Are laser sights worth it?

    Have you been thinking lately about adding a laser sight to your pistol? The ones we see in the movies seem to make hitting a target simple. You just put the little red dot on whatever you want to hit and pull the trigger. Right?

    Well it is pretty much that simple but there are some things you must know about laser sights before deciding to purchase one for your pistol or handgun.

    Things you need to know about laser sights

    Magnification of movement. The first thing a new laser sight user notices when pointing it at a target is the erratic movement. It doesn't just go to one spot and stay there. It jumps around quickly and is very erratic. It is not easy to hold on a target, especially a small target. I have even had some first timers say " I don't know how anyone can hit something using this sight". They say this because they can't hold the little red dot on the target.

    Well the fact is, it's not the sight. The movement you will see has always been there when you are shooting, only now, with the laser sight, you can see it. You can actually see it with your iron sights but it is not as obvious because the movement is occurring next to your eye. The little red laser dot is showing you what your wiggle looks like at the target.

    This in itself is a great teacher. When seeing this your mind will immediately start working on holding the dot steady. Practice over time will make you a much better handgun shooter. So purchasing a laser sight is a good investment if only to bring your shot groups closer.

    Distance When first using a laser sight, most people are shocked at how small the dot is. For most sights, the dot is less than 1/32 of an inch at around 7 yards. Not that you can't see it on a large target this close but the average person can't pick it up immediately. You really have to look for it.

    When the target is moved to a further distance, say 25 yards, acquisition of the dot becomes even harder. It's easier of course in low light conditions but still not very fast. In normal daylight it's an even tougher task.

    Combine this fact with high stress in a self defense situation and you may not be able to find the dot at all unless you have invested a lot of practice time to make target acquisition instinctive.

    Size of the target and background. On a small target it gets really tough to hold the dot in place. If due to your normal wobble, the dot runs off the target because it is small, most people lose it completely, especially if the background is not conducive to easily showing the dot due to color or patterns, or the background is far behind the target.

    Seeing the dot against a background that is 50 to 100 yards away is almost impossible. If you can't see it, you certainly can't get it back on target. A small target makes the job even more difficult.

    They use batteries. As with any completely portable electronic sight or tool, it is completely dependent upon batteries to operate properly. Dead sight. The good news is the batteries on most recently produced laser sights are rated to last at least 2-3 hours of continuous use. Technology has improved quite a bit in the last few years.

    There are a few sights that don't use the batteries energy until the pistol is removed from the holster. The sight uses a a mechanical device that is activated by drawing the pistol. This option greatly extends the useful life of the battery.

    Although this makes for a pretty efficient battery life, they still need to be checked religiously to keep them functioning at their best.

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    So with all of these concerns, is a laser sight useless ?

    Not at all. In fact, several of my pistols are equipped with laser sights. They are all self defense or home protection pistols, and yes I do use 22 pistols for self defense contrary to some of the opinions out there. This is a topic that must be covered in another article but the fact is, with the right ammo, a 22 is a very lethal weapon. I'll leave it there for now.

    A self defense or home defense pistol will be used at very short distances. If you have to draw your pistol on a threat, your mind will be working at a very high level of stress. You will not be thinking "find the sights". You will be focused on the threat and will be shooting instinctively (not using your sights) or point shooting. A red dot appearing on the target will be a huge help. I won't be depending on it but if it is there, I'll use it.

    My belief is that as long as a laser sight is supplemental, or backed up by iron sights, and is not cumbersome requiring extra large holsters making the pistol harder to conceal, then why not use it. We have covered the concerns that everyone should have with laser sights. Let's now talk a little more about what is good about them.

    Laser sights - benefits

    Best training available. One of the primary benefits of laser sights on pistols is it will make you a much better, more accurate pistol shooter. Using a laser will train you to steady your hold and the nerves that cause the wobble. It will teach you to improve your grip, every time, when shooting a target. It will teach you what trigger pull works and where to place your finger on the trigger.

    How does it do this? By allowing you to see your aim point (where the dot is when the shot goes off). You will have immediate feedback on what you did wrong and what you need to do to improve it.

