The major keys to aiming and effective target hits are to properly align your sights, get the proper sight picture, and keep your properly aligned sights on target with little movement at the precise time the hammer falls. This is so very easy to say, but so very difficult and challenging to accomplish. This is especially true in the “heat of the battle” or when under time constraints for quick shots. Your decisions are very important to your accuracy and target hits and these are definitely your decisions alone. There is much debate and many pros and cons for the techniques and ideas that follow. This article is not meant to be a prescription for you, but rather some data and information to spur your thinking and to help you decide for yourself what works best. So gather this and other information, evaluate it against your goals, personal preferences, scenarios, and conditions to decide for yourself what your proper Sight Alignment, Sight Picture, and techniques are. Please do not hold me responsible for your decisions, applications, and use since I accept no responsibility for your personal decisions.
Aiming to me is sight alignment AND sight picture. Sight Alignment and Sight Picture are two terms that are quite often used interchangeably and sometimes taught as one and the same. But it is critical to know that they are two different and distinct fundamentals. The goal in aiming is to get the Point of Alignment to equal the Point of Impact (POA = POI). Sight alignment is the relationship of the front and rear sights. Simply, the eye must be lined up with the Front and Rear Sights and the sights positioned so that the alignment is correct. Proper sight alignment of the two sights means that the TOP of the Front Sight is vertically centered in the NOTCH of the Rear Sight, so that there is an equal amount of white space on either side of the Front Sight post. It also means that the TOP of the Front Sight is LEVEL horizontally with the TOP of the Rear Sight. Of course, there are many different types of sights, but this general alignment concept works for all types of sights whether the front sight is a blade or a small or large dot and whether the rear sight is an open sight, two dots, U-shaped, V-shaped, or a simple notch in the back of the slide. No matter how the sights are configured, the front sight is designed to be placed on the same vertical axis as the rear sight. Proper Sight Alignment looks like this:
ERRORS in Sight Alignment significantly affect target hits and accuracy. Here are some typical errors in Sight Alignment and the resulting errors that can occur:
- Front Sight is TOO LOW – so LOW hit on Target
- Front Sight is TOO HIGH – so HIGH hit on Target
- Front Sight is SKEWED To RIGHT – so RIGHT hit on Target
- Front Sight is SKEWED to LEFT – so LEFT hit on Target
When shooting for accuracy and precision rather than speed, it is important to properly use your eyes to be sure that your sights are aligned correctly.
While it is generally best to shoot with both eyes open (as the NRA and others suggest), some can get better hits with their non-dominant eye closed while aligning their dominant eye directly behind the sights. Of course, medical conditions and physical limitations directly affect this. What is best for one, is not necessarily best for another, so determine this for yourself by practicing and recognizing your capabilities and personal limitations. Closing my non-dominant eye when shooting works for ME as a right-eye dominant right-handed shooter. Initially, I was trained and did shoot with both eyes open, but my medical condition and aging eyes have me now shooting with one eye closed. Decide your dominant eye and what works best for yourself.
How To Determine Your EYE DOMINANCE for Handgun Shooting
- Extend both of your arms and hands forward as in your preferred shooting stance;
- Place your hands together to make a small triangle between your thumbs and first finger of each hand slightly overlapping your fingers; your thumbs will form the base of the triangle;
- With both eyes open, look through your triangle while your arms are extended and focus on the bullseye of a target or some similar object in the room and put it in the center of your triangle;
- Now while looking through your triangle, close your left eye. If you see the bullseye or object centered in your triangle, you are right-eye dominant. But if the bullseye or object moves away from your view to the left and you can’t clearly see it, you are left-eye dominant;
- To validate your eye dominance, look through your triangle again and center the bullseye or object with both eyes open; close your RIGHT eye this time and if it remains in view, you are left-eye dominant. But if it moves away from your view to the right, you are right-eye dominant;
- To further validate your eye dominance, repeat steps 1 and 2 above, then with both eyes open bring your triangle straight back to your face; you will naturally bring it back to your dominant eye without thinking.
- You now know your dominant eye for shooting.
