Text & Photos by Jeff W. Zimba
Fifteen years ago, weapon mounted laser aiming devices were quite different than they are today. It was extremely expensive, very large and it was powerful enough to burn out one of my security cameras that I just couldn’t avoid aiming it at on a regular basis. As a “toy” it was great fun. Unfortunately, as a weapon sight, it didn’t have much practical use.
In the early to mid 1990s, technology had finally evolved and allowed for smaller units that had the potential to be mounted on pistols, rifles and shotguns in a relatively smaller package when compared to the early units. They were usually combined with pressure sensitive switches that were stuck, glued, taped or tied to the gun allowing the operator to activate it simply by handling the gun in its regular manner. Most of them were mounted with a type of improvised scope or flashlight mount, holding the laser parallel to the barrel in the case of rifles and shotguns. Some of the companies marketing them for pistols made special mounts that attached to the trigger guard and held the unit under the frame, parallel to the barrel.
Things had come a long way from the bulky and cumbersome lasers of the past but unfortunately there were still plenty of downsides that made these units somewhat impractical. The pigtail style wires that led from the laser unit to the pressure switch were easily caught and tangled on things, and the glues and tapes used to mount the switches commonly became weak, causing the switch to move or end up falling off, dangling by the cord. The other downside was the extra room necessary to holster anything fitted with one of these laser sights. The handguns would no longer fit in their standard issue holsters due to the extra space necessary under the receiver, in front of the trigger-guard. To rectify this, special holsters were manufactured but were regarded as boxy and bulky compared to the standard holsters.
Fast forward to 2004. I was contacted by Crimson Trace Corporation and asked if I was familiar with their new line of Lasergrips. When I explained that it had been years since I had seen the latest in laser aiming systems, they asked if they could send a few units for T&E, and asked what firearms I had to host them. We decided upon an early Colt 1911, and another “special project” they had in the works. We decided that this latest addition to their lineup would be of great interest to the readers of SAR, and they would send a test sample as soon as it was ready. A week later I received a package from them. Upon opening it, I was quite sure a mistake had been made because there was nothing in the package except a pair of 1911 wrap-around grips, similar to the Pachmayr Signature Series grips it already sported.
Upon closer examination, I realized that the laser was actually contained inside these grips as well as the battery necessary to power it. I immediately removed the Pachmayr grips and replaced them with the Lasergrips. I switched the power switch to “on” and in gripping the pistol in a normal aiming manner the laser turned on and stayed on as long as I maintained this natural grip. As soon as the grip was loosened the laser turned off. These particular grips have a pressure sensitive switch directly under the trigger-guard. This switch is activated with the center of the middle finger of the shooter.
After reading the instructions, I adjusted the laser for windage and elevation and lined up the dot with the iron sights. This is done with an extremely small Allen wrench and was accomplished in well under 30 seconds. The tiny adjustment screws are located on the portion of the grips where the laser is actually emitted from, in this case the upper-right corner, immediately above the trigger finger of a right handed shooter. The adjustment screws are very small and are well protected from any unintentional adjustment.
This particular 1911 became my “new toy” for the next week, and I continuously handed it to everyone who darkened my doorstep. Their surprised responses illustrated two things to me. First, I was not the only one who has fallen off the “technology wagon” in regards to laser aiming devices. Second, Crimson Trace has developed something far superior to all the previous laser aiming devices that were so common just 10 short years ago. Whenever someone new is handling the 1911, the first question asked is always about the location of the laser. This is because it is so small and compact that nothing resembling the laser’s point of emission is immediately obvious. The second question is usually about the location of the pressure sensitive switch. Unlike older switches, there is no “click” to feel when you turn the device on. There are no wires, anywhere, to be tangled or pulled free from the weapon. Everything is completely internal and unless the firearm is inspected very close, no one would suspect the grips are anything other than custom wrap-around style grips. On the lower left side of the grip, there is a master switch allowing the user to turn the unit completely off. This saves battery life when the gun is being used when the laser is not required or desired.
A few weeks after I received the 1911 grips, a second package arrived from Crimson Trace Corporation. Knowing this would probably be the new “special project” I was informed of, I was anxious to get to work. This latest product is the LG-525 and is designed for the AR-15/M16 weapons family. Just like the grips for the 1911, there are no wires, pigtails or double-faced tape necessary for this laser sight. The pistol grip contains the batteries, master switch and pressure sensitive activation switch. Due to the design of the AR-15/M16, the laser can not be emitted from the grip itself because regardless of the placement, it would be obscured by the magazine, which is directly in front of the pistol grip, or by the arm of the shooter holding on to the front handguard. To remedy this situation, the laser is mounted to the carry handle. It is tightly secured by a spring-loaded, locking lever that is secured to the handle. The spring tension holding the laser to the carry handle is extremely heavy. Combined with the low-profile button that must be depressed before the lever can be disengaged, there is almost no chance of the aiming device becoming unintentionally dislodged.
The laser is connected to the pistol grip by a thin, flat plastic strip that runs flush to the receiver. All wires are contained inside this strip and there is nothing to become caught or tangled on either vegetation or web gear. Just like the 1911 Lasergrips, the pressure- activated switch is directly below the trigger-guard and is depressed with the shooters middle finger during a normal trigger hold. The laser is adjusted for windage and elevation in the same manner as well, with a tiny Allen wrench.
