Question of the Day: How Important Are Sights for Self-Defense?

Nice group. Only the camera was focused on the target, not the shooter. If you’re in a [modern] isosceles stance using a proper grip and practicing rigorous trigger technique you should get a tight group with your eyes closed. Literally. Provided no one’s shooting at you. In an actual gunfight you should be moving and then shooting. Or shooting then moving. Or moving and shooting. This during The Mother of All Adrenalin Dumps. All of which decreases the likelihood that a defensive shooter will adopt a “proper” stance or grip or slowly squeeze the trigger. In fact, judging from YouTube DGUs, most people in a defensive gun use point shoot (i.e. aim without sights). Which could very well make XS Big Dot sights a better bet for most people; they help point shooters point in the right direction. Right or wrong?

comments

  1. avatar Bob says:

    I have them on my Glock 19. Debating switching to Heinies.

    1. avatar JSIII says:

      I am torn between Heinies and adding some “standard” XS sights to my XDM 45. I think the Bar/Dot or Dot/Dot type of sight is better suited for true defensive or combat shooting.

    2. avatar Brandon says:

      Take a look at Speed Sights. TTAG did a review on them awhile back, and the XDm in the PPS review in the previous post has them on. I have a set on my XD and love them. The front sight is big and bright for quick shooting, but the diamond setup allows the tip to be used for slower precision shooting.

      1. avatar JSIII says:

        I think I am going to give them a try, I will try the XS on my next P226 😉

        Right before the panic I got a P226 CPO, W. German Triple SN’d and beautiful for $600. It was going to be my experiment gun but I put TFO’s on it and called it a day.

        I think TTAG did too much good for speed sights, looking at their website you can’t even order them 🙁

        1. avatar Brandon says:

          Give them a call and they will let you know their lead time and get your name on a pre-order list. That is what I did. Also, they don’t take your CC info until the sights are ready to ship, then they call you and complete the transaction.

        2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

          JSIII,

          I like to think I know quite a bit about firearms and I have no idea what all of your acronyms mean. Please spell out all words in future posts so people can understand what you are trying to say.

      2. avatar Zack Pike says:

        I actually wrote the Speed Sights review, and am also the guy in this video. The Speed Sights are another great sight option. I used them for a long time, until I tried XS. For me, XS are a little easier to acquire quickly. And yes, the tip of the diamond on Speed Sights is great for long range.

  2. avatar Noah Yetter says:

    At common defensive distances sights are 100% irrelevant. You will not need to use them if you know how to shoot, but that doesn’t even matter because *you will not use them anyway*.

    1. avatar William Burke says:

      Wow. Look how long it took for someone to answer the question of the day, instead of going on about specific sights. Folks, I might be wrong, but I think Robert was looking for you to address the question. THE QUESTION.

      1. avatar Noah Yetter says:

        To be precise the question was whether express-style sights would “…help point shooters point in the right direction. Right or wrong?”

        That question isn’t worth answering; it’s wrong by definition. If you’re point shooting, you aren’t looking at the sights. If you’re looking at the sights, you’re not point shooting.

    2. avatar Mark says:

      For self-defense, it’s important to be able to shoot without them in case you can’t see them. I shot in a sort of funhouse maze against a sequence of moving humanoid dummies with simunitions in a Sig and absolutely could not see the sights because of the peculiar lighting.

    3. avatar Labman says:

      If you can’t hit a man sized target center-mass at three to five yards without using sights, you need to practice. We’re not talking target shooting here, we’re talking self-defense. Your assailant might be so close you have to rotate the gun 90 degrees and shoot as soon as you clear leather…or plastic. That, is a good thing to practice.

    4. avatar Labman says:

      If you can’t hit a man-sized target center-mass at three to five yards without using sights, you need to practice. This is not target shooting, it’s self-defense. Your assailant might be so close you have to rotate the gun 90 degrees after you clear leather…or plastic and shoot. That is a good thing to practice. If you have to wait until the gun is high enough to see the sights, he might force-feed it to you.

