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Work Less: The Case for Using Red-Dot Sights

A red-dot can be a great force multiplier in self-defense scenarios by streamlining the steps needed to put your sights on-target.

Work Less: The Case for Using Red-Dot Sights

Duane “Buck” Buckner is the director of training in the U.S. for Aimpoint. After retiring from a 26-­plus-­year career as a senior enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, he became an instructor for government programs in 2017. His professional experience spans drug interdiction and joint operations with other agencies around the world.

I expected an Aimpoint sales pitch the first time I heard Buck preach. Rather, his style of instruction is unique and inviting, albeit with a rapid delivery that doesn’t allow time to conjure a challenge. I signed up for some of his instruction where I recorded his message for follow-up. My takeaway was that he has both a unique perspective on using red dots and a fast-­tempo personality.

Buck emphasizes the brain’s base-level psychology during his training and how it relates to combat and survival, particularly how humans interact with their equipment. He often made the point that red-­dot sights are extremely simple, which he explained from a biological standpoint.

“Biology affects behavior,” Buck said, “and you gotta find where your biology will bend and how your behavior can bend it. Red dots are designed for stress, and under deep stress a person operates from prefrontal cortex atrophy when they perceive the world around them, which unalterably changes what we can negotiate with a mechanical [physical] response.”

Prefrontal cortical atrophy is related to prolonged reaction time. I learned in researching this subject that many of Buck’s inferences were sometimes referenced in neurocognitive studies that measured vigilance.

“When something is trying to kill you, your biology wants a simple solution,” Buck added. “Our stress response makes us look for simple solutions because that answer is the fastest. When we were developing as a species, whether we were designed or evolved, we had to balance a high order of thinking in the front of our brain. When a tiger came out of the long grass, there wasn’t time to go through a list of options. It was fight or flight. Can I eat it, or will it eat me? That thinking made us the ascendant species on the planet, but it also showed us that some can freeze or surrender. What humans have done is design implements to negotiate a solution on a spatial map. Our tools always develop to antiquate its predecessor.”

Red dots have replaced iron sights on close-­quarter carbines as a primary sighting system, and they are becoming common on handguns as they shrink and become more affordable. A complex, multi-­plane sighting arrangement that must be aligned in order to be accurate is going to be less effective. Buck’s training demonstrated that red dots are streamlining a biological process. Whatever that tiger is we face, we must learn how to apply a mechanical skill; point the pistol at the immediate threat and incorporate our trained solution to effectively engage it.

“A [red dot] is an emphatic signal to the brain,” Buck said. “We see subtle signals and emphatic signals. If there was a big red dot in the sky, I wouldn’t have to tell you for you to see it, right? That is an example of an emphatic signal. About 48 percent of your brain’s capacity is dedicated to processing visual information. Your brain is a big seeing machine, so we see those types of emphatic signals. However, if there was an airliner at 30,000 feet, I’d have to point it out and vector you to it. With a red dot, all you do is learn how to point the pistol or rifle in the general direction of the target. When the red dot finds itself on the nose of the tiger, you press the trigger. Your brain is just looking for the signal that says, Oh, I can do this. That’s the simplification that a red dot provides and that iron sights do not.”

Red dot sights hold the hand of our biology, which is why it’s much faster to teach somebody how to use one. 

“It’s interesting when I’m teaching a shooter that’s got significant experience because I often have to teach them to work less. It’s an asymptomatic process to think, There’s danger, push this [gun] in the direction of the danger. There’s the red light. That’s opposed to focus-and-find the sights, align them and then overlay them on a target.”




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