Running Your Red Dot Like a Pro (Part 1)

By Bethany Harris, Competitive Shooter

Many ask me why I shoot a dot when there's this magical thing called magnification. For me, it's because it's different from the mainstream. That uniqueness combined with the added challenge makes it fun.

But naturally, it is more fun when you actually do well. To address the challenges of shooting a distance target without magnification, here are a few things I have learned about shooting a red dot.

Some of these tips were taught to me by those with vast experience. Still others came to me through sheer inspiration. But most of these lessons came through trial and error.

That's the hard way to learn. In many cases, it can be a blow to the ego and a hard pill to swallow. So, I share all this in the hopes that it helps you become a better shooter too.

Tip #1: Practice, Practice, Practice

There is no substitute.

Like most every shooter I've ever known, I don't do as much of it as I'd like. But when the rare occasion presents itself for practice—specifically longer-distance practice—I try to maximize the experience. As a professional with a career outside of competitive shooting I have to make my practices quality sessions.

Most of the tips I have for you here are only useful if you practice them ahead of a match. Find the time or make it.

Tip #2: Study Your Dot Brightness

Knowing your point-of-aim vs. point-of-impact is vital when shooting the rifle. When shooting a red dot, there is still another level of adjustment to consider.

Obviously, you need to know where to hold on small targets inside 10 yards. But also practice transitions between close paper targets and targets at 100 yards, perhaps a 6" steel reset target. This exercise will teach you your preferred dot brightness when dealing with target transitions of this kind.

While a bright dot will make for fast acquisition on the close target, it may be too large for a target father away. Conversely, a fine dot might give accurate hits on the longer-distance targets but may be lost on closer paper. This can cost you valuable time searching for your dot. There are two things you can do to overcome this seeming catch-22:

  1. Identify your optimum dot brightness for these situations and take that information to the start line with you. Apply it when taking your sight pictures, and set your dot accordingly.

  2. Practice adjusting the dot on the move. Is there a dial to roll or buttons to push? Can you instinctively find those tools while running or moving into a new position? If so, you can save valuable seconds.

Tip #3: Practice on the Bad Days

"It's a nice day – I think I'll go to the range."

If you shot any matches last year, chances are you shot in adverse weather conditions. That's just how it goes, so make sure to practice in all weather conditions too.

Yes, you'll get muddy and have to clean your gear. But, you'll come out more proficient at shooting in bad weather, especially compared to all the other fair-weather shooters. Plus, more than likely, you'll have the practice range to yourself.

Complete the same transition drill from Tip #2 in both rain and fog if you can. You'll be surprised at how different the dot looks.

A bright, sunny day can wash out your dot. But on an overcast day, you can better fine-tune its size. You might want to run it a bit dimmer than normal, and in many cases, the dot profile will likely be sharper.

Of course, the dot is only useful if you can see it. If you're shooting in the rain, raindrops will cover the reticle, obscuring your dot. As we all know, a disjointed dot is a bad dot. So, how do you overcome this?

Preventive measures such as anti-fog and Rain-X certainly help, but I also carry sandwich bags in my range bag. Maybe I'm on deck with my rifle slung or I have to stage my rifle and it starts to rain. If so, I'll grab my optic cover or a baggie and cover the reticle. This is a simple fix to keep the rain off my glass.

What if droplets do settle on the glass? What works best under the clock? Wiping it off? Blowing on it?

If slightly obscured, what does the dot look like and can you shoot through it? Identify your personal tolerance for a suboptimal dot ahead of time. Knowing how to overcome bad weather circumstances will make you better prepared than most when competing in foul weather.

Tip #4: Practice on the Good Days

Don't get the idea that shooting a non-magnified dot on sunny days is any simpler. On a really bright day, you may instinctively brighten your dot to compensate. Yet this might inadvertently hide small targets at distance and blur the perfect hold.

You also need to consider transitioning from targets in full sun to those in shade. If you have the opportunity at practice, place distance targets in both sun and shade. Swing back and forth between the two.

Again, note the optimal dot brightness for both situations. Recall that experience the next time you encounter target arrays in varying brightness.

Tip #5: Practice with Targets of Different Sizes

As a red dot shooter, your hold on a distance target can be established using the target itself as a reference:

Hold center plate; hold top half; hold top edge; hold line of light; hold bottom edge of flasher, etc.

But what happens if you establish these hold on a 10" plate in practice and in competition you encounter a 6" target? Your visual reference point changes, and your hold will need to be different. Practicing on targets of varying size will give you the knowledge needed to adjust your holding according to plate size.

Under the clock, this can make the difference between hitting and missing.

Next month, I'll keep the tips coming and talk about how much color can play a part in your dot shooting. I'll also break down good mental process when it comes to sizing up target value. When should you just stop shooting?

I hope every shooter out there can find something useful here. Make sure to come back for Part 2 in next month's BULLETin.


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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