  3. avatar Ryan Finn says:

    I think most people are just going to pull and shoot within DGU distances, there’s way too much going on to get a good stance, acquire a sight picture, make sure you’re trigger pull is perfect etc…. I know people on here like to give cops crap for bad shooting, but it’s the reason most LEO shootings involve a cop firing and forgetting how many rounds he shot. He or she is scared and is reacting at the lowest level of training; draw gun, orient towards threat and pull trigger until the threat stops.

    All that being said, I like to train to draw and shoot with minimal use of sights because I know that at close distances, I probably won’t take the time to line up three dots or a dot in a box or anything. I prefer a blacked out rear with a highly visible font sight. That way, at least my eye will be drawn to my front sight at a minimum. I’m not a professional or an operator by any means, I’ve just found in my experiences that this works best for me.

  4. avatar Gunracer1958 says:

    IMHO – at any range greater than 3 feet, absolutely necessary! I’ve RO’d too many IPSC/USPSA stages where I’ve seen master and grand master shooters shoot a “D” or miss completely in an effort to quickly shoot a close (5-15 foot distance) target while under stress of competition.

    Besides, how much time is actually saved by point shooting? A tenth of a second or less? You can’t miss fast enough!

    1. avatar Bruce says:

      Remember, your first shot is going to effect the bad guy even if you don’t hit. The faster you get it off, the better the chance of him missing with his first shot.

      1. avatar Gunracer1958 says:

        Agreed, but at greater than contact distance (or nearly) why not take the literal split second for at least a marginally better shot. I would expect that a close(r) miss would have an even greater effect.

  5. avatar In Memphis says:

    Cant say Im speaking from experience but if the threat is right up on me then sights wont be of much use. If they are far enough away that I need my sights then Im probably going to try and seek cover first. I can armchair quarterback this all day but in the end it wont matter because I dont know what is going to happen before it does.

  6. avatar Ross says:

    I’m going with Trijicon RMR’s on my 19’s, expensive but has potential

  7. avatar mediocrates says:

    when SHTF, that’s exactly how I plan my DGU. I’m closing my eyes and pulling the trigger until I hear the click.

  8. avatar Blah says:

    Skip the Big Dots and find a handgun that points well for you. If it points where you want without using the sights, it’s a keeper and will perform well in this scenario. For me, that gun is a CZ P-01.

    1. avatar 505markf says:

      I’ve wondered about this. IF the weapon truly fits someone, AND IF this means it extends some idea of a “natural point of aim”, AND IF someone really, really practices this (meaning thousands and thousands of rounds), then it may make sense, at least at a distance of 10-12 feet. Much beyond that, it could devolve into spray and pray. I will also point out I have never been involved in a DGU, so I’m not qualified to offer an opinion, but I have wondered about this idea of a natural point of aim.

      I shot 1911s for years because that’s basically what we had, or revolvers or Highpowers. The 1911 never really fit me, but I used it because I figured the point was to ajust to the gun instead of vice versa. But the first time I held and shot a CZ 75, it was an enormous eye opener for me. Nothing has ever felt as good or as natural as that.

      I’m certain professionals in the field (mainly cops) may have compiled data on this topic over the years. Can anyone point to a link were we can get some concrete data?

      1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        505markf,

        Read my later post below. I don’t think it will take thousands of rounds of practice to be able to hit an attacker’s torso at 10 to 12 feet with point shooting. I recently purchased an AirSoft pistol for practice such as drawing and point shooting. Without any practice at all, I was able to hit a torso sized target at 15 feet at least 4 out of 5 shots. At 7 feet I hit it every time. And keep in mind that I am talking about drawing and shooting as fast as possible. No aiming, no Isosceles or Weaver stance, just draw and shoot from the “low ready” position.

        Go buy an AirSoft clone of your everyday pistol and try it. I purchased a new pistol for $20. Granted it is a spring actuated, single shot pistol (which looks like a Baretta 92) and made of plastic. Nevertheless, it is excellent for training, AirSoft plastic BBs are available everywhere, and a container of 9000 BBs costs about $10. Plus, you can practice in your own yard or even inside your home! Suggestion: if you practice inside your home, hang up a blanket or beach towel for a backstop — those plastic BBs are moving and bounce all over the place.

