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Human are visual creatures. We rely heavily on our ability to see to do most of what we do every day. But there’s looking and there’s seeing. How does stress interfere with your ability to “see” and should you be worried about it?

The object of your affection

Over the years, I’ve met students who confuse seeing their sights with seeing through their sights. Mechanically, it seems the same. The difference is the focus of your attention. It’s the difference between awareness and focus.

When bringing your firearm to bear, your mind focuses on the sights and specifically the front sight post. This is a result of correct training that focuses on marksmanship fundamentals.

I can still recall the face of my long-time swim buddy when I asked, “Do you see your sights when you pull the trigger?” He looked at me like I had a third eye on my forehead. “I focus on the sights of course,” he said, simply. It was at that point I discovered I was looking “through “ my sights and not at the front sight post.

I was already shooting in the top percentile of an already ridiculously talented gene pool. Was I wrong for getting my hits by looking through my sights?

If the results were what mattered, who cares?

There are some times when the need to track your target is more important than perfect sight alignment. Given good technique and practice, the gun will naturally follow the target.

There are other times when a precision shot — perhaps on a more-or-less stationary target — is all-important. At that point, you want to make sure your sights are in perfect alignment.

Generally, I fell back on the old expression of “let the situation dictate” — my central thought process for so many activities. Rather than try to force something, let the situation unfold and guide you towards what you need to do. Another way to look at this is see what you need to see to guarantee the shot.

The middle ground

For me to completely trust this process I expended countless hours and thousands of rounds of ammunition perfecting a hard focus on my sight system. It was challenging because there were times my brain didn’t want to focus on the sights.

Through discipline I eventually found a middle ground. No matter the situation my intention was to draw to the target with the expectation I would visually align my sights. The hard work and practice would pay off with a near perfect alignment of my sights even when my vision would look through the sights.

The mechanical superiority of presenting the gun with the intention of aligning the sights was fluid and accurate enough. Sometimes I saw the sights clearly. Other times I looked “through” them.

A word of caution on the subject. A big mistake some folks make is convincing themselves they don’t need to put in the work on sight alignment. Somehow this gives them permission to by-pass marksmanship principles. Don’t make that mistake.

Regarding the technique, the next mistake is looking over their sights, causing point-of-impact issues. You failed to completely mount the pistol on target, stopping short a tad. You need to be disciplined enough that every time you mount the pistol, you’re going for the sights. Let everything else work itself out from there.

Embrace the new reality

As my vision deteriorates with age I’m starting to see some new challenges. For one thing, I do a large majority of my shooting at an indoor range with artificial lighting.

Indoors, I typically see through my sights; the lighting conditions coupled with my eyesight make it difficult to precisely focus on the front sight. I have had to settle for this technique — as much as I hate the idea.

Fortunately, the distance to target is such there is room for error. When I’m outside under natural light, the front sight looks as big as a fence post. I find solace knowing my skills are not the issue.

Bottom line: create and maintain a presentation skill level that allows you to instinctively and flawlessly align the sights, then let the situation dictate where you focus your attention.


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 unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at

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  1. I read hoping for either A or B type answer, but the answer posed is really to do one or the other reflexively by looking through your sights. Yes?

  2. Unless, as you age, you can’t see the front sight in focus at all (as Mr. Gonzales is discovering).

    Laser haters will hate, but a laser (or a red dot) lets you focus on both your sight and the target, in the same focal plane. For some of us, it’s necessary.

    • Oh man Ted I have the same problem. In my middle 60’s and if I keep both eyes open it’s a complete blur. So I squint and compensate. I don’t need bifocals(yet!) and no problem driving. Maybe I’ll get that laser…

    • Your use of a laser is improper.

      If vision is your problem get Lasic. It’s $200 an eye or less with free touchups for life.

      A weapons laser solves one problem. Lasic solves a bunch all at once.

