Front Sight, Squeeze, Follow Through

Proper Sight Picture
Proper Sight Picture

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.

“Front Sight,…”

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.


Proper Sight Alignment
Proper Sight Alignment

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.


Proper Sight Alignment with Dots
Proper Sight Alignment with Dots

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.



Proper Sight Picture
Proper Sight Picture

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………

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James Barnhart is a Veteran of the U.S. Navy, a former fugitive recovery agent and contract bodyguard and is a gunfight survivor. James has been operational and/or an instructor for firms such as Vance International, Dyn-Corp and the former Blackwater USA. He currently is an NRA instructor and teaches unarmed and armed self defense and lectures on the psychological and physiological aspects of training for violent confrontation. He has also been featured on the Dr. Gina Loudon Radio Talk Show. He can be reached at DefCon CCW and followed on twitter @defconccw.
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Excellent article, even for review.

James G. Barnhart

Thanks Rick. I know it’s old hat for most on here, but new shooters are joining up everyday!


Hi James, I’m one of those “new shooter”, thanks for the great article. Lots of great info. I can’t wait to get to the range and practice these techniques. Keep them coming.


The dots are for reference only.  They are not for alignment.  


In regards to the dots, James had it right and his provided illustration is absolutely correct as to why the dots can be valuable for sight alignment.   The MOST important focus should be on the front sight, but those dots absolutely will assist you in alignment when properly used!   You would be correct to say dots are not essential, but to flat out say  “They are NOT for alignment.”  (as you did) . . . is not true.   James has excellent credentials to say what he has said and he has it right.

James G. Barnhart

Thanks Cobra. ….”shows a common variation in which dots are used to ENHANCE the visibility of the sight alignment.” jlw must have missed that part right next to the illustration of the dots…..


Your welcomed James, and I’m glad to see “Joe” who commented received the same training.   I’m sure the vast majority of us did as well.  I spent nearly 30 years in law enforcement, was a range master, NRA competition shooter, FFL dealer, etc. and I too received and taught the exact same method as you.   Thanks again for your article.


The dots are not precision aligned as a set from the factory.  They mass produce front and rear sights separately and then package them together.  They are for reference.

My credentials aren’t too shabby either.


I thought the bullet will shoot the center dot. I think that is why I always shoot a little bit lower of the target.

Joe Sobotka

Great article. I was trained by a highly advanced individual. His credentials, certifications, accomplishments are pages long. I learned the very same thing from him as well.


It’s good for target shooting try it under real butt puckering stress, You will not even see your sights
Mother Nature takes over,FIGHT OR FLIGHT. Our brain say’s look at the threat. In a Gun/Knife fight, 99% of the time you will shoot each others hand, because MOMA nature tells u s to look at the threat. What is the threat The bad guy or the gun/knife? 
If U have time thats what U need to do. I teach folks to pick up that front sight when you start to level the gun. I put people under stress, and the Swat Teams members that I train, because that is the way it will be in the REAL WORLD place, they see a BIG BIG differences, in their shooting abilities, at 5 to 10 ‘
Folks need to practice for the real world in realistic training.

Stay Safe, Stay Dangerous

James G. Barnhart

ABsolutely. This article was for basic understanding for new shooters. Visit my website and read my articles there, especially on the Amygdala. I do a seminar called Defensive Intelligence that is the academic primer for the course I teach that was developed when I was involved with Blackwater.


Thanks for this article.  I’ve owned a 1911 for three years.  Generally turned off at the over the tope political stuff.  This was real useful information and good advice to grow from.

Arc Angel

Great article for someone who’s just starting out at pistol shooting.  Not too useful, though, for more advanced pistoleros.  For instance where did the term, ‘squeeze’ come from?  At the present time it’s largely out-of-vogue with highly skilled pistol shooters; and, well do I think it should be.  ‘Press’ or, ‘Tap’ is what a lot of the faster and more accurate people are using now.  (I’d be one of these people – OK.) 
Shooting at COM is great for anyone I’ll identify as being moderately skilled with a handgun; however, after years of doing things like this, I’ve learned to hold my initial shots on the base of the neck.  ‘Why’?  Because a slightly higher hold on the target tends to compensate for a whole lot of, ‘all too human’ pistol-handling phenomena.  (Tends to put the first shot in and around the heart, too!)  😉 
I, also, think that too much emphasis is placed on acquiring and maintaining a, ‘perfect’ sight picture.  This causes me to suspect that the author hasn’t done a very great deal of really fast (combat) pistol shooting.  While I do like the comments on follow-thru and trying to reduce split times between shots to the smallest possible amount of time AND sight picture disruption, I’m surprised that little, if anything, has been said about where all really great combat pistol shooting begins ……. With a skillful, ‘grab and grip’. 
Personally, I care very little about achieving perfect sight alignment on a fast draw.  Neither do I care too much about exactly, ‘nesting’ the front sight during a rapid fire shot string.  Sure, I want to hold that front sight down and reduce my split times to as little as possible; but, as I think every genuinely fast and accurate pistolero knows, you should strive to be working and firing OFF THE TOP of a reasonably well aligned front sight.  In my experience this is, ‘What’ really matters, most, in every CQB pistol gunfight. 
(There’s, also, a very great deal of good that can be said about training yourself to, ‘hold low’ while firing off the top of an imperfectly, ‘nested’ and slightly elevated front sight; but, I’ll reserve these comments for another time.) 
Anyone who thinks you’re not going to actually, ‘see’ your pistol sights during a deadly encounter is (As far as I’m concerned) not really a gunfighter; he’s a shooter instead.  In agreement with the excellent, ‘Connect the Dots’ article, CQB gunfighting absolutely demands that a combatant knows how to instantly, ‘go cold’ the moment eminent danger is perceived.  Using your weapon, ‘from a cold mind’ is the best guarantee for both survival and neutralization that I have, yet, discovered. 
PS:  I’m going to have to ask some of you guys to excuse me.  I don’t have, ‘big bad credentials’ like a lot of people around here seem to possess.  All I know (and know well) is how to use a handgun with extreme efficiency whenever it really counts. 

James G. Barnhart

Arc, great comments. You’re correct that this is basic shooting info and, as stated, I’ll be building on this with subsequent “Squeeze” and “Follow-through” articles and then merge them with the CQB tactics that I’m laying a foundation for in my defensive Intelligence line of writing. Nearly all of my shooting is done from a combative standpoint and the so called “point-shooting” concept will be covered in detail later.

These articles are an attempt at laying out, start-to-finish, what someone needs to think about throughout their shooting experience and so is a work in progress. Comments like yours are great at giving me points to be considered for future articles. Hopefuly I will lay out an article progression that would serve to help anyone in there shooting experience when preparing for defensive shooting. From the newb to the salty dog….Thanks again for your feedback!


Did he never follow up with the rest of the series?