        1. avatar 505markf says:

          Will read them, but understand that saying to a 56 year old man “go practice with an Airsoft” is tantamount to being accused of being young and open to new ideas (laughing). You have intereting points and I have actually (don’t tell anyone i know), been pondering exactly that option. I just don’t want to lose my place in the Rrighteous Old Geezer Club. It has been well-earned over a vast spread of years.

          Maybe I can pretend I am buying it for a grandchild… thanks for the suggestion.

  9. avatar Mark N. says:

    Do you think Zimmerman used his sights?

    I remember a video of a shootout in a bar. Everybody was ducking and no one was aiming. I think the whole idea was to just throw lead at the other guys to get them to duck–and vise versa. Not surprisingly, no one got hit either.

    1. avatar DJ says:

      That’s called suppressing the target. 🙂

      1. avatar Labman says:

        Fire Superiority…gets their heads down so you can maneuver.

  10. avatar Mr. Lighter says:

    If I’m shooting close range, I will absolutely be shooting without sights. If I’m focusing on my sights, that means that I’m just focused on one target, straight down the barrel of my gun, which means that I’ve lost my situational awareness.

  11. avatar John M. says:

    Unless your muzzle is touching your target, you should be using your sights.

    1. avatar Labman says:

      Good luck with that. In your house maybe but in a dark alley with an aggressor covering 7 yds faster than you can draw and fire.

  12. avatar Jeff says:

    Hate to say it, some might not like it, but this is how I’ve taught my wife to shoot if she ever has to do it when she’s home alone. If there’s no light on and you can’t see to aim: arms straight out and locked towards the intruder, empty the mag. She has a CZ-82 and can control it fairly well.

    1. avatar DJ says:

      Raise the pistol into a firing position. Point your trigger finger at the target. Then put your trigger finger inside the trigger guard and squeeze the trigger.

      Try it the next time you go to the range.

  13. avatar Chuck Pelto says:

    In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived. — Marine Corps Rules for Gunfighting

  14. avatar Jason says:

    How come the real good guys like Sevigny use basic black iron sights, maybe with a fiber insert in the front. It seems that if big dot or whatever actually conferred an advantage that the pros would use them.

    1. avatar dwb says:

      yeah but they are pros. they can go to the range for 8 hours a day for months to practice. If I went to the gym 8 hours a day for a few months i would look better than Mark Wahlberg in Pain & Gain. Sadly, though, i have a job and commitments. plus, creatures with brains don’t behave like paper targets and may be trying to kill you right back.

      1. avatar Jason says:

        You need to train 8 hours a day to master iron sights?? You buy the sights promoted by the Internet commandos. I’ll buy the sights used by the people that earn their living through shooting.

        1. avatar dwb says:

          “can” go, as needed. point is, “if its good enough for the pros its good enough for me” only works if you also get at least the same amount of range time as the pros. When the adrenaline kicks in, muscle memory takes over. I have missed a lot of shots in the field with a new gun and insufficient practice. I have to assume that my best shot in a home protection scenario is my worst shot in the field. I am not too prideful to admit that i am mediocre and dont get nearly enough time at the range, so in a life or death situation i will accept any technological aid available.

  15. avatar dwb says:

    i have a Streamlight w/ laser at the end, just in case.

    Around here (MD) i know of no public ranges that let you move and shoot, and the closest you can get to shooting at moving targets is trap or skeet. Of course, you could probably drive to North Ave in Baltimore and shoot and no one would notice.

    1. avatar Jesse says:

      If you’re living near Baltimore there’s your problem. Head south young man, head south.

  16. avatar Jesse says:

    When I am shooting in a USPSA or a IDPA match the distance of the target dictates how much I use my sights if I use them at all. When the target is within contact distance I just point. There is a middle ground where I use the front sight but rarely align the rear. When the target is further out I take careful aim using front and rear.

    At the distances where the XS sights are an advantages I’m not even using sights. Anything in that middle ground and further the XS sights are slower to shoot accurately… if that makes sense.

