Wednesday, August 27, 2008

See the dot. Be the dot. Shoot the dot.

Todd Jarrett had a mission. He wanted to convince me that the Crimson Trace Laser Grips were not only a useful gizmo on a handgun, but also the handiest training aid since the invention of the snap cap.

He failed.

Full disclosure time: About five years ago, I was very active on the gun boards. I think the forum in question was The Firing Line, but it may have been The High Road during the TFL hiatus. Somebody asked about Laser Grips in the revolver forum, and I replied…

I called lasers a gimmick. I decried them as being detrimental to basic marksmanship. Most of all, I pooh-poohed the very idea of a battery-operated gizmo on a carry gun.

Crimson Trace apparently has always had a very forward-thinking marketing department. Even half a decade ago, they had folks stalking the internet forums to answer questions, and I quickly received a Private Message.

Hey,” it basically read, “you’re obviously a pretty knowledgeable shooter. You have a lot of posts; you’re on staff; people listen to what you say. Have you given CTC Laser Grips a fair try?” He offered to send me a pair for my backup J-frame on the condition that I give them a fair shake and report my findings, for good or ill, but honestly. “…and don’t just try on your indoor range; try them in low light. Try them on the move. Try them against multiple targets.

Sure enough, a package arrived in the mail with a refurbished set of the now-discontinued hard plastic grips with approximately the same contour as the famous J-frame “Boot Grips”. It also contained some propaganda literature and videos and, I was relieved to note, a spare set of batteries. I lost no time attaching them to the .38 Special S&W 442 I was currently packing.

I loaded up a bunch of the primer-powered CCI-Speer plastic training ammo, set up some IPSC targets in my living room, turned out most of the lights and, much to the chagrin of my cats, went to work.

Wow! Even cold, never having used the Laser Grips before, the difference was night and day. Drawing from concealment on the random signal of a timer, your eyes are on the A-zone of that first target. Especially when the gun is coming out of a pocket or purse, it’s hard to do that perfect IPSC presentation; no worries with the Laser Grips. As that dot tracks onto the A-zone, you start shooting, and the dot tracks your eyes onto the next target. Even if the batteries crap out, you still have your irons to fall back on, but picking up the first target is just amazingly faster. It’s like the difference between using iron sights and a red dot on a carbine; your eye doesn’t have to juggle multiple points of reference, and target fixation actually works in your favor.

But from where I sat, that was only a side bonus. At the time, I was working hard to master the double-action revolver trigger, and there is no better aid for diagnosing problems with grip and trigger squeeze than a laser. At the time, I was doing fifty rapid dry snaps a night with both hands and then, trigger finger wobbly with exhaustion, doing rigorous dry-fire practice, trying to keep my sights from wavering through the trigger pull. You can fudge your dry practice with irons, but that red dot don’t lie. Heeling the gun? Too much trigger finger? Not enough? The sudden lurch of the dot off target will let you know. I’d still be fumbling in the dark without the instant feedback the laser gave me. When Todd said he wasted his first million rounds of practice before using a laser, he probably wasn’t exaggerating as much as you’d think.

Is it a cure-all? Heck, no. You still need to know how to use your sights. The laser is an adjunct, not a substitute for basic marksmanship skills. But when even Jim Cirillo, who killed more bad guys than Cecil B. DeMille, said that a laser is a worthwhile addition to a fighting gun, I tend to sit up and take notice. (Incidentally, you may ask why I prefer the Crimson Trace grips over a LaserMax guide rod or a rail-mounted laser. The answer is that the CTC grips don’t require a separate switch to turn them on; the button is right there on the grip and doesn’t require an additional fine motor skill to activate.)

So when Todd Jarrett set out to convince me of the utility of Crimson Trace grips he failed. He failed because you can’t convert the already converted.

Oh, and about my worries about battery life? Well, it’s a good thing Crimson Trace sent me those spare batteries five years ago. That way when the set in my grips (which are on their second gun) finally go dead, I’ll have replacements handy, and won’t have to drive four blocks to the drug store to get more…


staghounds said...

I still have one of the early 1990s (I think) rail mounted lasers on my bedside 4516. A laser is all you say it is. Especially its unforgiving nature, like, you know, bullets.

Anonymous said...