In class I see several students who are cross dominant (e.g. right-handed and left-eye dominant or the reverse) and several left-eye dominant folks who have a difficult time being accurate given their dominance and stance used. Shooters with ocular cross dominance or cross firing have diminished shooting performance because they see the side of the gun’s barrel with their dominant eye instead of the sights directly, so they cannot align the gun with the target correctly. I have received many thanks for a simple tip I gave those who are left-eye dominant and do not use the proper sight alignment process and shooting position and have accuracy problems. The simple tip is for left-eye dominant folks to move their head slightly to the right, so they can better align their dominant left eye with the sights properly, rather than keeping their non-dominant right eye in front of the sights. Try it and success for better accuracy. Recognize that you can achieve adequate hits (maybe not all bullseyes- but most center mass), sight alignment and sight picture even if your dominant eye is not properly behind the sights. So some may effectively hit the target while using a Flash Sight Picture (see my previous article) and using point-shooting at close combat distances.
Sight Picture is the placement of the properly Aligned Sights on the Target. Once you have your Front and Rear Sights in the proper relationship to each other, the question then is “Where do you place the sights in relation to the target?” What is the “Sight Picture?” Do I put my Front Sight in the middle of the bullseye, at the bottom of the bullseye, at the top to cover-up the entire bullseye, or where? Well, the answer is it depends. Guns which are sighted in for a Combat Hold mostly require the shooter to place the Front Sight where it covers the exact center of the target (Center-Mass Hold), while guns sighted in for a Target Hold usually get their accuracy when the Front Sight is aligned at the center of the bottom of the bullseye (Six-O’Clock Hold.) Self-Defense handguns usually (not always) use the quicker but less precise Combat Hold. There are several variations and personal preference plays a key role.
Various handguns come from the factory with a given “hold” or Sight Picture manufactured into the gun. Some are designed for a Center-Mass Hold, others for a Six-O’Clock Hold, still others for a Sub-Six-O’Clock Hold, and even others with a Cover-Up or Dead-On Hold, etc. Confusing and a problem to deal with your various guns and their manufactured Sight Pictures. A shooter must know the proper Sight Picture for each of his/her guns. I recently bought a very nice H&K P30, LEM, Version 1 pistol and didn’t initially research or discover the standard Sight Picture for it. I assumed a Center-Mass Hold and was consistently hitting 3-4 inches off low. I discovered from the H&K Forum that the P30s are designed for a Cover-Up Hold. So, I switched Sight Pictures for that gun and was back to good hits with my 2-inch groups . So, learn from my mistake and learn your standard Sight Picture from the manufacturer and practice it. If your Front Sight POA is off only .03 inch, you miss the target POI by approximately 8 inches at 20 yards or so. Be able to make the transition among various holds for your different guns.
Focus on the Front Sight- A CHALLENGE
It is not possible physiologically for the human eye to clearly focus on 3 objects (or 2 guns) at different distances near and far at the same time. So after your initial quick vertical and horizontal Sight Alignment and given the 3 objects of Front Sight, the Rear Sights, and the Target, which one do you focus on? Which is the most important to have in very sharp focus? The answer and key aiming technique for best accuracy… is to FRONT SIGHT ONLY focus, after your initial cursory Sight Alignment, if you do not use the Flash Sight Picture technique for close-up encounters. This means that when your eye is focused upon the front sight, the target will be blurry and the rear sights will also be blurry. If on the other hand your eye is focused on the Target, the Front Sight and Rear Sights will be blurry. It really is NOT possible for a shooter to focus on BOTH the Target and Front Sight (or all THREE objects) with them in focus at the same time. So don’t fool yourself into believing that you can very quickly switch back and forth so rapidly that you can focus on both or all three. One object or another is in focus at any given point in time… and that should be the Front Sight. Note that some schools of thought believe that the sole focus should be on the target. There are pros and cons to that option, but to me it boils down to the long proven experiences of many experts who believe in the Front Sight Only focus, supported by the actual results in competition, war, and various gun fights. But, decide for yourself. I have seen students who focus only on the Target just before the shot and the vast majority of time their hits are regularly impacting high off the bullseye. This usually happens because when they focus on the Target it is very common for the gun’s muzzle to rise slightly at the very last second, causing their hits to impact high rather than in the center of the bullseye.
I hope this basic presentation of Aiming, Sight Alignment, Sight Picture, Eye Dominance, Errors in Alignment, and Front Sight Only focus has been a good review or reminder of these critical concepts for accuracy. Continued success and “Always Shoot Straight!”