    I can’t remember if it was a video or a article but there was a great quote, (I think from Miculek) about how the size of the front sight relative to target dictates how fast you can shoot it.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      Jesse, I agree with your ‘basic sights suffice’ line, and the points at which you do or don’t bother to acquire the sights. One “famous, you’ve heard of him” national pistol competitor uses very ordinary sights with a slightly widened back U. He paints the back of the front sight with a bit of red paint and scuffs it to cut glare. Everyone knows the real enemy of combat pistol speed and accuracy: Changing guns when the one you have is good enough, you know it cold, and you can point-shoot it well to 7 yards.

  17. avatar chunkielamb says:

    RF is right. When bullets are flying in your general direction, all that proper this, proper that, you must hold your pistol 70/30, goes out the window. Point shooting is a valid training tool. A tool that should be practiced from 0 to 7 yards. Most often than not, most people don’t even realize that they are point shooting when under duress. Some sights are better than others for point shooting, but if you can point your finger and clearly pinpoint something w/ your finger and all your shooting mechanics are good, you’ll hit what you are pointing at.

  18. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    People in sudden, violent self-defense situations at close range should absolutely be point shooting. The only situations where it would make sense for a person to use the sights for a precision shot is during a hostage situation or other events where the defender has several seconds to frame their shot without much chance of being shot themselves.

    What is amazing is just how accurate pretty much everyone can be with just a few rounds of practice. I highly recommend AirSoft pistols (which shoot .23 caliber plastic BBs) to practice drawing and point shooting. After you are confident and accurate (which will probably be almost immediately), you can practice point shooting (including multiple shots) with your firearm already drawn and pointing in the general direction that you will shoot. Note: I strongly recommend that you practice drawing and point shooting your AirSoft pistol a few hundred times — without any wildly fired shots — before practicing drawing and point shooting with your firearm. Once you master that, you can proceed to draw and point shoot multiple times at close targets with your firearm.

  19. avatar roadkill6 says:

    Not terribly. With most defensive situations occurring within 10 yards, point shooting is a good skill to have.

  20. avatar Zack Pike says:

    Great comments above. I’ve heard both sides… I’ve spoken to gunfight survivors who saw their sights crystal clear, and I’ve spoken to those who don’t even remember seeing the firearm in their field of view (even though they hit what they were aiming at). To me, these sights are a good trade-off. You actually can be fairly accurate with them, contrary to what many people online think, but in my experience they don’t inhibit silhouette (ie. point) shooting. Do they make silhouette shooting easier, or more likely to be on target? I don’t think so… That’s accomplished through good training.

    I’m actually of the school that the type of sights don’t have much bearing on how accurate you are, it’s much more centered around experience and training. (within reasonable distances)

  21. avatar Gunracer1958 says:

    Just to add to my previous post and someone please check the math, but given a 6-inch sight radius of a 1911 (for example – it makes the math easier), IF your sights are misaligned by 1/4 inch your point of impact at 1 foot is now 1/2 inch off at 10 feet you are off by 12 inches, more than enough to miss cleanly a center-of-mass aim on an average human. Shorter sight radii just magnifies the error.

  22. avatar EagleScout87 says:

    Massad Ayoob says sighting is important in DGU, I trust that man.

  23. avatar Joseph says:

    In four shootings I’ve been able to use the sights in one of them. That’s the only one in which I had the time to use them. Of those four, two hits, one miss, and in one (sights) the bad guy got lucky when rounds that would have hit him were deflected or failed to penetrate far enough. (Kimber UltraCarry 3 inch barrel, Winchester SXT .45 vs automobile) If you have time, use the sights, but don’t count on it. Better to train with both techniques.

    1. avatar Labman says:

      Joseph. Exactly! Apparently some don’t understand how fast an aggressor can cover 21 ft. That’s assuming he doesn’t jump out of a bush 10 ft from you. You’ll never have time to get the gun high enough to see the sights. Point shooting has it’s place as does one’s ability to use the sights.

