This sounds like very basic instruction for a novice shooter. You may expect to hear this in a concealed carry class or a basic firearms familiarization course. What many fail to understand about this saying, this concept, is that it applies to every level of shooting. There is a plaque at the U.S. Training Center, formerly Blackwater USA, given by SEAL Team 2 in recognition of training they received that reads, you guessed it, “Front sight, Squeeze, Follow Through”. Even at their highly elevated level of weapons use, they had engraved on a plaque this basic mantra.
If you master this, you can master any weapon you choose to arm yourself with. However, achieving this is accomplished with varying techniques depending on the application you need the firearm for. Shooting skills must follow a very defined path to hone them for practical use, but the basis of all shooting skills is to put the sight picture where you want the bullet to go and keep it there for the moment the shot leaves the barrel AND keep it as much in that same spot to lessen the effects of “recoil” on the round. I’m going to break this down over two subsequent articles to thoroughly cover the issues at hand with each part of the saying.
The foundation of all open sight shooting (which means shooting without a scope or other sighting aid other than the original sights mounted by the manufacturer) is finding the front sight when you raise the gun to shoot. Once the front sight is in your view you will instantly know the basic direction you need to adjust the gun to bring the rear sight into a proper sight picture. For shooting bulls-eyes, this is any easy function to accomplish since you are shooting at paper targets, which don’t shoot back. The hard part about shooting bulls-eyes is that once the sight picture is created, you have to maintain it as flawlessly as possible until the shot goes off. So, let’s get into the front/rear sight relationship and establish how to utilize them correctly.
The sights are mounted alignment tools to help you align the barrel of your gun so as to be able to adjust windage (left and right travel) and elevation (up and down travel). Since you cannot look through the barrel like a telescope to see what it is pointed at, you need the sights to make an offset centerline of the bore of the barrel in order to achieve accuracy. So excluding other factors that affect the shot let’s just talk about how the sights help you align the barrel with the intended target.
This first illustration shows proper sight alignment. This is a basic notch and post sight system with the “post” in the middle being the front sight of the gun. The “notch” is the rear sight on the gun. For proper sight alignment the top edge of the post (front sight) must be aligned or flush with the top edge of the notch (rear sight), and the post must be centered in the notch. Depending on the width of the post or the notch, and the distance away from your eyes, there may or may not be a visible space on either side of the post. If there is a visible space, you should hold so there is an equal space on either side of the post as viewed through the notch in the rear sight. If there is space on the right but not on the left, you should move the front of the gun to the right and vice versa if the space is on the left. If the front sight is “fat” enough that there is no space on either side when properly aligned, the front of the gun should be moved toward any visible space until no space exists.
The next illustration shows a common variation in which dots are used to enhance the visibility of the sight alignment. The same concept applies in that the dots should be aligned so that the middle dot of the front sight is level and evenly spaced between the two dots of the rear sight.
Once proper sight alignment is achieved you must create a proper “sight picture” which is placing the properly aligned sights on the intended target as in the last illustration. So to understand what you must do to achieve a proper sight picture you need to think about a couple things.
First is that you must always shoot for center of mass. If you are aiming for the center you are more likely not to miss altogether. If you aim for the center of a barn, chances are you’ll hit the barn. Even if you aren’t aiming for the center, by several feet to the left or right, you’ll probably hit the barn. However, if you are aiming for a nine inch target area that is 20 feet away, aiming four inches off center means you only have half an inch of target left to miss if you induce an error to that side of the target before the shot breaks. The saying for this is “aim small, miss small.” If you are focusing on as small an area as possible, chances are you’ll miss that exact spot by a small amount. You don’t want to hit too broad of an area because shooting for self defense requires very specific things to be hit to incapacitate, thus requiring rounds to be placed in a specific area.
Second, you must understand that gravity starts to act on a bullet the instant it leaves the barrel. If you held a bullet at the exact height of the barrel of a gun, and the barrel was perfectly level, and you released the bullet at the exact instant another bullet was fired from the gun, BOTH bullets would hit the ground at the same time. The one fired from the gun would just travel a great distance while it was falling. Gravity is constant. So this should provide the set up to understand that the sights on a gun are configured to cause the barrel to tilt up slightly, so that when the bullet leaves the gun it starts travelling up, in relation to the intended target, for a bit before it peaks and then begins falling back down again. Some of you may understand that this is referred to as a parabolic arc. This sets up to understand that you have to place the sights at different elevations on the target depending on the distance of the target.
For example, if you are shooting a 9mm with a bullet weight of 147 grains, at 25 yards the bullet will hit about 2.1 inches above the top edge of the sights on the sight picture. At 50 yards it will hit about 2.7 inches above the sights and at 100 yards it will hit 3.2 inches BELOW the level of the sights on the sight picture. For self defense with a handgun this is not that relevant because if they are within 100 yards you will hit within +/- three inches of your point of aim and most all handgun exchanges happen well within 25 yards.
Until sometime just after 50 yards, the bullet is on the rise from its distance below the sight when it leaves the gun (approx. 0.8”) until it peaks. Somewhere after 50 yards it begins to fall. You may have heard of the term “Point Blank Range”. This is the distance a bullet travels before it falls more than three inches below the line of the sights. For a 147 grain 9mm, it’s about 98 yards. So when you hear a news report that states the victim was shot at point blank range, technically it means they may have been almost a football field away! But it sounds better for the news reporter when he or she gets their 20 second sound bite on the air if they get to use that cool sounding term.
The next thing to understand is how to properly look at the sight picture. When looking at something you have a field of view and a depth of field. Your field of view is everything you can see from side to side. The distance of that field, or distance of everything between you and the farthest thing you can see at the time is further refined to the term “depth of field”, which refers to the specific distance within that total distance in which things are in focus. Your eyes have a specific “depth of field”, meaning that when you look at something, only things within a specific distance or range appear in focus to you. This varies with distance. The farther away you are looking the deeper your depth of field. So if I am looking at people on the bleachers across a football field, most of what I see will be in focus over there. But the closer things get to you the shallower the depth of field. When you hold a pistol in front of you, your depth of field is a couple inches. This creates a dilemma.
When you hold your pistol up you need to get sight alignment and then create a sight picture. To do this you are looking at three different things; front sight, rear sight and intended target. It is not possible to have all three of them in focus at the same time, not even two of them. So this is where we come back to the “front sight” aspect of our mantra. When getting your sight alignment and ultimately making your sight picture you focus on the front sight. It should be clear and crisp. The rear site being so close to making into your depth of field will only look slightly out of focus, but still visibly sharp enough to get proper sight alignment. The intended target will look more out of focus, but if you are always shooting for center of mass, you don’t need it to be sharp, just visible. This is also depicted in the last illustration above. So when you raise that gun, get that front sight locked into your view as soon as possible, focus on it, and set up the rest of the sight picture to be ready for the “squeeze”!
Hopefully I have explained well, the meaning behind the first part of “Front sight, Squeeze, Follow through”. I’ll be putting the “squeeze” on you in the near future………