To progress requires change, but not all change is progress.

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I’ve been bombarded with emails over the last couple of days about (yet another) lever action rifle adorned with a red dot scope. I’ve heard it called everything from “tactical cowboy” to “poor man’s Scout Rifle”, but all such sobriquets miss the point.

The lever action rifle, as historically outfitted, has never really seemed to need the red dot.

Please understand that I’m all for moving forward. I’m a technology junkie; I love what is new and demonstrably better. Sometimes, though, we spend a lot of time and energy to re-create something which we already had in simpler, more reliable form. Just because something is a change doesn’t mean it’s really a step forward.

The red dot scope affixed to the old lever action is a case in point. The lever action has traditionally been fitted with a buckhorn or semi-buckhorn rear sight, the operation of which seems to be a mystery to everyone under the age of 40. Buckhorn sights were designed for fast acquisition in poor lighting conditions, but were capable of delivering higher precision when necessary. They were the reason that the lever action was regarded as the premier reactive hunting arm, as contrasted with the bolt action which was viewed as a more contemplative, proactive piece.

Today the red dot sight is touted as being the ideal reactive tool, but in my experience really isn’t much better than the good old buckhorn. It’s hardly faster, it’s no more accurate, but it does add weight, complexity, battery dependency, and a disturbing tendency to drift out of zero with no apparent provocation.

(In nearly every rifle class over the past several years, at least one of the ubiquitous red dot sights brought by students has proven itself incapable of being properly zeroed. I don’t want to point any fingers, but the usual suspect starts with ‘E’ and ends with ‘ech’. If you simply must have a freakin’ red dot sight, at least make it an Aimpoint. Rant off.)

My suspicion is that people are looking to technology to make up for improper handling of the lever action. I’ve watched lots of people live and far too many on YouTube, and very few (if any) illustrate an understanding of the dynamics of the gun in action. The lever action should come to the eye immediately, and one should be capable of triggering a suitably accurate round at almost the instant the butt touches the shoulder. It takes a bit of practice and requires proper handling techniques, but it’s hardly rocket science.

In the not-too-distant past we called it ‘snapshooting’, and it combines manipulation, continuum of sighting, and an intuitive comprehension of the balance of speed and precision. That can’t be gotten from a holographic sight, no matter how much money one spends.

One of these days, when I have some free time, I’ll delve into this in more detail. For now I remain firmly in the traditionalist camp until a real improvement on the old design has been demonstrated. It’s not that I’m averse to change, but if I’m going to spend the time, effort and money to make a change I want some benefit from it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check the Facebook message that just popped up on my iPhone. Could a real Luddite say that?

-=[ Grant ]=-

2014 Update: as red dots have been getting smaller and more reliable, and my eyes have been getting older and less reliable, I’m starting to re-evaluate my position on red dots and lever actions. I’m not totally convinced, mind you, but I’m less critical than I was when this was written in 2011!

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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