  24. avatar Accur81 says:

    My personal transition between point shooting and sights is between 5-7 yards, depending on lighting conditions and accuracy requirements. At 5 yards and under, I can blast away at a man sized silhouette with good hits without the sights. At 7 yards, I don’t achieve rapid 90% plus hits without some acquisition of my fronts sights. We use paper silhouette targets about the same size that Zach used in his video.

    Not to throw a wrench in things, but the streamlight TLR hotspot makes a good substitute for front sights in a pinch. As y’all know from previous posts, I’m pro gun light do to the fact that most shootings occur during low light conditions.

    1. avatar AlphaGeek says:

      I’ve heard the high intensity LED-based TLRs jokingly referred to as “short-range laser sights” on more than one occasion. When you consider that the hot spot at beam center is only a few inches below the bore, it’s a pretty good description.

      1. avatar Ropingdown says:

        Yep. But a pain on a carry gun. Excellent for house guns.

  25. avatar AlphaGeek says:

    A number of other commenters have mentioned having a gun which points naturally for your particular hand/arm geometry, which I agree is important.

    However, one of the rare unanimous points of agreement I’ve found between various firearms instructors* is that regardless of whether a sight picture is appropriate, having a solid and consistent grip on the gun is incredibly important. If you can’t draw, present and fire from a variety of postures with a consistent grip, your POI is going to be all over the place. This effect is doubled and squared when it comes to single-hand shoots, and worse still for “weak hand” shooting.

    Effectively, this at least doubles the amount of draw-and-present training & practice most people need in order to be effective. I’ve been told that the vast majority of shooters, including both private citizens and LEOs, train to draw and present in a two-handed grip, and I’ve found this to be true in the real world. If you’re not training to draw-present-shoot both one-handed and two-handed, you’re raising the chances that you’re going to impair your accuracy when the SHTF.

    Personally, I’m still working on getting my single-handed technique sorted out. Until my draw, presentation, and aiming work just as well driving towards a strong-hand shot as it does with a two-hand grip, I’m going to continue to put in time on this. Sight alignment is a factor, but IMHO target-grade sight alignment is NOT required and in fact is probably a bad idea. If I can put my shots anywhere in the 5-inch circle of my LaserLyte trainer one handed from 10 feet, I figure I’m likely to walk away and the other guy won’t. I’m getting there.

    (*) Note: It’s worth noting that the majority of the firearms instructors I’m referring to above are state- or federal-level LE types. Their consensus (that grip and presentation almost always need more work than sight alignment for “danger close” engagements) may not represent what you’d hear from surveying a broader cross-section of professional trainers.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      William Fairbairn made these points back in his late 1930’s text “Shooting to Live with the One Handed Gun:” Stick to one gun, one holster, one positioning of the gun, and practice drawing from that for years. Otherwise get a good grip on the gun before the other guy as best you can. Pocket carry discretely. Makes sense to me. Not out of date. He had the thumb safeties taken off of all the Shanghai Metropolitan PD .45 gov’s because they weren’t an original design feature, and were a threat to reliable speed under pressure.

      1. avatar AlphaGeek says:

        Found a PDF copy of the text. Guess I know what I’ll be reading tonight! Thanks, RD. 🙂

        1. avatar Ropingdown says:

          Good. You will enjoy it. I should point out that the “or else pocket carry” is from another article of his. The rest you will find in the document you downloaded, as stated. When I read it I thought “There was a Jeff Cooper before Jeff Cooper, and he’d actually been in many gunfights, and he liked Isosceles!” I recommend the Wiki article on WF to fill in the history. You’re going to end up an even more worth adversary. WF is the ‘no BS’ original.