      • That is very practical advice. I like it.
        (I don’t need corrective lenses yet, but i will soon I’m afraid.)

      • One size does not fit all. My distant vision is perfect, lasic would screw that up. Around 10-12 years ago my near vision started to go, requiring reading glasses with increasing strength. In a DGU, I do not fool myself into thinking I can put my reading glasses on, and I’m not even sure that would be a good plan, given that beyond around 10 feet I would no longer be able to distinguish targets acceptably. My rifles now have scopes or red dots, I have not yet gotten a laser to work for me on pistols, but I’m working on it.

    • I really don’t have a dominant eye so shooting with both eyes open is rather slow for me, I’ll always get two sets of sights in my field of view. I can consciously select which eye I want to use but no matter how much I practice it still takes me far too long to get a sight picture.

      Just got my first weapon laser a few days ago and I’m heading to the range this afternoon to see if that speeds up my acquisition.

        • A small percentage of the population is codominant. One dominance test is pointing at a distant object and then closing each eye separately. A person with a strong dominance will see the finger move for one eye and point at the object with the other. A codominant person will see the finger move for both eyes, but in opposite directions and about the same amount. Some see 2 equally transparent images of their finger instead. When sighting, they’ll see 2 indistinguishable sets of front and rear sights and can mismatch them. Shooting with both eyes open is still doable with a lot of practice and a consistent “mount.”

        • Because when my optometrist does an eye dominance test it bounces from one eye to the other, depending on the type of test.

        • Some see 2 equally transparent images of their finger instead. When sighting, they’ll see 2 indistinguishable sets of front and rear sights and can mismatch them. Shooting with both eyes open is still doable with a lot of practice and a consistent “mount.”

          Yep that’s me. I also have a very high degree of mixed-handedness (not truly ambidextrous since I can’t do everything equally well both ways) and usually shoot pistols right handed simply because most controls are setup for righties (I write and throw left handed). I’m a really weird mixed bag.

          It’s that “mount” that I’m trying to get nailed down, if I present the gun just a little bit too far to the left then my left eye will pick it up initially and I’m shooting cross-dominant.

        • Oh one more thing, when you mentioned the two equally transparent images of the sights getting confused, something like picking up the rear sight with my left eye and front with my right and aligning them isn’t really going to happen. I’d have the gun so far askew I’d never draw that far off.

  3. I learned to ignore sights shooting trap. Just look at the clay and the gun follows. The same could apply to rifle shooting with open sights. With pistol I’m not sure.
    You would need a steady predictable stance and good muscle control.

    • GS650G,

      I cannot really explain what I do. All I know is that I am able to put about 95% of my shots into a human sized target up to 30 feet away while moving and shooting very fast.

      The curious part: I don’t think I am using the sights. And yet I tried using a 1911 pistol that lost the front sight (and still has the rear sight) and it really messed up my accuracy.

      Somehow, I am apparently using the sights without realizing that I am using the sights. I think it is a combination of muscle memory, instinct, and actual cognitive function that enables me to shoot “minute of bad guy” at 30 feet. And I believe that is about the same dynamic involved in skeet shooting.

    • Sorry, but trap/skeet/bird shooting with a shotgun have almost no carry-over into rifle/pistol shooting. Completely different disciplines. Trigger-slap vs press, focus on target vs sights, very fast-moving targets vs stationary or not so very fast-moving targets. I shoot lots of skeet/sporting clays, 3-gun, steel challenge, et. al. If I’ve got a 3-gun coming up I won’t even look at my birds gun for at least two weeks prior. I had a champion skeet shooter in a recent LE academy class. He couldn’t hit the stationary target with an 870 at 15 yards to save his life until we corrected how he was shooting. He was treating the target like a skeet target and that just wasn’t working.