But when even Jim Cirillo, who killed more bad guys than Cecil B. DeMille, said that a laser is a worthwhile addition to a fighting gun, I tend to sit up and take notice.

I have Jim Cirillo's voice on tape saying that the lasergrip is the biggest improvement in firearms since the invention of the cased cartridge.

Heh. The tape also includes my favorite Cirillo-ism of all time, which occurred in the middle of telling a story about a fellow cop who shot the wrong person: "... the cop, he lost his marbles, and they had to put him down..." By which he meant the officer lost his job, but it sounded so much more ominous in Jim-speak! :D

Anyway -- good post. CT lasergrips are marvelous in low light. Not so useful in full daylight, but you have your iron sights for that. On the flip side, iron sights aren't so useful in dim light. In dim light, that's when the laser really shines.

Anonymous said...

Tam, you're such a tease. Great story!

Farm.Dad said...

Funny how such level headed ladys can go so far afield .
I agree lazers are a fine training tool but honestly would not have on on a carry gun . I especially despise crimson trace grip lazers as i have yet to find a handgun where they do not interfere with my grip. Ahh well to each our own, it wold be a boring old world if we agreed on everything .

Boyd said...

FWIW, I understand that CTC will replace the batteries for free. I've only had mine a couple of years, so I'm definitely not speaking from experience, though.

Tam said...

"Funny how such level headed ladys can go so far afield ."

While Jim Cirillo was indeed level-headed, he never struck me as particularly ladylike...


red said...

Too bad no one makes them for the Taurus 617!

Kevin said...

I have them on my Taurus 605 and Springfield V-10.
I went with the single switch version, it falls right under my middle finger - I can hold the gun low and not activate until I bring it up on target and squeeze.

It is a great aid for dry fire and instinct practice. I really like knowing where the point of impact would be as I draw and lead.
Next set is going to be for the Ruger MKII that will make it easier to deal with marauding raccoons.

Anonymous said...

I should try a set. I've always thought them gimmicky as well, but if you says they's good, I'm gonna have to see.

Mark said...

Would you say it's a good training impliment for someone who's effectively a newbie shooter, Tam?

Don said...

Not by yourself. If you have an experienced shooter who can diagnose what all the movement means, so you can get feedback on what to change, then I'm sold. But I couldn't tell what was going on just by looking at the laser the way Jarrett and some of the others could. I could see when things were wrong, but I wouldn't have known specifically what was causing the error.

Casey said...

Interesting, maybe I should get a set for my Cobra and see if it'll either tighten my groups up, or at least let me see what I'm doing to spread them out...


staghounds said... may have known a side to Detective Cirillo that was kept from the general public.

phlegmfatale said...

A few months back I was privileged to shoot Peter's .38 j-frame with CT grips, and I was amazed by the wobblesome, loopy antics of that red dot. I may have been a teeny bit nervous as I was under the watchful eyes of jpg, Peter and LawDog, and inexperience had to play a big part, but it looked like I had the thing following a spirograph track, outlining many-petaled daisies. Eep. Maybe not the best tool for a new shooter, but I can see the benefit of CT grips to a steadier, more seasoned hand. I've shot a bit more by now, and would probably fare better with them today.

Anonymous said...

I have the M6 TLI attached to the rail on my XD .357 sig.

I've always had a steady hand (shooting since I was a wee lad combined with martial arts training) so RF with Laser was never hard to learn. The switch is easy to flick on with your weak hand since your thumb is right there, but there is a problem with the springs that push the crossbar into the Picatinny Rail groove. The get weak after about 500 rounds from the violent recoil of the gun (for the M6, not the shooter) and the Laser/Light combo will eventually fly off the rail.

Streamlight will send you free replacement springs. I have developed the habbit through much practice of tugging back on the M6 in between clips to ensure it is locked on. Once I feel that first "click" from a tug, I replace the spring. The batteries last forever.

I've tried the CT's and I do like them better...except for the one on the Kimber Covert. When I practice drawing without ammo, I instinctively have my finger in post, which blocks the laser beam.



Anonymous said...

Oh, I installed Trijicons on the slide myself as backup should Murphy's Laws take effect and batteries go dead or Laser/Light device spins off the end of the rail (which looks kinda bitchin' when it's dark btw)

Always have a backup plan, because the first one will fail.