  26. avatar Lt. Sam says:

    A few observatoions: Hurt your feelings to be told you are NOT built/made to fight at ANY level? Lions are and they don’t go to the dojo every morning. They just do. We are hopeless and perishable in all skills related to this, with or without weapons. What you practice is what you will do. If whatever you are practicing doesn’t meet the variables related to possible needs, you will suck. Handguns in most calibers are miserable stoppers. Most of this happens in dim or dark. Night sights don’t just help line of up sights. They tend to “keep” your eyes in some kind of relationship. Would recommend you use sights if you can at all. Most missing in practice comes from miserable flinchers. Under stress, most misses are caused by yanking the trigger AND flinching. Try practicing with a death grip. It controls recoil better than any so called STANCE. It also helps mitigate our defective inability to move a trigger finger without moving the whole hand. Oh, and YOU WILL death grip the gun when facing possible death or injury so train for real. By the way, in a perfect stance with your eyes closed, you will NOT shoot a tight group.
    The above comes from firearms for me starting at age five. Hired as a rangemaster at 18. Inducted at almost 21. Was in fights. Became a peace officer at 27. Ran/trained a special team for 22 of 30 years. Also reponsible for all of the weapons training. More fights with all kinds of weapons. Would it also hurt your feeling to say there is way too much THEORY out there with no EXPERIENCE? Now the guy that has witnessed people missing under the lightwieght stress of a USPSA/IPSC match has experience to back up facts.

  27. avatar Russ Bixby says:

    When I wad up a no-longer-important memo and toss it the seven-eight yards to the dust bin, pitch a softball or shoot a basket, I typically don’t use sights. I also typically either hit the target or miss by at most an inch or two of elevation.

    If one is familiar with their firearm, similar accuracy should result without sights, and that’s close enough.

    Whoever shoots first typically shoots last, especially if they hit the chest a couple-three times.

    I’m not worried.

  28. avatar KR says:

    I encourage those that want to believe in the fantasy and the myth of point shooting to read up on any/all of these people, all of whom either won gunfights or have trained people who have done very well in documented gunfights: Bill Jordan (Mr. “Speed’s fine but accuracy’s final”), Frank Hamer, Charles Askins, Jim Cirillo, Scott Reitz, Tom Givens, Jeff Cooper. Under stress, it’s common to shit your pants, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. Same for “not aiming”.

    The laws of physics tell us that we have to align the barrel with the intended target to get a hit. The laws of biology tell us that to put someone on the ground quickly we have to hit vital organs. Even at 3 yards that requires accuracy, particularly because hundreds of you tube videos of real incidents show us that as soon as the first shot is fired, people move.

    What advocates of “blind old guy”/ big dot sights rarely admit is that in order to shoot them well with any accuracy, you have to learn the nuances of how much dot and how much “stick”, and put in just as much practice with them as traditional sights — and big dots don’t make the bullets go straight when you close your eyes and yank the f–k out of the trigger, so quit believing the myth that different sights or a laser will somehow compensate for failing to do dry practice and learn how to run the damn trigger properly.

    If you are lucky and your gunfight only requires 3 rounds at 3 yards, practice your draw and take the sights off your pistol. If you need to shoot around Grandma to hit the bad guy 10 yards away in the kitchen, good luck with your Big Dot sights and your point shooting. Buy some nice roses for Grandma’s grave.

    1. avatar Zack Pike says:

      Agreed on Big Dots requiring just as much practice as any other sight… If not more, since most of us didn’t grow up with that type of sight. Very good point. I wouldn’t say it takes real long to learn them, but since it’s different it does take a little work.

      Not sure I agree with your last point about Big Dots at 10 yards. I’ve never had an accuracy issue with them at that distance (maybe because I train with them a lot). Point shooting, yes. But I’ve never felt a decline in accuracy at that distance using Big Dots. But everyone is a little different.

  29. avatar GS650G says:

    For self defense situations, they are not. If you need to aim across the gun you are either too far away or you have time to exercise other options.

  30. avatar Bob says:

    Is a laser sight an effective way to aim in a DGU situation? Seems it would be.

    Move the red dot onto the bad guy where you want to hit. Pull the trigger. The bullet finds the red spot and makes a blood red spot. It’s not quite that simple, but almost. Right?

  31. avatar Azimuth says:

    That whole video, and he never shows you the XS Big Dot sights?
    What up?

  32. avatar JAS says:

    FBI yearly quals start at 9-feet, shooting from the hip. What does that tell you?

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email