    • You can learn to point shoot, not that hard. Get a laser practice round. I’m to the point that I can it a light switch from 20 feet from the hip. My eyes are not that great, I can punch out a single hole at 20 feet, but at 75 it gets ugly

  4. I’m left eye dominant and shoot right handed. I target focus with my dominant eye and align the sights with my right eye.
    It works. It works very well. And in a DGU, it may be what I default to so, I’m confident that I am practicing for real world scenarios.
    There’s marksmanship and there’s gunfighting. Learn to stick them with the pointy end.

    • I’m left eye dominant and shoot right handed as well. I hit what I aim for. I don’t focus on my sights but the target. I see two sets of sights in my view but I just align the one on the left. left eye sees the target, right eye puts the left side dot on the target. probably completely wrong and laughable but it’s always worked for me. I don’t even think about it anymore

  5. With younger eyes I could focus on both the front sight AND the target, even out to 300 metres. I can still do sort of 20 years later, but now I’m focusing more on the front sight.

    • There are a couple of factors involved there. Certainly our ability to focus on close objects deteriorates with age.

      In bright sunshine, your pupils constrict and, like the aperture of a camera, you get more depth-of-field. Objects out of focus seem not so blurry. It’s the reason we old folks can read things in a bright environment that we can’t read when it’s darker. In a dark environment, it’s a different story.

  6. even if youre looking through the aights they are your reference.

    I often do the same but can’t hit with a pistol with no sights with anything near accuracy.

    Kind of like shooting a bow but with sights. A reflexive kind of shooting. As the distance increases, I focus more on the front sight or my accuracy suffers drastically.

    • Your bow doesn’t have sights?

      You can put sights on a recurve these days so that’s not just for compound bow. A bow without a sight, in 2017, is like a couple flintlocks and a cutlass for EDC.

      • Love shooting my Bear Grizzly recurve sans sights. It’s pure. I also use a back quiver. Some things are just nicer the more simple they are. Like black coffee or straight bourbon.

  7. Coincidentally has eye check yesterday (long time) as deteriorating/changing. Very nice/attractive young lady DO. BUT she had no idea at all what I was talking about.

    I there a list from NRA or other of gun/sight trained/knowledgable eye docs? I’d drive an hour + for a doc that would explain solutions to me rather than other way around (when I don’t know or care the details.

    Not ready/willing to give up on Iron sights

  8. A red dot fixes all of this and works with the way the human body naturally threat focuses during sns response. If for some reason I’m only working with irons, the situation may dictate that I make a precise shot with a front sight focus. Until that time I will align my sights by looking through them and not at them.

  9. First of all, what type of shooting and what type of gun are all of you referring to? Marksmanship or self-defense? The techniques are very different. Rifle, shotgun or handgun? Again, the techniques are very different. Since I’m a certified pistol instructor I will limit my answer to handguns only. If you are TARGET shooting with a handgun your eyes should focus on the front sight. Any error in sight alignment is multiplied downrange. An error of only 1/16″ in sight alignment results in a 3″ to 4″ bullet impact error depending on the distance between the back and front sights. The shorter the sight distance the greater the error. If however you are shooting in a SELF-DEFENSE situation where the adrenalin kicks in, your eyes won’t be able to physically focus on the front sight. This is because the pupil in the eye will open completely regardless of the amount of ambient light. You will also get “tunnel vision” which reduces your normal field of vision from approximately 180 degrees to only 5 degrees. Both of these cause a loss of depth-of-field. You won’t be able to focus your eyes on anything closer than 7 feet. Also, unless you train for the “adrenalin dump” your brain will force you to pay attention to the threat not your handgun. This is why defenders shoot the bad guy’s “weapon hand” so often under these circumstances. With the proper training you can learn to recognize a threat in the bad guy’s hand then shift your attention to “point shoot” the 9- inch “critical circle” in his high chest to stop the threat. Then you “break” the tunnel vision by moving your head left to right to scan for additional bad guys and/or arriving police. You also use “squared breathing” to reduce the effects of the adrenalin.

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