic.

You may have heard the most common rule-of-thumb: "Shoot three good ones at it. If you don't connect, leave it." There may be some truth to that, but by thinking that way, you've already yielded to the target.

Beyond everything I've mentioned already, there are so many things that can affect your ability to hit a target. Dot or magnified optic, wind, stability of position, quality of barricade, etc. will affect your shots.

If you start shooting but don't get a hit because you are unstable, you take a split second to rectify the situation. Acquire a stable position, resume shooting and hopefully you'll get a hit. This goes without saying.

We can practice as many different combinations of elements as possible, but under the timer, the challenge always feels amplified. What if you rectify a negative factor like an unstable position, and still don't get your hit? The best advice I received on this topic goes like this: how many factors are stacked against you?

If it's windy, the mandatory barricade is wobbly, the unpainted target is hidden in the tree…

Well, that may be too many negatives to overcome in an appropriate amount of time. Only you know when the hit is just not going to happen. That's because only you grasp the various circumstances you are facing at that exact moment in time.

But what if your position is steady, the last trigger pull was smooth and your sight picture perfect but you're still not getting the hit? You have to ask yourself, "Can I honestly make this happen?" The answer may be no.

Consider target value. Are you aware of that match's penalty for that particular target? By continuing to shoot, are you diminishing your return on investment? What's the stage's par time? Are you jeopardizing your ability to engage additional targets by spending too much time on just one?

This is where practicing with a shot timer pays off. You instinctively start to learn what the passing of time feels like. Then, you can start to manage it more affectively in a match.

You can also analyze post-match video and count how long it takes you to get your hit. Compare that time spent shooting versus accepting the penalty but saving the time. Which is better?

During your walkthrough, size up the challenge in front of you:

  1. Calculate the realistic time you anticipate to complete the course.
  2. Factor the maximum amount of time you should spend on each target.
  3. Take note of the sun's location and estimate the time of day you will be shooting that stage.
  4. Identify problem targets—those that may be obscured, in shadow or need to be shot from a bad position.
  5. Evaluate all the targets against each other and determine the time they are worth accordingly.

Being observant and realistic like this is a difficult skill to learn. It takes a fair amount of experience to do accurately, but can be invaluable to your performance.

I hope you'll take the time to think of all the variables I've brought up here ahead of time. Putting yourself through these exercises in practice, you will step to the line at your next course of fire with some valuable experience under your belt. You'll know exactly what you need to do to overcome the challenges ahead of you and, hopefully, get that first round hit.

Shooter ready? Stand by...

Bethany Harris

Facebook: Bethany Harris Competitive Shooter
Instagram: ms_irons
Non-Magnified Optics Rifle: JP Enterprises CTR-02
Favorite Word: hit
Least Favorite Word: moving

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