While many defensive shooters have recently discovered longer range pistol shooting after the Greenwood Park Mall shooting, the one where Eli Dicken stopped mass shooter from 40 yards away, some of us have already been doing the “Dicken Drill” for years.
As I pointed out in this article from March, there are several important reasons to practice longer-range marksmanship with a pistol. For one, it helps you with your fundamentals, which makes your close-in shooting better. Second, longer shots are sometimes needed in defense (but usually in the defense of others).
Finally, you never know what bad things might happen in the real world where the normal rules break down. Warfare or invasion, SHTF scenarios, space alien invasion (well, maybe not aliens, but you get the point).
You’ll figure out at longer ranges — especially in low light — that a hard focus on the front sight can become crippling.
Ditching Front Sight Focus
Even in daylight, you’ll figure out pretty quickly that 100-yard long shots start to become very problematic with iron sights. The average front sight on a pistol is around 7-15 MOA in width (depending on the gun, your arms, and other factors). That means that the front sight will cover up 7-15 inches of target at 100 yards.
If you have adjustable sights, or you can switch to fixed sights optimized for a 100-yard six o’clock hold with your defensive load, you can solve that problem, but you’ll screw things up for close-in shooting fooling around with all of that. It’s probably not worth all that trouble.
The obvious solution is to go with a red dot sight. With a small 1-5 MOA dot, you’re getting a better view and you can focus on the target. But if you’re squinting down to one eye for long shots, that dot will still cover several inches of target, making hits to the CNS or other small targets still problematic.
So whether you’re using irons or a red dot, you’re going to have to practice shooting with both eyes open and focusing on the target. Rather than explain how to train yourself to do that, here’s a good YouTube video I found that covers it very well . . .
What ends up happening is both eyes focus on the target, which is one image in your view. The sights, while a little blurry, only show up in front of one of your eyes (the dominant eye, usually). Once your brain puts all of that imagery together, you see one target and one set of sights, and you can line them up. Your non-dominant eye sees the target while your dominant eye sees the sights when you tape them up like the video shows.
With no tape, and both eyes open, you’ll “see through” the sights like they’re a semi-transparent ghost. This makes it so that the front sight or the dot on an optic doesn’t “cover up” any part of your target. You’ll see both the sights (which are slightly blurry) and the target at the same time, and be able to line them all up.
This Becomes Much More Helpful In Low Light
If you’re into photography, you’ve heard of the ‘f’ number for how wide open the aperture of your lens is. A smaller f-number (the lens is more open) lets in more light, but it also narrows the depth of field…how much distance can be in focus at the same time. If you focus on an object close to the camera, the depth of field is also narrower. If you’re not into photography, here’s a video I found that explains this concept . . .
The thing to keep in mind is that cameras are just crappy copies of the human eye. The principles are the same for you, but your brain does most of the work of changing aperture size and helping you focus your eyeball on what you want to focus on.
When you go out in low light, your eyes open up more so you can see, but the flip side to seeing better at night is that your depth of field gets much narrower. Normally, this doesn’t matter, because you only need to focus on what you’re looking at and your eyes can refocus when you look at something else.
But, when you put your focus on the front sight, everything else goes to hell in low light. Even man-sized targets will be just about impossible to see at night unless they’re very close up, and that tack-sharp front sight won’t do you a bit of good. Also, the older you are, the worse this problem is because your eye’s depth of field narrows with age.
So, you’ll have to stop doing what you were probably taught to do, and stop focusing on the front sight.
If you’re focused on the target with both eyes and put your sights in front of your dominant eye, your brain can put all of that together into a coherent sight picture. The front and rear sights will be appear a little blurry, but not so much that you can’t line them up on top of the target and be accurate with your gun. If your target has enough light to see it, you line up the silhouette of the sights on the target. If you’ve got tritium sights, line the blurred dots up on target.
Red dots are, of course, a lot easier to use in this situation, but red dots can break down and you might need to fall back on shooting co-witnessed irons in an emergency. Having this skill in your toolbox can help you stay in the fight no matter what happens to your dot.
All of this takes practice and shooting your handgun at 100 yards isn’t something most of us practice. But from 50 yards in the practicality of training at these ranges increases. Eli Dicken probably never thought he’d need to shoot defensively at that distance but life comes at you fast and having the skill to shoot accurately in your tool belt could come in very handy.