    People pay hundreds of dollars for this kind of training, actually less effective training. It's free to you with just the purchase of a laser sight, some ammo, and the investment of a little time shooting your pistol.

    Eye dominance doesn't matter. Another benefit is a laser sight, because it is being referenced on the target, instead of close to the eye, overcomes the problem of being opposite eye dominant. Your dominant eye doesn't matter with this sight. This could be a huge advantage for someone with this problem.

    Automatic activation when needed. With the right device, the shooter doesn't have to remember to turn these devices on. When the pistol is drawn, the good ones power up automatically and instantly.

    Can give away your position. The beam from a laser sight can be easily seen in a dark or smoky environment and could possibly give away your position. This is something you wouldn't want to happen in a home protection scenario. Hopefully you don't have a house filled with smoke if you ever have to defend your home but it will usually be dark. Of course this can easily be overcome simply by deactivating the laser but you have to remember to push the button or take your finger off of the button for this to happen.

    Comparison of designs

    Simple rail mounted systems Most popular laser sights today come with green lasers versus red. This is because research has proven that the human eye can more readily pick up green in ambient light conditions. I won't get into the reasons why here but it is a proven fact. That is why most of the designs you will see below all come with green lasers but red is available if you so desire and works just as well as green in dimly lit conditions.

    There are a multitude of pistol laser designs offered by a few reputable companies in the field. The standard design is an under barrel rail mount system with laser only. Below are a few models available on Amazon. These are the simplest design offered. They mount quickly to the rail under your pistol barrel and only require zeroing to begin using them. Three of these are produced by Crimson Trace who is known for their dependability.

    All of the sights are above are designed to be compact. The CMR-201 comes in red and the CMR 204 is the most powerful. Note, all of these sights have to be activated and deactivated manually by tapping a button on either side of the unit. This can be a huge deal in a self defense situation until you get accustomed to it.

    Automatically activated laser sights

    All of the sights below are automatically activated by your grip on the pistol. You don't have to remember to turn them on and off. They too mount to the rail under the barrel but require design features that can change the way your grip feels. It is a matter of personal preference as to which design is better for you.

    There is also a revolver version which is priced in the $250 range.

    Combination laser sight / weapon light

    The next group of laser sights incorporate both a laser sight and a weapon light to give you everything you would need for protection in one package.

    Having a light to properly identify your target is always a good idea. Many tragedies have occurred when a frightened home owner took a shot at a bump in the dark only to discover that it was just a member of the family. Always know exactly what your target is.

    They vary in in laser color, laser strength, and lumens of the light delivered. Realize that in general these units are larger than the above systems which are laser sights only.

    Internal guide rod laser sighting system

    The next sight design is in a category all by itself. The slide guide rod inside the recoil spring is replace entirely with a new one that contains the laser system. This is the closest to the bore of any other laser system.

    On the Lasermax Guide Rod Laser Sight the on/off switch replaces the slide stop lever. That means the sight is an integrated part of your pistol that won't be affected by drops or bumps. It also ensures absolute alignment with the bore for consistent point-of-aim.

    Constructed of high-strength aircraft aluminum with a weather-resistant, sealed BK-7 window glass projection port, it projects a pulsing red-orange 5mW, 635 nM laser beam onto the target. This facilitates fast target acquisition and increased accuracy, particularly in low-light conditions.

    Installation is easy using the included instructions. Because the laser is internal, your firearm can be carried and drawn from its usual holster without any modifications. It also frees up the accessory rail on pistols equipped with one so that a separate light or accessory can still be mounted.

    Power is supplied by three silver-oxide watch batteries. It is not yet available for every handgun make but for the most popular Glocks & M&Ps there should be no problem. Five-year limited warranty. Check it out at Cabela's by clicking the image below.


    A laser sight on a defense pistol is always a good idea if it is backing another sighting system like iron sights. A laser sight will make you more accurate and with practice you can learn to utilize it solely in most self defense or home protection situations.

    Happy shooting !

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