Due to the fact that the upper and lower receiver must be separated for regular cleaning and maintainance, the laser must be periodically removed from the carry handle. This would regularly necessitate a new sight-in, but Crimson Trace Corporation solved this problem with a simple device mounted in the hole in the center of the carry handle. It is a small, steel block that the laser slides tight against before it is secured in place with the locking lever. The block remains in place during maintainance and when the rifle is reassembled, the laser slides tight against the block placing it in the same position it was in during the original sight-in and any previous use. The author found this method extremely reliable and simple to use. Disassembly and reassembly on several occasions held the same point of impact with no adjustments to the laser after the initial sight-in. Sighting in a firearm with a laser sight can be as simple as firing one shot. Merely hold the rifle on target using the iron sights and fire one shot. Hold the rifle at the same point of aim, and adjust the laser dot so it is directly over the bullet hole while holding the rifle steady. That’s it. This task is made easier with the assistance of a locking rifle rest, but can still easily be accomplished with the help of a shooting buddy to turn the adjustment screws while you hold the rifle steady.
Bright sunlight has never been a friend to the user of a laser. The dot is very hard to pick up with the naked eye in direct sunlight and a laser is best suited for indoor, artificial light or low light situations. Adding a reflective surface to the equation can change everything though. The first opportunity to sight-in the LG525 sight was just after noontime on a bright, sunny day. We went to a range that had indoor facilities as well as several outdoor ranges. This way if the sun was too bright outside to see the laser dot, the indoor facilities could be used as a standby. Because of their highly reflective finish, several old, expired, automobile license plates were gathered and brought to the range as potential targets. This solved the problem completely as the dot was clearly visible at 50 yards, even in direct sunlight. On every subsequent outing with the Lasergrips, a few old license plates were thrown in the range bag. Standard rifle targets made of highly reflective material can be purchased for use with laser sights but none were locally available to the author.
The immediate advantages of using a laser sight include the ability to acquire the target extremely fast, and giving the operator the option of holding the firearm in a different position because the standard sights are no longer necessary. The laser dot shows the shooter the projected point of the bullet’s impact regardless of the method in which the firearm is held. Both eyes can stay open and focused on the target unlike the use of iron sights. Typically expressed potential drawbacks to using a laser sighting system include the ability of the “target” to see the position of the shooter. This is addressed by Crimson Trace Corporation by the use of their pressure sensitive switches. When the master switch is on, slight pressure to the grip turns the laser on, and simply by releasing the pressure on the grip after firing, the laser is turned back off just as fast. In situations where the use of a laser sight is not necessary or desirable, the master switch can be turned off and the laser does not function regardless of the pressure on the grip. Another potential problem the author discovered is the dot quickly illustrates the unsteadiness of the shooter. You can tell all the stories you want to your shooting buddies, but that shaking, ever-moving dot downrange tells a completely different story. That is one problem you will have to work on with practice, as there is nothing Crimson Trace Corporation can do for you on this front. The maximum range of the Lasergrips as tested, far surpasses the effective range of the firearms that they were installed on. Under low light conditions the dot can be seen for several hundred yards and neither the author’s .45ACP Colt 1911 pistol nor the authors 9x19mm AR15 SBR are effective at that range (nor is the author with those firearms). The 5mW, 633nm diode used in Lasergrips provides the brightest beam and maximum output currently allowed by federal law.
Crimson Trace Corporation uses a Class IIIa diode, which is regulated by the FDA. The FDA has classified the Class IIIa diode as non-hazardous to the eye under momentary exposure. It is believed that the natural reflex for the eye to blink under bright light would occur faster than any damage could be done with this class of laser should it actually cross the path of vision. The author believes that the key to this safety warning is in the phrase “momentary exposure” and every effort should be made to never allow the beam to shine in anyone’s eyes regardless of whether it is mounted on a firearm, or not.
Lasergrips are shipped with a tiny .028-inch Allen wrench for sight adjustment, a special cleaning swab and an informative owner’s manual. All Lasergrips are backed with a 3-year warranty from the point of purchase. The Crimson Trace Corporation website is full of information regarding their products and contains photos, videos, a customer service area and a forum area. They can be visited on line at: www.crimsontrace.com
Laser sighting systems have evolved greatly in the last 20 years. Technology and innovation have brought these once heavy and cumbersome devices to the point where they are tiny, light and useful. Something that used to be viewed as an exotic “gadget” now has an obvious place in both the “practical” and “tactical” categories. The Crimson Trace Lasergrips evaluated by Small Arms Review are both comfortable and attractive. They are simple to install and use, and require a minimal amount of maintainance or special handling. The batteries are common and available at most photo shops and department stores. This author can absolutely recommend Crimson Trace Corporation’s Lasergrips for any enthusiast who is fortunate enough to own one of the many firearms they are manufactured for.
Model(s) Tested LG-401 • Colt 1911
LG-525 • AR-15 / M16
Laser Type Class IIIa visible laser diode
Peak Power 5mW
Beam Color Red
Beam Size App. 0.5 inches at 50 feet
Battery Type (2) CR2032 lithium cells
Battery Life Over 4 hours continuous
(5 Year shelf life)
MSRP LG-401 $329.00
For more information:
Crimson Trace Corporation
8089 SW Cirrus Drive
Beaverton, OR 97008
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V8N7 (April 2005)