Every now and then, someone decides he needs an optical sight of some sort on a semi-auto pistol. Competition shooters were probably the first to try red-dot “scopes” to get better accuracy. As more hunters discover the advantages of a semi-auto, I expect to see more low-powered, wide field of view scopes on their pistols as well.
The problem with putting optics on a semi-auto is that if they are mounted to the slide, as are open sights, they will be subjected to some rather violent movement as the slide cycles – which is not good for even rugged hunting scopes. Some gunsmiths have developed mounts that attach to the frame, but these involve drilling holes in the frame to screw or bolt then on – which should at least be dome by a ‘smith who knows what he is doing – and the process is not likely to be reversible. Of course, competition shooters DO quite often mount red dot type scopes on their slides, and it works for many of them. There are also small, holographic style sights that fit in the rear dovetail of the slide, replacing the rear sight.
By attaching the mount to the front rail of the pistol, an optic can be mounted above the slide in such a way that the open sights can still be used in an emergency, and neither movement of the slide or ejection of spent brass affects it. Of course, there is still the recoil of a heavy caliber to contend with – but this is no different than scoping a heavy revolver.
I have tried this system on a .45 ACP 1911, and saw no evidence of the mount “shooting loose”. There is some flex in the actual rail portion of the mount, but since recoil comes AFTER the shot is fired, any movement of the scope should not bother the sight picture.
When I got my .460 Rowland barrel, my intention was to try to scope it to take advantage of the cartridge’s potential. Using the same mounting system described above, I discovered that with the optics I had already available, I could either mount the scope to extend over the muzzle, or back past the rear sight. With the scope out front, the blast from the compensator was a problem, but if I mounted it too far back, I could not rack the slide to chamber my first round from a new magazine. A fellow I communicate with on such things who has shot competitively with optics on a semi-auto pistol told me has lost much of the strength in his left arm/hand due to a stroke, so he carried a short length of 3/8 wooden dowel. With an empty magazine in the pistol, he runs the dowel down the barrel from the muzzle end and presses (the pistol) against something solid to rack the slide. When it opens sufficiently, the empty magazine follower and slide stop will “lock” it open. The empty magazine can then be removed, a full one inserted, and the slide closed by using the slide stop release, thus chambering the first round.
The 3/8 diameter of the dowel in a .45 barrel allows it to have sufficient strength to move the slide, but easily clear the extractor, and the wood does not put enough direct pressure on the firing pin to damage it (hopefully, anyway!). Of course, it is probably not a good practice to put anything down the barrel that isn’t really supposed to be there, but this technique does work. It might also be a solution to that common problem all of us fear – at least according to some armed defense books and articles I’ve read – of having our support hand shot off during a gunfight and not being able to rack the slide on our own gun? Probably safer than trying to use the rear sight held against your belt buckle to do it, as some “experts” have recommended. I think it was Col. Jeff Cooper who said to always try to stop shooting with at least one round in the magazine, thus also leaving one in the chamber. Switching to a fresh mag then only requires pulling the trigger to continue shooting – which might be a good trick to remember when hunting, as well as in a gunfight.
At any rate, I am now experimenting with a red dot optic on the same mount I tried the scopes on. I can mount it far enough forward to be able to rack the slide with my left hand, and God intended, and the optic is far enough back from the muzzle to not be affected. I have cut down the mount some, which has made it more secure, and am awaiting time to get out and sight th pistol in. Eye relief is basically unlimited with this type of optic, and when well sighted in, target acquisition is faster than with any open sights. These sights are very common now in “combat” pistol shooting contests, so they should be a good choice for a hunting handgun, as well.
If I decide to go back to scope mount, I will definitely discuss a good frame mount with a qualified gunsmith. In fact, I hope/plan one day to turn the whole pistol over to Clark for a frame mount, a beavertail grip safety, perhaps a better trigger, and probably a few other “improvements”.