Here is the oh so glorious front sight (Travis Pike for TTAG)
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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.

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  1. When I started out in LE, I carried a Ruger Security Six 4″ .357 with 158 gr JSP’s. As a member of a (mostly) rural Agency we had a 50 yd string incorporated into our Quals. Modern shooters would be surprised how consistently you can achieve good, solid torso hits with a .357 at 50 yards. Now that I’m older and routinely carry a 9 mm EDC I still practice at 25 and 50 yards. A good barricade or supported position allows hits at 50 yards with a .357, 9 mm or the .45 ACP.

    My groups are definitely not as tight as they were when I was 25 – 30 yo.

    • Never was an LEO. But the nature of young guys meant that we would always try those long range pistol shots for bragging rights. Magnums made it a little easier but we tried it with just about any handgun including rimfires. 100 yards was not unheard of with iron sights.

      Minute of tin cat was a thing.

    • I recall those days. My first self-purchased service revolver was a Ruger Security 6. And those 50 yard target courses taught me a lot about trigger control since we had to shoot double action for qualification.

  2. If the front sight is not in focus , you lose precision.

    I’ve shot enough silhouette matches to know irons are plenty to shoot 200 yards if your gun prints where it’s aimed.

    Few plastic pistols shoot point of aim out of the box, so precision at even 25 yards is tough.

    Many decry adjustable sights on a defensive handgun (SR9 took a lot of grief) and say they can get knocked out of alignment.

    Same stupid-ass argument was made 40 years ago about adjustable sight on revolvers. Being able to sight in a load to hit point of aim is pretty simple with adjustable sights and doable with most fixed sights.

    I always sight in revolvers for 35 yards for general use. This gave acceptable accuracy up close and was usually within an inch or so,for elevation out to about 70 yards.

    If your groups hit 3 inches left at 7-10 yards, will have a hard time ringing the bell at 40 or 50.

    Front sight and a good press is still the best way to get hits at any distance.

    That why peeps on Garands are effective….helps keep the front sight crisp and well placed on the target.


  4. We were trained to focus on our front sights regardless. I never failed qualification. And yes we did fire at 50 yards on occasion and staying focused on the front sight never failed. I would luv to try 100 yards in low-light or actual dark shooting.

  5. I’ve tried shooting a 4″ 9mm at 100 yards, my son too. Neither of us could hit the target, could never find the right holdover. Always too long or too short.

  6. Pa was a WW2 veteran. I’m not certain how much he learned to shoot before enlisting, and how much he learned after. But he always taught us to keep both eyes open, and to focus on the target. I remember that it seemed awkward in my childhood, but by the time I was old enough to get a hunting license, I had it down pat. Maybe Eli’s grandpa learned to shoot the same place my dad did?

  7. If I am lucky, I get to practice the Dicken Drill at night twice a week. Three times if it’s my anniversary.

  8. Any shot that hits a man at 40 yards contains a serious amout of lusk and too hit a moving man requies a doamn sight mor to mdo ir t in bad light is practicallybimpossible and to hit as this guy is suppoed to have done 8 out of ten is, for all practical purposes, impossible.
    What I find rather odd is this. In the USA up to around the end of JUNE’22 there wer approx 350 mass shootings in the USA where at least three persons were either injured or killed and up to 5 or 6 in a single day, including those atributed to the crimianl fraternity [the stats are available and if I can access them here in the UK how hard is it] though such are the numbers that only those that include far more casualties are nationally reported.

    Now given that sheer numbers of persons in the USA who carry sidearms as a matter of course in the hope that an opportunity will arise whereby they can slot somebody the stats would suggest that in a very large majority of MASS shooting cases there will be at least one person within spittin’ distance who is armed with a handgun. My question is – Why then has America not had those DICKINS moment a bloody sight more often. One guynwhom happened to be in the right plce at a convenient moment h nwho had a very lucky shot and who COULD have caused serious colateral damage [which he would have beeen responsible for!] and he’s held up as some kind of National Hero when in fact actions such as his should be routine if firearms are the answer to the Nations Crimes instead of adding to them. He will probably also earn a fortune, the signs are alreaady there, marketting the DICKINS METHOD of killing people. Which I might add is just as useful, if it is actually of any use at all, to those with criiminal intent if not more so, as it is to the latest crop of wannabe Rambo Vigilantes roaming the Streets looking for those Golden Opportunities to shoot down somebody., Am I sounding cynical here? I hope so I try very hard

    • You don’t sound ‘cynical ‘, you sound delusional. Go take your medication, learn what ‘context’ means, and work on your reading comprehension skills.

    • Take your meds. You know, it’s quite alright to ramble on about things you don’t understand, but you should do it privately. But, take your meds before you have another stroke.

    • I’ve explained this to you before, dacian. Your lot makes it very difficult for honest folks to carry their guns. All sorts of restrictions on basic human and civil rights. Being the fascists you are.

      A lot of people that could carry get tired of the hassle and don’t. These events are so rare most folks don’t think it will happen to them.

      Long story short. You fascists that restrict guns are murder enablers.

    • finding it “practicallybimpossible” to even understand your first paragraph. bailed on the rest.

    • You’re making a lot of assumptions based on faulty premises to arrive at that position.

  9. For me, man sized silhouette target, my factory standard EDC Glock 22 .40 S&W, after some practice for the distance, target area between waist and neck, open iron sights, 3 seconds per shot, firing five 15 round magazines per round, using target focus:

    at 100 yards – hit target 3-4 rounds per magazine someone where in that area, no definite grouping, rest of rounds not on target, 100% of the time.

    at 80 yards – hit target 8 rounds per magazine somewhere in that area, no definite grouping, rest of rounds not on target, 100% of the time.

    at 60 yards – hit target 10 rounds per magazine, 8 center mass ~10 inch group 80% of the time, rest of rounds in target area somewhere outside the group, 100% of the time.

    at 40 yards – hit target 13 rounds per magazine, 11 center mass 6-8 inch group 100% of the time with the rest in target area somewhere outside the group, 100% of the time.

    at 20 yards – hit the target 15 rounds per magazine, 15 center mass ~3 inch group 100% of the time.

