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Thread: Handgun Accuracy Fundamentals: Sight Management

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    Murder Machine, Harmless Fuzzball TCinVA's Avatar
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    Feb 2011

    Handgun Accuracy Fundamentals: Sight Management

    The second half of placing an accurate shot with a handgun is obtaining an acceptable sight reference. It sounds like a simple enough concept, but in practice learning to manage iron sights can be a significant hurdle for many individuals looking to improve their skill with a handgun. This writeup, like the thread on trigger control, is meant as a layout of some of the basics so that the members can develop a baseline understanding of concepts that will give the necessary foundation for passing on the more advanced understanding of managing iron sights that some of our members and SME’s have achieved.

    The baseline ideal sight picture involves placing the front sight in the center of the rear notch, with the top of the front sight aligned with the top of the rear sight. You should be able to see an equal amount of space between the left-most edge of the front sight and the right-most edge of the front sight, as well as the right-most edge of the front sight and the left-most edge of the rear sight. This space is often referred to as a “light bar” because the orientation of the front and rear sight creates essentially bars of daylight around the front sight.

    If the front sight is not properly centered in the rear notch, your shot will be thrown off of center. If the front sight is a little too far to the right in the rear notch, your shot will be thrown off to the right. Similarly too far to the left, and the shot will be pushed left. If the tip of the front sight is elevated above the top of the rear sight, you’ll shoot high. If it’s below the top of the front sight, you’ll shoot low. (see the illustration)

    Illustration taken from the International Hunter Education Association website

    With the ideal sight picture, the front sight is the focal point of your eye. Our eyes are a lot like a camera lens in that they can only truly focus on one thing at a time. When we place our focus on the front sight we can see the front sight very clearly and the rear sight, though not our focal point, is close enough to appear clearly as well, allowing us to precisely align the sights. The target, however, is probably going to look fuzzy and out of focus. Exactly how fuzzy it is depends on your vision, the lighting, the size of the target, and the distance to the target. With my eyesight, at ten yards on a typical NRA bullseye target I can see my front sight very clearly and the target clearly enough to make out the scoring rings. At 25 yards under most lighting conditions I just see essentially a little black blob with irregular edges out in the distance.

    Where you place your focus is critically important in making an accurate shot. Many self-taught shooters learn to focus on the target rather than on their sights, sort of looking through the sights at the target. This is referred to as a “target focused” or “threat focused” sighting technique. Under the right circumstances it is absolutely possible to use this sort of sighting technique and get a good hit. Generally at fairly close range with a large enough target you can use a target focus to keep shots within the borders of an IDPA A zone. If we shrink the target or increase the distance, however, the tiny imperfections in the sight picture that you can’t see with a target focus suddenly become a huge impediment to hitting your intended target. I’ve often encountered shooters who do alright up to about ten yards or so, and then after that they report that their accuracy seems to go off of a cliff. Often something as simple as getting them to live with a fuzzy target and focus on the sights makes an immediate difference in their ability to get the hits.

    Another major hurdle for many shooters: The sights move. I was recently at the range with some friends from a local police department and I shot at a 3” steel plate on a dueling tree from 40 yards away with my P30 and made the hit. One of my friends lined up and tried to make the same shot but gave up and asked me “How long did it take you to learn to hold the gun still?” It’s essentially impossible for most normal human beings to hold the weapon perfectly still to the point where the sights don’t move. The folks who make good shots at range have learned how to keep the movement of the sights within an acceptable range to make a hit and to make a good clean trigger press. They’ve learned to live with the “wobble zone”.

    If you take the muzzle of your weapon and move it in a 2” circle around a target at point blank range, it looks like a 2” circle. If, however, you put that target at 25 yards and make the same 2” circle with your muzzle, it looks like you’re making a 3 foot circle downrange. It can seem somewhat absurd to insist that the movement you are seeing at 25 yards is normal and that you can still hit a very small target when it looks like your sights are all over God’s creation. The key is to keep your sights in perfect relation to each other (that ideal sight picture mentioned earlier) and to keep that front sight somewhere on the intended target. If the target is the typical NRA bullseye, if you keep the front sight’s movement to inside or around the edge of the black of the target and make a clean trigger press, odds are you’ll make a good solid hit well inside the black, often in the 10 or X ring if you do it right. Get the front sight just a hair too far to the left inside the rear notch and you’ll push the shot into the outer scoring rings.

    This can seem counter-intuitive and can play with your mind. Many shooters see the movement and it throws them off of their game. Then they start to chase the sights…seeing that they are in the perfect position right this instant and then they try to hurry up and get a shot off before the sights move again. This rarely turns out well, as it generally leads directly to snatching the trigger and anticipation. The guys who hit what they are aiming at on longer distance shots have learned to simply keep the sights corralled within an acceptable hit zone and break a clean shot.

    That’s a very basic description of managing iron sights for precision, especially when dealing with small targets or longer ranges. It’s a fundamental skill that, when combined with proper trigger control and avoidance of anticipation, will allow you to hit a target on demand. Once you understand the fundamentals you have a solid foundation that will allow you to improve speed.

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