Understanding the sight/target relationship is one of the most important and elemental goals for accurate shooting. If you can’t master this relationship you stand a good chance of failing to hit the target at best and failing to neutralize a threat at worst.

We use the term sight management to define the relationship between our firearm’s sights and the intended target. The first step in the process: aligning the front sight post within the rear sight notch so there’s equal spacing left and right, and they’re flush against the top.

As we introduce marksmanship theory we perform various isolated drills. When working with students on sight management I’m surprised how many are not “looking” at their sights.

Many assume that a shooter who isn’t looking at their sights is looking at the target. I’ve found the most likely focal point is someplace in between. I call this concept “ghosting.”

The most common reason students “ghost” is that they’re trying to confirm that their sights are on target. They will quickly look downrange to the target, then back to their sights, repeating the process several times to fire a single round.

It’s a crisis of faith. The shooter must have faith that when they properly align their sights the front sight post will be positioned on the target and generate a hit. It takes time to build this trust. The bad habits in the meantime can haunt a student for years to come.

The next common sighting error: focusing on the top of the dot and not the top of the front sight post. While it’s a minuscule difference, the deviation can produce significant errors in shot placement.

To cure this habit, I ask the student to describe their sight picture in as much detail as possible. I ask them how it looks, any blemishes or wear areas they see. Then I ask whether they can see the base of the front sight post.

It’s a trick question; if properly aligned most front sights hide the base from view. If I see them move the their head or muzzle there’s a good chance they were focused on the front sight post.

Once I have them looking at the base it gives them a good contrast point for the next question. Can they see the top of the front sight post? Their brain starts to process whether they are looking at the top of the sight post or the top of the dot.

If they’re looking at the top of the dot there should be a subtle shift and bam. Now you know they’ve got it!

Lastly, I take a spare magazine and lay it flush against the rear sight, creating a “box.” I’ll ask if they can see the top of the sight post, then have them adjust their sights to see the bottom of the sight post.

This drill helps them to manage their sights quickly and ensure they have the best sight picture for the required accuracy.

The shooter’s brain should guide and confirm correct sight alignment. At some point, the brain will become accustomed to verifying the sights and providing a quick go/no go that ultimately releases the trigger to break the shot.

Easy!

 

Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent Weapons and Tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned to the world at large. Jeff is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin, Click here to register for one of the courses Jeff offers both beginning and advanced shooters.

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31 Responses to How to Focus on Your Front Sight: Guns for Beginners

    • Good for me then as I’m Lutheran.

      But seriously folks, starting off very near sighted mitigated some of this for me but the big win was a set of safety glasses ground for shooting purposes – left eye far vision and a right intermediate.

      No more tilting my head and trying to use the progressive area of my line-less bifocals.

      It helps if your eye doctor is a shooter too.

  1. What do I do if front and rear sights aren’t the same height? TruGlo sights line up the dots and not the top of the sights. With the dots aligned, the front sight is shorter than the rear.

    • Rarely with the sights be at the same height. But if they are poorly made so they aren’t zeroed will perfectly aligned replace them with another set of sights that are zeroed.

  2. Maybe off topic by a couple of degrees, but one of the reasons I prefer revolvers is that the grips require you to hold the gunn with your wrist at a more downward angle. This means that you have a tendency to draw with the front-sight slightly high where it can be quickly lowered into the rear notch. With the higher wrist angle required by semi-autos I have a tendency to draw the gunn with the front-sight below the rear and out of site. You then need to raise the front-sight, find it and then settle it into the rear notch, which can take significantly more time. When you lose the front-sight there’s a tendency to raise it way too high.

    I also find either a black rear-sight or a white U-notch rear helps in focusing on the front-sight compared to 3 dot sites.

    • Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like it’s getting harder and harder to scrub all those Brow nells ads from my comments.

      • I have a significant dislike for striker fired pistole triggers, and Glocks are homely, but you may be right about the grip angle and I do believe a lot of them (if not all) come with a rear U-notch cite. Downside on the grip angle on semi-auto pistols – are Glocks any more prone to induce slide bite?

