Safety and Training

Plain or Fancy?

Plain-Jane Winchester 1897

One of the most common discussions on gun forums is about the usefulness of accessories. Should shooters use a telescopic sight when irons are available? Are light, laser and wind speed indicators necessary on a home defense carbine. Are battery-operated red dots helpful or just another item to fail at the most inopportune moment? The benefits of each piece of gear are clear: sights provide better practical accuracy, light provide positive target ID, lasers give alternate aiming options (especially when wearing a gas mask), and wind speed indicators help with calculating long-range windage. So what are the down sides?   For one, all of these accessories cost money. Good, durable accessories can be expensive. Fortunately, users can amortize their accessories over many years and the benefits of having a good scope can be well worth the few dollars per month in depreciation. Most accessories also add weight. A red dot here and a white light there, plus a side-saddle with ammo and a bayonet, and soon you are looking at pounds rather than ounces of extra weight. You are also looking at new corners that can snag during use. Maintenance is another issue: a plain-jane shotgun can sit in a closet for years and still work, but the laser battery might not last as long (though lithium batteries can last for years on the shelf). Regular rotation of batteries becomes a scheduled task.

The real cost of accessories is not the weight, the money or the maintenance requirements. It’s the training time. If you have a light/laser unit, can you turn it on and have it in the mode you want by feel, without having to think about it? The simple shotguns may be popular for reasons other than cost and a large bore — users generally operate it as point and click device with no elaborate sighting or mode selections. If you have a rifle with elevation-adjustable sights, do you make the changes for range or just aim off to allow for the expected deflection? If your gun has multiple possible modes, your sight has multiple settings, and you have the option to use light, laser, or both, how long before your decision-making slows down. In offensive use, operators can configure these options in advance, but what about the much more likely defensive situation? Should we take the time to learn how to shoot while wearing a gas mask? The time taken to learn that would cut into the basic marksmanship or movement practice. How about using a sight with a busy range finding reticle instead of a simple dot or cross hairs — would the distraction affect of all that extra information ought-weigh the benefit of long-range precision it facilitates?

The same question applies to training of new shooters: simple or complex? Do we want the laser to help diagnose issues with sight picture and trigger control, or would plain iron sights be better? Should we teach with scopes that permit observing hits and misses, or with a red dot that’s forgiving of cross-eye dominance, or stay with the old reliable notch and post? Is even using sights an unnecessary complication when a plain barrel and a trusty bayonet were good enough for the illustrious ancestors? What do you think — should we embrace the technical progress or concentrate on the basic katas using un-accessorized sticks?

About the Author:

Oleg Volk

Oleg Volk is a creative director working mainly in firearms advertising. A great fan of America and the right to bear arms, he uses his photography to support the right of every individual to self-determination and independence. To that end, he is also a big fan of firearms.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. Wind speed indicators?

    For home defense or any other short-range work, certainly not.

    For a sniper or long-range hunter (same thing, really), plausible.

    (Like above; if you have a use for a laser designator, they’re great. Those of us who don’t have artillery or air support to direct with one, not so much.

    A laser sight, on the other hand, is useful in pretty much any defensive action that a civilian might get involved in.)

  2. I have a double barreled 12 gauge with #1 shot for social occasions. No need to rack, giving away my position. No need to reload until after the second shot. I expect 25 each .30 caliber wounds through and through the target in my house, with a good probability of a one shot hit on the spinal chord. If there is a second home invader on PCP or some other drug that makes him aggressive, I have a round for him too, with an expectation of 25 through and through .30 caliber wounds, again with a good probability of a one shot hit on the spinal chord. Added rounds attacked to the buttstock in a sleeve, and of course my .45ACP revolver.

    Be safe!

  3. “Is even using sights an unnecessary complication when a plain barrel and a trusty bayonet were good enough for the illustrious ancestors?”

    The average engagement range in Afghanistan is 500 meters –

    Our ancestors didn’t have to engage from that far away. It’s all about matching the tools to the job. If you’re over-prepared, you’re lugging around extra weight, expense, and unused training. If you’re under-prepared, you’re at a disadvantage…sometimes a terminal one.

  4. Rivrdog, I never said that. In fact, I said the opposite: ‘If it adds to your capabilities, add it and train with it.’

    There is no substitute for training. There is also no substitute for lights in a dark environment. Red dot sights make for faster, more instinctive aiming. Suppressors ensure that you won’t destroy your hearing while protecting your life. A laser sight allows you to acquire your target even if you are not in a position to get a good sight picture. All of these things increase your capabilities, all of them require some training. All of them are useful and applicable in a home-defense scenario.

    It is entirely possible to put rounds on target without the ‘extras’, but some ‘extras’ make the hits more likely.

    Think about it for a while.

  5. Military riflemen have accessories because they fight in scenarios that we never will. The average gun-owner might need to kill an intruder in his home or vehicle, at very short range. That is the most likely scenario, not facing an enemy machine-gun emplacement on a hillside 400 meters away, or doing a night search of a house for militants. If you follow the “prepared for ALL combat scenarios” line of thinking, you’re not really equipped unless you’re Class 3, are dressed in full battle-rattle, and have proper support from other combat units.

    You can’t be An Army of One, all you can reasonably be is prepared to defend your space from the most likely invaders. You need to train for that, think about that, and equip for that. Life is nothing but playing percentages. Play correctly, and you’ll win.

  6. A lot of accessories are extras, not necessary, but perhaps nice to have. My bedside CZ .40 has a rail with a laser on it. I can shoot it just fine with the iron sights, but the laser is there if I choose to use it. If it is not on the gun, I do not have that choice.
    Plus, the (admittedly minimal) extra weight helps reduce muzzle flip!
    Every weapon I own has iron sights. Most have optics, or lasers, available if I need them. Learn to shoot the firearm as it is, and the extras become gravy. Just don’t become dependent on a laser with a fallible battery, or a scope that could fog or crack.

  7. Our soldiers in Iraq generally have all sorts of crap hanging off their rifles. Why? Because they might NEED IT.

    Every item has a specific purpose that adds up to a more effective weapon. Aimpoints are faster than iron sights any day of the week. The AN-PEQ 15 has visible and infrared lasers and illuminators, and the forward grip gives the soldier a purchase point on the crowded rails. Maybe they just need more training instead of all that crap. Then again, maybe not.

    I’d be worried about my iron sights being knocked off zero long before I’d worry about my Aimpoint (with 5-year run-time) going dead or being damaged.

    If it adds to your capabilities, add it and train with it. If it’s dead weight, don’t. My experience is that KISS is an excuse to bash people who can afford to spend more on their weapons.

  8. It’s all about how well you do with your weapon. If my iron-sighted rifles will hit what I want, I don’t need optics. In a night fight, I am going to wait in cover until I get a clear idea of where my enemy is shooting from, then movement might be the best answer, not turning on a light or laser.

    If the only way you can hit anything is with the aid of Tommy Tactical perched on your rifle, by all means, perch it there. You might consider more training though, and once you’ve been trained, you might not need Tommy shooting for you.

    Your points about the increasing complexity of the firearm are well-made and well-taken. The KISS Principle is a winner’s principle.


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