Sunday, November 23, 2014

Co-Witness: How to Most Effectively Negate Your Optic

Red dot/holographic sights are pretty much a requirement on the modern fighting rifle, You really aren't going to get any respect from the internet by posting photos of your high end AR with a simple set of folding irons, or worse, committing the sin of having fixed sights and a parade sling.  Just as important is setting up the best possible photo setting to really capture the essence of how awesome your gear is.

But in all seriousness, the red dot has a place on the modern rifle and that place is mounted without the interference of iron sights.  The first known use of a red dot sight in combat was the Son Tay Raid in 1970.  The Optic was a Single Point Occluded Eye Gunsight and for 1970 they were the cutting edge in communist shooting optics.  Its also interesting to note that the OEGs were used for props in Star Wars, which makes them hard to come by now days.
who wore it better?
It was not until 1997 that the US Army adopted a red-dot for widespread use (the Aimpoint Comp M2 or M68 CCO) and co-witnessing was something that was not optional because of the rifle at the time (mainly the M16 A2 ) did not have removable/foldable sights.  Another reason (one that is more of a point of contention) is that the red dots were not considered reliable enough and co-witnessing was done so that the irons could be used the second the red dot failed.  We have come so very far from the early days and optic reliability is to a point where they are just as durable and reliable as iron sights.  This is more of a personal belief for me, though I can say that in my career I have broken two front sight posts and zero Aim Points, so there's that.

get to the point.
So what is co-witnessing?  Well its basically having fixed rear/forward traditional sights with the red dot optic in the middle.  Why is it bad?  The advantage to a red dot optic is simple; it reduces the number of focal planes needed to shoot accurately.  With a red dot I superimpose the dot over my desired point of impact, use my mechanical fundamentals and boom, four more and I get a drone strike (well, it was a drone strike in my day, I don't know what the kids are getting these days).

When using iron sights I must focus on the rear, align it to the front, confirm my POA on the threat, then go back to focusing on the front sight, thats three focal planes.  When it comes to shooting, 2 is better than 3.

So if I am co-witnessing, what am I really doing?  Using 4 focal planes.  I have a rear, a red dot floating in the middle, a front sight post and then my target/'threat.  While I can ignore the rear sight reasonably well, that front sight is still in my field of vision and the entire package makes the eye work way harder than it should.

Yes, Xibit, you are on now.
Back up iron sights are just that and should be folded down when not needed.  This isnt an epidemic, as the newer generation of shooters who may have never used a fixed sight rifle are coming up with the red dot being the primary experience (which means their iron sight skills may be less than adequate but that's a conversation for a different time).

Now, we have become confident in the red dot sight for rifles just in time to not trust them on handguns.  The red dot is becoming more popular for range toys and as a realistic carry option for your EDC, however the co-witness problem is ever present as the common configuration places the red dot right back between two fixed sights.  

AYFKM? I thought we were past this.
When a slide is milled to accept a reflex sight (red dot) the pistol generally needs suppressor height sights to make use of the iron sights possible. that rear sight is not only much more pronounced and in your field of vision, it is also something we are hard wired through years (or decades) of pistol shooting to pick up on unconsciously.  
The common configuration, beard not included.
By placing the rear sight forward of the optic you will still have use of the iron sights if they are needed but you are able to pick up the dot in the optic first, as the optic is the first object your eye will track to as the pistol comes into your field of vision.
Like so.  its hipster because you probably havent heard of it.
This rear-sight-forward configuration is given sideways glances by some because they feel as if they are sacrificing a great deal of sight radius and therefore accuracy when using the irons.  It is true that you are giving up alot of sight radius, a Glock 17 in this configuration has less of a sight radius than the compact Glock 26, though does it affect accuracy that much?  In my experience, no, it doesn't. Practical accuracy remains unchanged and the average shooter can still get respectable accuracy at distance, though realistically do you really think you are going to need your irons for 100 yard self defense shooting?  Highly unlikely.   The Reflex style red dots popular for handguns are durable, none more (in my opinion) than the Trjicon RMR.  I have been using the RMR on pistols and rifles for a while and have yet to break one despite running my guns pretty damn hard.

like so.
So until someone invents a set of folding pistol sights, I will continue to run my rear sight forward of the optic to prevent the focal plane confusion and avoid co-witnessing all together.  Just something to think about.

As always, if you like it, give it a +1 below.


  1. FWIW, I run BUIS always up, large aperture selected. Unlike you, I've broken 2 Aimpoints, 2 Eotechs, and no iron sights, and I find transitioning to always up BUIS is faster than my pistol transition. I also get the benefit of taking the shot with my rifle instead of my handgun. I do, however, run a lower 1/3 co-witness, so when I shoot on my optic the BUIS are out of the way and don't even come into play until I need them. YMMV. I do agree that a full co-witness impedes target acquisition with always up sights.

  2. Whoever wrote this is completely wrong. You are much more likely to break a powered optic than BUIS any day of the week. Co-witnessing is something that tons of professional shooters do to at least to some degree. Have you not heard of 1/3rd co-witnessing? It removes the issue of the rear and front taking up massive amounts of your FOV while still providing accurate backup sighting. Do you expect shooters to remove their optic in order to use their backup sights? If not, and you are using folding BUIS, why not just co-witness and fold them down? Also, putting both rifle and pistol co-witnessing into the same article is pretty ridiculous considering they require completely different methods of aiming and operation. One can have a perfectly zeroed and co-witnessed rifle whereas their pistol with suppressor sights is always offset to a high degree (based on a specific range) due to the high nature of the sights. This can amount to incredible changes in accuracy even at just +/- 5m from the zeroing range.

    I respect your opinion, but please don't discount a method of shooting that many other professionals choose to employ with effectiveness. Remember that redundancy never got anyone killed.

  3. Wow!nice blog and all the information are the very great and i really good information about the gun optic and co-witness.

    Red dot

  4. Youre always gonna have tacticool people with mall nija guns that have every possible attachment mounted to be used at the same time. It has way more to do with following the leader than what works. Its a shame how few people understand the concept that you dont use your back up and primary sights at the same time...js.
    by the way if the rmr on my pistol fails in an emergency self defense situation im confident i can hit my target without sights