  3. Every so often I ask myself why bother coming back to TTAG. More than a few stories will be glorified press releases; editorials will be clickbait, without even a perfunctory pretense of thoughtfulness; and some comments will uncomfortably present a worldview that feeds the gun owner stereotype (that being said, some of those may be trolls and there are plenty of regulars with a more thoughtful perspective).

    And then something like this gets posted, resetting the “should stay or should I go?” counter. It’s valuable to new shooters, those with friends or family that are new shooters, and experienced shooters looking to work on the fundamentals.

    If it weren’t for the horrific ads, I’d probably share it with several women, and men, who could use the advice. Instead, I’ll make a point to learn the lessons and share those.

    • This site forced me to install an ad blocker and I’m immensely grateful to them for doing it. I’m blocked from some sites now, but my browser works so much better. The funny thing is, that I doubt I ever bought anything from those invasive ads, but when the clutter was cleaned up, I noticed the ads for the Texas Firearms Festival and I bought tickets twice. Go figure. Less advertising brought in more revenue.

    • K – owning ‘guns’ ain’t just about owning guns, and it ain’t gun owners fault for that. If it weren’t for a few flip-top heads out there doing exactly the thing that gun ownership is protected to protect against, we all could enjoy a little more “The Truth About Guns” which came about (if I’m not mistaken) mainly to debunk all of the stupid and political anti-gun crap out there.

      ANYWHO.

      I defer to Mr. Gonzales, but FWIW I was always taught:
      Front Sight
      Back Sight
      Front Sight
      Target
      Squeeze the trigger

      Works moving, or standing still, if you can see your sights. If you cannot, you still get a pretty good ‘gun alignment’ with the target just looking at the weapon, and you still tend to make sure the hammer is aligned with the muzzle and the target, or the sound/indication of the target, helps you to keep both eyes open.

      again, just FWIW

  4. The ads are definitely impacting the frequency I visit this site.
    I used to visit every day and read every comment. The ads on the bottom of the page decreased the experience, now I visit weekly.
    I found some alternative sights with similar subject matter. They are less intrusive.

    • Wait there are ads here? I’ve always thought the pages looked kind of empty…..[oh, i see adblock says it stopped 7 things on this page]
      What other sites do you visit SBAGS? I’m on the newer side of firearm ownership and training, and would like several sources for articles/reviews/blogs

      • I also visit the firearm blog, everyday no days off, and war is boring. war is boring is less gun oriented and more military oriented, but I do find it pretty educational, for the most part. There are a few others I visit less frequently, but those three in addition to this one keep me pretty on top of things, I feel. I personally check out TTAG last, because as I’m sorting through the RSS feed’s headlines, I can just delete extraneous content that was already covered by other sites, thus saving myself a LOT of grief. Certain writers here seem to equate quantity with quality, and the already-mediocre quality of their content seems to attract more than their fair share of trolls, racists, and bigots. I’d rather not wallow in the muck.

  5. How can you tell your student isn’t looking at the target or the sights?
    Do you teach both eyes open?
    If it is important to have the top of the front sight post aligned with the rear sight, and it is, then why are three dot sights so popular? Why isn’t the entire front sight post a bright contrast rather than a dot in the center of it?
    You are asking students to do something that isn’t intuitive rather than designing a better sight.

  6. I respectfully disagree. The maxim, train the way you’ll fight, because you’ll fight the way you’ve been trained, is still true. If a beginner is being trained to use their new pistol as a self-defense weapon, then they should be trained from the beginning to use the point shoot method. Point shooting trains the shooter to use a firearm quickly and accurately. It does not rely on using the sights in close quarters, life-threatening situations. Where there’s a good chance of being killed, you don’t want to waste time lining up your shot picture before defending yourself. By the time you do, the bad guy may have gotten his shot off and you’re dead.