    Then I switched to another factory standard EDC Glock 22 .40 S&W but this time had a red dot mounted with a dovetail mount: For me, man sized silhouette target, my factory standard EDC Glock 22 .40 S&W, after some practice for the distance, target area between waist and neck, Red Dot, 3 seconds per shot, firing five 15 round magazines per round, using target focus:

    at 100 yards – hit target 8 rounds per magazine someone where in that area, no definite grouping, rest of rounds not on target, 100% of the time.

    at 80 yards – hit target 12 rounds per magazine somewhere in that area, no definite grouping, rest of rounds not on target, 100% of the time.

    at 60 yards – hit target 15 rounds per magazine, 13 center mass ~4 inch group 80% of the time, rest of rounds in target area somewhere outside the group, 100% of the time.

    at 40 yards – hit target 15 rounds per magazine, 14 center mass ~4 inch group, 100% of the time.

    at 20 – 30 yards – hit the target 15 rounds per magazine, 15 rounds center mass 3 inch group 100% of the time.

    There was some overall improvement for me with a red dot, but it stayed about the same as with iron sights below 40 yards with 15 rounds center mass 3 inch group 100% of the time per magazine at 30 yards and under.

    I’ve been doing target focus for years though. I learned it in the tactical defensive gun use class I took from the retired navy seal that owns a range I use. My limit without further practice is about 60 yards for center mass stops but 100% of the time up to 100 yards I can put some rounds on target.

    But, man sized silhouette targets do not shoot back and my own real life experience at around 30 yards tells me that under fire with me moving around and the bad guy moving around and partially or fully obscured most of the time – center mass shots are very elusive sometimes and you tend to take what you can hit when it shows and if that is center mass or head or whatever you see its situation dependent so don’t train just for center mass or head or a specific area but rather train for what ever shows. But also that experience tells me, like that navy seal told us and taught us, this is where target focus really comes through for you.

  10. I thought I knew what target focused shooting without optics was— point shooting, Stress Fire, flash sight picture, slide silhouetted on target, etc. All of these are similar methods of quickly getting a shot on a man-sized target at short ranges. This type of target focused shooting is totally unfamiliar, foreign and counterintuitive to me. I watched the video and am still confused. Does anyone want to take a shot (sorry, couldn’t resist! 🤓) at explaining this to me?

    • It’s all about binocular vision. With both eyes open, you see the target with one eye and the sights with the other. The two images are superimposed. When you align the unfocused sights on to the focused target, the firearm is properly aimed.

      Perhaps a little more detail in binocular vision might help.
      (Wikipedia sucks for most things, but this is a decent explanation.)

      • that’s about it in a nutshell Ragnar


        Once you do it consistently a few times it will begin to click for you then practice practice practice. I’m not saying its a “Luke, use the force” moment because its not some sort of mystical zen thing but rather part just letting your eyes do what they want to naturally do and what you already know for grip and presentation, and the rest comes with practice once you get it.

        Just remember, unlike many have been taught, for target focus shooting the target is the point of focus and the front sight is not your point of focus and its ok for the sights to be blurry.

  11. Can’t do it! You gotta have good stereopsis, and I do not. I only see out of one eye at a time, and my brain does not put the two images together. An ophthalmologist once told me that if you don’t have it by age 7, you aren’t going to get it. Also, without good stereopsis, you can’t see the 3D effect with those glasses at a movie, and the 3D effect in a View Master stereoscope is also out of reach. What a bummer.

    • I forgot to add that people who DO have good stereopsis don’t even know what I’m talking about. And… yes, it IS all, in my head (so to speak).

    • Which type of stereopsis difficulty do you have? You can still focus on something, right? I know someone with this issue, I understand its a special kind of personal hell at times but he still shoots target focus just fine.

      If you can see 2D you can still do it, after a fashion, if you train yourself to focus on the target only in its 2D presentation with the gun in front of it instead of (sort of) ‘superimposed’ on it in a single image from ‘binocular vision’. You just won’t have the depth perception. But it depends on how severe it is for you.

      For those who don’t know:

      There are two broad categories of types – coarse stereopsis and fine stereopsis. Coase stereopsis is large, more easily distinguishable amounts of depth using retinal disparity cues. Fine stereopsis is what is usually tested in eye exams, it is very fine amounts of depth between objects. Basically, stereopsis is depth perception. The lack of it can be severe in some cases.

      The lack of it affects the visual ability to perceive the world in the three dimensions of length, width, and depth, and its these dimensions that allows a person to judge where an object is relative to them.

  12. I regularly practice at an indoor range where you can control the lighting. If you’re an eyeglass wearer (like me) then you should try low light and / or no light, without your glasses on, on photo-realistic or silhouette targets for a humbling experience. 3,5,7 yards good solid hits on the torso…10 yds starts to open up quite a bit and 50 ft is probably my max for a man-sized target in low-light without my glasses with a 50 – 60% chance of good torso hits…head shots are (literally) out of sight at that distance. The farthest engagement distance in my home is about 35 feet. A WML is definitely useful under these conditions.

    YMMV according to how bad your uncorrected vision is.

      • @Dave G.

        Apologies Dave. Sometimes an acronym is in such common usage that we tend to forget that people may not be familiar with it.

        WML: Weapon Mounted Light.
        YMMV: Your Mileage May Vary

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