    Get the Fleet Marine Publication FM12-80, Kill or Get Killed and use Chapter 5 Combat Use of the Handgun as your training manual.
    http://www.gandalf23.com/stuffz/FMFRP%2012-80%20KILL%20OR%20GET%20KILLED.PDF

    • let me introduce you to a concept called “seeing what you need to see” – a target at 5 yards doesn’t take much sights to hit – a target at 25 yards you will never hit point shooting. You must practice enough to develop what an acceptable sight picture looks like at various distances.

      • TheHumbleMarksman and Senior Gun Owner get it. It’s a continuum, you use the technique appropriate to the situation. For example, don’t draw to full extension to acquire your sights at 2 yards unless you want your weapon taken away from you. You better be able to make a good hit from the waist.

  7. This probably explains why I tend to shoot better with unmarked military type or even minimalist CCW sights. With a bit of concentration I do eventually end up tightening the groups up and now I think I can pinpoint the problem.

  8. Many of us do not get enough range-time. I’ll state that as an “initialization problem” which applies to many beginners, myself included. The simple little tactic of placing an empty mag on top of the rear sight is a great. I just tried it, and I can see how much it helps to form a “shot box” and train they brain/eye to get a good, fast sight picture. All of this is great advice for the thousands of us who are trying to get better and faster. Thank you!

    • Maybe I should turn off NoScript so that I can see those ads, sounds entertaining. Seriously, for basic security reasons I don’t allow any site’s scripts to run unless I really need the full function of a site. Then only what’s necessary. AdBlock doesn’t even get a chance on TTAG, NoScript get’s ’em first. I see only 3 ads, something under Instagram that’s empty, the NRA, and a suicide prevention ad.

  9. “The next common sighting error: focusing on the top of the dot and not the top of the front sight post. While it’s a minuscule difference, the deviation can produce significant errors in shot placement.”

    Ok, let’s do the math. Let’s stretch things a bit and say the top of the sight post is 1/16 of an inch above the top of the dot, at arms length – let’s say two feet from the dominant eye. That’s an angular deviation of 1/32 inch per foot.

    At thirty feet, probably about the maximum distance for a civilian DGU, that will move the point of impact 7/8 of an inch from the point of aim. Significant errors my a$$.

    Good grief, let’s get real here. If you’re hunting with a pistol and have time to sight carefully, feel free to follow the advice given above. If your goal is to produce the smallest possible group at 25 yards and win bets with your buddies at the range, that’s fine too.

    But if you carry a pistol for defensive purposes, then don’t be fooled. You will need to draw and send bullets toward the threat as quickly as possible. The adrenaline dump of a deadly threat will create tunnel vision and an instinctive reaction to focus on the threat with both eyes open. You won’t have time to put your glasses on. Focusing on your front sight and carefully lining it up with the rear sight is a luxury you simply won’t have.

    If you don’t have a shot timer, get one. Find out how long it takes to draw and put a round in a piece of copier paper at five yards. Then work on improving that.

    • The copier-paper idea is one of the best I had heard of yet. Gets right to the basic actions required. Draw – point – fire – evaluate. Good idea. —one of my coaches had some targets made up with “non-traditional” outlines: circle, square, triangle, cross. Each was about 8 inches tall, and each was in a different color on a 24 X 36 inch paper sheet. These were hung at five meters. Fire commands were given as: “On ‘fire’ two rounds in BLUE.” Or “On fire, two rounds in ‘circle’.” And then the good one: “On ‘fire’ two rounds in blue, five rounds in cross, three rounds in triangle.” or some similar set.
      This requires concentration, memory development, evaluation — Oh and fair skill! Add a timer and start improving on speed and this could be a very challenging training option. I can even see it being used in some “match” situations….

  10. I have seen videos on Youtube with shooter teaching to to pickup on the front sight only and that will enable to reset and get an accurate view of your when you reset after every shot. This has enabled me to shoot more accurately whether I;m shooting slow or fast paced.

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